Sixty-three years ago, when I was in my first year of college, our English professor required us to read and write a book report on Ayn Rand’s novel the Fountainhead. As I recall, I received a grade of C+ for my efforts. The professor gave me credit for identifying Ms. Rand’s writing skills, but harshly criticized my inability to articulate her philosophy of “Objectivism”, the morality of rational self-interest, that has influenced generations of her faithful followers.
Over the years, I became more familiar with Ayn Rand’s philosophy and her life’s story. I reread Fountainhead, searched for articles by or about her, registered with her website, the Ayn Rand Institute, and digested her last novel Atlas Shrugged, her magnum opus that was published in 1957. The novel has elements of mystery and science fiction, and at the same time includes a detailed description of “Objectivism” in a length monologue delivered by John Galt, the hero of the book.
Without going into all the details, the plot takes place in an imaginary time and place, when the United States is suffering from a collapse in its economy and its social structure (sounds prophetic). Galt emerges as the leader of a strike by industrialists, scientists, heads of corporations, etc. who sequestered themselves in a secluded mountain hideaway, where they built an independent free economy. Rand’s intention was to demonstrate that without these rational and productive entrepreneurs, these “job creators”, the plan for the new economy would collapse and society would fall apart without them.
In a 1959 interview by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, he asked Rand to outline her idea of Objectivism that Galt articulated in Atlas Shrugged. She replied that it was a system of morality, “…not based on faith or emotion, but on reason.” She went on to complain about what she called “…the gradual growth of social protective legislation, based on the principle that we are “our brothers’ keepers.” She also told Wallace, she was an atheist and rejected all religion and called it “…a weakness, even a parasite—one that convinces people their purpose is to work for the betterment of others. In fact, for man, the truth is just the opposite. ..Man’s highest purpose is the achievement of his own happiness.” She also stated that it was religion that was responsible for “moochers”, a derogatory label for those who live off the government, and the hard work of the “job creators”. Unfortunately, the term “moochers” is often used to cover everyone who seeks government assistance, no matter what their circumstances are. Apparently it wouldn’t include crooks like Bernie Madoff , or Kenneth Lay the former CEO of Enron.
Whether you or I agree with Ayn Rand’s philosophy is not my concern for this blog. I intend to go into the specifics of her dogmas in a future blog. What I want to deal with here is my on-going puzzlement about Rand’s fans: how do so many practicing Christians, especially Christian fundamentalist in high political positions or running for office, espouse her philosophy and still identify themselves as fervent followers of Jesus? I don’t wish to judge them. I’m assuming they are not just identifying themselves as Christians to attract votes, and that they’re sincere, in what seems to me to be a paradoxical position. I would just like to understand how they justify their position of being followers of Jesus, while adhering to Rand’s teachings on the virtues of “selfishness”. She even has a book entitled The Virtue of Selfishness. It consists of 19 essays, five of them written by her colleague and lover, Nathaniel Branden, (each of their spouses agreed to their affair).
For example, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the author of the 2011 GOP budget proposal, is a zealous Rand fan. He even has been known to require staff members to read Atlas Shrugged to indoctrinate them into her thinking. He also describes himself as practicing Catholic. As a matter of fact he sent a letter to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the bishop of New York and President of the United States Catholic Bishops Conference, with the hope that the archbishop and the Conference would indorse his budget proposal. To his credit, the archbishop wrote a very carefully worded and respectful response, suggesting to Ryan that his budget proposal didn’t mention our less fortunate fellow citizens, those that Jesus was most committed to assist. In other words, there was nothing in Ryan’s proposal that focused on Rand’s “moochers”. The archbishop reminded Ryan of Jesus’ compassion for the disadvantaged and as followers of Jesus our concern shouldn’t be just for the “job creators”. To put that in the OWS parlance, if we are really followers of Jesus, we need to be more concerned with the 99% who are in the middle class or below, than the 1%, the elite class, the so called “job creators”. By the way, where are all those jobs that “job creators” are supposed to be creating?
Another card carrying Catholic, who is a Rand fan is the Honorable Speaker of the House, John Boehner. In a November 14, 2011 article, entitled On Capitol Hill, Rand’s Atlas Can’t Be Shrugged Off, Andrea Searbrook quotes Speaker Boehner as if he was speaking directly from Ayn Rand’s playbook. “Businesses need to be set free. Instead, they’ve been antagonized by a government that favors bureaucrats over market-based solutions. They’ve been demoralized by government that causes despair, when what we really need is to provide reassurance and inspire hope.” He was speaking to the Economic Club of Washington D.C. Later in his speech he used the language of slavery when he said, “We need to liberate our economy from the shackles of Washington.” I just heard him on CNN this morning (12/21/2011) standing up for the 1%, which he identified as “job creators”.
Jason Miller in a article on Catholics United’s website on 12/15/11 described an ecumenical protest at Speaker Boehner’s office to hand-deliver a petition to remind him that “… people of faith want Wall Street to share in the sacrifice that so many American families are being asked to make.” The article went on to state “…it’s time for Speaker Boehner to follow the social teachings of the Church and heed the advice of the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI to support greater Wall Street accountability.”
