Jesus Didn’t Shrug

Time and again, I hear that the United States was “formed on Christian Principles”.  The puzzling thing about this statement is that the actions of the people making it seem to have more in common with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged than the Bible.  What am I talking about?  Rand considered Atlas Shrugged to be her magnum opus of fiction writing.  It was her last novel and may be the most dramatic expression of her philosophy of Objectivism.  This theory is very much in line with the libertarianism I see the Tea Party embracing and to which the Republicans pay lip service.  But, truthfully, it’s pretty much the polar opposite of the Gospel preached by Jesus and his disciples.  I’ll bet that steps on more than a few toes

How do I arrive at this conclusion?  By being a good Methodist and using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, of course.  If you’re unfamiliar with this tool, take a look:

Wondering how this going to turn out?  Me too, I’m pretty much making it up as I go along.  That said, the most glaring place that Objectivism clashes with Christianity is in its contention that human beings are ends in themselves.  According to Rand, people should exist for their own sake, neither sacrificing themselves nor sacrificing others for themselves.  In essence, each individual is a stand-alone entity that requires nothing of and owes nothing to anyone else.  As Wesley considered scripture the primary basis for all Christian doctrine, that’s the obvious starting place. 

  • Scripture _ In Matthew 25:35-40, Jesus tells us:

 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I’d say that’s a pretty clear scriptural refutation of Objectivism’s ideas about sacrificing ourselves for others. 

Tradition _  the Christian faith was founded on sacrifice.  It’s supposed to be our raison d’être, even if we’ve lost sight of that.  I won’t dispute that, over the two thousand years, we’ve had varying success with this mission.  But, that’s not the point.  The point is that part of being a Christian is sacrifice.  And, the sacrifice that’s called for is not giving up drinking, chasing women, or other such things.  What’s called for is understanding it’s not about you.

Reason _ This is a term that also occurs in Rand’s explanation of her philosophy.  For Rand, it’s the basis for all thought and understanding; whereas in Wesleyan thought, it means rational thinking and sensible interpretation.  Either way, reason tells me that humans are social animals, that we need to be in community with each other.  It also tells me that you won’t have much of a community if everyone is only concerned about themselves.  Being a Christian means living with and taking care of each other.

Experience _  For a long time, I was a staunch conservative, with a Cold Warrior mindset that American pride ahead of everything else.  Later, I became a libertarian, wishing to be left alone to live my life as I saw fit.  The problem with both of these schools of thought was that they led me to value me and my stuff more than my fellow-man.  And, that flies in the face of the faith that I’ve chosen to live by (see the paragraph about scripture).

So how does all this relate to these “Christian” principles and the people that refer to them?  I’ll let a couple of comments from a Facebook post I made a few months answer that:

“Jesus was not the son of his mother’s husband. He wasn’t white. He was unemployed for a lot of his adult life. He accepted handouts from other people. He roamed the streets with a bunch of other unemployed guys. He was never married. He hung out with whores and crooks. He was an “able bodied male” that didn’t hold a job. Guess He doesn’t deserve any government benefits!”

“I have always found this disconnect between the claim to Biblical faith and actual practice and voting record rather astounding. One of the most destructive facets of this is the substitution of conservative values for Biblical values and calling them one and the same. The bottom line is that you can worship the god you want or the God who is. But you cannot worship both.”

I’ll close with this quote from Stephen Colbert:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”