The Icemen Cometh: Romney-Ryan and the future of compassion in America

Jason E. Miczek AP Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, and his vice presidential running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., … Continued

Jason E. Miczek

AP

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, and his vice presidential running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., arrive at a campaign rally Aug. 12, 2012 in Mooresville, N.C. at the NASCAR Technical Institute.

We are falling prey, in the United States, to the temptation to equate “freedom” with selfishness.

This is ultimately a counsel of despair and the direct antithesis of the biblical values of love and compassion.

The selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president throws this problem into stark relief.

Jesus of Nazareth was absolutely clear that we have a responsibility to care for one another. Jesus instructed us to “love one another” (John 13:34). Cultivating the virtues of empathy, compassion, and support for other people is the way we love one another in an individual and in a social sense.

The virtue of selfishness, however, is becoming more and more permissible. Much will be made of the influence of atheist philosopher Ayn Rand on Ryan. Ever since Ryan put out his draconian budget proposal that slashes essential programs for the poor and gives big tax breaks to the rich, Ryan’s attachment to the works of Ayn Rand has been highlighted. Jonathan Chait, in the pages of Newsweek, referred to Ryan as a “Rand nut,” and called out Ryan for launching a “war on the weak.”


View Photo Gallery: Romney and Ryan are embarking on the first day of a four-day bus trip that will take the White House hopefuls to four key swing states: Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.

Yes, Ryan’s attachment to the works of Ayn Rand is revealing of his own views and it’s deeply problematic. But the problem of selfishness as a virtue is far more widespread and corrosive in American society than the views of any one person.

Through decades of conservative ideology, the concept of freedom itself has been narrowed to mean simply ‘it’s okay to be selfish.’ In fact, caring for our fellow citizens is regarded as the antithesis of our own individual freedom.

The military’s former slogan of an “Army of One” has become the “Nation of One.” Me, myself, and me.

The whole Grover Norquist tax “pledge” is so illustrative of the degeneration of the idea of freedom. This is a “pledge” conservatives in Congress have signed, promising never to vote for programs that would raise taxes. Norquist himself says those who are in favor of the “pledge” are, in fact, “everybody [who] wants the government to leave them alone.”

“Leave me alone” is not the transcendent value of freedom as freedom for one another, it reduces freedom to freedom from one another.

Eugene O’Neill’s play “The Iceman Cometh” is a chilling reminder of what happens to people who make a virtue of selfishness. One of the central themes of the play is how the obsession with individual freedom can become self-obsession. In O’Neill’s universe, this is a counsel of despair.

In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama ran on a platform of hope that meant political change. In “The Iceman Cometh,” hope is a pipe dream, an illusion, as in a famous speech from the play.

But the biblical value of hope transcends both. In the Bible, hope comes from the capacity we actually do have to “love one another.” Compassion is the well from which we actually can draw hope for the future.

Biblical truth teaches us that selfishness is profoundly destructive.

The extreme of the “freedom agenda” is actually a counsel of despair. You have to give up hope in humanity in order to hold such a view. It is, as the O’Neill play shows, finally an extreme form of skepticism toward all human relations and social progress.

This national election has now become a referendum on whether we will choose the value of selfishness or of compassion. The depth and the height of our core national value of freedom is at stake in this choice.

Freedom isn’t selfishness. My freedom ultimately depends on my capacity to feel compassion for you, and the freedom we achieve together in mutual responsibility.

To believe otherwise is a counsel of deep despair.

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • thebump

    It is long past time to move this blindly, rabidly, fanatically, and hatefully partisan authoress to the political opinion section and OUT of the “faith” section. She’s employed by a Soros-backed ultra-left hate group. Her comments are purely political, and so utterly predictable that they are of interest to no one save those who share her prejudices.

  • createsastir

    Yes, he’s from CHICAGO and writes a Pro-Obama op-ed. How surprising! Did Reverend Wright help??

  • thebump

    The election is about nothing other than Oboobma’s disastrous incompetence and ideological extremism.

    The last thing on earth the election’s about is “selfishness” or “compassion”. Those are matters of personal virtue, not public policy. People, NOT government, are compassionate. A government bureaucracy can no more be “compassionate” than pigs can fly.

  • roblimo

    That Jesus guy was a Jew, and most of them are liberals.

