Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, and the Political Contradiction of Christianity

Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running mate Saturday morning. In the process, he increased #AynRand Twitter tags to previously unseen levels. The Romney choice set off a national discussion on Ryan's fascination with the philosopher and put Ryan's ideological foundation on display.

What few pundits have mentioned is the way in which Paul Ryan  - and conservative politicians in general - is willing to employ a detached version of Christianity for political purposes, leaving the policy-making to be guided by some other moral foundation.

Ryan's thoughts on Ayn Rand are clear. He has stated that Ayn Rand was the single most influential thinker in his choice to enter politics. He has stated support for Rand's moral justifications of capitalism. He even stated that Ayn Rand's philosophies shaped him as a person. If that wasn't enough, Ryan burdens his family members with Rand's unbearable literature through painfully uncreative Christmas presents. In the office, he attempts to shape other young political minds in the name of selfishness by strongly suggesting that his staffers read Rand's writings.

You can find quotes from Ryan on Rand dating back a decade and as recently as a couple of years ago. In fact, Rand featured prominently in Ryan's 2009 campaign, as he quoted her philosophy in a widely distributed video. Enter April 2012, when Paul Ryan's political star had risen to the point where being linked to militant atheism was toxic. This development led to an interesting Ryan quote:

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan said this year. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas…Don’t give me Ayn Rand.”

That brings into play a number of questions. Chief among them - how does a person's core guiding principle change so quickly and without an apparent traumatic experience? Why are Rand supporters overjoyed at the selection of a candidate who rejects Ayn Rand's philosophy? Why does Ryan's budget plan incorporate the rugged and soul-less principles that Rand championed?

Ryan stated repeatedly that Rand shaped his thinking and provided justification for his own adherence to brutal, unbridled capitalism. If one were to undergo a dramatic shift in philosophy, rejecting the principles of Ayn Rand, wouldn't there be some evidence? Wouldn't there be some policy change that might enable us to do more than just take Paul Ryan at his word?

The problem for Ryan is one shared by many conservative politicians. Namely, their actions don't match their beliefs. For these individuals, embracing Christian morality means upholding convenient parts of the Bible while quietly ignoring others. 

How could a politician driven by Christian morality propose a budget that establishes a country where producing wealth is rewarded at the expense of the demonized poor? How could one support increased government spending on war-gaming while decreasing support for the sick and disenfranchised?

Whether you believe the tenets of Christianity is irrelevant. For politicians who claim to live by the creed, many conservatives are doing a terrible job of, you know, actually following the demands of Jesus:

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”

“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

"Then I will turn to those on my left and say, 'Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.  For I was hungry and you wouldn't feed me; thirsty, and you wouldn't give me anything to drink; a stranger, and you refused me hospitality; naked, and you wouldn't clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn't visit me.' 'Then they will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?' 'And I will answer, 'When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing help to me.'"

"'If you have two coats,' he replied, 'give one to the poor. If you have extra food, give it away to those who are hungry.'"

"Sell what you have and give to those in need. This will fatten your purses in heaven!"

It is no secret that politicians use religion as a tool to drive the electorate to vote against their financial interests. The fact that they do it with such a straight face is difficult to swallow. There is no way to reconcile a Christian-claiming political platform that rejects the moral duty of men to take care of those in need. Many are quick to adhere to the Bible's teachings on a host of subsidiary issues. From abortion to gay marriage to gun rights, conservatives pound the Bible at every turn. What, though, is more central to an American life than issues of fiscal policy? On arguably the most relevant issue, conservative politicians run from their Bible, opting instead to use another system of morality to explain and defend their capitalistic greed.

A proper definition of the Christian's duty, drawn from the words of the guy who Christians follow, leave no wiggle room. The religion is not one that allows a check the box choice on certain life choices. It is about dedication and sacrifice. That flies directly in the face of a new conservative ideology that puts Jesus Christ in the closet until we want to use the words of the Apostle Paul to shame someone out of the closet.

Even if we take Paul Ryan on his word, believing the absurd supposition that he now rejects the moral philosophy that shaped his past and drove his policy, there's a huge problem in approving his request to be linked to St. Thomas Aquinas. Paul Ryan, a rugged objectivist more than willing to exalt individual achievement over the collective good, takes his cues for the guy who said this?

“Man should not consider his material possession his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need.” — St. Thomas Aquinas

There it is, Congressperson Ryan. The words of Thomas Aquinas, the man whose "epistemology" you claim shaped you. The implications of Ryan's actions and beliefs should be clear. He is, in practice, no more a Christian than he is a member of the postal worker's union. He is another in a long line of conservative politicians willing to use Christianity in their policy making, except where it poses an inconvenient challenge to the real religion of their party - the religion of personal wealth accumulation. Unfortunately for the nation, this distorted view of the basics of Christianity seems to reflect the real inclinations of the electorate.

Originally posted to Grizzard on Sat Aug 11, 2012