The Bible and Culture

The Bible and Culture


RANDIAN LIBERTARIANISM—- AN ANTI-CHRISTIAN CREDO

posted by Ben Witherington

moore.jpg

 

            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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cls

posted September 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm


It should be noted that numerous errors, if unknown, or falsehoods, if known, have been stated here.
Rand never held a dogma—beliefs others hold that you hate—or anti-governmentalism. In fact she was quite adamant that government was necessary but needed to be limited. If anything she was as intolerant of anti-governmentalism as this author.
Rand never spoke of a free market “unfettered by any altruism or ethical concerns.” That is just pure nonsense. Rand’s entire view was ethical in nature, when it came to the free market. As for individuals voluntarily pursuing altruism, which a free market by definition must allow, she would say their values are wrong but that they are free to pursue them. And you must be clear as to what she meant by altruism, which is not what is commonly assumed. Perhaps you don’t know?
It is also absolutely false to say Milton Friedman “found justification” for his views in Rand. Friedman was highly critical of Rand and had his views prior to Rand writing her novels. In other words Milton Friedman came to his views before Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was written so it is false to claim he justified his views based on her.
Markets do contradict the Bible, I agree there. So does science. So does common sense. So does the modern morality of social tolerance. Not killing gays contradicts the Bible, not stoning witches contradicts the Bible. I’m glad we live in world that contradicts the Bible.



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RnBram

posted September 19, 2010 at 2:33 pm


Witherington has quite a confused memory of his Ayn Rand readings. It would take three times the length of his post to demonstrate how false his claims are.
He says her books “touted … the take the money and run philosophy of Bernie Madoff”. To the contrary, she despised those who sought the unearned. Defrauding or robbing people, or taxing them by force for the ‘immorality’ of having made money, are too obviously immoral to explicate here.
However, Witherington should remember the following, because he claims to have read “The Virtue of Selfishness”!
The desire for the unearned has two aspects: the unearned in matter and the unearned in spirit. (By “spirit” I mean: man’s [natural] consciousness.) These two aspects are necessarily interrelated, but a man’s desire may be focused predominantly on one or the other. The desire for the unearned in spirit is the more destructive of the two and the more corrupt. It is a desire for unearned greatness; it is expressed (but not defined) by the foggy murk of the term “prestige.” . . .
“Unearned greatness is so unreal, so neurotic a concept that the wretch who seeks it cannot identify it even to himself: to identify it, is to make it impossible. He needs the irrational, undefinable slogans of altruism and collectivism to give a semiplausible form to his nameless urge and anchor it to reality —to support his own self-deception more than to deceive his victims.

Witherington is willing to misrepresent Miss Rand and her works, as per his iniquitous Madoff claim, to protect “his own self-deception”, as well as his spiritual claim on his readers’ minds.
If religion really, really taught honesty, he be truthful.



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Eric

posted September 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm


So, did citizens of Nazi Germany have a Christian Obligation to pay taxes to the Nazi government, knowing the money would be used to construct gas chambers, invade neighboring nations, etc.?
What if someone felt compelled to judge the morality of what the Nazi government was doing, and did not wish to materially contribute to what they were doing, by finding ways to avoid paying taxes, even breaking Nazi laws? Is that the action of a principled person, or someone whom Jesus would condemn as immoral?
I guess this is not such a hypothetical question, since the Christian religion was not exactly a minority sect in Germany during Nazi times, and all you would have to do is look at the sermons of that age in Germany, to find out where the duties of the Reich citizens lay, according to the German Christian preachers.



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Brett

posted September 19, 2010 at 4:06 pm


But the main one seems to be the implication that since some libertarians have been influenced by Ayn Rand, the libertarian arguments against the current economic policy are immoral. You are playing the same game that the right plays with Karl Marx.



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Daniel Hewitt

posted September 19, 2010 at 7:52 pm


While there is much to agree with here, Ayn Rand was an objectivist, not a libertarian. There are important differences between the two:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism_and_Objectivism
Brett made a great point above – coupling libertarians with Rand is as unfair as coupling leftists with Marx. A more appropriate hero for a Christian libertarian would be Tolstoy.