  • cross1242

    I suspect that those on the hard right would be that they aren’t selfish. In fact, they’d brag about how much they and conservatives contribute to charity. But, they don’t want gum-it in the charity business because then it is forceably taking wealth from some people and giving it to others.

    I think that argument’s baloney but the argument here needs to address the conservatives argument that they aren’t selfish.

  • thebump

    There is nothing more selfish than demanding that somebody else pay more because you hate them and envy their success.

  • thebump

    The fact that Soros commanded even this lowly flunky Miss Thistlethwaite to get out a hit piece within 24 hours underscores the abject terror and desperation setting in among the Oboobma dead-enders.

  • Idle speculation

    Does anyone seriously consider Ayn Rand a intellectual heavyweight? Her “philosophy” reads more like a thin defense of adolescent narcissism than substantive reflection.

  • thebump

    People already were sick and tired of Adjunct Prof. Oboobma’s incompetence, empty promises and endless excuses. Now, compared to the new GOP ticket, he and his gasbag septuagenarian sidekick just look increasingly pathetic and ridiculous.

  • Idle speculation

    Regardless of whether you think President Obama has done a decent or lousy job steering the country over the last 3+ years, I am still waiting to hear what Romney plans to do differently. I suppose he could trim unemployment benefits, roll back access to health care for those with pre-existing conditions, and further deregulate the financial sector but I don’t see how any of that will get us out of the hole we’re in.

  • guntergrass

    All right, so you’re just a raging crazy person with nothing substantive to say. Okaaaaay…

  • Got2luvit

    Man did Paul Ryan urinate in the washington post corp. CEO’s coffee or something? I’ve never seen this newspaper that hot and bothered over a political pick than this. They even have their conservative writers assailing Ryan.
    Back to this article though. This is nothing but sheer bunk. The church has been the worst perpetrator of suppressing thoughts, rights, and freedoms during it’s existence yet the writer wants to attack Rand’s position on objectivity and what ones duty is to himself and his fellow man. Puhlease. This is unbridled hypocrisy at it’s finest. If you want to see gross misuse and redistribution of wealth, how about we look at the church’s 10% tithing code (*cough* TAX *cough*) and their ability to be exempt from govt taxation. And what does the public get, at best soup kitchens and other bare minimum services. Folks, Jesus said much of helping your fellow and absolute and nothing of imposing a cloaked tax collection on individuals through his ministry.
    Rand simply said that taxes should be voluntary (which the IRS code stipulates), that you have a duty and right to do what is in the best interest of you (as long as it doesn’t infringe on someone elses rights) before addressing the idea of sacrificing for others and that govt should have minimal sway in markets and people’s lives (which I slightly disagree with on the basis of the need for regulation). Also lets not forget that we are living under a capitalistic umbrella. Please go look up the definition of capitalism and if you don’t like it, Venezuala would be a good place for you to move.

  • persiflage

    ‘The virtue of selfishness, however, is becoming more and more permissible’

    Now that Romney has openly capitulated to the rightwing fringe, I’d say his chances of being elected just went straight to hell. With Ryan, he’s burnished his credentials as the frontman for the tyranny of allout corporate feudalism. These two are the culmination of GOP regressionism since the Reagan era – I imagine Alan Greenspan is pretty proud right about now.

    Blind ideology trumps common sense (and compassion) every time, and this is the quality that Romney is counting on from his misbegotten supporters.

  • thebump

    LOL. Thanks for the view from the barking moonbat far left loony bin. However, I believe the loathsome Miss Thistlethwaite already had that covered.

  • persiflage

    bump, be careful now – you’ll be running out of adverbs and adjectives and you’ve barely gotten started.

  • persiflage

    bump, you’ve got to get some new material. You’re as boring as Mitt Romney………maybe you’ve even got the edge, the way you repeat yourself. OCD much?

  • persiflage

    So you want to give George Soros a tax break?

  • thebump

    @persiflage: Whereas your post was shockingly fresh and original.

    Don’t flatter yourself, chump.

  • thebump

    I don’t want to give anybody a tax break. I want the busybody politicians, bureaucrats and social engineers to mind their own damn business, confine themselves to the legitimate purposes of government for which there is broad consensus, do it as efficiently as possible and leave us the hell alone. And no, that is not “selfish” — quite the opposite. The selfish ones are those who insist on confiscating everybody else’s resources and then bossing them around.

