August 15, 2012

Romney, Rand, Ryan and Me

or, What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been
The recent flurry of activity involving the naming of Paul Ryan as Vice-Presidential candidate, Dianna Hsieh's talk at the Liberty on the Rocks, Ari Armstrong's endorsement of Romney-Ryan, and the commentary on such by the brethern, leads me to share a remarkable coincidence: I was raised as a Mormon, read Rand at 15 and strove to be an Objectivist, and was baptized a Catholic earlier this year.

And so, a few insider insights in to the Three Rs:

Mormonism: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints really tried to get people to drop the "Mormon" word but it's embedded in the cuture and we use it here. I grew up in a big Mormon family and thoroughly understand the doctines and beliefs in the church, and they believe they're Christians, despite the naysaying of various other Christian sects.

The most important thing to know about Mormons in the context of this election year is just how All-American they are; they believe that America is uniquely blessed and chosen to lead and save the world, they believe in hard work and prosperity, and they believe in Boy Scouts, apple pie and patriotism. During their early days they were set apart by Joseph Smith as a "peculiar people" but when they did the deal in 1890 to end polygamy and gain statehood for Utah, they quickly became more American than the Americans. Currently the church is experiencing some of the same fallout from liberalism and feminism as the Catholic Church (and the rest of the culture): more people using (theoretically not allowed) birth control, rapidly increasing rates of divorce, demands for women in the leadership, etc. But Mitt Romney grew up steeped in an atmosphere of American exceptionalism. It's ingrained as thoroughly as his religion.

I really began a mature questioning of the Mormon story at age 11 when I began to read Heinlein. This was another, bigger world, a whole universe, in fact. At 15 I read Atlas Shrugged for the first time and suppose that in some respects it replaced religion for me; it made sense, it was a worked-out Weltanschauung that relied on reason, rather than faith. You didn't have to buy it from somebody else; Rand told you to think for yourself.

This brings up something interesting that relates to Paul Ryan and his admiration for Rand, even as he clearly states he's no Objectivist. I have met quite a few Christians over the years who had read Rand and admired her work, her individualism and support for capitalism. Without exception they were high-IQ types, professionally successful--in other words something like Paul Ryan. But of course Rand or any person who calls himself "Objectivist" would conclude that despite some admirable applied rationality in business or other profession these people are hopeless mystics and second-handers, only marginally above Wesley Mouch and Ellsworth Toohey.

I won't go into a dissertation here on how and why I became a Catholic, but offer the insight that the Catholic critics of Ryan and his budget, those who claim that "Catholic Social Teaching" and Jesus Christ himself would condemn Ryan as a heartless selfish bastard balancing the budget on the backs of the poor...don't know the teachings of their own Church very well. There are certain unalterable truths taught by the Church, and then there are many desirable goals like peace between men and nations, food for the hungry and clothes for the naked, the reform of criminals and the treatment of disease, etc. These ends are not in question, but the means to achieve them is not a teaching of the Church.

People are free to disagree with theologians, bishops and the Pope on the proper tax rates, budgets, economic incentives, immigration laws, gun laws and many other political questions. Some Catholics on the left attempt to shame conservatives with charges that "Jesus would favor an increase in the Medicaid budget" but this is nonsense.

The common denominators between the Mormons and Catholics that really drive the socially-left libertarians crazy are the male preisthood and the refusal to "celebrate" homosexuality and sanctify "gay marriage." For some, even an Objectivist like Diana Hsieh, this negative more than outweighs all the happytalk about free markets, less regulation and getting bureaucrats off of our backs.

Having run the entire gamut from Mormon to Objectivist to Catholic gives me the perspective to state that in this imperfect and fallen world, Romney-Ryan is in some strange way my Dream Ticket!

2012 Election Posted by Ellis Wyatt at August 15, 2012 7:00 PM

Thanks for this post. Adult conversions to Catholicism fascinate me to no end. As with Mr. Feser, I have gone the other way. I was raised Catholic, attended Parochial schools 11/12 years, and tell people I grew up in a Catholic ghetto -- not poverty but I didn't meet anybody who wasn't Catholic until I was into my teens.

