Either/or 11

Professor Stephen Prothero is a professor of religion at Boston University.  As one might expect of a professor of religion, he makes unwarrantable assumptions.

He does so in a column he’s written for USA Today titled You can’t reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus.

Who’s trying to?

The Tea Party, he assumes.

The Tea Party protests against the Obama government’s economic policies of redistribution, deficit spending on ever-increasing entitlements, the robbing of “the rich” and the enforced dependency of “the poor”, resulting in high unemployment and a load of debt on future generations.

Ayn Rand would be sympathetic to such protest. Some Tea Partiers carry signs quoting her.  So  – Professor Prothero reasons – the Tea Party is inspired by her philosophy.

“But hold on a mo!”, he says to himself, figuratively scratching his head. “Everyone in the Tea Party is conservative – and aren’t all conservatives religious? Aren’t most of them evangelical Christians?  Sure they are. So they’re in deep confusion. Ayn Rand was an atheist. I must straighten them out. Make them see that they hold contradictory views. Explain to them that they cannot be both for Jesus and for Ayn Rand.”

For what Jesus? We surmise that everyone who thinks about Jesus, whether or not he’s a Christian, has his own Jesus in his head. Stephen Prothero’s Jesus is a lefty.  He quotes the biblical Jesus as saying: “Blessed are the poor”. Lefties have reason to bless the poor every day of their lives, and hope they never go away (ie become rich), for in the name of that imaginary caste lefties pursue their egalitarian cause, believing the pursuit to be so ennobling that they can be as nasty as they choose to real people without losing a drop of their moral pride.

Professor Prothero will remember that the biblical Jesus is reported as saying not only “Blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20), but “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:6), which lefties plainly are not.

But let’s go to the professor’s own words (you can read them all here if you care to):

In Rand’s Manichaean world, it is not God vs. Satan, but individualism vs. collectivism.

Right. And we too see the great political divide as being between individualism and collectivism.

He goes on:

While Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor,” she sings Hosannas to the rich. The heroes of Atlas Shrugged (which, alas, is only slightly shorter than the Bible) are captains of industry such as John Galt. The villains are the “looters” and “moochers” — people who by hook (guilt) or by crook (government coercion) steal from the hard-won earnings of others.

The professor’s sympathies are all with the moochers. He praises Jesus for being “a first-class, grade-A ‘moocher’.”

He proceeds, scornfully and sarcastically:

Turning the tables on traditional Christian morality, Rand argues that altruism is immoral and selfishness is good.

Our argument is that selfishness is essential to our survival, though it doesn’t preclude generosity or even altruism (which is very rarely practiced). See our post Against God and Socialism, April 29, 2011.

Moreover, there isn’t a problem in the world that laissez-faire capitalism can’t solve if left alone to perform its miracles.

Of course there are problems that cannot be solved, but individuals left free to innovate profitably can and do solve a lot of them. Collectives cannot and do not.

The solutions that capitalism facilitates are not claimed to be miracles. Miracles happen only in the minds of the religious and the gullible.

Ayn Rand was as much against religion as we are. “Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life,” Prothero quotes her as saying, without comment. To him her words are shocking, and he expects them to shock his readers. We, however, agree with her. Our pages provide ample evidence that religion has always done and continues to do immense harm.

He himself, Prothero half confesses, was a bit of a fan of Ayn Rand when he was in his adolescnce. But, he implies, her appeal can only be to the adolescent mind:

I first read Atlas Shrugged and her other popular novel, The Fountainhead, while festival-hopping in Spain after graduating from college, so I can attest to the appeal of this philosophy to late adolescents of a certain gender.

“A certain gender”? What gender would that be? And why only that one? He doesn’t say.

As an adult, however, Rand’s work reads to me like a vulgar rationalization for greed lying on top of a perverse myth of the right relationship between individual and community.