  • ccnl1

    Some easy ways to pay down our 14 trillion dollar debt and at the same time save 3.5 billion “souls”:

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:

    There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror LIKE 9/11.

    - One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

    - Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

    - Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

    Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:

    There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

    - The Mormon tithe empire will now become taxable as will all Christian “religions” and evangelical non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.

    - Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
    Abraham and Moses probaby never existed.

    prob•a•bly

    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    - Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.

    - All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

    Now all we need to do is convince these 3.5+ billion global and local citizens that they have been conned all these centuries Time for a YouTube,Twitter and FaceBook campaign!!!!

  • persiflage

    ‘The selfish ones are those who insist on confiscating everybody else’s resources and then bossing them around’

    Sounds like the one percenters to me……………and I’ll just bet you’re not one of them. And speaking of chumps, they thank you for doing their dirty work.

  • thebump

    Your envy and hatred of the successful is unseemly. Why not get off yer duff and off the interwebs, and get busy and go out and make something of yerself?

  • persiflage

    ‘Rand simply said that taxes should be voluntary (which the IRS code stipulates), that you have a duty and right to do what is in the best interest of you’

    An absurd bunch of nonsense – Rand was a Russian emigre that that lived the life of an artsy high roller in NYC, subsidized by various rich admirers and donors. Her philosophy was certainly not based on her own personal lasting accomplishments. She built nothing, and left nothing of any consequence.

    She and Frank Lloyd Wright were contemporaries that travelled the same circles and were famously not fond of one another. She thought he was an arrogant pretender to the aristocracy, and he thought she was a poser that cleverly lived off of others.

    Many of his architectural wonders are still standing. Ayn Rand is often equated with social Darwinism……..so which legacy is really a legacy worth having?

  • persiflage

    Hey bump, project much? I made my bones 25 years ago ………and you seem to have plenty of time on your own hands.

    Success as a human doesn’t equate well with rightwing politics.

  • thebump

    What exactly does Miss Thistlethwaite have to say about Oboobma’s selfishness and lack of compassion towards his half-brother who subsists in third world misery.

  • Secular1

    can you share this, your knowledge about the intimate details of Obama extended family, please. Because you completely lost everyone. Thank you to have me and others in on the secret that Obama has a half-brother.

  • persiflage

    Wall Street loves these guys. Romney proposes massive deregulatory changes to investment banking operations, and don’t forget that Ryan was one of the architects of privatizing social security – which he will bring back to life ASAP.

    Ryan is rabidly anti-choice and pro-personhood. Roe v Wade will be on the chopping block, despite the fact the Romney was once upon a time pro-choice and was the godfather of Affordable Care as governor of Massachusetts.

    Lower taxes for the rich and the elimination and/or dramatic reduction of Medicaid/Medicare coverage for seniors and the poor are in the wings. The regressive politics of the Tea Party-driven GOP are completely encapsulated in these two. Ryan’s Randian social Darwinism would become a full-blown reality with these two. There’s little question that the Ryan mentality is the future of the republican party.

  • thebump

    As well as the future of America: Growth and freedom, baby!

    As for Roe, it would hard to come up with anything that more epitomized the ethos of selfishness and cruelty.

  • persiflage

    Bump, I strongly suspect you know nothing about the life of a grownup, and less about what it means to be a woman. I’ve rarely seen a more-self centered poster.

  • Catken1

    “As for Roe, it would hard to come up with anything that more epitomized the ethos of selfishness and cruelty.”

    Yep, much kinder and more unselfish to reduce half the population to things to be used for the good of Real People (i.e. fetuses) and then let the resulting overglut of babies starve and die for lack of attention and resources once they get here. Because the world cannot support the population it has now at an American standard of living, and never will be able to.

  • Catken1

    “There is nothing more selfish than demanding that somebody else pay more because you hate them and envy their success.”

    There is nothing more selfish than taking all the benefits of a strong infrastructure and civil community to build your own wealth, and then whining that other people “hate you” and “envy your success” because they want you to contribute back to that infrastructure and community so that others have the same opportunities you had.

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

concert
Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

shutterstock_37148347
What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.