I have few regrets in life. But two good friends (one a good blog friend) studied with the Jesuits. I had one semester with a rather brilliant monk (I forget the order) but my entire experience was with Diocesan priests who were driven by faith and not intellect. My Dad bought me GK Chesterton's "Orthodoxy," but I never was well exposed to the intellectually rigorous side of Catholicism.

I have a high opinion of Mormons as a good friend and probably the best boss I ever had was LDS. Next door neighbors at my first house were swell but they had to move to a larger place when the 15th kid or so arrived. And we had a brilliant young commenter running around ThreeSources who is off on missionary duties.

The young man was a big fan of Theodore Roosevelt, but other than that, they were all so impressive in habit, integrity and decency that one really does wonder if they have the answer.

I went to meet with boss's youth group (to discuss the music biz) and the parking lot was full of Porsches. And this leads to my tough question. I believe you know I ask it respectfully. Mormons and Jews impress me with their relationship to modernity. ThreeSourcers ridiculed the 100% taxation lady, but the Catholicism I grew up with was not at all comfortable with success. One could admire a hard worker, but you would have faced excommunication if you bought a Porsche at Blessed Sacrament.

Arrogance was similarly ostracized. I did not read Atlas as a call to atheism but my Randian epiphany was that individualism was okay, appreciating man qua man was okay, and that I was not quite so much my brother's keeper as I had been led to believe.

Blog siblings jg and dagny wonder how you reconcile faith with reason. As a fusionist (still!) I'm quite used to that, but I wonder how you reconcile individualism with Catholicism, and if I may become harder edged, an expansive human spirit versus man as sinner.

Posted by: jk at August 16, 2012 10:27 AM

These are the important questions, no? I will start with the last and work my way up.

To even mention the "human spirit" already edges dangerously close to leaving Rand's materialism (if I understood her correctly). For the Objectivist, there is only Matter and the Void. As much as I admired Rand, I came to consider the possibility that there is more to the Universe than can be apprehended by the senses. I have been influenced by such as Roger Penrose and Frank Tipler in considering that mind cannot be fully explained through the firing of neurons, and that Gödel's incompleteness theorems apply to reality and not just mathematical systems.

Of course I could be 100% dead wrong but this is the danger of taking a position.

Re: man as sinner - Heinlein QOTD: “Sin lies only in hurting others unnecessarily. All other 'sins' are invented nonsense.”

Heinlein knew quite well that this dovetails perfectly with what Jesus said about the two great commandments: Love God and your neighbor. Your neighbor has the imago dei, the image of God. Approaching from a different direction we reach Rand's conclusion that man is more than okay, man is an exceptional, beautiful and unique thing in the Universe.

I think I addressed the distortion of Catholic social teaching here and below, but to get more personal, 14 years ago I went to work in politics and government and began to meet a class of intellectual, successful Catholics who argued that free men and free markets are objectively the way that the most people can be lifted out of poverty, fed and clothed, and flourish qua man. Think Justices Scalia and Thomas, and Paul Ryan. The socialists and outright Marxists that infiltrated the Church, the priesthood and especially the women's religious orders in the 20th century are getting old and feeble. If you read certain publications you can smell their fear of "conservatives," but I can say with certainty that DC has a network of many thousands of intelligent, wealthy, modernist doctinally conservative Catholics who drive Porshes (or maybe Lexus'). In the coming Romney administration they will occupy a lot of high positions, starting with the VP, and I imagine there will be quite a few Mormons of similar stripe.

I guess I haven't really reconciled faith with reason yet. Well, while standing on one foot in the elevator: Rand had some admiration for Aquinas, and if I recall got an A back in Soviet school on an exam about Aristotle's Unmoved Mover. I think Aquinas convincingly proved the Uncaused Cause, which is God.

And now my foot is tired and the elevator has reached the top.

