Robert Reich has written a series of articles lamenting the loss of a vision for "the common good" in America. In the second article in his series ( https://substack.com/app-link/post?publication_id=365422&post_id=133584355 ) he complains, "The idea of 'the common good' was once widely understood and accepted in America. After all, the U.S. Constitution was designed for 'We the people' seeking to 'promote the general welfare' -- not for 'me the selfish jerk seeking as much wealth and power as possible.'"

The common good was not seen as charity. It was seen by your Founding Fathers as the embodiment of civic virtue -- the recognition that we are our brother's keeper, that we are all in this together, and only by supporting everyone, by always seeking the common good instead of our own selfish good, can a society prosper in the long term.

Reich attributes much of our loss of vision for the common good to the writings of Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In her books and lectures, Rand expounded her views about "the virtues of selfishness". She quite literally believed that selfishness is a virtue. She attacked the American idea of the common good:

"The common good is an undefined and undefinable concept," she wrote, a "moral blank check for those who attempt to embody it."

When the common good of a society is regarded as something apart from and superior to the individual desires of its members, "it means that the good of some men takes precedence over the good of others, with those others consigned to the status of sacrificial animals."

Her ridicule and attack of the common good was mainly directed against governmental programs that tried to promote the common good, and she found lesser fault in the charity of individuals, given voluntarily. But she definitely made it known that in her mind the latter was foolish, while the former was morally wrong; an overreach of government that must be corrected. But was she on firm philosophical and ethical ground, or on quicksand? Lets turn to another important historical figure.

In contrast to Ayn Rand's ideas we have the teachings of Jesus Christ, who explicitly made it clear that we are our brother's keeper, that our righteousness is measured by our care for the fatherless, the widows, the oppressed, the downtrodden, and the stranger (foreigner) among us. His parable of the Good Samaritan, in which he asked the hearers who was the more righteous, is but one of a host of examples. In another passage he tells of the end-time judgement, in which many addressed him as LORD, but he turned them away because they did not take care of those in need whenever and where ever they encountered them. To summarize, Jesus demanded his followers be very concerned about the common good. Note that he did not characterize the demand as "optional charity"; he made it mandatory, a demand on his followers. This demand is not emphasized in most churches today.

It should be clear that Ayn Rand's philosophy runs directly counter to the teachings of Jesus. She saw those who would follow Jesus' teachings as foolish, and a government that concerned itself with the common good as corrupt.

The one area of Rand's philosophy that gives us brief pause is that she divides between individuals and their governments in terms of supporting the common good: For her, the caring, charitable individual is simply foolish. How much more so an individual who believed the common good was an obligation, and not an optional charitable act? For her, the caring government that dares to seek the common good is corrupt in its "stealing from the well off" to help the less well off. Because Rand draws this distinction -- between what individuals can and should do versus what governments can and should do -- we have to ask if Jesus did too?

Did Jesus hold governments accountable to the same demands to seek the common good as he holds individuals?

Remarkably, we have no record of Jesus ever speaking out about governmental authority. He said that His kingdom was not of this World, and he said to render to Caesar his due, and to God his due. So, we cannot directly answer as to whether Jesus even thinks in terms of judging governments. Sure, we can infer from the Old Testament that God judged Kingdoms (governments); but, they all were monarchies, in which the king held absolute sway. From the top to the bottom, the government (kingdom) was controlled by one man, the king. So, maybe when God judged a Kingdom He was actually judging the king as an individual? I leave this to you to ponder at your leisure. For now, just accept that Jesus didn't give us any clear mandate regarding how our government should behave.

Does Jesus silence about governments leave us stranded? Hardly. Logic can guide us.

Evangelical Christians today claim that America was founded by God as a Christian Nation. I won't debate this claim; for sake of this logical argument, assume it to be true. If it is true, then one should expect such a nation to possess certain attributes that reflect the will of God. One of these attributes would be that -- at all levels of government -- such a nation would follow the precepts of the common good, preached by and demanded by Jesus. If the nation is truly founded by God, you can't have a spiritual requirement for individual citizenry that is ignored or even actively opposed by the government. Anything less would be "a house divided against itself". Emphatically, if one believes that America is a Christian Nation, then the great governmental concern about the common good held by our Founding Fathers is an unequivocal requirement.

But what if you don't believe America was founded as a Christian Nation? Such skeptics are still "on the hook" for their Nation's actions. Even if you reject the claim that America was founded by God as a Christian Nation, we can still safely say that -- because government is determined through the democratic process of elections -- our government should reflect " the will of the people". That is, the government, overall, should reflect what the majority of people believe. If the majority of people believe in the demands of Jesus, to promote the common good as individuals, then so should the government. Conversely, if the majority of citizens believe in the ideals of Ayn Rand, then the government should promote selfishness. Most emphatically, those Christians who don't believe America was founded as a Christian Nation must still believe in the common good, as taught by Jesus -- or they are not followers of Jesus. Therefore, these believers are morally obligated to vote for the common good in governmental programs. But do they?

So, we come to the rub. Evangelical Christians today largely support a Christianity that (very) slightly supports a common good within their churches; but many, actually most, emphatically support a Randian governance. Here is my evidence:

Donald Trump has called Rand his favorite writer and said he identifies with Howard Roark, the protagonist of The Fountainhead.

Rex Tillerson, secretary of state under Trump, called Randís Atlas Shrugged his favorite book.

Former Trump CIA chief Mike Pompeo cited Rand as a major inspiration.

Before he withdrew his nomination to be Trumpís secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder said he devoted much of his free time to reading Rand.

Paul Ryan, former Republican leader of the House of Representatives, required his staff to read Rand.

Ronald Reagan professed to being a follower of Rand.

The stark contrast between Ayn Rand's philosophy and the teachings of Jesus should make any Christian wary of voting elected officials into governmental positions if those candidates oppose the teachings of Jesus and support the teachings of Ayn Rand. But that is precisely what most Evangelical Christians of America are doing today!

It seems like Paul's epistle, in which he asked his readers "Who has bewitched you?" is even more relevant today. All of the political emphasis of the Evangelical Churches seems to be focused on governing the behavior of others, to force them to comply with the beliefs espoused by the ministers of these churches. In stark contrast the ministers are almost totally neglected is the teaching of a common good so firmly demanded by Jesus.

Why? Because the teaching of a common good -- as demanded by Jesus -- requires action and money from those who have much to help those who have little. How much easier it is for Evangelicals to say that the poor are getting the punishment they deserve for their laziness, and that it is God's judgement on their lives? How much easier it is to make demands on others instead of shouldering the demands of Jesus on oneself!

I've often wondered how Jesus would speak to the leaders of modern churches if he were to walk the streets of America for awhile now? I'm pretty sure his rebukes to them would be every bit as severe and corrective as when he walked the streets of Jerusalem. He requires all followers to commit to the common good, and today's Evangelical churches are preaching against it. They espouse optional charity, but strongly oppose the demands for a common good.

--mof, 8/18/2023

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