Now we don’t recognize the sin of greed, but we do recognize the sin of envy. Socialism – or “redistributionism” – is the politics of envy.

The obvious tendency of Prothero’s argument is that Jesus is right and Rand is wrong. Towards the end of his column he claims, however, not to be trying to win readers from Rand to Jesus, he’s only trying to point out that the two contradict each other. “You cannot worship both the God of Jesus and the mammon of Rand,” he says. Choose one or the other,  “or say no to both. It’s a free country. Just don’t tell me you are both a card-carrying Objectivist and a Bible-believing Christian. Even Rand knew that just wasn’t possible.”

That’s his message to Tea Partiers who display Rand quotations, and to Republicans, who also, he assumes, are guilty of trying to reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus.

Any Republicans in particular? He names Paul Ryan:

Among Rand’s adoring acolytes on Capitol Hill is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who at a Library of Congress Symposium held in 2005 on the centenary of the Rand’s birth called her “the reason I got involved in public service.”

We are delighted, and not at all surprised, to hear that Paul Ryan learnt from Ayn Rand. If we had nothing else to be grateful to Ayn Rand for, her getting Paul Ryan “involved in public service” would put us hugely in her debt. His capitalist convictions and economic know-how is already doing good for the Republican Party, and would do good for America (and therefore to the world) if he were to become president. We see him as the desperately needed leader under whom the United States of America would again embody the great idea of individual freedom on which it was founded.


(Hat tip to our reader George for bringing Stephen Prothero’s column to our attention.)


  • What a shame this fake argument is raging like wildfire. Acknowledging Rand’s proven track record of economic and political wisdom – which we can see all around us, as she predicted a great deal of it, down to specific types of mechanism – does not mean a Christian or anyone else agrees with the totality of her thought. It’s also very silly to maintain that the Christian commitment to caring for the poor somehow automatically means Progressive politics or anything to do with government at all. Jesus was not pro-State – note who killed him. The Christian injunction is that *we* help the poor – a very libertarian and individualistic approach. Entitlement programs are destroying the economy – $60trillion in unfunded liabilities (compare that to one year’s GDP) is just the beginning. It’s not compassionate to the poor to bankrupt the country.

    • George

      Michael, I agree that entitlement programs are bankrupting the country and I don’t know who inferred that any  prophet ( Jesus or any other ) was pro-state. Maybe I missed that.  However , your statement —” The Christian injunction is that “we” help the poor – a very libertarian and individualistic approach”  may apply to SOME Christians , but the original perpetrators of the societal mess from slavery, Jim Crow segregation and establishment of the ghettos and enclaves were created and organized by Christians ( both left wing and right wing Christians ).  This doesn’t however make the  argument “fake” where there may or not be agreement or disagreement. I’m totally with you being against these outrageous entitlement programs and the corrupt politicians who are definately bankrupting the country . I always give to charity, help the poor, work in community activities and always the people automatically assume that I am a  Christian .  As usual, they have no idea whatsoever.   

  • Scrims2

    The irony is, Prothero is right – Christianity IS collectivist. I don’t know how he could consider Ayn Rand “adolescent” and then come to consider the fairytale of the gospel to be rational adult thinking, but at least he understands that if you really were to live out the gospel honestly, you would sell all your possessions and become a collectivist.   He got it right that Jesus was the “chief moocher” of a long line of moochers down to our present popes, pastors, and televangelists. How he can see that and be proud of it is the real mystery to me, along with the mystery of how Christians can’t see it at all.

    • George

      That’s because Christians  or adherents  of the top 3 Abrahamic religions  are NOT taught to think or reason——-but only to blindly believe ,  acccept and submit themselves as indoctrinated.  That’s why they can’t see it at all. It can be summed up in one word—-   BRAINWASHING     !!!!!!!!

