The temptation is to react to the latest outrage from Sullivan with epithets: misogynist, turncoat, propagandist, liberal. Some have taken him on in this way, while others like his former friend Jeffery Goldberg simply lament his drift to the left. Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, wrote a hard hitting assault on his anti-Semitism. But the more he becomes a lightening rod for the right, the more it feeds his ego and his blog. Haven’t we had enough of that, and of Andrew Sullivan?

Nevertheless, he has gradually become an important tool for the left. Pretending to be a conservative, a conservative of doubt, he now writes on a wide range of subjects from politics to religion and philosophy. The spiteful rants may drive his blog ratings, book sales, and TV gigs, but the meat of his arguments is potentially the most damaging. He knows weak spots and apparent inconsistencies on the right. Like his anti-Semitism, this needs to be addressed.

In what appears to be a coordinated effort with a liberal front group called the American Values Network, he has posted a lengthly article called Heightening The Republican Contradictions parts 1 and 2. It highlights what he sees as two contradictory philosophies – Christianity and the ethics of Ayn Rand. He zeros in first on Rand’s “virtue of selfishness” vs. his reading of Christ’s teachings:

There is no question that Ayn Rand despised Christianity because of its insistence on catering to the other before oneself. In fact, Randianism is, apart from Nietzsche, one of the most brutal attacks on the Sermon on the Mount ever written.”

And then he goes on to tell us, in full preacher mode, exactly what Christian teachings mean:

…the greater material enrichment of human beings – is anathema to the Jesus of the Gospels.

You will find Sullivan’s sermon here and here.

This is in the context of a Youtube clip from the American Values Network that he links in which Paul Ryan is specifically attacked as a follower of Rand, and an out of context clip of Rand being grilled by Mike Wallace 50 years ago. The reason for taking on Ayn Rand is politically motivated, to drive a wedge of discord between the religious right, and those few libertarian/Randian influenced Republicans like Congressman Ryan and Senator Rand Paul, both of whom, by the way, are Christian. His immediate purpose is a narrow political one – to have Ryan, Paul, and Sen. Johnson put on the defensive and booted from leadership positions. The wider goal is to drive libertarians back out of the Republican Party.

Sullivan tells us the meaning of Jesus’ sermon. It is a facile sophomoric exposition, but then Sullivan is no theologian. Far from it, he got his Masters in Public Administration and his Doctorate with a dissertation on the obscure British political theorist, Michael Oakeshott. He takes a literal, fundamentalist approach to the words of Christ. There is no reference to the greatest theologian, Thomas Aquinas, and his writings. As a Catholic, Sullivan must be aware of the Summa Theologica. Wieseltier quoted from it. In it, the ethics and logic of Aristotle find a home. Natural law is defined. It is nothing less than a synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy and Christian faith. Seeming opposites and divisions are made whole. Thomist ethics proclaim: Happiness is man’s supreme Good. Not resignation, denial, and self-flagellation. Faith is affirmed for the salvation of the soul, happiness for the nurturing of the body.

The founding principles of The United States: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Sullivan would have us ignore the Scholastic tradition of The Church. He would circumvent the finest minds of centuries for a venal, poltical purpose. He would ignore the fact that a great religion encompasses the living, and life on earth, as well as the soul and the certainty of death. The fact that religion implies dogmatism doesn’t preclude that at its heart it is also philosophical. Which brings us back to Rand and his attack.

He mischaracterizes her ethics. She unfortunately insisted on using the word selfishness for its shock value and to get attention. Selfishness as commonly used implies self-centeredness, a lack of consideration for the feelings of others, narcissism. That is not what she meant. She advocated an adherence to values, with one’s own life as the most important value. At the same time she said that it was possible to value another’s life as much as, if not more than one’s own, to the point of “sacrificing” to save someone or something of great value. Quoting Ayn Rand on sacrificing herself to save New York City:

When I see the city from my window – no, I don’t feel how small I am – but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.

Sullivan clouds the issue of Rand and altruism. He alludes to it with his statement that:

There is no question that Ayn Rand despised Christianity because of its insistence on catering to the other before oneself.

It’s not that simple by any means. Does Sullivan believe that Christ would have one sacrifice his life for no good reason, to in effect lay down before evil and await slaughter? If life is a gift from God, is it not immoral to squander it before evil? Or to quote Ayn Rand from Galt’s speech:

For a man of moral stature, whose desires are born of rational values, sacrifice is the surrender of the right to the wrong, of the good to the evil.

She recognized giving. One of her favorite stories was The Gift of The Magi by O. Henry. Not a prime virtue in her system, she called it benevolence. You may call it what you want – sharing, help, the recognition of value in a friend or loved one. She believed that Americans were gifted with a benevolence unequaled in the world, that it was a part of our sense of lifeand our unique culture born of freedom and abundance. What she hated was the altruism of Immanuel Kant. From Rand’s For The New Intellectual:

An action is moral, said Kant, only if one has no desire to perform it, but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort, neither material nor spiritual; a benefit destroys the moral value of an action (Kant’s philosophy of altruism) …consisted of total, abject selflessness.

How does that definition of selflessness in any way reflect Christ’s teachings? To actually quote Jesus:

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law…

This sounds more like equal treatment and benevolence, doesn’t it, than the cannibalistic sacrifice of Kant.

Andrew Sullivan by his own admission was raised by parents who admired the works of Ayn Rand. He knows very well the precise nature of her ideas. Therefore, he is purposely being deceptive. But then he also paints a false picture of American culture, with an Englishman’s jaundice and sense of superiority. To him we on the right are nothing but yokels, fearing change, reverting to religious fundamentalism, ignoring our base evil and prejudice. Here’s how he see’s the country that provided him a Masters & PhD from Harvard, allowed him to marry his lover, and saved his AIDS infected body:

The core moral narrative of the country – its founding on slavery and its bitter brutal internal conflict to achieve racial justice over the centuries – is simply ignored. This is what we are hearing from Santorum and Romney and Palin: American fundamentalism.

Will this appeal to racism and division never end? This country fought a Civil War with a half million killed to end the evil of slavery. The Republican Party that Andrew Sullivan derides was born in that struggle. The first Republican President, Lincoln, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We just elected an African American as President. This cudgel is worn out and the narrative is stale – as stale and useless as the hate filled writings of Andrew Sullivan.

Out of a sense of Christian charity, we should forgive him – for the lies, the slanders, the deceit, and the mocking ridicule. We should pray for his soul.

But perhaps Andrew would be happier and less conflicted embracing the teachings of Christ, as he espoused them – the greater material enrichment of human beings – is anathema to the Jesus of the Gospels…we should have nothing. Indeed, if we retain anything, we will not enter the Kingdom of God.

So to this end, here are links to a quiet Trappist Monastery in California far from the nexus of hate filled politics that is his current home in D.C.

http://www.newclairvaux.org/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcP3aN1Y0IY

He should go there, if they will have him, and search his soul.