The more I view the continuing divisions in our government, the more convinced I become that our basic differences are theological, not political.
The differences are between those who believe in a higher power and those who do not.
I have to be a bit careful with that term. Many -- perhaps most -- of those I define as "functional atheists" are faithful church members who would certainly identify themselves as being Christians. Or Jews. Or Buddhists or Muslims.
But there is a dividing line and here’s what I think it is:
Ayn Rand, who lived from 1905-1982, was the author of “The Fountainhead,” published in 1943, and “Atlas Shrugged,” published in 1957. She also was the principle architect of a philosophical movement called Objectivism, which upholds the rights of individual achievement and makes them the paramount reason for living.
Politically conservative leaders, including Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson, as well as former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, have acknowledged their debt to her philosophy. None of them, so far as I know, would call themselves an atheist.
But atheism is the key to Rand’s philosophy. She was a militant atheist who despised altruism and considered Jesus weak (I suppose at this point I might as well confess that, in defining "believer" and "atheist" for this column, I am putting many atheists in the believer category because they embrace altruism).
Here’s what her character, John Galt, said in "Atlas Shrugged:" "Man -- every man -- is an end in himself. He exists for his own sake and achieving his own happiness is his highest purpose."
Now, contrast philosophy with this one: “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John: 15:13).
You see that basic philosophical division played out all over the place. There is a deep-seated anger on the part of many Americans that they are taxed to provide assistance to those who don’t deserve it, the “moochers,” to use an Ayn Rand term. There’s a deep-seated anger for food stamps, Medicaid, and the whole premise of the Affordable Care Act, that the government ought to guarantee that everyone has access to decent health insurance.
I doubt that God has any particular position on the merits of the Affordable Care Act. But the idea that the affluent and the fortunate have an obligation to care for the poor and the unfortunate is foundational to virtually every religion.
And the idea that man has no higher purpose than his own happiness is foundational to the idea that there is no power higher than oneself.