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ben witherington

posted September 19, 2010 at 8:02 pm


I would suggest that the four commentators above should bother to read the book I have referred to, in fact both boooks— the one by Gary Moore, and more importantly the critique of Ayn Rand, in the Goddess book that Moore refers to. Bother at least to read Gary Moore’s article in Christianity Today. Then come back and talk to me.
Libertarian arguments vary, but the ones I keep hearing, even from Christians, are at variance with both the Bible and Biblical morality in various ways.
It is true that Rand was opposed to unearned profit, but therein lies the point. People at Goldman Sachs and people like Bernie Madoff believed they had earned it—–. What they believed about it is irrelevant. It was immoral regardless of their beliefs.
From an ethical point of view, perhaps the most immoral part of Rand’s philosophy is the whole notion that selfishness could be a virtue. It can’t and it isn’t. This is just one more attempt to justify narcissism and self-centered behavior. Period. And the attempt by Rand to caricature meekness as weakness, and self-sacrificial behavior as a form of that weakness, is beyond unjustifiable.
BW3



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Brett

posted September 19, 2010 at 8:20 pm


I mean to say that I disagree with many of your arguments, but…
Anyway, not sure Tolstoy fits into this discussion as a libertarian (he was opposed to private property). He was no economists.
According to Beck and friends, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine would be good examples of Christian libertarians. :) :roll eyes.
Libertarianism is liberal enlightenment values taken to their logical end, which should give Christian’s cause for concern. On the other hand, Christian’s would do well to understand 17th century liberal arguments against authoritarianism, which was backed by most of Christendom.
Not only that, libertarianism is certainly no worse than the materialism that the left offers.
One important lesson is that the teaching of Jesus are not necessarily in the context of political or economic governance. The sooner that the left and right Christian’s figure this out, the better we will all be.



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ben witherington

posted September 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm


Hi Daniel: I imagine That Alan Greenspan knows a libertarian when he sees one, and he is perfectly clear that his own inspiration and that of many libertarians is in fact Ayn Rand.
BW3



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ben witherington

posted September 19, 2010 at 8:25 pm


Hi Brett:
I don’t really think you can avoid the social, economic, and even political implications of some of Jesus’ teachings. The Sermon on the Mount has implications for all three if you take it seriously.
BW3



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Brett

posted September 19, 2010 at 8:45 pm


I posted the article BWIII is referring to in the URL link.
Page 1:
He needs to better define “libertarianism” especially in the context of Christian libertarians. He claims that libertarians held Greenspan as a hero. While many on right did like Greenspan, there has been almost as much criticism of him as accolades. The actual libertarian wing of the Republican Party (i.e. Ron Paul) actually denounced the fed altogether. Many supply-siders criticized him for being too conservative on monetary policy. So, at best this is a sloppy observation.
Page 2-4 :
This is mostly a critique of Rand. I’ll leave that to others. At the end of Page 4 he tries to connect, Larry Burckette, Pat Robertson, and Ralph Reed to Rand. How does he do that? By quoting them praising libertarian virtues. Sloppy!
Page 6
He takes the cake here:
“he yearning for a more ethical, prudent approach has been marked by recent books such as God Is Back, by the senior editors of The Economist, and The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism, by Nobel laureate Robert William Fogel. Two of these authors are agnostics, but they still see America returning to the Promised Land.”
In other words, my godless economists are better than your godless economists.
Didn’t read his book, but the article didn’t lead me to put it on my list.



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Brett

posted September 19, 2010 at 8:50 pm


Ben,
I never said to avoid them, and yes there are implications. My point is that His call to give to the poor doesn’t necessarily imply a tax supported welfare system any more than His teachings on sin mean that the government should legislate against that.



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Brett

posted September 19, 2010 at 8:56 pm


Another comment. His article is full of the genetic fallacy.
Ayn Rand is a libertarian.
Ayn Rand was against Christianity.
Therefore, libertarianism is against Christianity.
He would have had some point if he could have demonstrated her influence on Christian thinkers, but he did not do that.
I assume he is selling his book for money as is all the other authors he denounces?



