Jesus, Conservative or Liberal?
The following letter, sent to me by my friend Richard, will help you decide if Jesus, had he been alive today, would be a conservative or a liberal. Richard calls conservatives, “Cafeteria Christians.” Read on to be convinced, or ignore the letter to preserve your political philosophy.
Richard’s letter was addressed to a friend, not me, although I am flattered that Richard also refers to me as a friend. I did some minor editing with Richard’s permission. My comments are in italics.
I was struck by your reference to the words of Jesus that “the poor shall be
with us always”. These words are often used by conservatives who quote “no matter what we do we will always have the poor with us so why do anything?” I’m sure that is not your attitude, but I have heard it expressed often enough to know that it is very common. Quoting Jesus and the scriptures like this supports my conclusion that most Christians are “Cafeteria Christians”. They pick and choose those verses and ideas that are supportive of their own personal positions and ignore those, which are contrary.
For example: Prior to the Civil War the Quakers and liberal Christians in the North relied on the Bible to support of their position against slavery, while at the exact same time, ministers and preachers throughout the South relied on the Bible to support of their position that slavery was part of God’s plan and in keeping with his will.
There is an abundance of language in the Bible to support either position. The same can be said for the two sides in the today’s debate over capital punishment, and many other items in the current “culture wars”.
Marx, for example, was an intellectual with academic backgrounds in both
Judaism and Christianity and was very familiar with the Bible. As a matter of fact, one of his most famous aphorisms “To each according to his need; from each according to his ability” was inspired by the language of the New Testament. Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32-35 as well as the narrative story of Ananias shortly thereafter in Acts 5:1-10.
There are many more verses in the Bible supporting socialistic principles than there are in support of capitalism, but both are in it and the Bible is used extensively in support of “Liberation theology” as well as “Prosperity Gospel”.
Preachers of both persuasions simply pick and choose as if they were at a Sunday buffet filling their plates. The same can be done, and is done with great frequency, with the Quran (Koran). The early parts of the Koran are very peace-like and tolerant, and full of ideas that no one could complain of today. The latter parts are full of intolerance and hatred, and very aggressive and warlike. Take your pick. All the words are supposedly “inspired” so you can’t pick wrong, or can you?
For example, have you ever heard a minister take his sermon text from those horrid certain portions of Old Testament bible that could be called the Book of Kings? Much of it reads like it was written by Stephen King. It is outrageously bloody and vengeful, and so lacking in justice and mercy that the vast majority of preachers wish it were not there at all and would never quote it in a sermon or refer to it as recommended reading. It is an embarrassment to clergy. Ask your own minister if he has ever used the more violent parts of the Book of Kings in his work. It reads like something out of Nazi Germany at its worst.
(I totally agree with everything Richard has written, but I must admit I have heard a minister of moderate Protestant church use the story of Jephthah, who made a pact with God that he would kill and sacrifice the first person he met upon returning from a battle, if he won it. Well, Jephthah won the battle but the first person he met upon returning home was his daughter, who came to meet him dancing and rejoicing. Jephthah told her of his pact with God and she agreed he could not go back on his word. After a short reprieve, he slit her throat and burned her as he had promised God. Unlike Abraham, who was spared of sacrificing his son in a similar manner, Jephthah did not get a pardon from a merciful and loving God, so and had to go through with the dirty deal. The moderate protestant minister used the story to demonstrate Jephthah’s great love of God before family, and his integrity in keeping his vow. The minister totally ignored the greater injustice and savage significance of the story. Protestant ministers and Catholic hierarchy have a great skill in such matters.)
Rather than be general about my thesis, I’ll give you a specific example from the New Testament, using the words of Jesus, to counter the quote about the poor being with us always and, in fact, putting the rich in somewhat of a tight position. I will quote at length so as not to be accused of quoting out of context. It is a familiar quote of Jesus from the Book of Mark 17. “And when he was gone forth and into the way there came one running, and kneeled to Him and asked Him: Good Master, what shall I do that I shall inherit eternal life?”
