The campaign for the next President of the United States of America is in full swing. Anyone on either side of the pond with the least awareness of politics cannot help but be aware of the leading candidates, Trump and Clinton, and perhaps even their nearest rivals, Cruz and Sanders. Politics in the USA is deeply polarised and also, in many ways, deeply personal. Individuals espouse a particular party or candidate with religious fervour and often passionately promote the ideals and values of their chosen one with antagonistic partisanship. Even those who are less vocal about their convictions usually have strong opinions in favour of or against a particular party and/or their candidate.
In this day and age, such opinions frequently find their way onto Facebook. Individuals who are quite happily ‘friends’ for most of the time can find election season quite difficult to navigate when the partisan opinion pieces and, more particularly, the opinionated meme’s start appearing on their Facebook news feed. Perhaps you may have seen some floating around. Perhaps, like me, there are certain people whose feeds you simply don’t read because you don’t want to start a fight, but what they post makes you hopping mad. Perhaps, like my husband, you read it because it makes you mad and are possessed by a burning desire to contradict them because “someone’s wrong on the internet.”
[Image of stick man at a desk with the text “Are you coming to bed?” “I can’t. This is important.” What? “Someone is WRONG on the internet.”]
Recently, I noticed a post like this on my Facebook wall:
[Image of Jesus teaching with the words “B-b-but if you feed everyone, Jesus, that would be <gasp!> Socialism” With the comment underneath that reads “No . . . if Jesus robs one group of people at gunpoint in order to feed another group of people who will vote for Him, that would be socialism. If Jesus creates food and gives it to others voluntarily, using His own free will, this is voluntaryism <sic>.”]
I found the sentiment disturbing. Having been raised a Republican in a generically conservative household, I would once have been inclined to be anti-socialist, as this meme is. In my history books (written by religious conservative believers in manifest destiny), socialism was equal to communism, and communism was the enemy (I grew up in the final years of the Cold War). In that worldview, yes, the hungry should be fed, but not by the government. So, when I encountered this meme, I struggled to think of a response, but then, several days later, I figured it out.
You see, many, if not all of those who would be against a ‘socialist’ reading of Jesus, would most likely be politically conservative, and in the US that means anti-abortion, anti-equal marriage, pro-death penalty, etc. Most of these conservative ethical views would be based on a certain reading and interpretation of the Bible. The most vocal of these people (I think here of the Tea Party, although not exclusively) will be eager to legislate their moral views: i.e. banning abortion, gay marriage, etc. They have been engaging in “culture wars” for decades in order to legislate their understanding of morality and impose it on the culture as a whole. This being the case, such people are happy to use the power of government to impose the ethics/morality that they distill from the Bible, but object to socialism on the grounds that, although feeding the poor was modelled by Jesus, it is government enforced/propagated rather than freely chosen.
There is a group of people who may be a possible exception to this – those who identify as Libertarians and desire a small government to deal with such national necessities as defence, law and foreign policy and let citizens sort other things.
[Picture of Jesus teaching with the text: Libertarian Jesus – I told YOU to feed the poor . . .not create laws that steal from people to do it.]
If the Libertarians do not wish to enforce the legislation of their particular morality (biblical or otherwise) then it is at least consistent that they would object to a socialist government as well.
So, perhaps there is some room for the argument that Jesus was not a “socialist.”
[Photo of a man in an office wearing glasses with the text: JESUS WAS A SOCIALIST – FALSE: HE NEVER ONCE ADVICATED (sic) USING FORCE TO MAKE PEOPLE BE CHARITABLE]
After all, socialism as the political philosophy we have come to know today is a relatively new concept in world history, and although Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick “without money and without price” he certainly cannot accurately be described as “a socialist.”
However, that knife cuts both ways:
[Picture of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka with the caption: Oh, so you are a Christian and hate socialism? Please, do tell me how much of a Capitalist Jesus was.]
Just as those who seek to baptise the political philosophy of socialism as What Jesus Would (have) Do(ne), those “Christians” who continue to uphold the capitalist worldview in opposition to socialism are also seeking to baptise an anachronistic political philosophy with their own interpretation of the life and works of Jesus, an interpretation that all too often ignores the collateral cost of the capitalist system in favour of obsessive focus on issues of morality.
[Picture of Jesus with a hand over his face captioned: STOP trying to categorise me as a socialist or a capitalist to justify your own worldly nonsence (sic)]
So what’s my point? Perhaps I might like to take the angle of Separation of Church and State and suggest that we keep religion out of politics. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is possible. All human beings have some form of world view, whether religiously motivated or otherwise, which informs their identity, values and choices. Politicians are no exception to this rule. They will, necessarily, make political decisions based on their religious or non-religious worldview. It is utterly disingenuous to suggest otherwise.
In the case of US politics, most candidates will appeal to the Christian faith, although some claim no faith and one recent candidate was a Mormon. In so doing, candidates almost inevitably emphasise the moral or social aspects of the teachings of the Bible or Jesus and claim a divinely motivate mandate as a result. The inference of such behaviour is that the side of Jesus/faith that they have chosen is the “right” side and those who would choose the other are “wrong.”
Isn’t it time we were honest about our convictions, recognised that they are time bound and influenced by our situations, faith, upbringing and a host of other factors, and found a way to engage in politics and government that neither co-opts Jesus as our standard bearer or demonises our opposition as opposed to God/Jesus/divine will?
In the end, it just isn’t as easy as a simple internet meme . . .
[quote from @JohnFugelsang: Jesus was a radical nonviolent revolutionary who hung around with lepers hookers and crooks; wasn’t american and never spoke english; was anti-wealth anti-death penalty anti-public prayer (M 6:5); but was never anti-gay, never mentioned abortion or birth control, never called the poor lazy, never justified torture, never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest nazarenes, never asked a leper for a copay; and was long-haired brown-skinned homeless community-organizing anti-slut-shaming middle eastern jew.]