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Mike Taylor

posted September 20, 2010 at 12:43 am


Thanks Ben. Though I agree with Brett that our obligations (joys?) as followers of the Lord does not compel government solutions to social issues (who I am to compel non-Christians to act as Christians?), I seem to see more and more “Christian” people whose focus is on success by worldly terms. We are “looking out for #1″. Whatever happened to you CANNOT love God and mammon, sharing in Christ’s sufferings, dieing to ourselves, …? It seems to me that the focus of our society has moved away from the Lord and re-centered on ourselves. Instead of being like Smyrna we have become like Laodicea. I wonder if more of us will not be blessed with great physical poverty so that we might find true wealth.



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ben witherington

posted September 20, 2010 at 7:27 am


Brett I quite agree its an imperfect article. I also agree that we should not leap to government solutions to all our problems. I think we have to admit though that the church has largely failed to deal with its responsibilities on a whole host of issues including poverty.
I think it is beyond naive to think that we do not need a strong central government for as a complex and large a country as we are, and considering the growing global network of economies. Decentralization simply makes no sense in light of either the world situation or the complexity and size of America. For example, suppose Social Security were to be voted out of existence next month. Where would our senior citizens be? If you want to see a grey revolution try that. There needs to be a balance between the central government and the authority of state and local entities, but certainly in these uncertain times we need a strong central government. I shudder to think how bad unemployment and the recession would be if there had not been intervention.
BW3



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Brett

posted September 20, 2010 at 8:40 am


BWIII,
I am not a libertarian, so I would tend to agree that we need a strong central government. OTOH, I think that most that Moore is trying to paste with the Randian/libertarian label also agree. Decentralization is already something that has happened to a large degree since the deregulation started in the 70s, and is a different issue than government intervention.
As far as unemployment being worse now, I don’t know. I guess in this way that Government is more powerful than God as they really can create a rock that they cannot move. I’m not totally sure that I buy into the Keynesian idea of stimulus (at least not as much as Paul Krugman does), but I wish that any stimulus we did was put to good infrastructure projects.
Having said that, I am a moderate and would agree that we need a balance between free market and the government, which certainly can and should play a part in restraining evil where the markets can’t and won’t.



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Mark Wickens

posted September 20, 2010 at 10:18 am


Bernie Madoff and example of Ayn Rand’s philosophy?! Ridiculous. Ayn Rand was an advocate of living a rational, productive life and of not faking reality. Madoff does remind me of some Ayn Rand characters, however — the villains.



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david carlson

posted September 20, 2010 at 10:20 am


Nice post Ben – I agree completely. Anyone who reads libertarian writings will see not only the Randian thoughts, but most of time the explicit acknowledgment of her influence.
And her thinking is not biblical



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RnBram

posted September 20, 2010 at 12:26 pm


I have read enough books & articles *about* Ayn Rand to recognize trends among the authors. One group resent her because they cheated her (seeking the unearned), were exposed, and still hoped to “get away with it” (the Brandens). A bigger group, has an un-admitted motivation to undermine her truths (the Left, religious right academics AND Libertarians!). Some do not even attempt to logically work through her material, but ‘sift’ it to find out of context snippets that they believe supports their a priori conclusions.
E.g. Moore psychologizes Rand’s motives as arising from childhood, never mind the extensive reasoning by which she demonstrates the wickedness of socialism. Most of Moore’s remarks are scandalously dishonest, misinterpretations matching Witherington’s irresponsible lumping of Rand and Madoff into the same ‘philosophy’. Some even try to rewrite her context, e.g., “…to give a semiplausible form to his nameless urge and anchor it to reality —to support his own self-deception more than to deceive his victims“. Moore is a resource for the dishonest. Jennifer Burns’s “Goddess of the Market” commits exactly the same kind of dishonesty, from a leftist academic perspective.



