A Catholic “must read”: an apologia for a “deeply repulsive” thinker

Benjamin Wiker has penned a column for the National Catholic Register called “The Paul Ryan-Ayn Rand Connection: What’s a Catholic to Think?”, and The Catholic World Report has dubbed it a “must read.”

Wiker (among whose books is 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read) goes to great lengths to make the point that yes, there is indeed some nasty stuff in the work of Ayn Rand — in fact, he admits to finding her “to be deeply repulsive” — and yet “there are good things in Rand, things that have attracted many, many readers, who, like Ryan, want to extract the good from the bad.”

Wiker even asks his readers: “Please think about this point: When we come across someone as popular as Ayn Rand — selling millions and millions of books — there’s likely to be something worthy, something right, something of merit.”

What, among the ideas of this “deeply repulsive” thinker, is meritorious?  Wiker lists aspects of Rand’s work that we can applaud, and every one of them is her rejection of something: subjectivism, moral relativism, “statism and collectivism,” materialism, and Marxism. (It’s highly worth noting that in seeking to point out what is good in Rand’s work, Wiker finds not one positive idea or assertion of hers to mention.)

It left me considering a parallel scenario.  Suppose for a moment that a Mass-going Catholic politician rose to great prominence today while making frequent public reference to Hugh Heffner as his inspiration and intellectual model and insisting that his staff subscribe to Heff’s publications; and suppose that the same politician promoted dramatic new policies that were clearly rooted in Heffner’s thought while insisting that said policy is supported by Catholic doctrine; and suppose that, amid loud objections to such policies by Catholic bishops, priests, sisters, and intellectual leaders within the Church, I penned an apologia, a defense of Heffner, though perhaps a half-hearted one, acknowledging that Heffner’s thinking is indeed deeply repulsive to me, but that there is good mixed in with the bad.

After all, I might say (remember, we’re still supposing here), he rejects totalitarian and repressive laws about free speech, the denial of a healthy sex life for couples, and the restriction of opportunities to women. (Sorry, three was hard enough; I couldn’t find five!) And I might point out, cementing the forcefulness of my argument, “Please think about this point: When we come across someone as popular as Hugh Heffner — selling millions and millions of magazines — there’s likely to be something worthy, something right, something of merit.”

While we’re supposing, do you suppose the National Catholic Register would publish this column of mine? And The Catholic World Report link it as a “must read”?

Or might these publications be more inclined to question the judgment of the politician who finds such singular inspiration in Heffner rather than in some other intellectual force who might manage to reject those same things Heffner does, but who at the same time avoids embracing as central to their worldview ideas that are contrary to the most fundamental Catholic convictions about human dignity, freedom, and the sacredness of sexuality — say for example, Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II, Pope Paul VI, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Dorothy Day, or any number of others?

Wouldn’t these Catholic publications even be inclined to say, “Heck, take the Dalai Lama or even Oprah as your inspiration, but Hugh Heffner?  And at the same time present yourself as a Catholic in the public square? Are you kidding us?”

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