"I liked your Christ. I don't like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ". (Attributed to Mahatma Gandhi)
The selection of Paul Ryan as Mr. Romney's running mate is a good opportunity to talk about a (rather bizarre) inconsistency in right wing politics, one that is, if anything, highly counter-intuitive: the marriage between the religious right and self-centered economics. While the quote from Gandhi could be apocryphal it does crystalize the ideological inconsistency of the Tea Party and specifically, Mr Ryan.
"And when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and though shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me." (Luke 18-22.)
(Distribute unto the poor-remember what happened last time a politician said something that sounded similar to that?)
Fast forward 2000 years. A Russian emigre named Ayn Rand, becomes the icon of the so called "philosophy of objectivism". According to Rand, who had fled communism, "the pursuit of a person's own rational self interest and happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life".
Rand remains as influential in the political right wing as it can get. For example, congressman Ryan, a favorite of the Tea Party, said the following the following in 2005, in front of the Atlas Society (named after one of Rand's books, Atlas Shrugged): “[T]he reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”
(Let's not get carried away. Is anyone in the 21st century US advocating "collectivism"? The quote is hyperbole. But there are collectivist societies, real ones, not straw ones, which Mr Ryan may have something to say about. We will get to that in a moment.)
And in 2009, in a video series posted on the web, we are treated to this gem: "what’s unique about what’s happening today in government, in the world, in America, is that it’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now. I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault.” And: “Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism, and this to me is what matters most".
But Mr Ryan does not agree with Ayn Rand on everything, in case anyone is mistaken. In April of this year Ryan said he rejected Rand's philosophy, "because it is an atheist philosophy". And while in 2003 he said he tried to get his staff to read Atlas Shrugged, "he was a Christian and read the bible often".
Good thing he does. So would he have read, say, the book of Act?
See, "sell all that thou hast and distribute unto the poor" was not just empty rhetoric. According the the book of Acts, which describes the earliest, purest Christian society ever shortly after Jesus was gone, there were no personal possessions; everything had to be sold and the money "laid at the feet of the apostles" so it could be given to the needy. (Acts 4 32-35). Would Paul Ryan have entered politics with the one and only purpose to stop that from happening, if he were a contemporary of St Peter? (Ryan is a devout catholic, so you would imagine he wouldn't come out against His Holiness the First Pope.)
But, when someone tried to cheat (i.e. keep some of the proceeds after the sale of their property), things got ugly.
A couple named Ananias and Sapphira tried to do just that, and they earned the wrath of apostle Peter. Guess what happened to them? They both fell dead, causing a great fear to come upon "as many as heard these things." (Acts 5 1-11.)
In other words, use of terror to force people into a absolutist collectivist system, where all property had to be laid at the feet of the elite-or else. Isn't that precisely what Ayn Rand fled, and dedicated the rest of her life to debunking? How outraged would this make Paul Ryan?
What is jaw dropping today is the right wing culture that wants to infuse as much Jesus into our lives as possible, yet is also head over heels in love with Ayn Rand. Exposing this contradiction something that secularists haven't done enough of. Social researcher Greg Paul gives some example of that here, here and here.
(Images from thebricktestament.com)