So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A (conservative) Christian response to Ayn Rand: Her (not-so-great) views on Christianity

            So what’s wrong with Ayn Rand, specifically her philosophy, from a biblical standpoint?
            Have you ever heard the term “cut flower ethics”? It’s a term I heard first from Dennis Prager, but I don’t think he’d claim to have coined it. Imagine you see a beautiful and sweet-smelling rose growing on a vine. If you cut the flower and put it in a vase, it’s not going to lose its beauty and smell instantaneously. For a certain amount of time, it’s going to hold onto its looks and smell. But eventually (sooner rather than later for roses)--since it’s been cut off from the vine from which it grew and which nourished it--it’ll die. From the moment you separate it from the vine, it starts dying, although you don’t see this immediately. The petals will fall off, and it’ll wither. And eventually the smell will fade.
            Dennis Prager’s point is that people don’t appreciate the “vine” from which our freedom and prosperity come. Western Civilization, and America in particular, were heavily influenced by Christianity and the Bible. Europe used to be called “Christendom” for a reason. Virtually all of the Founding Fathers of this country were either Christians or big fans of Christianity. Granted, many of the “big names” such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin were not orthodox Christians. But they highly valued the influence which Christianity exerted on their society, quoted from the Scriptures frequently, and would be horrified at the thought of a society in which the majority of people disregarded the Bible.
            I mean, what were the opening words of our founding document, written by Thomas Jefferson?  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This was the basis for everything else that they were claiming in our Declaration of Independence, their stated reasons as to why we were revolting against the Mother Country.
            Of course we’ve never completely lived up to our ideals. We inherited the slave trade and took waaaaay too long to get rid of it. Up until a few short decades ago, legal segregation and discrimination were the law of the land. I think abortion is a gross violation of the most basic human right, the right to life. But the reason why we’ve made improvements is because of our Christian heritage, because of the influence the Bible has had on our society. As Michael Medved’s pointed out, the West was not unique in having slavery, but it was absolutely unique in trying to abolish it. The Abolitionist movement was led by and was almost completely populated by fervent Christians. The most famous name of the Civil Rights Movement? The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (people tend to forget that title). Just for fun, listen to any of his speeches and count how many times he appeals to the Bible for racial justice.
            What’s my point here? What does this have to do with Ayn Rand? Because she completely missed—and to my knowledge, never wrestled with—the truths in the above paragraphs. If someone philosophically is an atheist or an agnostic, I can’t prove them wrong in the same way that I can prove gravity. I can present plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and quite frankly I don’t think that God believes in atheists. But that’s really beside the point of contention I’m making with Ms. Rand here, her and a lot of the “new atheists” or “atheist evangelists.” They’re not just claiming that there is no God. That’s not good enough for them. They believe and strenuously proclaim that any belief in any type of God is not just untrue but harmful, to individuals and to society as a whole. They love to point to all the wars and intolerance which has been fostered in the name of religion, and they claim that these features are not aberrations but endemic to the very nature of believing in any type of theism.
            As I mentioned before, Ms. Rand was a hardcore atheist and materialist. She considered any type of belief in anything spiritual to be part and parcel of what she was fighting. She hated collectivism in all its forms, and in her eyes religion was just another manifestation of that. If we’re going to move away from collectivism, we have to reject any type of religion as well.
            This is what I was referring to earlier as “cut flower ethics.” Ms. Rand was a huge advocate for natural rights, the most neglected of which (she considered) were property rights: the belief and attendant laws that you (generally) have the right to do what you wish with your own property, unless it harms someone else. She also believed in one’s freedom of religion, of the press, of speech, of association, of travel, etc. She believed in representative democracy. She repeatedly professed her love for America, at least insofar as it kept to its principles of freedom. She believed in freedom, and she considered America the greatest beacon of it. She would have agreed with Abraham Lincoln that this is the “last best hope” for freedom for humanity.
            But to my knowledge, she never acknowledged the simple and undeniable fact that this wonderful country she loved so much was based unequivocally on Christianity, or at least a healthy respect for it.
            Atlas is filled with incredibly eloquent speeches about natural rights. The heroes in her story are having their freedoms taken away. A while back I had as a “Thought For The Week” a quote from Atlas. Just to give you some context, Hank Rearden, a businessman and entrepreneur who’s created a new type of metal which is lighter, stronger, and cheaper than steel, has broken the law. The federal government passed laws setting quotas on him, telling him to whom he could sell his metal and how much, all in the name of the “public good.” He flouted the law, openly stating that he has the right to sell his metal—in whatever quantities—to whomever he chooses. So he’s brought in front of a government board of inquiry in order to be accused and to plead his defense. Here again is his quoted response:

