Jesus Is Not on Your Side
I’ve been watching the responses to Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus. Note that I said I was following the responses. I haven’t read the book and don’t intend to. I can’t stand listening to its author and I don’t feel any obligation to subject myself to reading his words. My attitude parallels Allan Bevere’s.
I used to object to folks who would mention a book if they didn’t intend to read it. Now with the amount of reading material stacked on my desk, not to mention the amount I could stack there, I have to make choices. So this is a response to responses, not to the book.
I truly enjoyed Christopher Skinner’s review. He’s very right to deplore the use of Jesus to pursue a right wing political agenda, or even a generally “American” political agenda. Our culture isn’t in line with Jesus, no matter how much we may talk about being a Christian nation.
But now it’s time to annoy my liberal readers. Jesus doesn’t line up with liberal political views either. He lived in a world in which our political philosophies did not exist and would not have been functional. Being a businessman in Palestine of the 1st century wasn’t like being a businessman now. Nor was being a philanthropist. Or a teacher. Or an itinerant preacher.
I don’t mean to say that we cannot look to Jesus and the principles he lived and taught to guide our political decisions. What I mean is that Jesus didn’t tell us just what to decide about how we put loving our brothers and sisters into practice outside the church. (He had a great deal to say about putting it into practice inside, though we ignore most of that.)
Conservatives are criticized for trying to kill programs that benefit the poor. Liberals are criticized for being generous–with other people’s money (taxes). Conservatives believe that charity should be more private. Liberals believe that only the government can truly collect sufficient resources to deal with problems.
Those are issues of political philosophy, and they are ones Jesus didn’t discuss. They just weren’t issues in his time. His audiences in Galilee weren’t going to be voting yes or no on ballots about how much to spend on education or support for poor children. Those simply weren’t options.
There are many issues to discuss when we look at involvement by Christians in politics. I’m only focusing on one here. We tend to allege moral failure when we disagree with the means.
For example, I might look at someone who opposes government paid health insurance, and decide that they don’t really care whether or not people get adequate health care. How can they oppose a program that will pay for adequate health care for poor people? I’m outraged! I believe they are sub-Christian, possibly sub-human! They want infants to die of preventable illnesses. They want mothers do die from inadequate pre-natal care. They want the elderly to die of cancer because they are unable to pay for the proper treatment.
But if I take the time to talk to one of those people, I might find that they desire no such results. They may simply believe that the government will do poorly in distributing health care, that people will die because of the failures of government rather than the failures of private providers. Whether they are right or wrong, they care just as much.
And the accusations can be reversed. The failure, wherever it may be, is in being so certain that one’s method is correct, that one cannot imagine disagreement except through moral failure. My approach to solving the problems of health care provision and distribution are so right that the only way one can disagree is to be morally degenerate.
And one can find morally degenerate people. I was behind a man in the Walmart shopping line who was using WIC to get food. It turned out it was for his grandchildren. He spent his time speaking ill of his son-in-law, a useless bum according to him, and his daughter, who lacked to good sense to say “no” to the proposal of marriage and then proceeded to produce children who would have to be on WIC. Aside from the stereotype that it’s bums who get WIC, His attitude (and his willingness to inform the line, stunk. And I do consider the possibility that he was so embarrassed to be using WIC that he had to find an excuse, but I still think that’s a stinky attitude.
But there are people who might oppose the program who would be ready to pull money from their own pockets to pay for food for someone in need. It’s not their motivations that liberals should question. It’s the method.
Jesus didn’t tell us what methods would work in our various modern societies. He left that to us to figure out. We’ll do it much better if we quit assigning either Christian or anti-Christian attitudes to the methods people believe will (or will not) work.