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RnBram

posted September 20, 2010 at 12:39 pm


Well Witherington concedes that Rand is not in the same moral camp as Bernie Madhoff. He then tries to whitewash the distinction. The Goldman Sachs executives, struggling to stay within some 53,000 financial regulations, LOST money to the very causes Witherington et al. support, and were still blamed for somehow behaving dishonestly. No, those executives are not philosophers, but they do not lose money if they can help it! But there is something deeper, worse and more revealing of the thinking Witherington espouses.
He writes, “/what they believed about it is irrelevant. It was immoral regardless of their beliefs.” Apparently a proper morality exists apart from beliefs. That is, if the GS executives’ beliefs were completely rational and proper for them, for their clients and for business, they would STILL be immoral. Apparently the only things moral are those Witherington believes… however he may rationalize his morality as being handed down from God.
This is the same barbaric approach to right and wrong that is demonstrated by extreme Islamists. There is no room for discussion as to what a Christian might believe, it is immoral, period.



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RnBram

posted September 20, 2010 at 1:10 pm


… perhaps the most immoral part of Rand’s philosophy is the whole notion that selfishness could be a virtue. It can’t and it isn’t.
“Every living creature MUST live in a way that supports its own existence, or it ceases to exist. Mankind is not exempt.
Decent, productive, strangers are a value. Living selfishly does not mean undercutting the lives of those others, nor does it mean “narcissism“. This is yet another misrepresentation of Rand’s ideas by Witherington (& many others)!
The person who acts to aid another may see a value in that other person, and may even gain some value back. That would be a rationally charitable act (which Rand supported). However, if one’s charitable acts cease to be productive, individually or more globally, then the philanthropist has acted unselfishly. Unselfish actions are, by definition, self-destructive. But they also destroy the very people they seek to help. They set an example that productivity should be subordinated to giving and receiving handouts. The more a culture subscribes to that mentality, the less productivity in the culture. The brilliant productive ability of Bill Gates (& others) is lost to the world when they embark of philanthropy to appease their unearned sense of guilt for having been selfish. Bill Gates did farm more, as CEO of Microsoft, to help the poor than ten thousand Mother Theresa’s.
Usage of the word “selfish”, etymologically, is little different from the word “blue” used with the same suffix. Something that is blue must have a dominant degree of bluishness, or it is not blue. Someone who is a self, must have a dominant degree of selfishness, or they are no “self”.
This is not a case of senseless greed, but a fact of Nature, as Nature IS, whether you believe God made Nature or not.



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RnBram

posted September 20, 2010 at 2:12 pm


It is disgraceful how many religionists seek to convince others that religion has the rational high ground. There are some exceptions, who throw out reason altogether. The Islamic “believe or be decapitated” approach is where they all end up (including the Communists). The big problem is the un-reason inherent in the religionists’ arguments, that they want the rest of us to accept as being reason. Moore’s & Witherington are no different.
Disregarding the supernatural foundation of their beliefs, they start to argue at some arbitrary point many conceptual levels removed, as if their arbitrary point was an Absolute truth. E.g. Witherington said “immoral regardless of their beliefs”, and selfishness can’t be and isn’t a virtue.
Yet morality, and of course, virtue, depends on how one does one’s thinking. Is it step by step reasoning from Reality, or faithful leaps from an unknowable supernatural realm? Remarkably the religious (especially the leaders) simultaneously claim to know the unknowable …on faith!. No wonder the ultimate solution in disagreement is the sword.
The most basic question is, “Is there a material reality with its own laws, or is all reality alterable at the behest of some ineffable consciousness?” How do we know?
Parmenides, 2500 years ago(!) grasped ex nihilo, nihil fit (that’s the Latin wording): “from Nothing, nothing comes”.
What part of Nothing, suddenly organized itself into an Omnipotent Being (OB)? If Nothing can do that, why should one worship the OB? …they should worship the Nothing. Why would Nothing need an OB to create the Universe, when Nothing has already been more omnipotent than the OB? Why would OB need to have a Son to convince us He is important, when Nothing is so much better? Surely, if the relgionists are going to be consistent, they should be praying to Nothing. Maybe Nothing could provide lunch!
Aristotle, 100 yrs later, grasped the Law of Identity (that “A is A”) and the Law of non-Contradiction. The instant anyone posits the idea that something came from nothing, they are claiming A is also non-A. They are also claiming that contradictions are characteristic of Nature itself, and are not merely due our confusions about Nature. The demand is that contradictions be accepted.
Only when contradictions are accepted as Natural, can the King James Bible claim the Earth had four *days* before it had a Sun (Genesis 1:14-19), in disregard of the fact that days depend on the Earth’s axial position with respect to the Sun. (The New International version has, disingenuously, dispensed with ‘days” to eliminate this contradiction! ..and so the bible ‘evolves’, by heaping lies on lies.) Thus a bush burns without being consumed, as if the word “burns” does NOT mean chemical combustion.
Clearly, in order to have faith in the many absurdities of religion, no one should eat of the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17). Logically, believers in the bible expose their sinfulness whenever they claim to know right from wrong. That, of course, means “to know morality”. When Witherington wrote “…immoral regardless of their beliefs”, he claimed to know good from evil, right from wrong. Since Nothing created God, Witherington is putting his faith in Nothing, and can therefore have no means for making moral distinctions.



