Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Apr/11

2

What Would Jesus Cut?

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Lunchtime mail brought my April copy of The Dominion, “News of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.” The front page leader was by my local prelate, The Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano, Bishop of Long Island.   Titled “Budgets, Leadership, and Public Service,” it is an angry broadside against the cutting of public services — any public services.

The approach to addressing the fiscal crisis in New Jersey and in a host of other states across the country appears to be to assault those who do the public’s work as state employees, to imply that they receive benefits and salaries that go far beyond what they deserve and that they immorally avail themselves of these benefits.

His Grace recommends that his parishioners join in a new initiative from the religious left under the slogan “What Would Jesus Cut?”  If you join in, you can get a WWJC bracelet!

Would Jesus cut Head Start — a bureaucratic extravaganza of no proven value whatever?  Would he cut foreign aid — correctly described by Peter Bauer 30-odd years ago as “The transer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries”?  Where would the Saviour have stood on defined-benefit vs. defined contribution pension plans?  We know what he thought of tax collectors (e.g. Matt. 18:17), but where did he stand on tax payers vs. tax eaters?

We hear so much about the Religious Right, far too little about the Religious Left and its maleficent works — it is, for example, the main motive force behind the refugee resettlement rackets.  From the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the Right Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, what I mostly see in the pulpits are lefties. 

The pity of it is that elsewhere in The Dominion and its national-level equivalent, Episcopal Journal, I read of good and commendable works by church groups in, for example, relief for victims of the recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan.

Do these Christian lefties not see the contradiction between encouraging voluntary charity and demanding that ever more of the work of comforting the afflicted be transferred to government functionaries whose benefit packages are written into their state constitutions?

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22 comments

  • Author comment by David Hume · April 3, 2011 at 12:26 am

    Do these Christian lefties not see the contradiction between encouraging voluntary charity and demanding that ever more of the work of comforting the afflicted be transferred to government functionaries whose benefit packages are written into their state constitutions?

    post-modern xtianity is not so linear as to entertain the possibility of contradiction :-) contradiction presupposes a coherent system, which is a euro/androcentric way of thinking!

  • John · April 3, 2011 at 3:02 am

    As someone who went to Catholic schools, I can say that the Catholic Church is on the left on every single issue except abortion and gay rights.

    I will admit, though, that they may have the Bible right. I don’t see Jesus as either an economic conservative (eye of the needle), or a foreign policy conservative (turn the other cheek), or a social conservative (cast the first stone). If Jesus were alive today, I don’t see him as a Republican.

  • Muffy · April 3, 2011 at 3:05 am

    “We hear so much about the Religious Right, far too little about the Religious Left and its maleficent works — it is, for example, the main motive force behind the refugee resettlement rackets.”

    Aw, come on —

    Invoke Jesus to promote conservative causes, and you’re an evil bigot threatening the separation of church and state.

    Invoke Jesus to promote progressive causes, and you’re courageously reclaiming Christianity from the evil forces of right-wing fundamentalism.

    Got it?

  • Spawn of Cthulhu · April 3, 2011 at 5:09 am

    Why I’m no longer an Episcopalian (or anything else, for that matter). I spent my junior year in college in England. A friend asked me to go to the college church (CoE). I walked in, saw posters supporting the Sandinistas (this was 1986), walked out, and have never returned.

  • beb · April 3, 2011 at 6:05 am

    I followed a link from the NYT article because as a non-believer I was interested in some conservative ideas that ignored the religious side of things. But a quick scan of the articles on the home page gives the impression that everything is about attacking religion. Is that the point?

    I’m not looking for a place to bash religious people but it would be nice to see intelligent discussion that didn’t use that as a platform.

    If this is just an attack on believers but from a conservative view, well that’s not much of an appeal.

    pretty disappointed.

  • RandyB · April 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    I will admit, though, that [Catholics] may have the Bible right… If Jesus were alive today, I don’t see him as a Republican.

