Monday, June 25, 2007

Jesus the Progressive

Barack Obama gave a speech in CT last week -- as reported in the New York Times". Obama thinks the right has "hijacked" religion for conservative political reasons thereby "dividing" the nation on abortion, same sex marriage, etc.

Where to begin? Here are his exact words, “But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together,” Mr. Obama said. “Faith started being used to drive us apart. Faith got hijacked.”

To my mind this is the money quote from both Sen. Obama and the NY Times:
“My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I go out and do the Lord’s work,” he said, speaking before more than 9,000 people at the Hartford Civic Center in front of a red and black backdrop with the church’s marketing slogan: “God is still speaking.”

This highlights Obama's bad theology and the bad theology of the religious Left in general. I have no doubts that those in liberal churches want to ease the suffering of the sick, the poor, the inmate, etc. I'm sure the left thinks the same of those of us on the right. Stop laughing.

This is the problem with the Socialist or Progressive Jesus. He doesn't exist and never did exist. Where is there even the hint of a political message in any of His words? Slavery, poverty, disease, political corruption (which obviously had a religious bent in 1st century Judea) get many mentions but only the most oblique political references, if even that. Individuals are called to follow Christ and pick up His cross. Individuals are "called" -- not coerced -- to give of their lives, material, etc. to care for the needy of the world.

Would Jesus denounce a social program to feed the poor? Probably not -- on moral grounds -- but I think he would question the efficacy of such programs in healing the ultimate issues of poverty (and a host of other consequences of living in a fallen world).
Would the individual get "credit" for merely paying taxes as opposed to Paul's "cheerful giver"? Christ paid our debts so there is no "credit" to earn of course, but there are general principles to be drawn that can redeem our politics. Means matter -- not merely ends. It is good to care for AIDS patients and feed the hungry and care for the forgotten prisoner. How we go about doing so matters greatly and that is where I believe conservative principles most jibe with Christianity.

I want to feed the hungry just as much as Barack Obama -- I just think that promoting individual responsibility among the poor, cultivating ongoing voluntary donations of money and in-kind contributions from like-minded folks works better than a huge government bureaucracy raising money by confiscatory taxes from the many, while spending much of that money on the bureaucracy, and which excludes any meaningful communication of the root causes of poverty or the means to ameliorate the internal suffering.

The left has always accused conservatives of not caring for the needy of the world because we don't favor government programs. The church is the best vehicle for helping these people. Christ was many things, but he was no enabler or rationalizer of bad behavior. He felt compassion for individuals, healed and helped many and told most of them... "Go and sin no more." What government program tells any of its clients that? They can't under the Constitution and perhaps shouldn't in any case because that is not government's mission.

Can our politics be redeemed? Undoubtedly so if each individual is redeemed -- otherwise it will be rife with ego, graft, etc. from both sides. Neither Conservatism nor Liberalism, especially in their post modern formulations, are redeemed ab initio, but conservatism most closely aligns with the basic tenets of Christianity. Those on the left -- seeking to ameliorate the consequences of sin (if they even recognize the concept) -- then fail to address the real causes of the problem. Those on the right -- while often getting it wrong too -- recognize generally that humans are flawed and while soothing people's pain is important -- encouraging and equipping them to address the fundamental issues (sin) is important. This individual responsibility cuts both ways. It is my responsibility to help others as much as possible. It is also my responsibility -- as much as it is within my control -- to refrain from behavior that might land me in need.

Obama is half right. Religion has been hijacked -- by those on the left -- to justify huge byzantine social programs that adequately deal with the ultimate issue of sin and thereby inadequately deal with the consequences of living in a fallen world.

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