Despite the fact that I warned you my next two posts would be intentionally irritating, I’d guess that some of you thought I was just being hyperbolic. Wrong!
In case you missed it, I’m the idiot who decided to ruin his blog by talking about religion and politics. If you want to see some reasonable thoughts on the subject, try my last post. This post and next, I’m going beyond reasonable to offer intentionally-irritating opinions about how we might translate the Bible into a political program. I’m going to start by irritating Republicans because that’s the least stereotypical thing to do. But don’t worry – next week I’m going to irritate Democrats. Stay tuned! Let’s jump right in.
I think my Republican friends might be surprised to learn that:
(1) Capitalism? Invisible hand? I think not. With apologies to Adam Smith, Jesus talked a whole lot against the pursuit of material wealth. In fact, he never said a single recorded word against gay people, but said quite a load against rich people (e.g., Matthew 19:16-30), greed (e.g., Matthew 6:25-34), and money (e.g., Matthew 6:24). In other words, it’s not really particularly Christian to be in favor of capitalism as such (and that is why many major Christian groups, such as Catholics, have historically opposed capitalism). Jesus also had a lot of bad stuff to say about the conservative religious establishment which might apply today, but I digress. (It’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one, to say that the only people Jesus really directly attacked vigorously during his time on earth were the self-righteous religious establishment who seemed more interested in pointing figures and making money than in loving people. Does this ring any bells to anyone besides me?)
(2) Republicans might be alarmed at the fact that the main creed in the uber-liberal Communist Manifesto – “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” – is almost taken word-for-word from the Bible (the New Testament, no less! Right in the book of Acts):
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need (Acts 2:44-45).
No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostle’s feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need (Acts 4:32-25).
(3) One of the primary ways that God judges societies in the Bible is by whether or not they take care of the poor and less fortunate (see, e.g., Isaiah 1:7-26; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Exodus 22:22). It’s not by whether they believe in gun ownership or oppose gay marriage.
(4) Republicans might also be quite taken aback if they actually fully read the only legal system that God is recorded as having given in the Bible – in the Old Testament. For example, it might surprise them to find that rich people are often required to allow poor people to take grain, grapes, and olives from them (Exodus 23:10-11) and that a large part of taxes were specifically set aside for the less fortunate (Deuteronomy 14:29). It might similarly surprise them to know that every seventh year, rich people were required to forgive the debt poor people had acquired (Deuteronomy 15:1-6).
Now I’m not saying, for the record, that we should design our legal system around theirs – there are a lot of seemingly-arbitrary (e.g., things about burying one’s dung at night) and super-difficult (e.g., making allowances for slavery) things in that system, and many of those things seem not-so-good to me. The New Testament directly contradicts some of those things. My point is rather that, if we are going to read messages from the Bible at all, one of the clearest political themes in the Bible seems to me to be a pro-poor and anti-rich theme, one that explicitly includes commands of rich people to give their stuff to poor people. Jesus’ own teachings ring loud and clear with that message – and the legal system discussed in the Old Testament includes that theme, too.
In other words, there is a lot in the Bible that is consistent with a liberal agenda focused on helping poor people by (gasp!) re-distributing income in a very, very Un-American sort of way.