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Longer Spoon Needed


Pope Francis, whose criticisms of unbridled capitalism have prompted some to label him a Marxist, said in an interview published on Sunday that communists had stolen the flag of Christianity. The 77-year-old pontiff gave an interview to Il Messaggero, Rome’s local newspaper, to mark the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a Roman holiday. He was asked about a blog post in the Economist magazine that said he sounded like a Leninist when he criticised capitalism and called for radical economic reform.

“I can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the centre of the Gospel,” he said, citing Biblical passages about the need to help the poor, the sick and the needy.

“Communists say that all this is communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one can say to them: ‘but then you are Christian’,” he said, laughing.

The Raw Story (reporting on the same interview):

Pope Francis has accused communism of stealing its ideas from Christianity, and said its founding thinker Karl Marx “did not invent anything.”

Commenting on suggestions in the media that his world view is not dissimilar to communist ideology, the pope responded that it was the church that got there first.

Let’s just say that’s a rather benign interpretation of what communism actually is. Nevertheless, as The Raw Story goes on to note, the pope has in the past rejected the idea that he is a Marxist. That’s fair enough. To start with, although communism has many of the characteristics of a millennialist religion, there is that whole ‘no God’ thing.

The pope’s critique of capitalism, if not the demagogic language in which he makes it, is better seen as a radical application of Rerum Novarum than as an attempt to give Das Kapital a clerical twist. At the same time, as I read Francis’s comments I couldn’t help thinking of Ayn Rand’s remark about Christianity (and, more specifically, its collectivist tradition) being “the best kindergarten of communism possible.” As so often with Rand, an oversimplification, but…

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Here’s Joe Carter writing in the theocon journal, First Things:

Devotees of Rand may object to my outlining the association between [Rand and vintage Satanist Anton La Vey]. They will say I am proposing “guilt by association,” a form of the ad hominem fallacy. But I am not attacking Rand for the overlap of her views with LaVey’s; I am saying that, at their core, they are the same philosophy. LaVey was able to recognize what many conservatives fail to see: Rand’s doctrines are satanic.

Oh dear.

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Ayn Rand as Scarecrow (3)

Time’s Amy Sullivan (she is the religion writer who dreamt up the story that Republicans were drumming up Obama-as-antichrist rumors during the 2008 election) was also thrilled by Paul Ryan’s encounter with a member of the religious left:

These days, when people question a politician’s “morality,” they usually mean his or her personal behavior and choices. But an interesting thing is happening right now around the GOP budget proposal. A broad coalition of religious voices is criticizing the morality of the choices reflected in budget cuts and tax policy. And they’ve specifically targeted Ryan and his praise for Rand, the philosopher who once said she “promote[d] the ethic of selfishness.”

A broad coalition. Really?

It is, however, certainly a dishonest one. As its members well know, it’s quite possible to pick and choose what one admires about an author without agreeing with everything that he or she said. After all, there’s some pretty rough stuff in the Bible. Are we to take it that this posse of ‘progressive’ clerics has signed up for everything that is in their holy book?

But back to Amy Sullivan:

Across the street from the Faith & Freedom Conference Friday afternoon, a group of religious leaders continued the attack on what they now consistently refer to as “The Ayn Rand Budget.” Father Cletus Kiley, a Catholic priest, declared the Ryan budget “does not pass our test” of Catholic teachings, and suggested that supporters of the budget “drop Ayn Rand’s books and pick up their sacred texts.”

Who, I wonder, is Father Kiley to set “our” test? As for the infinitely patronizing suggestion that supporters of the Ryan budget should “pick up their sacred texts”, well, those supporters should just pause to ask themselves how much tax this church of Kiley’s pays and move on.

Andrew Sullivan discusses some of these issues here. There’s an enormous amount with which to disagree, not least his implicit rejection of the syncretic nature of Christianity, a religion that, after two thousand years, amounts to rather more than the possibly apocryphal words of its presumed founder, but this, in particular, caught my eye:

It seems to me that one of the core messages of Jesus was that his kingdom was not of this world. Politics is a necessary evil, but it is not a spiritual vocation. Between a life in the world and a life that is otherworldly, it is hard to see Christianity in a political mode.

I’m not sure that’s a distinction that holds up. Thus Father Kiley may believe that his agenda is spiritual, but it sure looks political to me…

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Ayn Rand as Scarecrow (2)

Via TPM:

Paul Ryan was chased by a protester waving a giant Bible and decrying libertarian author Ayn Rand on his way out of the Faith and Freedom Conference, a social conservative gathering in DC where he delivered a speech on his budget.
“Why did you choose to model your budget on the extreme ideology of Ayn Rand rather than the faith of economic justice in the Bible?” the blond, 20-something male asked. He said he wanted to “present” Ryan with a Bible to teach him how to help the “most vulnerable.”

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No Contest

The Rev. Denise Giardina of Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Charleston, WV, has come out with a snide little sermon “matching” the views of a writer (Ayn Rand) against those of a largely legendary figure (Jesus), one of His followers (St. Timothy) and a comedian (Stephen Colbert). The reverend claims to be staging something that she calls, with classic priestly selectivity, a “smackdown” between Ayn Rand and the Bible. It’s actually nothing of the sort, but let that pass.

Now, I should say that my enthusiasm for Ms. Rand is somewhat qualified, and I thought that some of the ‘Going Galt’ chatter of a year or so back was distinctly overwrought. Nevertheless, let’s just say that if anything is likely to increase my admiration for the sage of Murray Hill it is nonsense of the type apparently now being spouted from the pulpit of Saint John’s Episcopal, Charleston, WV, but read the sermon and judge for yourselves.

Hat-tip: Andrew Sullivan, who is using this sermon to attack Newt Gingrich for hypocrisy. Presumably Mr. Gingrich has being saying something favorable about Ayn Rand or the new Atlas Shrugged movie. No big deal if so; the former Mr. Speaker is a carnival barker these days and the show must go on and on and on…

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Open thread: Ayn Rand

Since one of the ongoing comment threads has gotten into a discussion of Ayn Rand, since she was in the blogs a lot this week because of this Stephen Moore article for the WSJ, and since few if any intellectual figures have done as much to shape the secular right in modern America, let’s make her the topic of a (polite, civil) open thread.

Rand famously did not want opposition to organized religion to be regarded as one of the defining aspects of her thinking, not because she was the slightest bit apologetic about her stand, but simply because other battles interested her more. As one writer notes, she aimed her fire on numerous occasions at pronouncements of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican, while saying little that was specific to Protestantism (or Eastern Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, etc.). At any rate, some resources on Rand’s views of religion and faith can be found here, here, here, and (video) here.

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