Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

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darinhouston
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Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

Post by darinhouston » Thu Apr 28, 2011 1:16 pm

My old college roomate (an atheist and now philosophy prof) posted this on my facebook. I am working on a response and would appreciate comments/suggestions before I respond...
Darin wrote:In response to this article, http://www.theblaze.com/stories/was-jes ... thinks-so/ I wrote the following:

No question He would be ok with one voluntarily giving of 39% to the poor, but even giving "voluntarily" to the government probably would be considered poor stewardship and be regarded poorly by Jesus. Condoning the corrupt and confiscator...y taking by one from another on behalf of the poor (or others) is highly doubtful. Even granting the poor conventional exegesis regarding "rendering unto Caesar" would not equate to condoning taxation. And Jesus NEVER forced anything and would never TAKE anything not willfully given.
Frank wrote:Darin if you think the teachings of Jesus are more in line with the republican/conservative platform than the demo/liberal platform... then your wife (accidently, of course...) put crystal meth in the meatloaf you ate. Jesus was so much about helping the poor and downtrodden and contemptuous of wealth that other than a psychological explanation it's amusing that social conservatives align themselves with many Christian teachings. "give unto caesar" doesn't mean any more than "follow the tax law." even Socrates shared that ideal. But there's a clear anti-investment, no thought for the morrow, give all your possessions to the poor mantra. Jesus was actually more along the lines of a communist than socialist, socially. with the obvious exception of the atheisitc part. He wouldn't want one to voluntarily give 39%, he'd want one to voluntarily give 100%. Jesus would be overwhielmingly in favor of everyone, especially the poor, having healthcare, for instance. I cannot see how a Christian could not agree with this. Mind you, I don't necessarily agree with that social methodolgy and certainly not communism (in practice anyway), but I don't regard his teachings as divine, either. Please tell me how I'm wrong.See More
Here is my draft response:
This is a very big and nuanced subject, and I think it oversimplifies the issues too much to choose which of liberals and conservatives better represent Jesus. There are certainly aspects in particular flavors of each which one would better associate with Jesus. However, in general, on the high profile moral issues and general approaches (as compared to each of their perhaps well-intended ends), most of today’s liberals fail the test big time. If the question is regarding government assistance programs, taxation, etc., then the conservative also tends to align more closely. Liberals talk a good game about helping others, but they want to do it with other people’s money, and they want to do it through institutions and programs, neither of which I believe Jesus would condone. The conservative cause has largely lost this as a talking point, but it’s unfair to suggest they don’t want to help others, it’s just that they don’t think it is government’s role to do so and that more people can be helped better through other means (to which predominantly I think Jesus would agree). First, we need to distinguish between mercantilism/corporatism and broader conservatism – the former Jesus would have little interest in, the latter more so. The problem is, the lines are not very clear, so I have to distance somewhat from that aspect of many conservative positions today.

In general, Jesus was anti-establishment/anti-institutionalization. He was not against money, or even wealth. He was certainly not an ascetic, and I believe most of the statements about money have been misconstrued. He wasn’t necessarily suggesting that the rich young ruler, for example, should have no money; but, he was very concerned with the ruler’s attitude about that money, and that this heart-defect prevented him from following Jesus. He also did not require that the apostles give up all they had, just that they needed to be willing if called to do so because to follow Jesus was to sell yourself out as slaves and stewards (to him, not to the state). All they had was now in trust for his purposes, including time, money, possessions, passions. His disciples may have left their boats, but they weren’t required to give them away – they actually continued to use them throughout their ministries, as they were doing with their homes, etc. The problem with the rich young ruler was not that he had wealth, but that he valued it more than serving Jesus. Jesus doesn’t require 100% of what we have to be given to feed the poor, but he does require that we recognize that 100% of it is available to do whatever his spirit leads us to do with it in furtherance of the kingdom of God. That may lead one to start a non-profit and take no salary; that may lead another to keep wads of cash for handing out; it may lead another to save wisely and start a business that employs others or develops a product or a process that cures cancer or increases crop production or eliminates mosquitoes and malaria. It may require that one not squander on consumer items and save to support parents or other family members. Most definitely, there was no anti-investment mentality. The stewardship principle taught by Jesus was to use all the gifts we’ve been given to their best use, including investment. Just as a trustee would be fired for failing to grow its ward’s funds, we are to build on and increase what we have to share – true enough, too many fail to think of that growth as being for the benefit of Jesus and his mission and for others in his name.

