Tuesday, August 10, 2004

What would Jesus legislate?

Though I normally do all the writing around here, I decided to copy/paste from Ron at Real Art. He wrote this a few months ago, I think, and I figured what with the Christian right readership I seem to garner from time to time, this would be a nice selection:

...But the weird thing is that the grand coalition that has kept Republicans powerful, kept conservatives in control of the American marketplace of ideas for nearly twenty years makes absolutely no sense.


The simple answer is that basic, fundamental principles of Christianity (virtually any variety of it) are utterly at odds with cutthroat capitalism, utterly at odds with consumerism, utterly at odds with conservative concepts of “individual responsibility.” Jesus was a progressive leftist. I don’t really mean this in the “eleven long-haired Friends a' Jesus in a chartreuse micro-bus,” smoking the holy marijuana way that C. W. McCall might have meant in his classic song “Convoy.” I really mean quite literally that Jesus was a leftist.

Jesus told a rich man that the way for him to go to Heaven was to "sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.” When the rich man would not do this and left, Jesus told his followers that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. To me this means what it says: the wealthy are too enamored of their things to be able to focus on the spiritual and, therefore, doomed. For some reason, however, I’ve always heard fundamentalist preachers squirm through these verses—they say that what the passage actually refers to is an idiomatic expression that means some sort of small door into a walled city; that is, a camel can, in fact, go through “the eye of a needle,” but it’s very difficult to do so. Whatever. Even with the fundamentalist interpretation (hmm, I always thought that fundamentalists didn’t need to interpret…), it’s clear that in order to get through the door, the camel has to be unloaded and on it’s knees. A rich man cannot go to Heaven with his riches; he must unload them and bow down before God! It is undeniable: according to Christ, individual wealth is so immoral that it will send a wealthy individual to the eternal torment of Hell.

Hmmm…wealth is immoral. Kinda sounds a bit Marxist to me.

And, of course, there is the incident in the temple with the moneychangers. This Biblical passage is often cited in fundamentalist circles to demonstrate that Jesus could get angry and therefore anger is not necessarily sinful. But I don’t seem to remember any of my Sunday school teachers or ministers that referenced the passage ever go into much detail about why Jesus was so outraged by the encroachment of the realm of finance into the realm of the spiritual. Perhaps fundamentalist theologians see some tidy line of reasoning that keeps this important moment in the life of Christ from casting a bad light on the world of banking, but I certainly can’t see it. A plain, literal understanding of the moment clearly illustrates some kind of Godly animosity toward the finance industry—that is to say, Jesus seemed to have some sort of problem with the concept of making a profit without actually producing anything, so much of a problem, in fact, that he angrily ordered that the money changers be kept away from the temple. (Is that like the city councils of today restricting strip bars and porno shops to a certain distance away from schools and churches? I wonder...)

Again, I’m not trying to make Jesus out to be a Communist or anything, but…

You know, it’s interesting to note that while Jesus seemed to be uncomfortable with the moneychangers, he seemingly had no discomfort with the tax man. It’s almost a conservative joke now, “tax and spend liberals.” But when you think about the concept of “render unto Caesar,” Jesus clearly shows that he believed that the state has an obligation to levy taxes in order to conduct the people’s business; this concept is mentioned in the same breath that he speaks of humanity’s obligation “to render unto God.” That is to say, he seems to give equal importance to both ideas.

(Okay, I know it’s a stretch to call the business of the Roman Empire “the people’s business,” but they did build damned fine roads. Also, it’s hardly radical to declare that the state needs to be able to levy taxes, but in this day and age where Bill Clinton is the liberal poster child…)

Jesus owned nothing. Jesus slept in the homes of friends and followers. Jesus recruited his Apostles from the ranks of the working class. Jesus was loudly critical of his era’s institutions of power. Jesus championed the poor. Jesus healed the sick. Jesus fed the hungry. Jesus was imprisoned and executed because he challenged the powerful elite.

“What Would Jesus Do?” says the trendy Christian commercial phrase plastered on tee shirts, key chains, and bumper stickers.

To be honest, I think that if he were around today, he would do exactly the same thing. He would be killed for it, of course, and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell would testify against him at his trial, and stadiums full of Promise Keepers would be screaming righteously for his blood.