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            I remember
reading Ayn Rand a very long time ago. A lonely immigrant from Russia, whose
real name was Alisa Rosenbaum,  her books,
particularly Atlas Shrugged but also The Fountainhead, and The Virtue of Selfishness  touted not merely the philosophy of Gordon
Gecko (‘Greed is good’), or the take the money and run philosophy of  Bernie Madoff (with the cash), but a full
blown anti-Christian salvo.  Rand not
merely repudiated the notion of a God, much less a God of self-sacrifice who
calls us to self-sacrifice, but advocated the replacing of that God with the
self, not merely enlightened self-interest, but full-blown selfishness and
self-centeredness—- ‘Coeur in curvatus in se’, as Luther called it, the
heart, turned in upon itself. 

In the
heady and nerdy early teen years,  when I
was trying to figure out who I was, these books tickled the fancy of a young
man who had a bent towards narcissism—- as do all fallen human beings.  I out grew this mirror-gazing philosophy
after a while, mainly through divine intervention during my college years, and
so it is with both dismay and shock that I have heard Rand’s views advocated in
various forms by both current libertarians and right-wing Christians (two overlapping
groups).  The dismay has grown to alarm
when I have discovered Christian investment planners sounding more like Ayn
Rand and less like Jesus, the more one listens to them.  

           

What is at the heart of Rand’s philosophy, besides the self, and the ‘virtues of
selfishness’?   In a recent helpful study
by Gary Moore (a life long conservative Republican Christian. Go to www.FinancialSeminary.org), a portion of
which has been published in the most recent issue of Christianity Today  (Sept. 2010) under the title ‘Ayn Rand:
Goddess of the Great Recession’,  Moore helps
us to see the roots of her philosophy and monetary theory.  One of the chief dogmas that she touted early
and late was of course anti-governmentalism. This is not surprising considering
what she and her family experienced at the hands of various Russian
governments, including the Bolsheviks, but understanding Rand is one thing,
justifying her paranoia about ‘Big Brother’ when it comes to the American
government is quite another.

 

One of the main reasons she said
things like ‘I want to be known as the greatest champion of reason and the
greatest enemy of religion” (quite specifically Christianity is what she had in
mind)  is because of the numerous
statements in the NT which tell us to honor the governing officials, pay our
taxes and the like.  The notion of
taxation as a form of theft of money that a people have a right to, of course
is not in the Bible at all.  Both Jesus
and Paul council against such a view, but it is part of the ranting and raving
of those Libertarians who have been influenced mightily by the philosophy of
Ayn Rand, and they are not few in number.  Tea Party advocates, are you listening?  Suppose you were to discover that Jesus would
be outraged with your supposedly moral outrage about taxes?  Suppose he told you, you had a civic duty to
render unto Caesar, something Paul and Peter reiterate (see Rom. 13 for
example)?

 

            Also at the
heart of Rand’s philosophy, without question
was a notion of a free market economy that should be unfettered by any altruism
or ethical concerns.  As Martin Marty the
great Lutheran church historian once said “Every line of the Bible is
challenged, countered, and dismissed by the 1,168 pages of Atlas Shrugged.”  It’s just
that too many Christian’s grasp of what the Bible actually says about money and
taxes is so superficial that they see no contradiction between Randian
libertarianism and anti-government rhetoric on the one hand, and Christianity
on the other.  I was shocked to discover
that one Randian Duke professor of (what he euphemistically calls) business
ethics states flatly—“Religion is incompatibile with business.” It is from Rand that economists like Milton Freidman found
justification for the dictum that “the only social responsibility of a business
is to make money” and indeed make it by any means possible, it would seem.  

 

Working through the list of
prominent conservative Christians and financial planners who have touted one or
another of Rand’s dictums reads like a who’s
who of Christian financial planning, and TV evangelism.  Thus we often here the rhetoric of a ‘nation
under siege by its government and an oppressive tax burden’. We hear this from
wealthy Christians like Pat Robertson and Larry Burkett  (who once famously said “as cruel as it may
sound, it would be better to raise taxes on the poor, than on the wealthy”!!!).  

            What has
happened to Christian financial planners influenced by a combination of Randian
philosophy and libertarianism is the divorce of business from ethics, including
the divorce of investing from ethics. 
For example Austin Pryor publisher of a popular investment news letter for
Christians says “I want you to shift your thinking away from ethics when
investing”.  He adds: “I receive more
questions asking for suggestions on ethical investments than any other topic….Unfortunately
I must tell them I can be of no help.” !!  
Gary Moore says as well that Dave Ramsey’s website, despite promoting
Biblical fidelity, takes much the same tack as Austin Pryor.  Just close your eyes and invest in whatever
makes money.  As Bobby Dylan said, “Don’t
think twice Ma, its alright.” If this is the advice of your Christian
financial counselor, you should run, don’t walk in the opposite direction.  Moore
points out that the Social Investment Forum says only 10 per cent of
institutional money under management is integrated with a traditional Christian
ethic.  And we wonder why it is that
things go wrong on Wall Street and main street, and we blame the government,
instead of where much of the blame belongs— with greedy investors and greedy investment
firms determined to play by their own rules— which is ‘whatever they can get
away with’.

 

            I am not an
economist, nor the son of an economist, but I do know when an economic
philosophy flatly contradicts what the Bible says about this, that, or the
other subject, especially about the ethics of care for the poor, about loving
neighbor as self, the ethics of self-sacrifice and the like.  At the end of the day, Ayn Rand was clear
eyed and right—- godless capitalism of the form she advocates— a market
without any rules or ethical restraints, 
business without ethics, is flatly contradicted by the Bible and
Christianity.  This should have given
many conservative Christians who listen to libertarians and financial gurus
influenced by Randian libertarianism pause.  
Maybe their problem is not too much government…. Maybe their problem is
too little Bible filtering through their economic and political philosophies.   It’s
worth a thought.       

  

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