Lesson from Jesus

Jesus taught us many things about how to live our lives: love God first, love others more than yourself, be holy as God is holy and nationalize your health care.

…and go see Michael Moore’s new movie Sicko, which just so happens to be about that very topic.

Why do the same people who want religion out of political and public discourse always use it to attempt to advance their political and personal agendas?

This article has 9 comments

  1. Hi Aaron:
    As a big fan of both national health care and Michael Moore, I have to agree with you that Jesus doesn't endorse specific political policy proposals. But I think you misunderstand the motivation of the liberal "separation of church and state". No thoughtful liberals that I know of–and you know for sure there are many, just as there are many thoughtful conservatives–claim that we Christians ought not use our religious beliefs to inform our political decisions. The complaint is when Christians try to enforce our religion on those who don't share it.
    your friend
    keith

  2. I have to agree with you that Jesus doesn't endorse specific political policy proposals.
    Keith, I don't believe that is what Aaron is saying at all. What he is pointing out is the hypocritical tendency of those who criticize the religious right, yet want to buttress their own policies with biblical moralizing.
    And as I said previously, I don't think that biblical moralizing is improper in arguing for public policy, as long as you are not merely making an appeal to Biblical authority, but rather, are backing up a public ethic with commonly accepted moral reference points, as has been done with the Bible since America's inception. MLK Jr. did it. Lincoln did it. Most moral reformers in our history have done it.
    And also, as I commented previously, I disagree with the idea that we can not evaluate various policies biblically, and make declarations about how some policies violate or are congruent with biblical principle. Again, we are not making an appeal to Biblical authority, but as Christians, I believe that we SHOULD think and act biblically, and I think we CAN and MUST evaluate all of life from a Biblical perspective.
    Contrary to the error of Pietism, scripture is not merely a handbook for personal piety. It has much wisdom to be applied in many spheres of learning, including
    marriage, family, and relationships,
    science (link 2),
    business,
    justice (link 2),
    government (three NT views),
    political action
    ethics,
    education (link 2),
    philosophy,
    even mathematics (link 2).
    Hence such wonderful books as Liberating the Nations and Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From It's Cultural Captivity.
    No thoughtful liberals that I know of–and you know for sure there are many, just as there are many thoughtful conservatives–claim that we Christians ought not use our religious beliefs to inform our political decisions. The complaint is when Christians try to enforce our religion on those who don't share it.
    I agree with the first statement you make, I mean, putting the Sam Harris crowd aside. The problem is when "enforcing religion" means opposing their policies in general. The religous right is agasist it? All of their arguments must be religious!
    Much of the time, when liberals bring up the "you are forcing religion" complaint, it is with respect to the pro-life and pro-family/anti-gay policies, both of which have good ethical and non-religious justifications behind them.
    Appeals to religious authority in these matters, is of course, out of the question, but referencing biblical views on these, or having religious motivation, is fine. In the end, we must make public policy decisions based on common ethics and not religion, but that does not mean that mention of biblical teaching or religious motivation is improper, imho.

  3. My point was care to take a guess at the reaction if (and when) Falwell had said something similar – Jesus said we should vote for this politician or this legislation. He is paraded around and ridiculed, while no one bats an eye at Moore covering his policy with some "Jesus." There is a double standard that is applied. I don't think you apply it, Keith, but its out there and prevalent.

  4. Hi Seeker:
    I went to Michael Moore's site to listen to his View appearance so I could hear what he said in context. He isn't guilty of the hypocrisy you mentioned. His complaint is that politics of christian right isn't christian enough because it ignores the implicit politics of Matthew 25. You can disagree with his theology if you like, but it's kind of unfair it seems to me to use his comments as evidence of hypocrisy. I do know some liberals–not the most thoughtful liberals–who complain that religious people ought to keep their religion out of their politics–but Michael Moore hasn't been one of them.
    your friend
    Keith

  5. He isn't guilty of the hypocrisy you mentioned.
    Sorry to confuse the issue, but I was talking in generalities, not about Moore. But you are right, Aaron was talking about Moore.
    I also think that the criticism that the right is ignoring Jesus' command to care for the poor it totally bogus, and especially as a reaction to the right's resistance to the ineffectual and wasteful, if not unbiblical socialist solutions to the problem.

  6. Hi (Seeker?):
    I wouldn't say it's TOTALLY bogus to complain that some on the right are ignoring jesus' commands about helping the poor. But it is unfair to criticize everyone with that same accusation.
    Regarding the so-called unbiblical so-called socialist proposals of the center/left: the Bible doesn't weigh in on socialism or New Deal capitalism at all, but there is nothing ANTI-biblical about either. How effectual they are is a debatable issue, not one that Christian theology has anything useful to say.
    your friend
    Keith
    your friend
    Keith

