The current political debate – which is in part being fueled by a rather radical attempt to roll back more than a half-century of social policy that has brought us Medicare and Medicaid, the Clean Air and Clean Water Act, and more – has really changed the conversation.

It’s not just the issue of government spending that is in question but the whole question of our responsibility as a nation to provide support and care for the other.

Some argue that government aid is inefficient and that we should leave it to nonprofits and churches. Those of us involved in these kinds of work know that the need is much greater than what we can accomplish.

But there is another philosophy at work, one that is radically individualistic.

At the heart of this movement, which has been embraced by members of the Tea Party and many in the leadership of the Republican Party, is a now-deceased woman named Ayn Rand.

I had seen her name before this recent surge in anti-government rhetoric, but I really hadn’t paid much attention to the person. Now her name is to be found on the lips of folk from the left and right.

Many in the mainline churches, who are concerned about social justice, have sought to contrast her ideology with the teachings of Jesus.

Rand was an atheist and as anti-religion as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

She had no room for religion, and especially Jesus, because she insisted that the individual has priority and Jesus seemed to suggest that we should be concerned about our neighbor as well as the common good.

Now the question has been raised: Can one follow Jesus and admire Ayn Rand?

Many on the Religious Left say no, while many, though not all, on the Religious Right are giving her a pass.

Rooted in this discussion must be the question of whether the teachings of these two people stand at odds.

I’m no expert on Rand. So I need to be careful about what I say. I do think this Fox News oped by a Rand devotee and scholar named Onkar Ghate is telling.

I want to give you a taste of what he said and invite you to read the whole piece. He makes the point that Rand’s teachings do contradict the Sermon on the Mount. Now I will admit that the vast majority of Christians fail to abide by these teachings, but should we toss them aside and embrace these other teachings that stand in stark contrast with the teachings of Jesus?

“In Rand’s argument, morality is not about subordination or service to others or to some ‘higher power;’ it is not about self-sacrifice. Hers is a morality that upholds egoism and individualism: it seeks to teach you the difficult task of pursuing the values that achieve your own individual self-interest and happiness,” wrote Ghate.

“Only an explicit or implicit individualist and egoist, Rand held, will understand and demand the rights listed in the Declaration of Independence: his inalienable rights to his own life, his own liberty, and the pursuit of his own happiness. He will demand his political freedom and reject all government controls designed to restrict his liberty and make him sacrifice for the ‘public interest.’ He will oppose the welfare state,” said Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute.

Ghate wrote: “Given her positive teachings, Rand must reject what is usually taken to be the core of Jesus’ moral teachings, the Sermon on the Mount. But before you dismiss this as unthinkable, ask yourself the following question. Did Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers not reject the Sermon’s advice in creating America?”

Ghate asks the question that Christians need to wrestle with as we move forward and discern whether social justice and the common good are a prime concern.

Do we need Jesus or do we need Ayn Rand?

Ghate prefers Rand. Whom do you prefer?

Bob Cornwall is pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy, Mich. He blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

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