All of that, though, is individual and relational and is entirely consistent with Jesus’ teaching as well as that of the underlying conservative message. Individual “liberty,” itself, is largely a Christian ideal – it’s ironic because Christianity at its core is about servitude (to Christ). The difference is that Jesus taught you can’t serve two masters, that enslavement to a state (whether actually or practically speaking) or statist system or any other institution works against the system of Christ. Whether we’re talking about Atlantic slavery, slavery to one’s desires, slavery to an employer, to a creditor, or an addiction (or whatever), all detract from our servitude to Christ. That is what salvation is about – we are saved from ourselves, from each other to do his will here and now and to reflect or embody the nature and character of God. There is a future hope and that is very important to the Christian, but it’s not principally what Christianity is all about. It is too often the focus in today’s churches, but today’s churches are full of professing Christians who Jesus may well not consider as his disciples.

Further on “investment,” Joseph was actually commended for “hoarding” but it wasn’t hoarding for his own (or even his boss’s) benefit. It was good stewardship which benefitted others. Importantly, he didn’t confiscate the wealth of others, but bought up their crops to build up a storehouse which ended up bettering society at large, whether they realized it or not. If he had merely shared the king’s (or others’) wealth with those as needs came, they would all have starved - - that is a VERY conservative message and anti-“liberal” one.

I don’t believe Jesus would be too keen on the dogmatic self-reliance and self-determinism that many conservatives today embody, and voluntary communal concepts (without the morality issues in the liberal flavors) probably would be more Christ-like but for the more likely communism statist systems that tend to emerge from those ideas.

It's important to understand that Jesus was not, principally, a moral teacher. He was not just a guru leading people into enlightenment about helping others etc. Principally, he came as crown prince, and he and his apostles spread the proclamation of his lordship and his rule in the kingdom of God. He was in many ways a radical, against the establishment and as part of the proclamation that he was to be and had become king was the declaration that Caesar and all such regimes were not. This, and a familiarity with the Caesar cults that surrounded the coinage issue help to understand the VERY clever “render unto Caesar” response. There is a lot of context and subtext to this, and though there are a lot of various interpretations of this, the following site reflects much of the history and background and is pretty close to my own views on the exchange. http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig11/barr-j1.1.1.html .

The kingdom of God is a spiritual Kingdom, and virtually all of Jesus’ ministry was directed to proof that he was who he claimed to be, and also to illustrate aspects of this kingdom. Many of the illustrations drawn about money and other things are lost to the obvious while failing to realize the spiritual lessons being illustrated. This is another area where many conservatives probably don’t reflect the Christian message – for a Christian, the emphasis on nationalism is a bit inconsistent as we may live in a nation and be subject to its laws and rules and be required to follow them (so as not to be a reproach to Christ) but scripture tells us our “citizenship” is of this heavenly kingdom and that we are subjects of another king and are as ambassadors living in another land. We are to respect the nation’s laws, etc. but with our allegiance first and foremost to our true king just as clearly as if it were an earthly kingdom. Should we engage and try and influence change that would be just and righteous and increase liberty and encourage people to work and not to be a drain on society? Yes, those principles are definitely scriptural. But, I do agree that the emphasis many Christian conservatives place on politics and social policy tends to rely more on the state and less on Christ to solve our problems. So, Jesus probably was more of a libertarian than a modern conservative, but many of the principles are quite similar.

As an aside, I believe he would be just as against the institutionalization and corporatization of the church as he would the state. The kingdom of God is present “among” the people, each acting individually and as the spirit guides them. Institutions crush this, and the further you remove individuals from the equation, you move further from the work of the spirit and the justice and mercy that he intends us to reflect. Institutions can appear to be efficient in some respects, but in the end it is only individuals who can determine whether a handout, for example, would be loving for another or enabling to their destruction. Institutions aren’t good at that. That is very much a conservative message, and is key to the teachings of Christ and the whole system of the kingdom of God. In my view, much of the apocryphal imagery in the Revelation is directed at social and religious “institutions” and corporatist or totalitarian control of each (such as was embodied by the Caesar, the Roman institutions and the arising “Roman” church structure/institution/”leadership”).

You didn’t raise it, but the issue of “war” raises especially tricky questions – generally, Jesus taught pacifism, but only as it pertains to self-defense. Protecting others, helping the oppressed, etc. may well require war even violence and especially self-sacrifice. Defending a neighbor or family member may require me to shoot a man. Defending myself not so much. Beyond that, it’s very tricky to determine when it is more loving to act than to sit it out.

schoel
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Re: Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

Post by schoel » Thu Apr 28, 2011 4:00 pm

Darin -

Your response was fantastic. I found myself in agreement with much of it.
When I saw the link you included to the article on LewRockwell.com regarding Jesus views of taxation, I almost cheered out loud. It is an article I have read previously and is spot-on in its exegesis.

