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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.

Proof texts.

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.

About the Author


Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com

11 Comments

  1. AnthonyFloyd

    Interesting post Nancy.

    Where does the religious right come into it, though? What was getting your goat? Just curious … (I’m more in the Agnostic Humanist camp than anything else these days)

    A>

    [Reply]

    Mar 04, 2009
  2. It’s been a recurring theme over the course of my lifetime. Instead of xianity being bound up with and known for its compassion and social justice, it is bound up with conservative politics. I wrote most of this post a few months ago, but pulled it out now in response to all the news and outrage about the 40,000 people in NYC who pay the bulk of the city’s taxes, apparently (I think this started with Rush Limbaugh’s speech).

    The Christian left’s voice is almost non-existent, so I thought now was as good a time as any to speak up.

    nancy’s last blog post..Investing with a conscience

    [Reply]

    Mar 04, 2009
  3. Hi Nancy,
    I’m a Catholic, although if the pope finds my blog there might be problems. I’m thinking Jesus was waaaay more interested in people sharing personal value….not $$ A kind word, smile, compliment. Not that cash does not come in handy but all those silly clichés really are true, it doesn’t buy love and you can’t take it wit you. Whereas love is instantly transportable up down and sideways.

    BTW — I don’t think you are falling short at all, I bet you have given to the ‘poor’ many more times than you think.

    RW Glover’s last blog post..COFFEEOMANCY: Woof Woof

    [Reply]

    Mar 05, 2009
  4. thanks for that
    you have the RIGHT to live as you wish
    I have the right to protest stupid government ( and pay taxes)

    david – living in the tree house’s last blog post..Baking

    [Reply]

    Mar 06, 2009
  5. E

    In defense of being Christian & conservative:
    First off, I totally appreciate both points of view and do not see being liberal or conservative as incompatible with being a Christian. I think as a conservative Christian the focus is less on paying our government to make things right, and more on Jesus’ call for acts of charity.

    Acts of charity (literally: love) as cited by the Good Samaritan example is a targeted sacrificial act performed or provided for the benefit of an individual or group, and (generally speaking) tends to engender gratitude in return and/or acts of charity paid forward. Government programs (or “handouts” as some might call them) could be argued to engender a sense of entitlement. I do limited charity work, and yet I can easily count the times when those it benefited expressed a desire to repay the charity, or to give back when they are able. I don’t think I have any heard of anyone being on welfare who said that they would like to pay more taxes when they are able. Also studies have shown that people who are more highly taxed also tend to give less to charity per capita, while those who are more conservative and/or pay less tax tend to give more.

    Acts of charity I would argue are essential to the Christian calling, and are for both the spiritual welfare of the person called to perform them, and for those on the receiving end.

    [Reply]

    Mar 07, 2009
  6. @RW – Well, yes, love comes first for sure. And presumably we cannot love without helping someone in their time of need.
    @David – we may be talking apples and oranges here. Within my faith tradition, talking about “rights” is not really what it’s all about. On the contrary, not only Jesus but pretty much every apostle commands us to lay down our rights.
    @E – well spoken (written) as always from you. I do challenge (and I’m not convinced of my position here) a couple points though. a) I’m not sure the likelihood of a person paying it forward v. feeling entitled should be any criterion for charity. We do it because that reflects God b) more fundamentally, I wonder if “sense of entitlement” is perhaps a slight deviation of a profound Truth – ie., each person *should* be dignified with a roof over their head, and basic nutrition (and I don’t know exactly where the line is drawn) because they are inherently valuable, no matter what?

    [Reply]

    Mar 07, 2009
  7. Loved this post, thanks!

    Retired Syd’s last blog post..Reflections on My First Year of Retirement (Part 1: Money)

    [Reply]

    Mar 12, 2009
  8. Anonymous

    As usual, you’ve twisted things around, negatively, I might add. Obviously, you don’t know what you are talking about, nor have you interpreted the sayings of Jesus correctly.

    “Render to Caesar, what is Caesar’s. Render to God what is God’s” Jesus did not say to render to the tax man what is illegally his. Only what is legal. That’s why loopholes were invented.

    Jesus also said that you can not eliminate the poor off the face of the earth, because there will ALWAYS be people who refuse to work, pretend to be sick and ill. So, we will ALWAYS have poor people on this earth and you can’t do anything about it! Nor fully cure it.

