Sunday, April 09, 2006

At Least Someone Gets It

Today is Palm Sunday, the entrance to Holy Week which culminates in Easter, the celebration of Jesus' resurrection, the high point in the Christian calendar. That's why it was so startling, and so fitting, for the NY Times to publish an op-ed piece from Garry Wills (professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University) on the issue of Christian politics. Professor Wills' comments are especially pertinent because we are also entering an election season.

THERE is no such thing as a "Christian politics." If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.

This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, "Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him" (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.

...But doesn't Jesus say to care for the poor? Repeatedly and insistently, but what he says goes far beyond politics and is of a different order. He declares that only one test will determine who will come into his reign: whether one has treated the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned as one would Jesus himself. "Whenever you did these things to the lowliest of my brothers, you were doing it to me" (Matthew 25:40). No government can propose that as its program. Theocracy itself never went so far, nor could it.

The state cannot indulge in self-sacrifice. If it is to treat the poor well, it must do so on grounds of justice, appealing to arguments that will convince people who are not followers of Jesus or of any other religion. The norms of justice will fall short of the demands of love that Jesus imposes. A Christian may adopt just political measures from his or her own motive of love, but that is not the argument that will define justice for state purposes.

...Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion — imposing a reign of Jesus in this order — they are worshiping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord's name in vain.

...The institutional Jesus of the Republicans has no similarity to the Gospel figure. Neither will any institutional Jesus of the Democrats.
[Emphasis added]

Professor Wills has nailed it, from both the theological and the Constitutional perspectives. Go read the entire essay because he gives the biblical justification for his thesis.

Thank God someone gets it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

didn't you love Pat Robertson declaring God told him to run for President, then losing. Guess he got the voice of God mixed up with some other voice,hmmm, or his God isn't omnipotent, or wanted him humiliated.


7:10 AM  
Anonymous Philostopher said...

Oddly, those on both sides of the argument still can't seem to internalize the argument that combining religion and the affairs of the state corrupts and weakens both religion and the affairs of the state. This isn't just religious righties, either -- I know religious left-moderates (I live in Ohio, I don't knwo that many religious lefties) who won't cop to that, either. Sad, really -- but when you've done twenty years having your skepticism tar you as a cynic, you learn to shrug and move on.

7:21 AM  
Blogger cabearie said...


I'm a religious lefty, and I want religion, all religion out of government and out of politics for just the reason you cited.

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Philostopher said...

I hit 'publish' instead of 'preview' this morning (not enough coffee yet), thanks for responding and I'd like to say I know full well not everybody who is religious and on the political left of the spectrum holds this attitude -- it's an outlier. I guess it's why it's such a shock to me when people who otherwise should see that's true seem so affronted. My own family -- full of religious people who think things like social justice are important because they're a net good for a society, not only because they follow New Testament Christianity -- sees the logic in the separation of church and state. It seems antithetical to everything I remember being taught about the New Testament when I was a kid, combining religion and politics -- it's why it surprises me any time I run into it, I guess.

11:41 AM  

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