It has taken a while to hear from religious leaders outside the evangelical right about the national budget proposed by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, but coincidental with a self-congratulatory convocation of religious conservatives and Republican leaders at a “Faith and Freedom” Conference in Washington, D.C., this weekend, an alternative group of religious leaders also met, and issued a strong warning against the priorities of that budget.
Mr. Ryan’s budget, already infamous for ending Medicare “as we know it,” upon examination turns out to be a complete re-ordering of America’s traditional priorities, actually transferring yet more wealth from the poor and vulnerable to the rich, and rewarding Wall Street and corporations over individuals. It has become a litmus test for Republican candidates at every level, who must adhere to it vigorously, while the national GOP leadership, pretending to negotiate with President Obama over raising the national debt ceiling, have treated parts of Ryan’s artifact as non-negotiable, to which Democrats must agree if they want the ceiling raised
One of the more nauseating aspects surrounding the discussion of Ryan’s budget is the Republican pose of moral superiority. It goes like this: America is doomed unless we get a grip on our national deficit by immediately reducing federal spending, and the only way to do that is to end social welfare programs; it is time we returned to the noble values of our Founders, when each individual was responsible for him or herself, because it is not the government’s responsibility to care for its citizens, who then become weak, parasites on the productive members of society, dragging us all down. This philosophy is proudly proclaimed as conforming to both Christian values of personal responsibility and the rugged objectivism of Ayn Rand, the atheistic author of Atlas Shrugged and mentor of Alan Greenspan; she is also much admired by many Republicans, including Ron and Rand Paul.
According to an article in Think Progress Reverend Jennifer Butler, Jim Wallis, Reverend Derrick Harkins, and Father Clete Kiley, “four members affiliated with the religious group Faith in Public Life” held a press conference during an afternoon intermission in the Republican-evangelical Faith and Freedom Conference to “denounce the GOP’s adherence to the philosophies of anti-government, anti-religion author Ayn Rand.” They pointed out that “the GOP efforts to cut funding from many anti-poverty programs while balancing the budget on the backs of the poorest Americans were not in line with Christian values”:
“…In the past, when we’ve done deficit reduction… we’ve done poverty reduction at the same time… there has been a bipartisanhip agreement to a given, a principle, that poor and low income people are not the ones to make hurt more when you’re making tough decisions…. They don’t bear the brunt of our fiscal irresponsibility because they didn’t cause it. We did not get into fiscal trouble because of poor people…. What we’re saying in the faith community, across the spectrum, is that a nation is jhudged… by how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable. Period. That’s what God says to us… To be faithful to God we have to protect poor people.”
Reverend Butler was blunt: “This budget has more to do with the teachings of Ayn Rand than the etchings of Jesus Christ. I read [Rand] in high school, and she said, ‘You have to choose me or Jesus,’ and so I did. She lost.” Wallis agreed that political leaders cannot really adhere to both atheist Rand and Christ, they are incompatible. Early in May, a group of Catholic bishops sent House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), a practicing Catholic, a letter denouncing the budget cuts. House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), also a Catholic, has attempted to convince Catholic bishops that his budget is in line with religious teachings, but Father Kiley said Ryan “handpicked phrases from Catholic teachings in attempts to justify his budget cuts, ” ignoring the majority of Catholic teachings.
I believe it is Lakoff who pointed out that every political decision is in one sense a moral decision. For some unfathomable reason, Democrats have so far not responded to Republican depredations with a moral argument, perhaps because they confuse morality with religion and do not want to mingle Church and State. This is an unfortunate strategic error, which hampers any adequate response to the Republican agenda and its horrifying consequences if implemented. It is to be hoped that the public statement by the four members of Faith in Public Life will give the Democrats the backbone to speak up on their own, and on over-all moral grounds, not simply on a sectarian religious basis.
I suspect that there are few Americans who would want to live in an America based on Ayn Rand’s barbaric selfishness, once they truly understand it. The Ryan federal budget and Republican policies as evidenced in numerous bills passed recently by Republican-dominated state legislatures represent a complete re-ordering of public priorities, which would produce a nasty Ayn Rand society where bullies rule. So far, there has been little substantive debate over this wrenching change, one that goes way beyond simply saving Social Security or Medicare. It is the responsibility of Democrats to force a serious public debate and inform the voters.