“We Believe” Christ Would Call the Jesus v. Ayn Rand Argument Weak

Sarah has been doing a great job of explaining why setting Christian faith over and against Randian beliefs is maybe not such a hot idea. As she says, political disputes should be about policy, not who loves him some Jesus more than those other guys. To put it another way, anyone who loves the line “Jesus hates the Ryan budget” should ask themselves whether they want anyone telling them “Jesus doesn’t want you to have an abortion” or “Jesus doesn’t want you to get married.”

Actually, if you look carefully at what’s being said, the bone of contention is not which person (Christ or Rand) is superior, but whose faith is better: Christians or Objectivists. That’s why the religious lefties waved Bibles in Ryan’s face the other day: to drive home the point that his attachment to Rand’s ideas doesn’t match up with their understanding of the Christian faith, and presumably not with the understanding of most committed Christians.

The political strategy here amounts to a desire to have your cake and eat it too. Faithful America and the other Religion-Industrial Complex groups weighing in on this fight want to introduce a wedge among conservatives by highlighting the ways in which Ryan’s budget is inconsistent with supposedly shared values, which may or may not work. But they also want to drive that wedge in in a way that skirts divisions to the greatest extent possible; partly because they understand themselves as uniters-not-dividers. Partly it’s because, as Sarah points out, once you get into what exactly God says and wants from us, you very quickly run into a whole mess of different ideas.

So they base their religious appeal on faith, while making no claims about God’s work in the world, or about God’s nature. In fact, the response to Ryan only references “God” in that the competing ideology they put up against Objectivism claims divine origin somewhere along the line. The ultimate authority being appealed to isn’t God the Father or Jesus Christ or even the Bible. It’s human allegiance to those things, particularly to scripture as the revelation of God’s will.

Theologically speaking, that’s a weak argument. While I can understand the political logic behind it, as a churchman it strikes me as inadequate. From a religious perspective, “We believe Christ calls us to care for the poor” is weaker than “We believe Christ calls us to care for the poor,” and they’re both weaker than “God chooses the poor over the rich.” That stakes a real claim, one that risks something important, and therefore is potentially divisive.

Which is exactly why you’ll never hear it used in this controversy or any other. The idea that God might actually pick sides is disturbing, even threatening. Always has been. If you don’t believe me, just ask Thomas Jefferson, who wrote considering slavery:

Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.

Just so, but it’s a truth that calls upon its hearers to go considerably deeper than fluffy focus-group tested “values.” If you take Jefferson’s words seriously, you’re going to have to decide which side you’re on. What’s worse, you’ll have to admit that perhaps not everyone is on the same side, nor will they be. No amount of “faith outreach” was able to smooth over the divisions provoked by slavery. And while it may not come to blood in the same way, it seems likely that trying to appeal to a shared faith won’t do very much to bridge our present economic divide either. Somebody is going to win, and somebody’s going to lose. God, if Jefferson is to be believed, might be more comfortable with that than we are.

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