The Problem with Ayn Rand Isn’t Atheism

Detroit Examiner columnist Brandon Schlacht takes issue with the American Values Network ad, targeted at liberal Christians, which criticizes Republican affection for Ayn Rand. Schlacht writes:

Members of the American Values Network have come out in opposition to Ryan based on their Christian faith and Ayn Rand’s atheism; however, while Ryan was indeed influenced by Rand and would like to see her Objectivism influence more of Washington’s policy, his budget is not wrong due to Ayn Rand’s lack of belief in a supreme being. The real issue is not atheism, but Randian dogma, which holds a strict commitment to cutting government, promoting libertarian ideals, and allowing for the best to emerge, even if it occurs at the expense of the downtroden. . . .

The real issue isn’t God with Paul Ryan’s budget, but his strict belief that one ideal and one political ideology will fix the crippling budget problems the U.S. faces.

The American Values Network is run by the principals of the Eleison Group, a political consulting firm which describes itself as “a full-service consulting firm helping political, non-profit, business and government entities better understand America’s rich and complex faith landscape and build relationships with people of faith from across the ideological spectrum on the local and national level.” It is boasting on its website of its attendance at the upcoming Netroots Nation conference where principals Burns Strider and Eric Sapp will be on a panel, “Moving Forward With Faith.” The description on the Netroots Nation website reads, “A clear lesson to [sic] from our recent history is that faith and values communities are increasingly proving to be critical to successful progressive advocacy.” Other panelists include Elizabeth Denlinger, Director of Campaigns at Sojourners, which her biography describes as “one of the largest networks of progressive Christians in the nation,” a characterization some progressive Christians take issue with. (I’m also speaking on a different panel at the same conference.)

Eleison and the AVN are focused on making “people of faith” “comfortable” with Democrats, who’ve gotten a bad rap about being “hostile” to religion. That rap, incidentally, came from Democratic “faith” strategists, not because Democrats are demonstrably anti-religion, but it has resulted in some painful pandering to make up for these alleged deficiencies. Eleison’s Democratic clients have included Alabama’s Parker Griffith, who went on to become a Republican, and North Carolina’s Heath Shuler, a prominent Blue Dog who recently spoke at the Family Research Council’s Watchmen on the Wall conference for pastors, where he insisted that if Christians “had provided for people in our community,” then we “wouldn’t’ve needed a debate on health care.” The Family Research Council, incidentally, has signaled its full support of the Republicans’ budget-slashing. But at least Shuler’s not an atheist!

At the AVN website touting the anti-Rand ad, AVN notes, “The choice is simple: Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ. We must choose one and forsake the other.”

Will the AVN ad help Democrats? Last year, Sapp blamed Democratic losses in the midterm election on a failure to engage in faith outreach, a claim that Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute rebutted, by showing that not only were Sapp’s numbers off, but his theory was “untenable. Assigning the lack of religious outreach any primary, causal role in this particular election is simply not a credible argument, given the economic context, comparable losses among other important demographic groups, and the particular makeup of the 2010 electorate.” Other strategy emanating from Eleison has included Sapp’s offering up of his firm’s claimed 25 million-name list of evangelical voters so Democrats can “educate” them about how (in Sapp’s mind) Tea Partiers are pro-gay and pro-choice and therefore shouldn’t be trusted. Sounds like a winning Democratic strategy, right?

Sapp and Strider’s latest strategy is to highlight Rand’s atheism. While it is indeed a profile in Republican hyprocrisy that conservatives complain about liberals “persecuting” Christians, and insist that we are a “Christian nation,” and then turn for inspiration to Rand, who denigrated organized religion, Rand’s atheism is not what’s wrong with Ryan’s budget. Schlacht warns, “Christians are making a mistake by attacking Ryan due to Rand’s atheism by isolating themselves from likely allies. They have remained so committed to their dogma regarding a supreme being, that they may alienate their own Liberal allies, damaging relations between the faithful and faithless for some time.” That might be overstating the case. But we don’t have to choose between Rand and Christ.