I don’t consider myself much of a person to talk on religious issues, and I have a tendency to cringe at overuse of the labeling of “liberal” versus “conservative” by certain commentator types. Still, this posting by Steve Burton at Right Reason caught my interest, as it addresses a recurring talking-point that, as the sort of person who wants to hear out both sides of things, I’d been wanting for a good counterpoint to:
Was Jesus of Nazareth a liberal? From time to time, I find myself arguing with liberals and/or Christians who seem to think that he was. Last September, Bill McKibben expressed one version of such a view in his interesting article: The Christian Paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong. According to McKibben, "America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior." In a nutshell, he argues that, although Americans are, nominally, bigger believers than anyone else in the developed world, they are, at the same time, from a Christian point of view, very naughty indeed: too much divorce, violent crime, capital punishment, etc., not enough government funded foreign aid, childhood nutrition & infant mortality programs, "access to preschool" (!) etc. He suggests that religious hucksters and hypocrites have brought us to this sorry pass by substituting a vulgar, me-centered doctrine of self-help and getting ahead for the true message of the gospels:
Yeah, it seems like every so often, usually during a Republican administration, you’ll find such a statement being bandied about, usually intended to call out the religious right as a bunch of hypocritical greedy fatcats and advocate for more government-run tax-funded social programs to help the poor and disadvantaged and etc. Mr. Burton pulls apart this oft-repeated line of talk on a pretty simple premise:
[Jesus] is talking to private individuals in their capacity as moral agents. That is, he is telling individual people what choices they need to make and what actions they need to perform to be "saved." He never willingly addresses himself to the state, or to the representatives of the state in their capacity as such. He explicitly distinguishes between "that which is Caesar's" and "that which is God's," (Matthew, Ch. 22, v. 21) and confines his activities entirely to the latter sphere.
In other words, Jesus never advocated for charitable action to be taken on by the state at coerced public expense, but rather for individual action, which I have always felt to be somehow more “meaningful” anyway.
Anyway… yet another counterpoint to the “Jesus was a liberal” line caught me as I was reading it, and it came to me in the second paragraph, at the mention of foreign aid and access to pre-school. Neither of those things existed in Jesus’s time, at least not in any form we’d recognize today. Yet it seems it can very often be the same person that would claim that such modern-day concepts are implied by the original intent of Jesus’s teachings, then on a different day say that the original intent of the Constitution often can’t be applied now because its framers could not have foreseen so much of modern-day technologies, science, media, and the social issues that arise from them. Even allowing for the possibility of Jesus possessing divine supernatural knowledge of the future, it seems to me highly inconsistent if one is claiming that his words directed towards the people of 2,000 years ago should be given such relevant modern-day interpretation, that one can’t allow the same privilege to words carefully thought out by some the brightest mortal minds of 200 years ago with their minds toward the future of a nation . But meh, what do I know.