Forewarning: I’m in rather a mood. This is going to be a rock-n-roll post re: economics and faith, so faint of heart or sensitive ears go back to watching Rush Limbaugh.
I’m a christian. A practicing high anglican. This post isn’t to explain this choice (short story: it was an aesthetic choice – with a dose of Pascal’s wager, and frankly, the likes of atheists like Jan, Rob, David and Derek provide compelling and thoughtful challenges to me, yet, I remain deeply christian).
As a christian, I am utterly flummoxed by the “christian right,” and I’m talking here primarily about the economic side of it. Seriously. It strikes me as so very, very counter to Jesus’ in-your-face teachings, that I am astounded by some of what I hear from my fellow christians. I just.don’t. get it.
So here’s post number one with my point of view on how faith and economics intersect.
It appears to me that Jesus doesn’t give a rats ass about how much taxes his followers pay, or how secure their wealth is. He gave a damn about how much we share with the poor. Full stop. Without qualification.
1. Proof Text: Matthew 22: 15-22
When some wheedling religious rulers, called pharisees, asked Jesus, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar” Jesus was openly disgusted. He asked them for a coin, held it up to them (in itself an in-your-face act) and asked them whose image was on it and whose inscription. When they responded “Caesar” (d’uh) , I imagine he flicked the coin in contempt back at them as he said, “if it says Caesar on it, then pay Caesar”. He followed that up with a stinging correction: “and give to God what is God’s” The obvious question these so-called religious leaders should have been asking, “what do we owe to God”?
In other words, “You SO DON’T GET IT. Your question was a waste of my time, and yours for that matter. Come back to me when you’re ready for a serious conversation about things that matter”. (actually, the bible itself is more severe, saying that Jesus considered them to have had “evil intent” by even daring to ask the question).
Our takeaway: We’re in whatever taxation system we’re in. Don’t waste time freaking or resentful about how much taxes we pay. We’ll never win that one in any case. It’s absolutely not Jesus’ priority for us. Our priority should be entirely about what we owe God. Ask that question and ask it and ask it and keep asking it.
2. Proof Text: Luke 18: 18-23
A young rich guy, some kind of ruler, came to Jesus asking what he had to do to ensure he had eternal life. Jesus had an immediate response: You know the commands! Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery …
And the rich guy, truthfully or not, said he’d kept all these commandments his whole life. I imagine he was getting his hopes up at this point, and for all we know, Jesus was too. In any case, Jesus respected him by taking the conversation to the next level, and giving a very personal invitation: Give up everything you have to the poor, and you’ll have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
That, my friends, was the make-or-break moment, the true test of whether the young man was serious, or bullshitting both himself and Jesus. He bailed on the project, preferring to keep his possessions, and walked away all bummed out. FAIL.
Jesus was disappointed too – I suppose it would be like being married to someone who remembered your birthday, evenly shared the housework, was a great dad to your kids, but was actually in love with another woman.
Our takeaway: Unless we’d be willing, genuinely willing, to redistribute our wealth, all of it, we miss out on entering the kingdom of God. (one of my favourite quotes is an inner city NYC preacher who said, “we don’t get to heaven without letters of reference from the poor). So if we have issues with redistribution of wealth, we have issues with Jesus.
3. Proof Text: Luke 10: 25 – 37
Almost everyone knows the term “Good Samaritan” but we may not realize what a smackdown story it was. The Samaritans were despised by the religious folks. Much like liberals are despised by the Christian right. Jesus was in your face in this story. Here it is:
A guy was mugged and dying on the side of the road.
A holy priest sees him, and walks by.
A Levite (a special kind of Jew) sees him and walks by.
The Samaritan, (the liberal?) doesn’t stop to ask questions. He goes over to the dying guy and frackin’ helps already. He probably frantically bound up the wounds, kept telling the dying guy to hang on, and got him to the nearest place of healing and on top of all that, paid the bill. Ssly.
Guess who was the hero in Jesus’ story? Guess who is fulfilling the law of God?
Notice, there’s no mention of deserving poor. No qualifications. No resentment because the guy was on welfare and this was his umpteenth handout. No moralism that he was probably selling drugs and was a victim of gang rivalry. No commentary on why the guy had contributed to his own dying state. He was in trouble, he was bloodied, he was dying and the Samaritan just helped.
Our takeaway: We can set ourselves up as judge over who deserves our tax dollars and who doesn’t, and come off like the hypocrites in the story. Or we can drop all moralism, and respond to a need, and be heroes in Jesus’ eyes.
A last, personal word. Bono, when talking about his own faith, infamously reasserted his right to be an asshole. I don’t claim such a right for myself, but the blunt question to me is the extent to which I live out these teachings. Ugly fact is, I Don’t.
If Jesus really asked me to give up all my possessions, I don’t know if I would. I do think I’m pretty damn grateful for all I have, rather than going around all upset about the taxes I pay, and I do think I’m making progress on losing judgmentalism (but only making progress).
It’s not OK that I don’t live this out entirely and it falls completely short of what I believe Jesus wants of his followers. All I can say is, I hope as the years go by, I get better. That would be grace to me. And I hope at least a couple of people who are “poor” by our standards will write me letters of reference.
In the meantime, I want to be on record as a christian who believes christian right is a contradiction in terms.