Christianity and politics

To recent pieces on the topic that I really enjoyed.  First, non-Christian Fareed Zakaria seems to get the essence of Christianity far better than those on the religious right:

When I came to the United States in the 1980s, I remember being surprised to see what “Christian values” had come to mean in American culture and politics — heated debates over abortion, abstinence, contraception and gays. In 13 years of reading, reciting and studying the Bible, I didn’t recall seeing much about these topics…

That’s because there is very little in there about them. As Garry Wills points out in his perceptive new book, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis,” “Many of the most prominent and contested stands taken by Catholic authorities (most of them dealing with sex) have nothing to do with the Gospel.” …

If you want to understand the main message of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to search the Scriptures. He says it again and again. “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.” [emphasis mine]

Jesus has specific advice on how to handle the poor. Treat them as you would Christ himself, sell your possessions and give to the poor. When you hold a banquet, Jesus says, do not invite the wealthy and powerful, because you do so in the hope that they will return the favor and reward you. Instead, invite the dispossessed — and you will be rewarded by God. It is because he expects so much from the rich that he said that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.

We live in a meritocratic age and believe that people who are successful are more admirable in some way than the rest of us. But the Bible notes that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise . . . but time and chance happeneth to them all.” In the Kingdom of Heaven, it warns, “the last shall be first, and the first last.” In other words, be thankful for your success, but don’t think it makes you superior in any deep sense…

He [Pope Francis] is simply reminding each of us that we have a moral obligation to be kind and generous to the poor and disadvantaged — especially if we have been fortunate. If you have a problem with this message, you have a problem not with Pope Francis, but with Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, last week I really enjoyed Gregg Easterbrook’s smackdown of Kim Davis’ (Kentucky anti-homosexual clerk) Old Testament brand of Christianity:

But here’s the thing. Christian theology says the New Testament amends the Old: what happened in the days of the apostles amends what came long before. Acts 13:39: “By this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts is the founding text of Pentecostalism.) Jesus overturned existing law about sin, the Sabbath, the afterlife and many other matters. His ministry proclaimed “a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (II Corinthians 3:6.) “Letter” in this context means archaic law—that is, the law Davis, Cruz, and Huckabee want applied today.

When conservative Christians justify opposition to gay relations by citing ancient scripture, by the most amazing coincidence they don’t mention the other stuff there. The ancient passages that denounce same-sex relations also denounce eating shellfish and trimming one’s beard. The Christian who says God forbids homosexuality – then shaves before going out for dinner at Red Lobster – is speaking from both sides of his mouth.

In Leviticus, the Old Testament book that calls homosexuality an abomination, God not only sanctions but encourages slavery. Leviticus 25:44–46 , spells out rules for seizing, holding, and selling slaves. And there’s no estate tax: slaves may be kept “as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property.” In Deuteronomy 21:18–21, near the passages on the abomination of same-sex relations, ancient scripture directs that a disobedient child be taken by his parents to the city gate and stoned to death.

If banning homosexuality is “God’s authority” to a modern Christian, ritual murder of children ought to be as well. So why don’t today’s Judeo-Christians believe in slavery and filicide? …

Republican candidates thumping their chests about how admirably Christian they are skip the fact that Christ banned exactly such puffery. (Matthew 6:1 reads, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”)…

In the eight hundred thousand words of the Bible, one can find a verse to support just about anything. Even so, it’s disturbing that contemporary Christian conservatives lash out against homosexuality by calling on ancient divine pronouncements of anger, rather than upon the serene divinity who offered the world unconditional forgiveness.

Voicing the thoughts of the serene God in John 15:12, Jesus summed up Christian theology in one sentence: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Once, God was full of anger; ultimately, the Maker cared solely about love. Why don’t today’s Christian conservatives understand that the second part amends the first part? [emphasis mine]

Good points throughout both.  I really like Easterbrook’s point that you can find a bible verse to justify almost anything.  That said, it is abundantly clear that Jesus’ central message was on love of others, especially the poor and downtrodden.  Its a shame that this message seems to be at the periphery of so many Christians take on how their religion meets politics.

Advertisements

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

3 Responses to Christianity and politics

  1. JonMotivates says:

    Two points should be made here.
    1. That homosexuality is a sin is not only in the Old Testament. Romans 1 is very clear on the subject.
    2. Jesus never said that we should give money to the government and let them distribute to the poor. We were to give with a cheerful spirit. This was voluntary, not taken by threat.

    Considering that the average giving prior to “The New Deal” was a little over 12%, and it is currently around 2%, it is pretty clear that government redistribution is what has failed and caused less help for the poor.

    Add the fact that charitable giving leads to around 80% of the donation ending up in the hands of the needy and of the money confiscated by the government for the purpose of redistribution, it is less than 20% that gets to its intended recipient, charitable giving is roughly 4 times more effective.

    As for the Pope…too bad he is not willing to lead by example. You do not see Vatican City taking any of those refugees.

    • Mika says:

      I think we all should look to the apostles and see how they thought about earthly possessions:

      “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. … Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” (Acts 4:32, 34-35)

      I wonder where Marx got his ideas?

  2. Jon K says:

    i like the way Pastor Adam Hamilton approaches issues like homosexuality. I’ve pretty much adopted the same method for myself.

    I suggest that there are three “buckets” into which scriptures fall:

    Scriptures that express God’s heart, character and timeless will for human beings.
    Scriptures that expressed God’s will in a particular time, but are no longer binding.
    Scriptures that never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God.

    Bucket one scriptures include passages like the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. They include passages that call us to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God,” and to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Most of the Bible fits into this category – capturing God’s heart, character and timeless will for humanity.

    Bucket two scriptures, those that expressed God’s will for his people in a specific time and circumstances but which do not express the timeless will of God, include the command that males be circumcised, commands regarding animal sacrifices, clean and unclean foods, and hundreds of other passages in the Law. The Apostles, in Acts 15, determined that most of the laws like these were no longer binding upon Christians.

    The idea of a third bucket, passages that never reflected God’s heart and will, is disconcerting to some. It challenges some deeply held beliefs about how God spoke and continues to speak through the biblical authors. Here are a few examples of scripture I don’t believe ever accurately captured God’s heart, character, or will: Leviticus 21:9 requires that if the daughter of a priest becomes a prostitute she must be burned to death. In Exodus 21:20-21, God permits slave-owners to beat their slaves with rods provided they don’t die within the first 48 hours after the beating “for the slave is his property.” God commands the destruction of every man, woman, and child in 31 Canaanite cities and later killis 70,000 Israelites in punishment for David taking a census. These passages seem to me to be completely inconsistent with the God revealed in Jesus Christ who cared for prostitutes, commanded that we love our enemies, and gave his life to save sinners.

    Whether you believe in two buckets or three, the question remains, Which bucket do the five passages of scripture that reference same-sex intimacy fall into?

    For me it is bucket 3.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: