There's been a lot of talk lately about the new book by Rob Bell, Love Wins. If you live outside of the Bible belt and/or don't have friends who are evangelical Christians, you may not have noticed. If you're one of those who has heard of the book but simply hasn't read it, here's the lowdown: Rob Bell believes in hell, and his detractors are in it. If you want, you can skip the rest of his book and just read Chapter 7 for clarification. I'm sure Bell would be too gracious to say what I just said in so many words, but his interpretation of the story of the Prodigal Son speaks for itself.
The reason I bring this up is that the Rob Bell controversy shows just how judgmental some Christians can be. Many seem to hate Bell's book, whether they've read it or not, for the simple reason that they truly can't stand the idea that they might have to stop denouncing and excluding others. After all, if you're one of God's people, there's got to be somebody who's not, or what's the point, right?
As for me, I try very hard not to be judgmental. That's how you know that for me to write a post like this one, my back has to be really up against the wall. If I'm going to claim publicly that there are people around who seem determined to oppose, undermine and destroy everything the Christian religion stands for, I need some serious provocation, because I just don't say things like that. But then there's Paul Ryan, and I guess he brings out the worst in me.
Here is an article from Newsweek that makes it clear just where the inspiration for Ryan's budget is coming from. Ayn Rand.
If you're not aware of this, Rand, whom Ryan reads "religiously," deliberately turned traditional ethics on its head. Instead of believing that all people receive their life from a common creator and hence have obligations to each other, she avowed that there is no God and hence nothing beyond self-interest to pursue. Instead of affirming that it is the duty of the strong to help the weak, she saw the strong as virtuous and the weak as lazy and ineffectual. The desire to help others - what is commonly known as altruism - was to her the original sin of human society. The strong and powerful owe nothing to anything beyond themselves, because they are natural heroes. The poor are evolutionary misfits, and encouraging them to believe that they are anything else is a disservice to society and will only lead to more suffering in the future. Better to let them starve and die now than continue to reproduce.
If you think you recognize the set of beliefs that Rand is contradicting, you've either read the Gospels and the Old Testament prophets or internalized much of their ethical content. The ideas that the strong should help the weak, that no-one is righteous in and of his or herself, and that we owe respect and love to others, including strangers, are the basis of the Judeo-Christian worldview. If you're a practicing Christian or an observant Jew, you're more or less supposed to practice those things. They're the foundation of our laws and our traditions of justice, which is why most modern people believe them regardless of their religious faith, or lack thereof. Many would even suggest that this positive ethical content is the only thing worth salvaging from the history of Western religion. That's what I was brought up to believe, and the only reason I started going to church was because I needed to get back to the source. Acknowledging how broadly accepted these ideas are is what has made me the broad-minded person that I aspire to be.
And then there's Congressman Ryan. What I hope the Newsweek article makes clear is that his worldview, which inspired his much-touted, supposedly "courageous" budget plan, is based on a conscious, deliberate rejection of everything I just described. He has a coherent worldview all right, but it is the polar opposite of Judeo-Christian ethics. That's why I can say with absolute conviction that Ryan is waging a war on everything the Christian religion stands for. There is no point of contact whatsoever. What Christianity affirms, Ryan rejects. What Christianity rejects, Ryan affirms.
What makes this whole business so frankly sad is that, as the Newsweek article makes clear, Ryan's ideas, which are Ayn Rand's, are also the ideas that have motivated the Tea Party and brought it to a position of power, and there is a broad intersection between the membership of the Tea Party and that of the so-called Christian right. I really want to take the charitable interpretation and assume that those who belong to both groups simply don't understand where this whole cluster of ideas is coming from. I want to do this because there are people I like and respect who belong to both groups. I do hope that some of them are reading this - because if you are, NOW YOU KNOW!!