Still, despite her radical worldview and absolutist teachings, I expect Rand’s ghost will further fog this election, as well as our faith. My previous article for Christianity Today suggested too many of the religious right have confused Rand’s teachings with the teaching of Christ. Diametrically opposed though they are, Glenn Beck also promoted both approaches until recently learning they are incompatible. So progressives’ focus on Ryan’s devotion to both Rand and Christ may encourage many to finally look to the Bible to clarify our thinking. Too many of both progressive and conservative Christians will then quote it in the typically self-rationalizing ways that partisan politics encourages. The reason is the Bible assures us that when we “train up a child,” he or she will remain faithful to what they have been taught. Yet it also assures us that redemption is possible and people can change. Those two teachings must be held in tension when considering Mr. Ryan and his financial plan for your future. As with most politicians, and the rest of us, he seems to be a person whose views are “growing.” So for what it’s worth, this political science graduate turned Wall Street financier who has spent the past twenty years comparing Christ and Rand believes Mr. Ryan and voters need to answer three questions before November.
The first question is, “How would you regulate Wall Street?” That’s more important than ever as while Governor Romney has shown tendencies for political moderation, he’s also a product of the Street. His selection of Ryan might signal to Wall Street financiers, who channel lots of time, talent and particularly money to Washington, that they have less to worry about from the current backlash towards “the 1%” than many had assumed.
The reason is The Economist magazine has called Rand “the heroine of America’s libertarian right.” Libertarians differ from conservatives in that conservatives aspire for government that is limited by our traditional ethic of “neighbor as self” and traditional virtues such as prudence, patience and charity. Most libertarians however demand a new age of revolution and reducing government until it can be drowned in their bathtubs, to use the imagery of anti-taxer Grover Norquist. He has had GOP congressmen sign pledges of no new taxes regardless of how many wars we must finance, how many retired boomers need health care, and how much money the SEC needs to regulate a Wall Street that too often believes greed is good.
Yet The Economist also explained that Rand’s worldview found economic expression in Washington in what many now call Reaganomics, a time of significant deregulation, particularly of Wall Street. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, was one of Rand’s very closest disciples. Not only was he highly instrumental in deregulating Wall Street’s sub-prime mortgage brokers last decade, he was equally instrumental in deregulating the savings and loan industry a couple decades ago. Many economists believe both resulted in short-term economic booms, particularly in the job creating building sector, but longer-term busts. Greenspan himself testified before Congress that “the flaw,” as it’s now called by many, in his worldview was in believing the only regulation businesspeople need is economic self-interest. That refers to Rand’s teaching that “the productive” are so naturally good, they are humanity’s saviors. Not exactly John Calvin’s “total depravity” of the unredeemed human heart.
The second question for Mr. Ryan is, “What is the proper role of government toward the needy?” Rand’s most famous statement on that subject might be found in The Virtue of Selfishness. It says we can help our neighbors in emergency situations like shipwrecks, as long as we are not endangered ourselves, but that does not mean we have any responsibilities for anyone when back on shore. Rand practiced charity toward no one. Obviously, that strikes at the heart of the economic teachings of Moses, who we should remember was both government and prophet in the theocracy of his time. As the intellectual leader of the GOP’s effort to roll back governmental care for the poor, Mr. Ryan has often been criticized by Catholic leaders who teach God’s “preferential option for the poor.” Ninety faculty members of Georgetown University have written a letter to Mr. Ryan complaining his budget proposal was more reflective of Rand than Christ. Another church leader tried to offer the congressman a Bible in which the teachings of Moses and Jesus concerning the poor had been highlighted. The congressman declined the gift.
The third question for Christian voters is therefore, “What, if anything, do those biblical teachings mean for our capitalist culture?” Moses clearly made it Law to round the corners of the fields, leave the second harvest in the vineyards, bring the full tithes to the storehouse for the needy, and so on. Of course, many conservative Christians believe that Law died with Christ. Yet Christ himself said that Law would endure forever. After forty years of contemplation, I believe this apparent contradiction is at the very heart of the tension between the idealism of religion and the pragmatism of politics. The Moses who led God’s children out of Egypt clearly understood political freedom to be necessary to the abundant life. Yet it’s been estimated by even evangelical theologians that Moses mandated 25% of a person’s annual gain be shared with society. That’s about the level of total taxes in America today. Yet Moses did not have to build interstate highways, explore space, maintain an army the size of America’s, and so on.
In essence, Christ freed his disciples from the Law by teaching us to live in a state of grace. So Saint Paul said we are to give as our loving hearts dictate. Yet neither Christ or Paul intended to do away with the law, or even taxes to Caesar (Romans 13). Neither aspired to free non-believers to live in a state of selfishness. They understood the “liberty” often advocated by modern libertarians unaccompanied by traditional morality can quickly become the near anarchy we’ve witnessed in both Washington and on Wall Street lately, as well as result in the concentration of wealth that threatens our land.
As Saint Paul explained the paradox, we can only live in freedom from the external constraints of government when we live as slaves to Christ’s love for Virtue and neighbor as self. It’s possible the still young congressman has matured in his faith until he has nuanced that paradox of Christianity. He has recently renounced the atheism of Rand and her atheistic teachings. Yet it should be noted that he did so only after progressives made a political issue of his conflicted dedication to both Rand and Christ.