A liberal group is attacking Republican fans of Ayn Rand for supposedly undermining Christianity. "Christians Must Choose: Ayn Rand or Jesus," the new campaign by the American Values Network. Specifically it is targeting Congressman Paul Ryan, Senator Rand Paul, Rush Limbaugh and others who have praised Rand's brand of Libertarianism. The network is headed by sometime Democratic Party strategist Eric Sapp. Board members eclectically include former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Townsend, former Democratic Party National Committee Chair Don Fowler, Huffington Post religion editor and Princeton religion associate dean Paul Raushenbush, and former pastor to the Clintons and United Methodist ethicist Phil Wogaman.
"GOP leaders and conservative pundits have brought upon themselves a crisis of values," the network explains. "Many who for years have been the loudest voices invoking the language of faith and moral values are now praising the atheist philosopher Ayn Rand whose teachings stand in direct contradiction to the Bible." The network complained that "GOP leaders want to argue that they are defending Christian principles" while also praising Rand.
Rand, of course, was a Russian émigré intellectual who wrote novels like The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged that championed ardent individualism against oppressive big government and cultural conformity. The former was a famously classic film featuring Gary Cooper as the hero. The latter was recently turned into a movie that largely flopped at theaters, though Rand devotees and many other diehard Libertarians dutifully watched it. Rand denounced all religion and portrayed her own version of reason and self-initiative as a worthy substitute.
Network chief Sapp told Religion News Service of Congressman Ryan's ostensible hypocrisy for admiring Rand: "You've got a guy who is a rising Republican star, and who wrote the budget, saying he's read her books and Washington needs more of her values. If you're a Christian, you've got to ask some serious questions about what's going on here." According to the report, the network aims to divide conservative Christians from Libertarian activists, especially in the Tea Party, by highlighting Rand's impieties. Sapp reported that he will mail his anti-Rand video to over 1 million Christians in Wisconsin, presumably in an effort both to weaken Ryan in his home state and to help Democrats' overturn Gov. Scott Walker's historic budget as they move to recall Republican state senators who backed it.
Sapp promised in the Huffington Post that his campaign against Randian Republicans could be a "a game-changer" because "it uncovers the heartless GOP and Tea Party wolves who've been parading around in sheep's clothing among the Christian flock, leading them astray. Christians, especially conservative ones, know what to look out for." He and his network point at an anti-Rand video by evangelical prison ministry icon Chuck Colson, who derided Rand and her followers as the "cranks" and "crypto-cultists" that conservative maven William Buckley strove to ostracize from mainstream conservatism. Buckley's National Review famously published Whittaker Chambers' damning review of Atlas Shrugged, whose ultimate message he surmised was "you, to a gas chamber -- go!"
Joining the campaign to save Christians from Ayn Rand is Faithful America, a group originally created during the 2004 presidential campaign by the National Council of Churches when headed by former Democratic Congressman Bob Edgar. Faithful America was founded as a liberal interfaith group and once even touted the prayer of one of its Wiccan supporters. It's now promoting a petition campaign titled "Ayn Rand vs. The Bible," which implores: "As a Christian, I am concerned that so many of our political leaders are taking their cues from the radical philosopher Ayn Rand. Citizens, especially people of faith, need to know the truth. I commit to telling 3 friends about Ayn Rand's incompatibility with Christians ethics." The petition includes a sidebar with Bible quotes that supposedly illustrate how Congressman Ryan's budget plan contradicts Christianity.
It's touching how liberal, religiously pluralistic groups like Faithful America and American Values Network are suddenly very concerned that Christians specifically remain faithful to the Bible and to Jesus. Their respective boards are populated with activists and clergy not themselves known for careful adherence to Christian orthodoxy. Rev. Wogaman, from the network's board, has been one of United Methodism's most liberal theologians, across the decades expressing doubt about the miracles in the Bible like the virgin birth. Bob and Elizabeth Dole, long time attenders at Wogaman's Foundry Church in Washington, D.C., very publicly quit the church in 1995 because of the pastor's liberal politics and theological heterodoxies. Chuck Colson at least has the theological and spiritual pedigree to question why Christians would admire Rand. It's uncertain how religious pluralists effectively ostracize an atheist intellectual.
And it's uncertain whether average evangelical Christians, along with traditional Roman Catholics, will become greatly exercised over some Republican admiration for Ayn Rand. But we'll maybe know more after Eric Sapp and his network mail their video supposedly to over 1 million Wisconsin Christians.