28 July 2017

Horatio Alger, Ayn Rand, and Jesus

So, OK, that title may seem a little odd. Well,actually, if you know something of the three of them, very odd. But of late, the three of them have been on my mind, and I have been thinking about how they influence the conversation if that is what we want to call the social media chaos and Twitter storm that has overtaken politics for the last few months. Let me explain.

In the American Literature readers of the 1950's (Mr. Trump and I share an age) the Alger arch-type appeared with some frequency, often in stories written by him. I have included a link here that will offer a perhaps more complete review of Alger's novels. What I think is relevant here is the moral commentary in his work, and the theology that underlies it.

The point here is that wealth, to Alger, and we should note that the "prosperity Gospel" right wing evangelicals is that wealth is a sign of virtue. One person in particlullar appears to have bought into this idea: Donald Trump. Trump remarked of his billionaire heavy cabinet that it had the highest IQ in history. (Yes I heard him say it.) Associating wealth, intelligence, and virtue by implication at least assigns poverty to an absence of virtue, is classic Alger.
As near as I can tell, Rand never had an original thought in her life. Her so-called "philosophy" is nothing but Emerson and Thoreau misquoted and without the scholarship. Her writing, nowhere near as good as Alger's, was so busy preaching her conviction that she was entitled to care about no one but herself, that the stories such as they were and what there was of them, had to contend for page space. There may be a legitimate academic who takes her seriously, but I cannot find one.

Rand's silly misrepresentation of Emerson was summarized in her turgid lecture published as, "The Virtue of Selfishness." This 24 page screed is available on line if anyone really wants to read it but I won't link to it here because of copy-write concerns. She makes a very few points none of them supported: morals and ethics are a hangover from pre-modern savages and more recent collectivism. These two: religion and Marxism are evil. She has the solution, atomic individualism and legitimized selfishness and greed.
Which brings me to the other guy. We have two major comments on social justice from Jesus. One is the "Sermon on the Mount." Mathew 5 - 7 The other is the description of judgement. Mathew 25 It is worth noting that Jesus seems to have known a lot about Torah and other Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus called on his followers to care for the poor, Deuteronomy and Isiah call for equal treatment of aliens. In fact, Jesus condemns those who do not care for the poor, widows, and those in prison to the same hell he never mentions for gays, lesbians, or even straights! Want a Biblical trip to Hell, mistreat the poor.

We need to put the Christian comments in context. John the Baptizer, and Jesus were intensely political. We now read Jesus in particular as a moral teacher (makes him safer) but he was definitely calling the kings and temple authorities to account. In Luke he often makes that point by asking his followers to be careful about who they talk to about him. Consider one example of being a cagey careful preacher of social justice. A vineyard was a standard symbol for the kingdom of Israel. Now go read the parable of the vineyard with the usurpers, in the context of Herod's Roman backed takeover of Israel. Jesus was political.

And Jesus was in the social justice business. In other words he was everything Alger and Rand were not. We Christians claim we stand with Paul in affirming that, "Jesus is Lord." Which leads me to claim one can not be a Christian and an American Evangelical.

I have not written for a while, which is probably not noticed widely. I have been ill, and my online time has been limited. I do plan to be a bit more active.



JCF said...

Hi Jim! Good to see you. Excellent post.

Jim said...

Good to see you too. I am glad you liked the post.

Roy Rumaner said...

Glad to see your back online brother. I have missed our conversations

Leonardo Ricardo said...

I missed you too, Jim! Great post...I needed that political slant. Siempre, Len

RonF said...

Glad to see you're feeling better enough to post! Welcome back. I spent a week on Staff at Jambo and Lord it was hot. I did manage to take a video of a rattlesnake being skinned and gutted from the last day I was there if you're interested.

Wendilynn said...

Nice post. One of my favorite Jesus quotes is "what you do unto the least of men, you do unto me". Jesus was not playing around. Mistreating the poor was the same as mistreating God. One can say that mistreating the poor is sacrilegious.

Jim said...


Thanks. That quotation, and the rest of Mathew 25 is part of what I thinking about when I wrote that Jesus was in the social justice business. When one reads that chapter and a lot of what Jesus, and John for that matter, said, they were calling for a just society.


Jim said...


If progressives are ever going to answer the "Tea Party" I think we need to recover the heritage of social justice and social democracy that informed the first progressives. We need to shed the silly secularism that has overtaken the movement.


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