    Yeah, Republicans view Jesus the way he’s presented in “family” bookstores. The paradigm of a liberal Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong, wrote that it bothers him no end that the type of business known as a Christian bookstore is full of prejudiced attitudes, non-nurturing parenting advice, and poor quality historical scholarship. To which I’ll add, a foreign policy of brinksmanship, based on a benificient view of its results.

    A “Googlenope” is a phrase that gets zero hits on that search engine, like “Saddam Hussein’s wise rule.” I currently get three hits on “Jesus in a Christian Bookstore,” (two of them repeats, and other is me, using another screen name, reporting on this result on another site.) I would have expected a plethora of sentences like “I found a really good book about …”, but apparently that’s not their market.

  • Polichinello · April 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    I don’t see Jesus as either an economic conservative (eye of the needle), or a foreign policy conservative (turn the other cheek), or a social conservative (cast the first stone). If Jesus were alive today, I don’t see him as a Republican.

    Jesus also called foreigners “dogs” and said that looking at a woman lustfully is the same as adultery in deed. He also encouraged busting up families and neglecting social duties. He was a great moocher, too. Never turned down a free meal, this guy. Paul catches all the flak these days, but at least that guy worked for living making tents as he preached.

  • Polichinello · April 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    The paradigm of a liberal Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong, wrote that it bothers him no end that the type of business known as a Christian bookstore is full of prejudiced attitudes…

    Yeah, you’re typical nose-in-the-air, ear-to-the-ground SWPL squish. He’s got all the time in the world to sneer at those low-bred evangelicals who actually build communities that serve their own members, while never doing anything remotely constructive himself. The guy deserves the anonymity he’ll receive once he’s thankfully taken from this world.

  • Tim of Angle · April 4, 2011 at 12:37 am

    My question is, what business has a guy named Provenzano being an Episcopalian? Is he some sort of mole?

  • Mike H · April 4, 2011 at 1:28 am

    I can’t see this being very effective. I highly doubt most current Episcopalians actually believe in Jesus.

  • RandyB · April 4, 2011 at 9:24 am

    My question is, what business has a guy named Provenzano being an Episcopalian?

    The Episcopal Church has many priests who were once Catholic, but wanted to be married or female.

  • PNR · April 5, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    I don’t see Jesus as a Republican, either. In large part, he (and his immediate followers) advocated respect for those governing and so on, but beyond that, they were largely irrelevant. I could go into all sorts of theological reasons why, but this is a secular right site.

    As for what Jesus would cut, the only real statement in the Bible as to the purpose of government is found in Romans 13 where it is said it carries the sword to punish evil-doers. From that, I’d conclude that he’d cut out everything but Defense and certain internal police functions – courts, and so on.

  • Polichinello · April 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    The Episcopal Church has many priests who were once Catholic, but wanted to be married or female.

    Ha!!

  • Narr · April 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    I’m pretty sure Jesus would have been a libertarian.

  • Acilius · April 8, 2011 at 3:23 am

    So far as I can see, the great advantage of following a leader whose life took place thousands of years ago is that he won’t suddenly present you with lots of ideas and demand that you agree with him. To that advantage Christians can add another, which is that Jesus’ life is so sketchily recorded that we don’t even know what stands he did and did not take on the political questions facing Rome’s subjects in Palestine.

    With these advantages, Christians can of course decide that any list of opinions they may formulate are obligatory for right-thinking people, and they can convince themselves that the test they have thereby devised is simply the imitation of Christ. It certainly sounds like Bishop Provenzano has done that, identifying his own political views with the teachings of Jesus.

    That isn’t the only option Christians have, however. They are also at liberty to live without any such list. There may be several stories in the Gospels where Jesus expresses anger, but unless I’m forgetting something in none of them is he angry with people for taking a particular side in a controversy. It’s odd that the bishop is an Episcopalian, since Episcopalians, like other Anglicans, often go out of their way to tell people about their notion that Christians are free to hold any opinion or no opinion about matters where scripture is not explicit, and that scripture is almost nowhere very explicit. A statement like this one doesn’t fit very comfortably with that notion.