Catholic legislators and policies makers don’t have the corner on the market of preaching Rand’s gospel. One of her fans who carried on her legacy was the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Alan Greenspan. When he was 26 years old, and a rising star in field of economics, he became part of the “Collective”, her inner circle, and remained a supporter of her economic theory, especially her disdain for the regulation by the government in the markets, throughout most of his career. In an article entitled, Alan Shrugged, by David Corn in Mother Jones magazine, October 23, 2008, he quotes Greenspan’s apology to the members of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee as he acknowledges in his testimony that his view of a free and loosely-regulated market and the financial world failed. He humbly admitted, “I made a mistake in presuming that self-interests (a key concept of Rand’s) of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.” http://motherjones.com/politics/2008/10/alan–shrugged
Not to belabor the point, but to mention just a few more fans: As far back as 1966, before he had entered politics, Ronald Reagan was an admirer of Ayn Rand; not surprisingly, Rep. Ron Paul, (R-TX) and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who is even a bigger fan than his father. Then there is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, also a Rand follower, who was raised a Catholic and even spent several years in the seminary studying to be a priest.
Perhaps my perplexity, i.e., how Christians can follow the teachings of Rand and Jesus at the same time, boils down to what Jesus is reported to have said in the Gospel of Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. He will hate the first master and love the other, or he will be devoted to the first and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Wealth.” Amen!
I’d appreciate your thoughts on this issue.
When the tragic story of the child sexual abuse scandal and cover up at Penn State broke, and Joe Paterno’s name was mentioned, I thought of another Joe who was involved in a sports scandal.
Joe Jackson, the Chicago White Sox baseball star, nicknamed “Shoeless Joe”. He was implicated in a conspiracy to fix the World Series in 1919. Legend has it that one day during his trial, as Joe was leaving the courthouse, a young boy from the crowd of loyal fans, came up to him and asked his hero, “Say it ain’t so Joe?” Joe did not respond.
Jackson was acquitted by a Chicago Jury, but Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball, ignored the court ruling and banned Joe from playing baseball for life. The tearful cry of “Say it ain’t so Joe” has echoed throughout baseball history for the last ninety-two years.
My thoughts went back to Joe Paterno. “Say you didn’t have previous knowledge of any of the abuse Joe!” Then the news came out that he at least had been informed of one of the victims allegedly raped by assisted coach Jerry Sandusky, and reported the incident to his the atheletic director . “Say you reported him to the police Joe!” More news—he didn’t report Sandusky to the police only to his immediate supervisor. I wondered, what would he have done if it were his own son or grandson? As I listened to the pundits on TV, they seemed to agree with I was beginning to conclude, that Paterno might not be legally guilty, since he did report the incident to the athletic director, but would he be morally guilty because he didn’t report the act to the police, and might be complicit in the crime. As the days and news reports went on, I wondered more if Joe had been involved in a cover- up.
However, I still didn’t want to believe that this icon of college football was guilty of contributing to a sex scandal involving young boys. After reading the twenty-three page report from the 2010 Grand Jury’s investigation, I realized that I had been in a state of denial or rationalization. Reading the testimony of his assistant coach, Mike McQueary, who was a graduate assistant in 2002 when the incident happened, and comparing it with Paterno’s testimony, was the clincher.
McQueary testified that “…he saw a naked boy, Victim #2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.”
When asked to confirm McQueary’s testimony, the report reads, “Joseph V. Paterno testified to receiving the graduate assistant’s report at his home…Paterno testified that the graduate assistant was very upset. Paterno called Tim Curley, Penn State athletic director and his immediate superior…and reported that his graduate assistant had seen Jerry Sandusky in the shower fondling or doing something of sexual nature to a young boy.” Something of a sexual nature!!! Was Paterno so puritanical that he couldn’t utter the words “anal intercourse”, or was he trying to minimize what he had been told by McQueary? Or Did McQueary actually refer to an act of sodomy as something of “a sexual nature”?
We obviously won’t know until the trial is over, but for me, it began to sound more and more like the self-serving strategy the Catholic Church used to handle the sexual abuse to children by priests. They first would deny or minimize the extent of the scandal, in effect they put the institution’s “reputation” compassion for the molested children; they engaged in a cover-up to protect the perpetrators; they blamed the press and hired expensive lawyers and public relations people, who were experts in blaming the victims. At least Penn State fired, their president, vice president for finances, athletic director, head coach and put McQueary on leave.
Since the Catholic priest pedophile scandal was exposed in Boston in 2002, up to the present time, none of the bishops responsible for covering up for hundreds of pedophile priests in the United States. The bishops did this by moving the victimizers from parish to parish, without letting the parishioners know their new pastor was a pedophile. In the past decade we’ve discovered that sexual child abuse by priests was not just endemic to the USA. It seemed like every week we were deluged with new outbreaks, which were handled by bishops with the same remedy—cover-ups. It was as if the disease of pedophilia was an epidemic and had metastasized from country to country throughout our planet.
There are possible positive lessions that have come to light because of the Penn State scandal. It seems to have awakened more people to heinous crime of child sexual abuse. Hopefully this will motivate more of us to be alert to possible predators, whose obsession is seducing and abusing young children to satisfy their sick sexual passions. Additionally, the focus that the media has been putting on the problem seems to be giving strength to other victims who were abused decades ago to come forward and confront their perpetrator.
One specific action that we can take is to contact our legislators and agencies that deal with child sexual abuse to find out if the laws in your state for the Statute of Limitation need to be changed. I know in Arizona, where I live, there is no time limit for reporting sexual abuse of a child. Other states vary from two to 10 or more years. Since the psychological damage done to a child by a pedophile can be suppressed well in to adulthood, for a number of different reasons, the ideal is to have no time limit for bringing charges against the person who has assaulted children and may well continue to damage other children. Here is a website that has information on Statutes of Limitation for each state.
I welcome any feedback, you might have, especially if you or someone close to you has been sexually abused as a child by someone in a position of authority; and any suggestions for actions we can take to protect innocent children.