Who is the public? What does it hold as its good? There was a time when men believed that 'the good' was a concept to be defined by a code of moral values and that no man had the right to seek his good through the violation of the rights of another. If it is now believed that my fellow men may sacrifice me in any manner they please for the sake of whatever they believe to be their own good, if they believe that they may seize my property simply because they need it - well, so does any burglar. There is only this difference: the burglar does not ask me to sanction his act.

            Notice the magic words there? “Rights” which might be “violated.” But Ms. Rand, why do you believe in these “rights”? Why can’t we just take your metal by force? As it happens, there’s a practical argument she makes in the book: Once the government denies property rights, it won’t protect the other types either. And once people don’t value property rights, eventually the people who make our prosperity and standard of living possible will get tired of being vilified and persecuted and will stop doing what they’re doing, and things will go bad. She definitely believed in the prospect of “cut flower prosperity.”
            But she’s making more than a mere practical argument. Just by using the term “rights” she’s giving herself away. It’s not only a foolish and counterproductive thing that the collectivists are doing: It’s wrong. It’s unjust. What they’re doing and trying to do is theft, and theft is wrong. Theft is unjust.
            Why? What standard are you appealing to, Ms. Rand? Logic? Reason? It’s in our self-interest to protect property rights?  From my reading of her work, it seems like that would be her answer to my question. But she keeps using words like “rights” and “human rights” and “unjust” and “violation.” It certainly sounds like there’s some moral standard she’s appealing to and to which she expects us to accept.
            If you read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, he addresses this in the very first chapter. Every day people use the language of justice and right and wrong. Listen to children: “It’s my turn!” “No it’s mine!” “You had your turn the last time!” “No I didn’t, you did!” and the all-important claim: “That’s not fair!” Lewis points out that they’re both appealing to a standard that they both accept, a standard that they didn’t just make up out of the blue. They both know, because they’ve been taught, that justice and fairness require that you take turns. When people are arguing, the only way they can argue is by all parties accepting a common standard. If someone doesn’t accept the standard at all, there can be no argument, only fighting like animals.
            Ms. Rand, through her heroes, is making the case that the collectivists are would-be thieves. The collectivists trip all over themselves trying to disprove the heroes’ contentions, not by claiming that “theft is not wrong,” but “This isn’t theft, or if it technically is, it’s still ok in these circumstances.” They have a common standard which everyone accepts ("Theft is morally wrong"), and no one in the book claims that rules against theft are just man-made rules that we can just chunk whenever we feel like it.
            As I see it, there are two alternatives. To paraphrase Jesus, I’d like to ask Ms. Rand a question: “These ‘rights’ that you speak of, do they come from Heaven or from men?” Obviously she’d answer “from men.” But if they come from men, then why can’t men take them away? Why would it be wrong—not just foolish and self-destructive, but wrong—for us to decide to take property or free speech or other freedoms when it’s convenient for us to do so? Why can’t we just take a vote on it?
            You see, my answer to the above question, along with the Founders, would be a definite “from Heaven!”  We’re created in God’s image, and that’s why we have certain rights and privileges and dignity which animals don’t. I actually agree with every word in the opening statements of our Declaration. Government is not there to give us rights. Government is there to recognize and preserve and defend the natural rights we’ve received as bearers of God’s image.
            This is a really important difference. I applaud her understanding that property rights are just as important as the others which civil libertarians hold dear. But I thoroughly believe she’s holding onto “cut flower ethics.” She’s upholding and defending rights according to justice, not realizing that she’s undercutting her own case by stridently rejecting the basis for them.
            This is probably the biggest problem I have with her, but I have at least one more posting on where she and I part ways. 

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