  • Polichinello · April 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    To that advantage Christians can add another, which is that Jesus’ life is so sketchily recorded that we don’t even know what stands he did and did not take on the political questions facing Rome’s subjects in Palestine.

    I’d disagree in that I think we can know what his stand was on just about every political issue: It doesn’t matter because the world will end REAL SOON NOW. Once a believer elides that unfortunate fact, the rest falls pretty much in place as you’ve described it.

  • Acilius · April 8, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    “I think we can know what his stand was on just about every political issue: It doesn’t matter because the world will end REAL SOON NOW.”

    To be sure, apocalypticism was popular in Palestine in the first century, and if we judge by the records his earliest followers left Jesus was probably a prime specimen of it. However, apocalypticists take a variety of political attitudes. Some people who believe the end of the world is nigh do preach quietism and withdraw from politics, on the grounds that it’s too late for political action to achieve anything. Others, however, advocate extremely aggressive political agendas, on the grounds that there is just enough time for political action to achieve something if we really hurry. This latter kind of apocalyptic belief may not have logic on its side, but it does tend to make a lot of history.

    Are there apocalypticists whose attitudes fall between the extremes of quietism and radicalism? Not many, perhaps; but then, not many apocalypticists have met with success like that which Christianity has enjoyed. Maybe the conditions that prevailed in the Mediterranean world in the first century were such that some new religion or other was bound to take hold, and Christianity just happened to draw the winning ticket. Or maybe Jesus and his early followers were peculiar in some way, distinguishable from other apocalyptic cults by some feature that caught the public’s imagination in ways their competitors didn’t. We know so little about the Jesus movement in those days that an unusual interpretation of the political consequences of apocalypticism is as likely as anything else to have been this feature.

    By identifying Jesus as an apocalypticist, we may be able to rule out certain viewpoints that he was unlikely to have held. All the ideologies that are based on loyalty to institutions and the belief that those institutions can, over time, bring improvement to the material conditions of human life are out the window. If the end is nigh, time cannot be taken for granted, institutions will be forgotten, and the material conditions of human life are of little significance. So there are no grounds for a libertarianism that extols the market, a socialism that extols the state, or a mutualism that extols the feudal bonds of peasant economics. But even without those ideologies and the concerns that animate them, there are an infinite number of political questions that it is possible to ask, and an infinite array of possible answers to those questions.

  • Narr · April 10, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    I’m not sure if Acilius’s last paragraph was in direct response to my claim that Jesus strikes me as a libertarian or not, but I wans’t referring to some attitude on his part to market activity, but to his general lack of faith (ha) in institutions and his live-and-let-live practices (as I understand them from the synoptic gospels).

    I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t support, for example, wars on (some) drugs and other state intrusions into private life.

    And lest some misunderstand me to be arguing that followers of Jesus “should” be libertarians, I’m not.

  • Acilius · April 11, 2011 at 2:20 am

    @Narr: Ah, so you’re saying Jesus would have been a “libertarian” with a small “l,” not a “Libertarian” with an upper-case “L.” Maybe so. Or maybe not; I’m not convinced we know enough about him as he was, still less how he might have behaved if he’d taken political power.

  • Polichinello · April 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    But even without those ideologies and the concerns that animate them, there are an infinite number of political questions that it is possible to ask, and an infinite array of possible answers to those questions.

    For example?

    Even if we grant this point, what good is the social advice or veiws of a man who, two thousand years ago, thought the world would end within or shortly after his lifetime?

  • Polichinello · April 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Or maybe not; I’m not convinced we know enough about him as he was, still less how he might have behaved if he’d taken political power.

    Given the way he looked forward to separating the goats from the sheep (and casting said goats into a lake of everlasting fire), his term of office would not have been very pleasant.

    See also his predictions of destruction for those cities and locales that failed to recognize his divine mission with sufficient alacrity and groveling.

  • Narr · April 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Yes, Acilius, small-l, not L. I always do that deliberately. To me its the same as democrat/Democrat and republican/Republican. I am all three– l, d, and r.

    And I’m no more certain than you are about it; I was just describing my own take on the issue.

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