One minor note regarding this paragraph in your response-
Further on “investment,” Joseph was actually commended for “hoarding” but it wasn’t hoarding for his own (or even his boss’s) benefit. It was good stewardship which benefitted others. Importantly, he didn’t confiscate the wealth of others, but bought up their crops to build up a storehouse which ended up bettering society at large, whether they realized it or not. If he had merely shared the king’s (or others’) wealth with those as needs came, they would all have starved - - that is a VERY conservative message and anti-“liberal” one.

This may be a tricky example to include in your case. The scripture doesn't tell us directly that he purchased the grain for storage, only that he collected or gathered it. Since Joseph was the acting as the administrator of Egypt's state, this probably was done through coercive confiscation (ie. taxation). Even if Joseph had purchased the grain, the wealth used to purchase the excess grain most likely came from other taxes in the first place. Pharaoh's funding must have come from taxing his subjects.

So while this story has good implications regarding the benefits of actual saving for the future for the benefit of others, there are parts of this story that lend Biblical precedence for your friend's state-centered welfare ideas.


As a follower of Christ who finds resonance with anarcho-capitalism and Christian anarchy, this story gives me some Biblical points to consider -


- While God revealed the future of a 7 year famine to Joseph regarding Pharaoh's dreams, was it also God's idea that the state of Egypt should confiscate and store the grain? Or was that Joseph's take on how to plan?
- Did Joseph have to guard the grain storage against the plundering hands of the ruling elite in Egypt?


Anyone have any thoughts about these?

Dave

ps. Contrast Joseph's government program with Social Security. When they opened the vaults of grain during the famine, they found grain, not some IOU's from Pharaoh. :roll:

pss. Note that during the famine, the stored grain wasn't given out but rather sold. This is a good example of using price to moderate consumption during a scarcity.

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darinhouston
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Re: Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

Post by darinhouston » Thu Apr 28, 2011 4:53 pm

Thanks -- I confused my recollection of his buying it from them with his selling it to them (oops - big diff).
As a follower of Christ who finds resonance with anarcho-capitalism and Christian anarchy, this story gives me some Biblical points to consider -
Much of Rothbard, et al. (presumably you frequent mises.org?) resonate with me as well -- I think they carry things a bit too far, but on average, I tend to agree with their approach on the economics front.

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Paidion
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Re: Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

Post by Paidion » Thu Apr 28, 2011 6:13 pm

There's no doubt that Jesus believed in socialism among the members of the Kingdom. But this socialism is voluntary. The first Christians, out of mutual love, shared all they had with each other [Acts 2, Acts 4]. In spite of what some believe, there is evidence that communalism continued for at least 100 years in the early church.

There are several Christian communal groups to this day who hold all possessions in common. Probably the Hutterite Church is the best known.

In all these cases, the sharing is voluntary. But socialism in governments is imposed upon the people. Anyone who doesn't coöperate suffers the consequences. The most extreme forms of government socialism are found in Communist countries. You share, or the state takes it all away from you if you're lucky. If you're not lucky, they shoot you.
Paidion

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TK
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Re: Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

Post by TK » Thu Apr 28, 2011 6:26 pm

We had a discussion like this with an atheist on the old forum. He was trying to say that we werent living by Jesus' standards if we werent living in cardboard huts and giving away all our goods to the poor. I will try to find it if I can.

TK

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TK
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Re: Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

Post by TK » Thu Apr 28, 2011 6:35 pm

Found it:

http://www.wvss.com/forumc/viewtopic.ph ... 7ab3d03f4e

check out "Atheist's" 7/11/06 post at 4:07 pm.

TK

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Re: Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

Post by thrombomodulin » Thu Apr 28, 2011 9:51 pm

Darin,

You have written a good response. I would like to suggest the idea of adding in your reply some comments about the role of the State. My thoughts on this matter are below, your feedback on whether or not these ideas are correct is most certainly welcome:

I would like to begin by pointing out that the nature of the State is such that it has only one means available to implement its will - the use of violence or the threat of its application. Thus, when considering the question of whether or not any given policy (a law) is just, a Christian ought to be asking the question - "would Jesus approve of the use of violence against a person who chooses not to obey the law under consideration?". Thus in order to affirm the use the power of the State, as liberals do, one must sanction the use of violence which runs contrary to Jesus teachings - unless some exception applies.

Men are, of course, admonished in the scriptures to be charitable. The question of whether there is a biblical justification for State-Socialism depends on (1) whether or not Christians should endorse the use violence against others who are deemed to be remiss in their obligation to be charitable, or (2) whether the State can arbitrarily seize property for any purpose it desires.