  • George

    It’s amazing how people with these theological degrees actually believe that they are so educated , smart and enlightened.   Regarding the fact that religion in itself is nothing but organized superstition practiced on a wide scale with massive numbers of adherents. Why should I or anyone else for that matter respect ANY professor of theology ?
                    To be perfectly blunt , a person with a Ph.D  in theology is nothing but a person who has a doctorate in superstition and as far as I am concerned is NOT deserving of any respect.     In other words, such a person is essentially a Professor in Fairytaleology,   Doctor of Mythology,  Professor of Superstitionism  , or Master of Fantasytosis . 
                  Just think , a person goes to college for years and gets brainwashed in ancient superstitions and mythology and then they get a degree  proclaiming that they are an expert in the field of Theologicalbullcrapology.   And of course we poor lost souls need them to explain to us how we are so misguided with our heathenistic heretical infidelitical secularonic atheisticonic anti-theological subversiveness. 
                             If  only we poor lost irreligious souls would turn to Jesus ( you know, that dude that died two thousand years ago for all us sinful subhumans while he (Jesus) is going to return as a two thousand year old Zombie and walk the earth  in mummy form so that we low-life mortal beings can live our lives on clouds in the sky playing harps and have halos over our invisible heads with white robes and white wings attached  to our invisible and formless bodies as we dwell in this state for all of eternity.  Gee, —-hot darn , that’s what I’m looking forward to.    Yeeeeowwwww  baby !!!!!!!!!!!!!!  

    • Definitely agree with you George.  (I knew we would go back to agreeing with eachother!)  🙂

      I watched a few youtube videos of “Dr.” William Lane Craig.  They are just downright humorous.  But, I will admit, they eventually get really enfuriating, because he talks from such a posture of authority.  It really gets digusting, especially when you see how religious zealots rally around this guy.  He likes to use complex words and concepts to provide the illusion that he is intelligent, and correct.  But, any real analysis of what he says shows that his conclusions and arguments are totally fallacious.