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ben witherington

posted September 20, 2010 at 2:29 pm


This is quite a rant Mr. RNBram. Clearly, something got under your skin. You are right that I am saying there is something absolute about right and wrong. It’s not a mere matter of opinion, mine or yours. I was rather amazed at your attempt to defend the indefensible, namely the deliberate attempts of firms like Goldman Sachs to willingly and knowingly make loans to people they knew couldn’t pay! This is certainly immoral, and doesn’t even meet the basic standards of business ethics, never mind Christian ethics. Ayn Rand does not deserve to revered, nor her writings canonized as if it were some inherent truth. For example the dictum— ‘unselfish acts are by definition self-destructive’. Really??? When a mother makes radical sacrifices to provide for a sick child rather than further enhance her own well-being (I am not talking about scenario in which the mother’s life is in danger), is this a loving act, or is it a self-destructive one? Clearly it is a loving act, even though it may involve enormous self-sacrifice to do it. Unfortunately Ayn Rand did not understand that love, self-sacrificial love is the most virtuous act a human being could ever commit. Self-preservation comes far down the ethical depth chart compared to such an act.
BW3



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Brett

posted September 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm


RnBram said:
The person who acts to aid another may see a value in that other person, and may even gain some value back. That would be a rationally charitable act (which Rand supported). However, if one’s charitable acts cease to be productive, individually or more globally, then the philanthropist has acted unselfishly. Unselfish actions are, by definition, self-destructive. But they also destroy the very people they seek to help. They set an example that productivity should be subordinated to giving and receiving handouts.
Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/bibleandculture/2010/09/randian-libertarianism—–an-anti-christian-credo.html#ixzz1060428aX

This sounds like a utilitarianism redux, which is based on an unknowable set of variables. I’ll take the Christian ethic over this sort of thing any day.



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Damien

posted September 20, 2010 at 5:12 pm


I find myself in broad agreement with Dr. Witherington and I’ve always found it troublesome that some Christians fail to see the contradiction between Rand’s thought and a Christian ethic.
That being said, I think we should make a distinction between Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand. Friedman’s was famously opposed to the concept of corporate social responsibility, but we shouldn’t necessarily think that such opposition was rooted in dark motives, selfishness or greed. The distinction that he appears to make seems quite sensible to me: if you want to actively do good deeds (as opposed to merely obeying the laws and not actively pursuing evil), it might be a better idea to start a charity rather than start a business or work for a regular company. The basic purpose of a business is to sell products and make profits, not to, e.g., build schools and health clinics.
That is not to say that it would not be a good idea or a moral imperative for those with a stake in the company to build such things. It simply means that it is not up to the company (which is merely a fictitious entity) to do so.
Many of the most prominent companies are publicly traded and their officers have a fiduciary duty to the shareholders. Absent a clear mandate from shareholders, a CEO who used company resources for “corporate social responsibility” would be acting dishonestly in my opinion, as he would be using other people’s money in ways that they have not authorized. This is similar to a waiter giving a meal to a homeless person (which is in itself good) without asking for the restaurant’s owner permission or paying for it himself (which is bad and is basically theft).



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clioprof

posted September 20, 2010 at 8:26 pm


It may be that Ben and Moore have misinterpreted some of Rand’s philosophy. But the fact is, they’ve caught the gist of it.
Moreover, Christians across the country are citing Rand in similar ways to justify selfishness, greed, and lack of charity. What a horrible misrepresentation of the Gospel.
Thanks Ben.