Clearly, taking property from someone without their consent is theft - which violates God's law. If there are no exceptions to God's command "do not steal" then Socialism is not viable. But your opponent may take one of the two approaches mentioned above to argue otherwise:

(1) "If one assumes the State is authorized by God to tax* then the State is exempt from the law 'do not steal', at least in some circumstances". The question then is what are those circumstances? If one affirms that the State has unlimited taxation powers (e.g. it is authorized to tax 100% of your income and 100% of your property) for any purpose then there are obvious conflicts**. If it is less than 100% percent, then how much can the State take? Since God has not reveal any particular taxation limits, then it seems to follow that God is the author of confusion - for the citizen and the State are merely left to "fight it out" with no guidelines as to where that limit is (or citizen against citizen in the case of republic/democracy). Thus, I think this position is relatively weak. Although not without difficulties, a better position to take is that the State is only authorized to tax for the purpose of accomplishing the specific tasks mentioned in the scripture (e.g. to punish wrongdoing per Romans 13). The seizure of money and property for the purpose giving it to others who are "in need" is not found in any biblical passage I am aware of, and thus it is not within the scope of the State's authority.

(2) "A man who fails to give charitably has committed wrongdoing that the State is authorized to punish (Rom 13:4)". A friend of mine responds to this argument by pointing out that Rom 13:4 only authorizes the State to punish wrong actions. (I have not yet confirmed if the Greek does or does not support his assertion, but I would like to know). If he is correct, then the failure to give does not qualify as an object which the State is authorized to punish because such is not acting, but rather the absence of acting. In any case, the action/non-action basis is a good legal concept because any law which punishes things that are not actions will be subjective, thus leaving its citizens without a means to know whether or not they will be subjected to prosecution. Consider, for example, if the State should punish men who do not love their wives enough? In these subjective areas obedience is a matter of degree (e.g. how much one gives, or how much one loves). On the other hand the existence of a wrong act is an objective fact. In the Old Testament there were certain laws that are associated with civil punishment, but as far as I am aware, no OT law pertaining to giving and charity (to that which is subjective) was associated with a civil punishment. When in the OT God admonishes giving and He speaks about those who may fail to do so, does He ever go beyond merely saying "I cannot bless you"? In summary, there is a biblical precedence for the State prosecuting wrong actions (things that can be defined objectively), but as far as I am aware, there is not a precedent for that which is subjective (where compliance is a matter of degree). In the latter case, it seems to be the case that God alone reserves the right to judge men, and He does not delegate the judgment and prosecution of such, to any man, or the State.

Finally, someone may challenge the notion of whether the "wealthy" are the rightful owners of the property they possess in the first place. For example, some say the rich only have wealth because they formerly "exploited" the poor. But here, the Austrian subjective value theory + John Locke's homesteading analysis (two treatises on civil government) provide the answer.

* I am unsure if the italicized premise is correct.
** It is would be peculiar if an action is or is not "just" depending solely on whether a person holds title to an office in the State. For example: George authorized to take 100% of Mary's property for his own personal use and enjoyment if he is king, but if he is not king then he is authorized to take nothing.

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Re: Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

Post by schoel » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:19 pm

Much of Rothbard, et al. (presumably you frequent mises.org?) resonate with me as well -- I think they carry things a bit too far, but on average, I tend to agree with their approach on the economics front.
I'm curious as to what things you find that they carry to far. But perhaps I should start another thread to avoid hijacking yours

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Re: Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

Post by darinhouston » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:58 pm

Probably a bit off topic for even this forum.

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Re: Would Jesus be a liberal? or conservative?