      • George

        I heard Michael Savage on the radio last night engaging in his usual atheist bashing tirade.     He was ranting about how the media was harping on Romney being a Mormon and asked why was that an issue. Well, after listening to his usual insults toward atheists and his perpetual bigoted atacks upon secular freethinkers, I find him to be in my opinion a hardcore religious hate-mongering bigot.  He’s always talking about people hating Christians but everytime he opens his big loud mouth regarding atheists, it’s a putdown, insult, or ad hominem attack as usual . 
                                    Where are the so-called tolerant Christians and Jews to tell this guy to “knock it off” ?  I hear other conservative radio talk show hosts bashing atheists as well and atheists in general are totally silent. Where are the so-called loving and all-embracing religious people who always go “ballistic” if  anyone should criticize  THEIR  religion but yet they  have NO qualms whatsoever about insulting and villifying everyone else’s beliefs (especially secular beliefs ).  As I stated before , what a bunch of two-faced double standard hypocrites.  Furthermore, where are the atheist voices  to speak out and defend secular freethought?  Where are the atheists , considering that our society is reported to have around 65 million non-religious people, yet none have the guts to let their voices be heard in the public sphere?   Even though I love this website , this ALONE is NOT enough. We must go beyond just chit-chatting to one another via internet discussion forum formats. We must also speak out via letters to the editor in local and national print publications (which politicians read by the way ) and also speak out on various conservative radio talk shows ( which various political legislators listen to regularly ) and let our voices be heard in the general populace. The reason these religious zealots continue to walk all over us routinely is because they know that they can get away with it without any recourse, or rebuttal from the secular community who is afraid to let their collective voices be heard.  I definitely understand the fear factor because I have continued to be harassed for speaking out. However, making a phone call (even under a pseudonym ) is what we must engage in.
                            I was going to write a letter to a local paper speaking out as usual in defense of atheism , and then I asked myself , why should I be the only one when their are a large number in atheists, agnostics, scular humanists, skeptics and general secular freethinkers in the wide geographical area of where I live ?  I keep asking myself , why should I be the ONLY one letting his secular voice be heard while others just sit around and make lousy excuses for NOT speaking out and standing up for secular freethought ? Nothing is stopping others from speaking out. Nothing is stopping others from letting their voices be heard or writing letters or attending public meetings and voicing their views from a secular perspective.  If the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement had put their collective tails between their legs, then the rights gained to day would have NEVER been a reality. The struggle resulted in violent attacks, people being harrassed, jailed, insulted and a few even killed for standing up and yet we have freedom of speech here in America and TOTAL silence.  Our progress as secular freethinkers will come ONLY when more and more secular freethinkers publicly let their voices be heard in the general populace and NOT just  ” preaching to the choir” to one another in chit-chat session to each other.  This is the part where I get in trouble with fellow atheists who don’t like to hear this because they know THEY are the ones I am talking about.  We must be encouraging each other and practicing ourselves to speak out publicly ( even if just mildly writing a friendly rebuttal letter or a friendly call to a radio show ).  I’m still writing but I have slowed down tremendously because I often feel like the lone wolf out here and justifiably so and I’m getting more and more “burned out” for my efforts that seem to be in vain (yet a few people have come out after seeing many of my letters ).   Also PareshK , you and I are NOT disagreeable but only on one issue we had a different perspective –that’s all.   One thing you and I have in common is that we both are atheist conservative ethnic minorities and I’m sure YOU are just as much as an outcast among your peers as I am .  The most virulent racist bigots I have met in America have been fundamentalist Christians ( and I’m NOT implicating all Christians ) and the biggest threat today around the world is Islam and the jihadist movement ( And I know this does NOT apply to all Muslims ).  By the same token, I have met a bunch of arrogant, uncaring, insulting, ignorant,  ” politically correct” misguided atheists that I don’t want to be around or associate with.  As I said repeatedly, I love this blog  and the posters , but we need to get crankin’ and get more and more people motivated to speak out publicly so that we can get the recognition that we deserve and let people know that we are  NOT just a miniscule number of people in America but a large number of freethinking individuals who deserve the same recognition and respect as others. We need to practive this ourselves first because no one wants to be the first to stick their heads out and speak up.  I still get harassed and now I just don’t care anymore ( especially at my age now ). We will NEVER achieve this by our silence and ONLY chit-chatting and whining to one another. We can read news stories, watch videos and comment every day until the cows come home and NOTHING is going to change in our society as a result of such.  When massive numbers of people see that we are fed up and willing to put our foot down and say we are not going to be pushed around anymore , then and only then will society back off and stop publicly maligning and denigrating us.  As long as 99.99% of atheists  still hide in the proverbial closet, then we are getting nowhere fast.  Now atheists can argue with this all they want  but the fact still remains that nothing ever happens until someone DOES SOMETHING and not just sit around text message chit-chatting and having talk sessions.  These are FACTS whether people want to believe it or accept it or not !

        • George

          PareshK  , I will post some more  recent event info at a later  time and once again ,  my apology for the typos , as I only had a few minutes and I’m rushing  while at the  coffee shop.   There’s more but I gotta go  ,  I’ll talk to  you later.

  • Pro-irish

    The professor might want to read Wisdom Jesus.  His interpreation of “christianity” might change how he’d write this article.

    • Jillian Becker

      Pro-irish, what is Wisdom Jesus? A book? Please give us some info about it.   

    • George

      Actually the professor should be reading ” The God Delusion”  and also ” Ingersol the Magnificent ” .     Did you say — ” Wisdom  Jesus ” ?   Really ?  Wow !  That’s like saying ——-   :  “Rational Muhammad” ,   ”  Reason Buddha ” ,  and ” Free Thinking  Confucious” .   Perhaps we should include —   ” Sensible Zeus”  ,  ” Logical Apollo ” and ” Humanitarian Kraken”  just to be fair and equitable .      Yep , that should do it !