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David Weinschrott

posted September 20, 2010 at 10:39 pm


It saddens me that for many, the market is thought to be the final arbiter of what are good outcomes of economic transactions. Instead the simplest two person / two product model the describe how market trading (exchange) yields efficiency includes a dimension that asks the question “how should goods / wealth be distributed. For you econ majors, the so-called Edgeworth box shows what is called a “contract curve” which shows an infinitude of efficient market solutions. (sorry for this language for non-econ majors – but this is important!) How does one decide among those infinitude of efficient points. Economics has no answer, so one looks to political, social, or religious values. But very clearly, how individual wind up depends how they started (initial endowments).
Think of it this way – play a series of Monopoly games but in each successive game redistribute the starting endowment of cash away from some players toward others. Does if make in difference in the results even if everyone follows the rules? How about if some can break the rules and some can’t. Market results are like those outcomes – they depend how people start and how the game is played. It would be foolish to argue the market is always right under the conditions outlined here unless one has no values at all. Its not that people in business need not pay attention to how they conduct their business, rather business of only a part of their being – they are still answerable for their actions. I believe that some people need to pay attention to how goods are distributed initially and how people play the game.
This insight captured my thinking in a graduate micro economic class a UCLA 40 years ago. It has never left me since.



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David Weinschrott

posted September 20, 2010 at 10:48 pm


One more point regarding Friedman. I noticed that Milton Friedman couched his remarks differently when he was talking to the local Kiwanis Club or the Rotatarians than when he was speaking to a crowd of economists. Some of his quotable statements would not be accepted among his peers.
Similarly now we have some influenced by the tea party folks making statements about how the stimulus expenditures made no difference in economic trends and growth – but no economist even ‘conservative’ ones would make that statement around other economists.
On another note, thanks to Ben for recommending the movie Get Low. It was a very moving flick.



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Minroad

posted September 21, 2010 at 2:13 pm


“It may be that Ben and Moore have misinterpreted some of Rand’s philosophy.” — You think? What a mess of an article.
Rand would have unequivocally condemned Madoff, so to equate her Philosophy with that of the criminal Madoff is terribly unjust. Second, Rand was most emphatically not anti-government (she was indeed anti-soviet, which is hardly the same thing), and was a strong advocate of a ‘proper’ government. In fact, she regarded America as the first moral country on earth, due to its government’s stance on individual rights. Despite the authors terribly speculative foray into her supposed psychology, Rand’s stated oppossition to the imroper aspects of American government have been clearly stated in her books, which the author has claimed to have read (and her reasons certaily have nothing to do with the NT having calims about honoring government officials). Another notewothy mistake is in saying that Ayn Rand was an advocate of Self-centeredness, she was not (see Ayn Rand Journals, March 6, 1966). She was an advocate of Rational Selfishness, a differentiation apparently too difficult to this muddied thinker to make.
The emotional gist of this article, however badly thought out, is correct, however. Rand and Christiantiy are philosophically incompatible. Rand holds sacrifice as an unncesarry evil, Christianity hold it as the highest good. Rand’s ideas are consistent with business and the pursiut of ones own happiness, Christianity isn’t. Rand is not consistent with taxes, wealth distribution and the welfare state, Christianity is. Likewise, I would say Moore is more consistently Christian than Ramsey (and incidentally, why Ramsey is much better.)
The author is also inexact when referring to “a market without any rules or ethical restraints”, when more accurately it should be called “a market without rules or restraints that follow the Christian ethic.” Christianity does not equal ethical.
Rand thought this ethics to be incompatible with reason, reality and individual rights. If you want to know why, pick up one of her books and find out.



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Jason

posted September 21, 2010 at 10:23 pm


Yet Christianity, which is supposedly incompatible with business, was the philosophy underlying the economic growth of the Western world for a thousand years before Ayn Rand was born. [Stark: Cities of God]
I read some of the comments from Rand’s champions, and while they may be more correct on Rand’s views, and should say so, on the topic of religion, specifically Christian religion, these supposedly rational individuals descend rapidly into incoherent gibberish.
Nothing became God? Puh-lease. The universe was brought into being out of nothing at the beginning of time. God is defined as being eternal, outside of time. As such he has no beginning. Consequently there is no contradiction in there.
Four days before the sun? Not four days without light, that being the second thing created, and it only takes a differentiation between light and dark to give the effect of a day.
All attempts to root morality in “reality” or the material, quickly fall to the is-ought fallacy. The only justification given above for acting is that in some way it might benefit us. Even that suggests that benefiting ourselves is something we “ought” to do. No species survives without benefiting itself we are told, but even that supposes that surviving is something we “ought” to do.