Post by darinhouston » Fri Apr 29, 2011 5:16 pm

I revised slightly and included some comments from Paidion. Here is his response -- a bit funny and ironic coming from an avowed atheist philsophy prof.
Frank wrote: In general, i only found a few points whereby you significantly deviated from my own. And i'm largely unconvinced by those, of course ;). I'll pick a couple.
Frank wrote: yes of course there are elements of both "parties" or usual stances that seem to be more in line with christian teaching or morality, but my arguement is that it is FAR more left-leaning than right leaning. The right stands for traditional ...values many of which are biblical, but i contend that most are anti-biblical. This is theologically contradictory, but psychologically linear. That said there are certainly left-leaning principles that are NOT biblical at all, but they don't align them that way either. I can't make paragraphs without "sending" for some reason, so I'm afraid i have to run this all on. Sorry. My disagreements are that yes, Jesus' teachings were clearly anti-wealth building. There's just no doubt about this. The verses are aplenty. Yes, perhaps or even probably due to having two masters or money accumulation directly promoting such behaviour and lost-sight of the important things in life. I personally agree with this as well. But the right is most certainly NOT in this camp at ALL. Not even close. In fact the whole idea of capitalism (now, anyway) is antithetical to this. Orginially it was brought on by calvinistic puritans to display that they were of the "blessed" pre-determined chosen to enter heaven. But they were VERY modest and NOT consumerist at all. Those days are LONG gone. The right and the long-time mechanisms of capitalism we have are in direct opposition to Jesus' teachings. If he came back he'd look at the institutionalization of many churches, all the big ones for sure, as disgusting. To see the money spent on them for what he'd call human self or group identity glorification, instead of going to help the poor or needy. Do you think he'd be down with 3 million dollar and FAR more, church compounds being constructed rather than a simple building for gathering and praying, given all the mouths that 3million + could feed? Not a chance, underpants. And yes, he taught mild aceticism. A robe and sandals. no thought for the morrow. "harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel thru a needle" (just FYI, that's a mistake. The old hebrew word for camel is very similar to the word for hawser, and this was mistranslated when the bible was put together by an early church committee. A hawser through the eye of a needle makes beautiful sense, a camel is ridiculous) Of course he understood the need for people to make a living, but investing and wealth building? no way. not even close. Using our "gifts" for best use would mean giving it away or helping people with it. Money lending and the banking system is VERY anti-christian. Infact, that's how the Jews in Europe got into it. The Christians regarded that as anti-christian practice, usury, but the Jews didn't, so they became the bankers. And it stuck with the culture... Yes liberals want to do all this help with others' money, I agree. And I don't like it either. But Jesus would be all over it even wanting people to give MORE to help the needy. This is very simple, man. You can't really think Jesus would be down with a family getting a new car or taking a vacation or spending large sums on stuff they don't NEED, rather than givin that money to poor or needy or starting a soup kitchen or something. To argue against that is just a rationalization for living the way you want rather than "being like christ would be." There is a small segment of christians who abide by this, but not the mainstream at ALL. In GREAT irony is that the mainstream evangelicals get pissed at pastors who promote environmentalism as "stewardship." That's a classic example of this general topic of helping people and the world vs. money and economic progression. The gun lobby is overwhelmingly repub and christian too, that's just funny. Sociologically it makes sense, but philosophically/theologically it's ludicrous. And yes, I've many guns. Giving to others "enabling their distruction" is something i agree with your point on, but that's not biblical. He was about GIVING away the fish, and "give to all who ask..." not teaching them to. I think that's a chinese saying, not a biblical one. Starting a non-profit and taking no salary is a FAR cry from repub capitalist tax cutting so people can have more of their money - type stuff.
Frank wrote: Again, wealth-building and thinking of the morrow in such regard is not only NOT christ-like, it's ANTI-christ-like. I'll end with one more because i've stuff to do, but your "communalism" is hard-core socialism or communism. I agree being ...voluntary is a big difference. But my point is the religious right is TOTALLY in opposition to anything that even SMELLS likie this idea and vehemently opposes anything that even REMOTELY is associated with it in its most benign forms. Okay, take away the state-enforcement of it. Do you then think the right would be down for volunteering for that? no way in hell. Speaking of hell, I read the Time Mag. article on Rob Bell. The first thing I thought was that this is the beginning of the end of evangelical/fundamentalist christianity. in a non-offending way, I'm glad. But were i an evangelical I'd be quite against this movement. Not only is it extremely common for evangelical believers to pick and choose verses and pick and choose metaphors and meanings to suit their tastes - giving as much credence to some horrid things in the bible as well as glorious ones, but THIS guy just takes out ALL the horrid stuff with metaphors and makes it all a candyland with gumdrops and sugarplums. Ie. he wants christianity to only feel good in EVERY way. He ought to just drop the whole theological slant, become an atheist/agnostic and preach secular humanism. To my mind he's concentrating ENTIRELY upon the "pie in the sky" part of christianity. And there's ALOT more to it than that. The bad stuff in the bible has always been used as an "or else..." mechanism either overt or covert for believers, big time. People wallow in the good feelings and often only want to discuss them, but the bad/unfair stuff is always there... looming over head. Just the question, "are you saved?" is REPLETE with innuendo of enternal hell and such.Saved from what? But removing that will be the death of evangelical belief as a powerful group, eventually. If this takes off, it will wind up sorta like a watered-down version of christianity like the british version. metaphors and some stories to live by. Which btw, i do think the bible has some useful metaphors and teachings to live by. But no differently than verses in other "holy books" as well. And with that, I'm done. Peace be with you. F

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