Mark 18. And Jesus said unto him “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God!”
Mark 19. “Thou knowest the commandments, do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor thy father and thy mother.”
Mark 20. And he answered and said unto him “Master, all these I have observed from my youth”.
Mark 21. Then Jesus beholding him, loved him and sayeth
unto him: “one thing thou lackest: go thy way and sell whatever thou hast and give it to the poor and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven; and come, take up the cross and follow me.”
Mark 22. And he was sad at that saying and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
Mark 23. And Jesus looked round about and sayeth unto his disciples: “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God.”
Mark 24. And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again and sayeth unto them: “Children, how hard is it for them who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God!”
Mark 25. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
(I guess Romney and his billionaire supporters have given up the kingdom of heaven for political influence.)
The New Testament is replete with verses in which Jesus exhorts his followers to look after the poor rather than the rich. Both the golden rule and the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself are both consistent with this basic Christian philosophy.
(Today, billionaires, with some exceptions, are not willing to give a larger share of their wealth to the poor. The exceptions are liberal/progressive billionaires like Buffet and Gates.)
In the context of socialist principles, see any of the following “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” John 3:17
“And he answered them, whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Luke 3:11
“Truly as I say unto you, as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it unto me.” Matthew 25:45 or
“You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 or
James 2:1-5 or James 5:1-6.
Clearly the strongest endorsement of socialist principles can be found in Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32-35 in which his followers are commanded to sell all their goods and gather all the proceeds in common for the benefit of the common good of the community. This is the basis of collectivism and an essential ingredient of communism.
(It can be argued that the principles of Socialism and Communism are not always identical.)
No, I am no more in favor of pure socialism than I am of unfettered and unregulated capitalism. We had the latter at the end of the 19th Century and that period is referred to as “The Gilded Age” in the history books. The reason for that title is that one can gild base metal with gold and it looks very shiny and precious, but just beneath the surface is base metal or tin, or some cheap product coated with a thin patina of gold in order to make it look valuable. The Gilded Age was the age of the robber barons who made their fortunes on the backs of the poor. At that time there was no middle class. There was the 2% and the 98%, a more serious example of the unequal distribution of wealth than what threatens us now. This was prior to the income tax, prior to the ability of women to vote, prior to the elimination of the poll tax, prior to the voting rights act, prior to the public accommodations act, prior to any labor unions, prior to any minimum wage, prior to collective bargaining, prior to any child labor laws, prior to any safety regulations, prior to social security, prior to any protections against racial or religious bias, prior to any paid vacations, prior to any health insurance, prior to any sick days, prior to any protection for the disabled, prior to any laws regulating age, sex and national origin discrimination, etc. In other words, this was an America, which was just the way the rich wanted it and have fought to maintain ever since.
It is, after all, a much more convenient and profitable way to run a business.
The “take it or leave it” hiring protocol is ideal for businesses (including small and middle size businesses.) There are plenty of poor people out of a job who will be happy to take any job on any conditions just to escape starvation. When work relationships are entered into without any semblance of equal bargaining power, this is simply slavery by another name.
Nor am I in favor of theoretical socialism for reasons that you can undoubtedly articulate at least as well as I. We have not evolved as human beings to the point that either socialism or communism will work. There will always be the Free Rider principle, the unwillingness of the able-bodied to contribute their fair share. Millions watch Public TV without contributing to its support and take unfair advantage at every turn. (Millions of evangelicals benefit from science but don’t support its teaching in public schools and colleges.)
However, I do not want to see the progressive/socialist advances which have been so hard-earned during the 20th Century rolled back or eroded so that the rich can have another and another unwarranted tax cut so as to preserve more or their wealth than they do now. I am in favor of capitalism with a heavy dose of socialist principles which is essentially what we evolved during the administrations of FDR, Johnson and to a lesser extent, Eisenhower. (I strongly agree. Politics like ethics, like morality, like beauty, like legal matters is seldom black or white. There are many shades of grey in between, and those shades are constantly changing.)