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Quiddity

posted September 21, 2010 at 11:09 pm


I’m here to cheer on BW3. He is right that selfishness is not a virtue. Interesting that none of the libertarian commenters have responded to that point except for RnBram who declares “Unselfish actions … destroy the very people they seek to help,” which is one of the ugliest things I’ve read in a while (and which Ben properly counters).



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Eric

posted September 22, 2010 at 2:42 am


Rational selfishness means acting in accordance with what, in principle, in the long run (and regardless of short-term emotions), will benefit your interests, which must necessarily include the interests of everyone and every issue you rationally care about.
Sacrifice means setting aside what you want (rationally determined, or irrationally determined narcissist or criminal desires), and instead, listening to and obeying externally imposed duties for the sake of duty, and not due to any rational understanding of any principles.
The rational self-interest approach is an approach that is profoundly respectful of the human being’s ability to perceive reality, reason correctly, and do the right thing to yield the best long-term results for everybody. It is the foundation which would lead to organizing a society around the concept of individual rights, free speech, freedom of religion, free markets, right to pursue [one's own] happiness, etc. The USA was born of the Enlightenment era, and this ethical approach is implied in its founding documents. It is a logical application of the whole Enlightenment approach to the individual’s power to reason and act responsibly.
By contrast, the sacrificial approach has been with us since antiquity, and is profoundly distrustful of any human being’s ability to perceive reality, or to be able to determine the right thing to do long-term. On this foundation, it asserts that since humans are too stupid or corrupt to do the right thing, will do evil things left to their own devices, rules of conduct must come down from some supernatural realm outside of human reason, and forcefully tell people what to do, for their own good. Such rules are beyond human reason, since humans do not have the ability to reason long-term. There is no question of individual rights, or people being allowed to pursue their own happiness, since that is obviously catering to the human tendency towards evil. When consistently applied, this approach leads to theocracy, suppression of individual rights, totalitarianism, and sustained economic stagnation and mass starvation.
If all of this is true, then it follows that anyone who pushes the sacrificial approach to ethics, in opposition to the rational selfishenss approach, must either be sincere but ignorant of some or all of the above; or is secretly operating with a malevolent intention to push the world towards one in which a totalitarian theocratic regime has iron grip power on everyone, where people are executed for speaking their minds (yours is not to question, but to obey; human reason is corrupt), where obedience is expected (do the bidding of Authorities, not the corrupt little desires your little mind comes up with), and any lack of conformity with religious authorities is treated as treason punishable by death (Lack of conformity with supernaturally established Authority is destruction of the fabric of society, and must be dealt with severely).



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travis

posted September 23, 2010 at 12:25 am


Mr. Witherington,
I’m confused. Why is this paragraph so different from what you say in the Jesus and Money book?
“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)?”
vs
‘… it is hardly likely that Jesus’s advice to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” was intended to indicate that a Jew should be civic-minded and pay his taxes, though this saying has often been read that way.”



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travis

posted September 23, 2010 at 12:26 am


(that was from page 59 of the Jesus and Money hardback)



