Things keep getting more interesting regarding Congressman Paul Ryan, his Catholicism, and his take on Catholic social teaching.
ITEM ONE: In an interview article published yesterday by The National Review, Ryan turned his back on his previous embrace of the ethics of Ayn Rand.
“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.
This is especially interesting from a Catholic social teaching point of view, because the philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas has undergirded that body of doctrine more than perhaps any other single influence — including scripture. (In fact, it has been criticized by some for that reason.)
Despite Ryan’s conversion, as Vincent Miller at America’s In All Things blog points out, “Curiously, his policies are unchanged. Surely, a conversion of that magnitude surely would result in some difference.”
Related to Ryan’s comments, Miller also helpfully provides a link to video that offers a vivid example of Ryan’s embrace of Rand and her moral thinking. Ryan insists: “Ayn Rand more than anyone else did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism.” He emphasized the word morality and went on to use it and emphasize it in the same way several more times. The Congressman is (or was) very into the moral thinking of Ayn Rand.
To be clear: Call Ryan’s policy opinions matters of prudential judgment if you want, but there is no question, absolutely no question, that the “morality of individualism” that Rand promotes in her novel runs contrary to Catholic ethics and Catholic social teaching in all kinds of ways.
ITEM 2: A piece by Ryan was published this week by the National Catholic Register. It’s titled “Applying Our Enduring Truths to Our Defining Challenge.” He makes reference to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church in the very first sentence, quotes Benedict XVI, and goes on to argue for his federal budget proposal.
Michael Sean Winters responds here.
ITEM 3: Yesterday, Ryan delivered the Whittington Lecture at Georgetown University. Before he arrived, he received a letter signed by nearly 90 of the university’s faculty members. The letter includes this:
[W]e would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress – “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” Catholic bishops recently wrote that “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”
In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.
The complete text of Paul Ryan’s address is here (provided by the National Review). He says,
The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it. What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day.
Again, Michael Sean Winters comments.
I’m sure more comment on these items will be rolling out in the days ahead.