(I'm going to be away on Thursday, so am posting my second blog on religious topics today. The next one should appear next Monday as usual.)
Atheism, a favorite whipping boy of religious conservatives, has been injected into the presidential campaign. Rep. Paul Ryan, the putative Republican candidate for vice president, told reporters that author Ayn Rand was his inspiration, unaware (he said) that she was an atheist. What he liked were her views about capitalism.
In her novels, she promoted the free enterprise system, but one without regulations or restrictions of any kind. Unfettered capitalism, of course, led to the 1930s Depression and the recent recession, but the concept still intrigues wealthier members of society and fills their heads with sugarplum dreams of untold riches.
Ryan’s Rand-inspired concepts include the end of Medicare and the disbandment of government regulatory agencies, but definitely not atheism. Actually, he’d be far better off supporting a belief in no god than a government with no rules.
Just for starters, atheism and the anti-regulators have a lot in common. Atheism has no requirements of any kind: no rituals, no holidays, no sacred books or clergy. It’s harder to reduce restrictions any further than that.
In addition, atheism places no onerous requirements on its followers: no fasts, no circumcision, no long pilgrimages, no distinctive clothing. In fact, atheism would eliminate much of what Ryan objects to and allow society to achieve the ultimate level, as Denis Diderot, the editor of the first encyclopedia, noted: “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
Ryan definitely would not favor disemboweling priests, at least not any of his Roman Catholic faith, but he definitely wouldn’t mind eliminating the regulators and letting each person be “king” of his own investments, including Social Security.
Atheism is also about individuals. There’s no church or centralized authority. Every atheist acts alone without any concern for someone else’s beliefs. For example, even humanist organizations contain agnostics and theists. In parallel, Ryan’s economic world is based on the rugged individual enduring despite regulatory chains.
He once spoke on that subject to a group of Rand supports and told them, “The fight we are in here is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” If she were alive, he said, Rand would do “a great job in showing us just how wrong what government is doing is.”
Atheists are also extremely moral. They have no guidebook to model such behavior, no fear of eternal punishment. However, they recognize that, without some form of morality, society cannot function. And, who would be the first people blamed if society collapses? That’s great incentive to be very moral.
Ryan, too, stresses morality, even though he ties it to religion. After being criticized for his link to Rand, Ryan promptly told the conservative National Review that he actually was guided by Church Father Thomas Aquinas and the “Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which holds that issues should be handled at the most local level possible.” That contrasts with Rand, who said Christian values injected into government polices create “the best kindergarten of communism possible” and are inherently corrupt.
Besides, since our country adamantly separates church and state, Christian values have no place in government decisions any more than Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist or other faiths’ values do. That’s an atheist theme, too.
On top of that, Ryan’s views on the military coincide nicely with those of atheists. In the spring, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan suggested that the Pentagon was “deliberately misleading Congress” and that only Congress could be trusted to determine proper military spending. Atheists have no truck with military leaders either.
Ryan never spent a moment in military service, which fits perfectly into atheist ideals. No atheist has ever started a war. The same cannot be said for true believers. Atheists definitely picked up weapons when their country called, unlike Ryan or Mitt Romney, but didn’t initiate a single battle.
As a final reason, Ryan will need votes. He won’t get them by endorsing Ayn Rand, who would have rejected him anyway for his anti-abortion views and insistence in trying to dictate morality. Rand, a Russian refugee, knew too well the dangers of that approach and insisted that “individuals must be free from government interference in their personal lives.”
Instead, Ryan should embrace nonbelievers, the so-called “Nones,” who now represent 19 percent of Americans. Based on a steady growth pattern, the Nones should eclipse the conservative Christian wing in short order.
No doubt about it: Ryan and atheists could create the perfect civil union.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.
You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1