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RnBram

posted September 23, 2010 at 11:28 pm


Readers might note that witherington prefaced his comment response to me by smearing it as a “rant” & as “something [that] got under [my] skin”. Why attempt belittlement, before actually addressing the issues I raised? It is a cheap tactic.
Witherington argues that right and wrong are absolutes apart from either his judgment or mine. Hmmmm? If these higher absolutes exist apart from his judgment, how could he possibly know if they absolutes, or if they are right or if they are wrong? This effort commits a variation of The Fallacy of the Self-Excluding Statement. You might call it “wanting to have your cake and eating it too”.
Goldman-Sachs and many other banks were under great pressure from government bureaucrats (starting in under Carter) to offer those loans, or lose their credit rating and cease to be party to government economic manipulations. They were operating under the contradictory & arbitrary forces of government intervention. Witherington’s view echoes the naive nonsense promulgated by politicians and partisan, leftist MSM writers.
Had Witherington read Atlas Shrugged at a more mature age, he might recall that it was the ethical businessmen, not the grafters, manipulators and fraudsters, who achieved wealth.
Witherington turns valuing and love upside down in suggesting that a mother “sacrifices to provide for a sick child rather than further enhance her own well being”. A sacrifice entails giving up a higher value for a lesser value. Yet here, Witherington makes it clear she loves her child, and obviously more so than details of her own well being. She is struggling to support her sick child because the child is a greater value. That is not a sacrifice if the word is to have a consistent meaning.
If, in a worst case scenario, the mother would have to die to save her son, the implication is obvious to any but those steeped in religious altruism. Her death is a testimony of her love for him, of her valuing of him. Her death is a terrible price, but she was willing to pay it. It is NOT a sacrifice.
Let’s take a harder look at Witherington’s position, that the mother is sacrificing herself, deliberately, for the sake of her child. It would mean that she sees her child as being of little or NO value to her. By Christian altruism, as Witherington clear intends, the more the mother sacrifices, the more “virtuous” she is. She would be really really virtuous if she absolutely hated her child, and unhappily saved him anyway.
A blatant example of this upside down morality occurred in China ~15 yrs ago. A tenement building was on fire. Though his own unit was burning, the father rushed to rescue another family first. His own family died of smoke inhalation. The Communist Party newspapers cheered that man as a hero for his altruistic act.
Communists and Christians share each others ethics, politics and even economics. Christian businesses survive by not being too altruistic, by ‘getting away with’ as much rational selfishness as they can.



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RnBram

posted September 24, 2010 at 5:12 am


Two minor errors might effect understand, & should read as follows:
P2 s3 “…how could he possibly know if they areabsolutes…”
P3 s1 “…lose their credit rating and cease to receive early notification of government economic manipulations.”
I also note this typo:
P7 s3 I also left off the ly in “clearly”
My apologies.



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Kyle

posted October 2, 2010 at 3:43 pm


Rand’s recent boost in popularity is fundamentally due to the bleak economic picture painted by the consequences of socialist policies, as seen in Atlas Shrugged. I don’t think that the Christians who have recommended her books are offering wholesale endorsements of Objectivism at all!
I’m closer to libertarian than anything else (definitely not an objectivist) and I think it’s completely unfair to treat Christian libertarians as though they believe every word Rand wrote – it’s simply not true. Many libertarian thinkers predated Rand and were not anti-Christian and in no way is the philosophy incompatible with Christian belief. And in reference to Christians paying their taxes, I wholly agree that we should obey the laws that exist – but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with trying to change laws and governmental policies we feel are unjust!
I think it’s the individual’s responsibility to provide for the misfortunate in society, and that wealthy individuals and private organizations can do so more effectively than inefficient government-run operations. I have often thought that liberals won’t put their money where their mouths are, instead begging the government to do what they don’t really want to.



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Harmon

posted November 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm


The first poster pointed out some issues with the representation of Rand here. I’ll skip that.
I think the use of Jesus’ comment about rendering unto Caesar failed to bridge the cultural gap here. Jesus and the disciples were not voting citizens with a role to play in their government. The structure of Rome’s republic and the roles of its citizens (even Paul) were different than those in the US. Because of that gap, telling me that Jesus didn’t object to taxes doesn’t really say much. Neither of them had the position or power to express such a view in any meaningful way or to effect structural change in the scope of Roman government by non-violent means.
On the other hand, Witherington is right to note that believers should care about the moral ramifications of their investing. Finding a competent financial advisor who’s also looking out for such issues is important.
Lastly, trying to split the blame and say blame Wall Street and not the government (or vice versa) is not a winning choice. The two are intertwined in so many ways that they stand and fall together. That’s the real deal on “too big to fail.” Demonizing Wall Street’s greed doesn’t dilute the government’s own enabling vices.



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