Sep
10
2012

Christianity is Compatible with Ayn Rand

By Katie Kieffer

Downtown Manhattan

Image credit: “Cross-Processed Downtown Manhattan” by forbesphotographer on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Increasingly, priests and pastors are preaching that socialism (in the name of “social justice”) is Christ-like. In truth, capitalism, not socialism, reflects Christian values. I think Christians would be less likely to embrace socialism if they understood that the economic philosophy of Ayn Rand is compatible with Christianity.

‘Social Justice’ Evolves

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle speaks of a general form of justice that encompasses all virtue. Describing general justice, Aristotle writes: “It is complete virtue and excellence in the fullest sense… It is complete because he who possesses it can make use of his virtue not only by himself but also in his relations with his fellow men; for there are many people who can make use of their virtue in their own affairs, but who are incapable of using it in their relations with others.”

Thomas Aquinas, a renowned Catholic philosopher adopted a form of Aristotle’s idea of general justice. Eventually, the Catholic Church attempted to modernize Aristotle and Aquinas’ idea of general justice by calling it “social justice.”

The Catholic Church developed the term primarily to help explain justice in a modern society that was moving from farming to more complex forms of production and human interaction. As Michael Novak with the Heritage Foundation points out, Pope Leo XIII specifically slammed socialism and praised the natural differences in talents and abilities among human beings as beneficial to society.

Novak explains how, over time, progressives warped the term “social justice” to mean “equality” (redistribution of wealth and resources based on arithmetic, not individual production), the “common good” (determined by federal bureaucrats) and “compassion” (forced sharing).

Today, numerous pastors are preaching a version of social justice that is basically no different from socialism. I encourage Christians to exchange the convoluted idea of “social justice” for “capitalism.”

Atheism, A Mere Distraction

Rand was one of the best defenders and articulators of capitalism. Unfortunately, many Christians dismiss her economic philosophy because of her personal beliefs on religion.

Rand was an atheist. However, one does not need to be an atheist in order to be a capitalist. Indeed, in Rand’s magnum opus novel, Atlas Shrugged, the core takeaway is not that the hero is an atheist but that he is a capitalist.

Rand and her fictional heroes believe with almost religious zeal that there is no God—a belief that takes “faith.” For, it is impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that God does not exist, just as it is impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he does exist. To say either with absolute certainty takes faith (rational yet unconfirmed belief).

If it is rational for Rand to believe (without proof) that God does not exist, it is also rational for a Christian to believe that God exists. Since both atheists and Christians are rational, atheism is unessential to being a capitalist.

If there is a God, He is a Capitalist

That said, one may not believe in any “god” and still claim to be rational. For example, one cannot believe that God condones socialism because socialism is inherently irrational and violates natural law, as I explained here.

Natural law (that which we know through reason alone) tells us that private property and freedom are inherent human rights. Aquinas writes in his Treatise on Law that all human laws must stem from natural law: “But if in any point it [human law] deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of the law.”

Jesus did not say: “Blessed are the wicked, for they shall obtain equal salvation.” Jesus did not tell Caesar: “Take 90 percent from the wealthy and redistribute it among the poor.” As I’ve written, Jesus’ own biblical teachings were capitalistic in nature. So, if you claim to be a rational Christian, you must admit that Jesus is the perfect capitalist.

Capitalism, Not Social Justice, Reflects Christianity

Rand may have been an atheist, but she embraced reason and natural law. Christians must do likewise. As Aquinas writes, if Christians embrace laws that violate reason and natural law, such as wealth redistribution mandates, they are in fact embracing injustice.

When Rand’s hero, John Galt, explains justice, he does so in a manner that is consistent with Aristotle, Aquinas and the biblical definition justice—in relation to objective truth and goodness: “Justice is the recognition of the fact that… just as you do not pay a higher price for a rusty chunk of scrap than for a piece of shining metal, so you do not value a rotter above a hero—that your moral appraisal is the coin paying men for their virtues or vices, and this payment demands of you as scrupulous an honor as you bring to financial transactions…”

I think Christians should avoid rushing to judgment on Rand’s philosophy because, at core, she has much to say about living with integrity and pursuing true happiness. No matter what term a pastor uses (think “social justice”), socialism is neither ethical nor Christian. Next week I will delve deeper into explaining how Rand’s beliefs are compatible with Christianity.

Key pages cited from Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: 788, 928, 933, 937 and 940-1. From Aquinas’ Treatise on Law: Question 95 – On Human Law, Second Article. From Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics: Book V, 1129b-1130a.

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Comments...

  1. etherman23 says:

    I believe Ms Kieffer is incorrect about the compatibility of capitalism and Christianity. The disconnect centers around what one does with surplus goods. For the capitalist, surplus goods are sold in the free market for a profit. What did Jesus teach with regard to what we should do with our surpluses?

    Matt 19:21 Jesus says to sell one's possession and give to the poor. It's sometimes claimed by Christians that this command was given to one specific person.

    • etherman23 says:

      Yet if true why would the story be in the Bible at all? Indeed, Jesus goes on in the next couple verses to explain how this principle applies to men in general, not just that one rich man.

  2. Kris says:

    Amazing column. I feel like you did an excellent job of articulating how both atheists and Christians can and must come together around reason to pursue capitalism. The truth always unites people, and capitalism is the truth. Socialism is a lie.

  3. Mark S says:

    It's a waste of time to try to establish that the Bible advocates either for or against capitalism. The Bible certainly does advocate rather strongly in favor of providing support for the less fortunate in society. However – and this is important – the Bible's instructions in that regard are clear; the people – not the government – should provide the support. When socialists ask us to let the government take on that responsibility, they are asking us to abandon our duty.

  4. Sophocles says:

    There is a strong current of thought today pushing the idea of "social justice" as you state Ms. Kieffer in pursuance of using the law to achieve the end goals of this justice. However, in this manner of thinking I think we demand far too much of the law and overestimate its power to change society. The law serves very specific purposes, the most predominant being protection of life, liberty and property. When we stretch the law to do more it no longer is law but "legal plunder"

  5. dalesvp says:

    Christianity is about service to others as well as taking care of self. Capitalism is the greatest system yet devised that renders service to others as well as to self. Many confuse capitalism with corporatism which are not the same even though both use each other to achieve goals. Predatory corporatism tends to be destructive to others but legitimate corporatism can be a tool for great benefit and development.

  6. JerryM says:

    Actually the bible says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven. Now, I don't agree with the bible. It is the work of men. But if we are to use the bible as supposedly the work of a god, that passage sounds very anti-capitalist to me. Look, if someone wants to defend laizze fair capitalism, fine, do so. But stop hiding behind the bible to defend your economic and political beliefs.

    • JerryM says:

      By the way, I don't think Christians have faith there is no Zeus or ALlah or no leprachauns. They don't believe in those things but it doesn't take faith not to believe in it. Atheists wait evidence, atheism does not mean absolute belief there is no god, but non-belief. Agnosticism means by the way, non-knowledge.

    • Peyton says:

      I don't see how anyone is hiding behind the Bible. You missed her point. She is saying that many Christians *misinterpret* the Bible and think that Jesus promotes socialism when in fact Jesus' biblical teachings (see the parable of the vineyard) promote CAPITALIST principles. Katie's previous article called "Judas Kisses Capitalism" explains this connection well.

  7. Lodzia says:

    I feel that far too many Progressives and preachers believe that they must make everyone equal. You are totally correct, Katie, when you say that we need to change "social justice" for "capitalism".

  8. Marie Frances says:

    Looking forward to next week!

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