    Lastly, Jesus said, in order to follow HIm, you are to give up your worldly possessions and come follow HIm. He didn’t say that you will NEVER have worldly possessions ever again. He just wants it to be clear that HE comes first, not the worldly possessions. I personally gave up ALL of my worlds possessions, either voluntarily or through repossession till I had nothing but my belief is God and Jesus Christ. Slowly, as my faith increased and I became more dependent on Jesus, were worldly possessions restored to me. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to live in poverty and squalor. Jesus restored back a home to me (2 to be exact) as well as furniture and cars and tons of money in the bank. But all the while I know that all of it can be gone in an instant. I must faithfully keep my eye on Jesus and not my worldly possessions. What do I care how much money I give to a government or what will ever be taken away from me or given to the poor?

    That’s the difference between me (a real believer) and you and your nonsense and twisting of the bible.

    We came into the world with nothing and we leave the same way. EVERYTHING belongs to God. He determines what you will have and have not. Not you.

    PS: you can not watch Rush Limbaugh. He’s on the radio. Unless you want to sit and stare at a plastic box. Duh.

    [Reply]

    Mar 18, 2009
  9. Oh, too funny. If I was a more suspicious person, I would think that Nancy wrote that “Anonymous” comment herself just to prove a point. 🙂

    When I first read this post, and when I read it again now, I skipped all the “proof text” parts. Because I care about Nancy and her opinions, but I don’t care at all about the legal, excuse me, religious textual interpretations. But obviously “Anonymous” cares a lot.

    So, Anonymous, Nancy interpreted the text incorrectly? You say that she doesn’t really believe at all, but you do?

    Sometimes when people of different religions argue, they’re really fighting about whose invisible friend is most powerful. But Nancy and you actually agree that there exists one and only one invisible friend. You even agree about the identity of the invisible friend. That’s worth repeating: You and Nancy have the same invisible friend!! What are the chances?! You also agree that your invisible friend has had one human son who lived a long time ago, and that that son said a bunch of things that must now be taken very seriously.

    So now you’re “just” arguing about what this human son of your common invisible friend really meant when he said that bunch of things.

    Wanna hear something very inconvenient, “Anonymous”? Here goes: All Christians throughout all time have always been able to find “backing” for all of their viewpoints in politics, philosophy, race questions, views on science, etc. etc. from the same set of old books.

    Crusades? Check!
    Torturing natives of countless countries until they relent to be babtised? Check!
    Forbidding use of condoms, blood tranfusions and other convenient and life saving inventions and procedures? Check!
    Killing people of different color, race, gender, language, opinion? Check!
    Charitable giving of aid to people of different color, race, gender, language, opinion? Check!
    Persecuting smart and creative people who dare to find new truths that aren’t mentioned in the old books? Check!
    Supporting science and the advancement of the human race? Check!
    Death penalty? Check!
    Repeal of death penalty (in civilized, moral societies)? Check!
    Slavery? Check!
    Expansion? Check!
    Isolationism? Check!
    War? Check!
    Peace? Check!

    I think it’s cute that you lecture Nancy about how she got the whole thing wrong. Because surely you got it all right. Right? Or could it be that you’re also picking the bits that suit you?

    Do you condone crusades, torture, forbidding condoms, killing people because they’re different while also being charitable to people who are different, persecuting scientists while also supporting science, the death penalty and the repeal of death penalty, slavery, expansion and isolationism, war and peace?
    Do you believe that homosexuality is a terrible sin? (I hear that one of your favorite old books says it is)
    Do you believe that unfaithful spouses should be stoned to death? (I hear that the same old book says they should)
    Do you follow all the proper ways to eat or sacrifice animals and crops that take up more than half of the ten commandments? (Check out what the ten commandments of “King James Bible” originally said: http://www.jhuger.com/ten_commandments)

    Jan Karlsbjerg’s last blog post..Realtor, an untrusted profession

    [Reply]

    Mar 21, 2009
  10. I enjoyed this post quite a lot.

    I’m not Christian. I was raised as Catholic, but when I was old enough to make my own decisions I walked away from it. This is one of the reasons, the fact that the conservative right has become the religion of Christianity. I never understood how is it possible to twist something such as the teachings of Jesus, which in my eyes are very left-wing, into something that is the exact opposite.

    Nobody was able to explain this to me in a way that makes sense, because – surprise – it doesn’t. And I’ve asked this question many times. The comments of the people who are foaming at the mouth here are no exception.

    I’ve always been happy to pay taxes to support the less fortunate. I wish I would contribute more to charity, I fall short there.

    ioana’s last blog post..I’m throwing in the towel

    [Reply]

    Mar 24, 2009

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