  7. I wouldn't say it's TOTALLY bogus to complain that some on the right are ignoring jesus' commands about helping the poor. But it is unfair to criticize everyone with that same accusation.
    I agree, but we could all care more about the poor. I just think it is disingenuous to accuse your opposition of poor MOTIVE when in reality, they share your concern for the poor, but disagree with your MEANS.
    the Bible doesn't weigh in on socialism or New Deal capitalism at all, but there is nothing ANTI-biblical about either.
    Not in those terms, but there is plenty of material that COULD apply to the discussion, like how the Church at Jerusalem had "everything in common." Some have construed that to support a socialist approach.
    But specific examples aside, there are many principles one can winnow from scripture, and we can evaluate various proposed solutions against those principles. So, for example, I would say that socialistic programs, esp. if not constructed properly, many violate many biblical principles or laws.
    For instance, if it takes away people's rewards for effort, you are not only trying to short circuit the law of sowing and reaping (which works for positive, not just negative actions), but you may be in violation of the rule of just compensation (1 Corinthians 9:8-10).
    It may also violate principles of personal responsibility. For example, scripture is clear that parents are resonsible for the care of their children. However, a socialist program may tax parents for social services that are really their own resopnsibility, and in doing so, is usurping their authority and creating an unbiblical, and unhealthy system. Same goes for welfare – a system that actually encourages dependence on the government (in the name of compassion) is not really compassion. And again, this type of dependence violates such scriptures as "if a man does not work, neither should he eat."
    And of course, well-meaning communism was also built on the idea that man did not need God, and it punished the worship of God. This is clearly in violation of scripture, and so I would feel free to Christianly condemn communism.
    My examples might not be too well articulated here, but I believe that the principle is sound – public policies can and should be evaluated in light of scriptural principles by Christians, because we believe that such principles are objectively true, and violating them is bad for mankind.

  8. Hi Seeker:
    I agree, but we could all care more about the poor. I just think it is disingenuous to accuse your opposition of poor MOTIVE when in reality, they share your concern for the poor, but disagree with your MEANS.
    It’s not always just a disagreement about how to most effectively help the poor, but I agree that it’s unfair to ALWAYS assume our opponents don’t care about the poor.
    But specific examples aside, there are many principles one can winnow from scripture, and we can evaluate various proposed solutions against those principles. So, for example, I would say that socialistic programs, esp. if not constructed properly, many violate many biblical principles or laws.
    For instance, if it takes away people’s rewards for effort, you are not only trying to short circuit the law of sowing and reaping (which works for positive, not just negative actions), but you may be in violation of the rule of just compensation (1 Corinthians 9:8-10).

    The Bible doesn’t DEFINE the conditions of “just compensation” (except maybe for prohibitions on usury). The passage in 1st Corinthians you quote doesn’t imply that society ought not allow people to eat without working; it is a specific rule for a christian community, similar to the communistic christian sharing described in Acts. The passage doesn’t endorse free market economics as a way to “establish” how much a person ought to get paid.
    But what Matthew 25 indicates is that righteousness is defined according to how the poor are affected. Inasmuch as laissez faire capitalism victimizes the poor–my opinion–as a Christian I’d have to see it as an unjust system.
    A Christian who doesn’t share my opinion about the effect of laissez faire would not share my evaluation of capitalism. The Bible doesn’t say which of us is right.
    However, a socialist program may tax parents for social services that are really their own resopnsibility, and in doing so, is usurping their authority and creating an unbiblical, and unhealthy system. Same goes for welfare – a system that actually encourages dependence on the government (in the name of compassion) is not really compassion.
    Lack of welfare programs actually enforces dependence on a person’s employer–so that poor people often have to choose between caring for the children and keeping their job. That’s why welfare was created in the 1st place. Supposing that SOME people do take advantage and become dependent on welfare when they ought to be working, that’s their fault and they can’t blame the government for sapping their willingness to work. They are not the victims of the welfare state, but people who need welfare and can’t get it ARE the victims of our system when that welfare isn’t available.
    And of course, well-meaning communism was also built on the idea that man did not need God, and it punished the worship of God. This is clearly in violation of scripture, and so I would feel free to Christianly condemn communism.
    I agree here. Likewise the social darwinism promoted by the robber barron capitalists explicitly opposed Christ’s mandate to help the poor–they advocated sacrificing the weak to help the strong. I’m not saying that Christians cannot ever condemn political policies. I am saying that in the American context there is far too much hijacking of Christ to club our political opponents.
    your friend
    Keith

  9. Lack of welfare programs actually enforces dependence on a person's employer–so that poor people often have to choose between caring for the children and keeping their job.
    I did not say we should NOT have welfare systems, but certain types, the types that encourage dependency instead of self-sufficiency. If the choice is between dependence and work, I'd say the bible says that we are to work. Forces dependence on the employer? You sound like a Bolshevik! The difference is, the employer gives the person the self respect of work instead of handouts. We are ALL dependent on our employers to some extent.
    Again, I am not as reticent as you to evaluate public policy by biblical principle. Sure there are edge cases where people's needs are met. Sure there are ambiguities. But I think your humility in not wanting to make conclusions in these matters, taken to a fault, is really timidness. You could say the opposite of me, that I am lacking humility in these matters.
    I just chafe at the lazy, cowardly idea that scripture has nothing authoritative to say in these other areas of life. It does say that we should help the poor, but I'd say it leans heavily towards individual and church generosity in such matters, and I find no example or rule that would say that government is the means for helping the poor. In fact, I think that giving such responsibility to the government is giving it power that it is not meant to wield, biblically speaking.
    I could make more vigorous arguments, but don't have time, except to say that I agree with the content of The Five Functions of Civil Government and The Five Spheres of Government.
    I am not arguing for unrestricted capitalism, but I am arguing that biblically speaking, many of the government solutions offered by socialist thinkers are unbiblical, and can be demonstrably shown to be so. Not indisputably, but by outlining well biblical principle, we could qualitatively compare, say, traditional welfare and workfare, and decide which was more biblical.
    Same goes with the welfare state in Europe, which in some cases is structured to discourage people from doing a good job. As it was said in Russia, "we pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay us."
    I know you said that it should all be measured by how the poor are affected, but that is short sighted. Changes in any system will have some negative affects, because they cause people to change. The welfare mother who is not going to get paid for having a fourth child may "suffer" by having the child and not getting any more money, but in the long run, we are delivering her from a life of dependence, the type that one black author has called The Liberal Plantation.