The top tax rate during WW II was 93%. When Eisenhower was elected by the Republicans in 1952, he was expected to roll back those rates to those existing prior to the war. He refused and incurred the wrath of the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party and was responsible for the formation of the John Birch Society, the great-grandfather of the modern Republican Party. They called Eisenhower “a conscious, dedicated agent of the international Communist conspiracy”. I still have the John Birch Society “Blue Book” and “The Politician” from which that quote was taken. His rationale was that the war debt had to be paid off and he would not lower taxes until it was done. He served 8 years of “Happy Days” (remember the ’50s?) and had the good sense in addition to start the Interstate Highway System that, for decades, was the envy and the model for the rest of the industrialized world. The tax rate was not lowered until Kennedy
did it in his first term in the early ’60s and the war debt was liquidated.
George Bush lowered an already low tax rate for the rich while he waged two wars at the same time and failed to pay for either. His war expenses were always paid “off budget” and were “special appropriations”. No provision was ever made to pay for those accumulating deficits. Part D of Social Security was never paid for either but this was one of Bush’s proudest accomplishments. It was a good idea and a good program, but it was put on the national credit card and the cost problem kicked down the road for others to solve. These unpaid for programs make up the lion’s share of the current national debt, not the Obama bailouts or stimulus funds as claimed by Republicans. (It is unrealistic to claim that anyone has the ability to immediately change the economy from bad to good. What took Bush and Republicans eight plus years to screw up, may take that long to repair)
Have you noticed that there used to be a variety of Republicans, some moderate, some conservative, and some “Rockefeller Republicans” (liberals)? Now the Republican Party has perfected the goal of party purity it can’t move any further to the right. When a congressional conservative veteran like Richard Lugar is too liberal for the party and loses in the primary to some Tea Party doctrinaire hack, willing to kiss right-wing asses, there is something seriously wrong with the political system.
(Senator Lugar was screwed by his own party that never supported him because they feared the loss of Tea Party support.)
Enough of the soapbox preaching. I just got on a ranting roll. We have not discussed anything of any political consequence for quite some time and this is where I am. I am so sick of Trump and his “Birther” nonsense and the huge numbers of people who seem to think that his money, and the money of other rich men, makes him worth listening to. The Godmother of all this is Ayn Rand and her philosophical treatise, quoted by all the leaders of the modern Republican party, called “The Virtue of Selfishness”. I have difficulty thinking of that as a virtue but it is at the heart of what the Republican Party has become since the election of Obama.
(The Republican Party has a dilemma on its hands. Ayn Rand is an atheist, and yet Conservatives and Libertarians love her philosophy. What to do, accept or reject her teachings?)
Having a BLACK man in a WHITE house is simply unacceptable to an awful lot of folks, especially those in the states making up the “Old Confederacy”. I know that not all Republicans are racists…but I do maintain that all racists are Republican. It is a sad commentary on what used to be a very decent party, willing to work with Democrats, and showing integrity when it came to the good of the country. Now, they are doing all they can to see to it that the country fails because if it does, it can all be blamed on Obama. We should be spending billions on renewing infrastructure throughout the country and putting millions to work doing so. The Republican Party that I remember would be in favor of doing exactly that instead of killing every jobs initiative in the tea party dominated House of Representatives. It is a sad spectacle. Lincoln must be ashamed and spinning in his memorial on the Potomac to see this happening. Lugar is merely an example of the party’s goal of ridding itself of all moderates, liberals and conservatives willing to negotiate and compromise.
None of my rant is aimed at you and I hope you don’t take any of it personally because I am convinced that you are better than this and have to have some reservations about the direction the party has taken. Jeb Bush certainly does and so do countless others who feel they have no place to go within Republican ranks.
Love as always,
(Richard ends his letter to an apparent Republican friend reiterating that he does not mean to burden her with the guilt of supporting an unreasonable political movement. He loves people and understands the pressures they face when bombarded by untruthful and unreasonable political propaganda. Richard just wants people to use free and unbiased reason when making important decisions.We should all have the political ethics of my friend Richard.)