Posted by: Ellis Wyatt at August 16, 2012 1:42 PM

Prominent Objectivists still see religion as more dangerous in America than socialism or collectivism. Secular appeals to totalitarianism, it is said, have all proven to fail throughout history, while religious philosophy and culture have the capacity to create a totalitarian society "that won't collapse in less than a hundred years."

And yet, in the same four minute explanation, secular socialism is given as prerequisite for religious totalitarianism. Very well then, Objectivists must ally with the God-fearing Rand-accepters to roll back the socialist state and leave the religious altruists stranded on their island.

The enemy of liberty is not secularism or religion - the enemy is altruism.

Posted by: johngalt at August 16, 2012 3:10 PM

I must correct an erroneous conclusion into which brother Ellis seems to have been duped- That he and Paul Ryan are "second-handers" in the Rand lexicon for "picking and choosing" from her philosphy rather than adopting it whole. No, that is not the definition of "second-hander." A second-hander is one who lives and profits from the creative effort of others.

The linked article by Ed Kilgore is responsible for this attempted redefinition. I suspect he did so intentionally, with malice toward the ideas of Rand and the electoral success of Ryan, for the former are a mortal threat to Kilgore's altruistic Progressivism. And to whatever extent Ryan may succeed in promulgating Rand's ideas in public policy, Kilgore's ideology loses.

Posted by: johngalt at August 16, 2012 3:22 PM

"There are things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, not dreamt of in man's philosophies."

That bit o' the bard alone keeps from being an Objectivist. Plus they never have enough cucumber sandwiches at their quarterly meetings... Yet I reconcile by allowing myself flights of fancy without altering my life. Read your horoscope if you must (I don't), but don't stay home because it warns of dangerous travel.

I'll collect all of your Catholic Trading cards and bid up Larry Kudlow (adult convert) and the bulk of the WSJ Ed Page. My leading lights are all bleedin' Papists! Larry drives Cadillacs.

I use "human spirit" loosely and could trade it in for a Rand approved term for individual human exceptionalism. I was raised on a steady diet of "you're not so hot." "You didn't build that." None of this is doctrine, just my experiences.

Lastly, I did not lose faith because of Ayn Rand. It was Jethro Tull: the liner notes to "Aqualung" (..and Man created God, and in Man's image he created Him...) and the final song (on the "God Side" of the LP).

How do you dare to tell me that I'm my father's son? When that was just an accident of birth. I'd rather look around me, compose a better song. 'Cause that's the honest measure of my worth.

A couple years with the Jesuits could have knocked that out of me -- but I never had the chance.

Posted by: jk at August 16, 2012 3:25 PM

Speaking of dream ticket.

Posted by: johngalt at August 16, 2012 3:53 PM

Brother jg - you are correct to point out that Ed Kilgore is a poor example of someone to define "second-hander" per Rand. There is a continuum of Objectivism 30 years after her death, from the sola scriptura followers to the "Open System" of David Kelly to great admirers who disagree on certain important points (me) to Hillary Clinton.

My original and repeated readings of Rand convinced me that being a real Objectivist requires atheism, but I've certainly met some people who called themselves such but were open to reasons and argument about the existence of God and whether Christianity was actually a powerful positive good in society.

Posted by: Ellis Wyatt at August 16, 2012 6:14 PM


@JK notes they were all so impressive in habit, integrity and decency that one really does wonder Yup, me three! I usually describe Mormons - admiringly - as "obnoxiously nice."

Faith vs. Reason? I'm not sure I see the conflict. I took Rand for what she was: entertaining, challenging and avant garde, not some anti-messiah. My backbone on the topic is actually from Einstein's Ideas and Opinions from which I'd happily cite, but it's somewhere in an unpacked box that I'll get to some day!

Posted by: nanobrewer at August 17, 2012 12:58 AM

There is a longer, more rigorous answer to the question: "What is the conflict between faith and reason?" but an easy anecdotal answer presented itself in an @AriArmstrong Tweet today.

Faith in a supernatural authority can lead to conclusions like this, while reason, on a foundation of ownership of self, cannot.

Posted by: johngalt at August 17, 2012 3:51 PM | What do you think? [9]