January 13, 2005
Would Jesus be a Democrat or a Republican?By Noel Sheppard
I recently had an opportunity to discuss some religious issues with the Reverend Ray Dubuque, a retired Methodist minister who now spreads the word of the Lord largely over the Internet. As I researched the Reverend, his background, and his perspectives in preparation for our appearance together on Alan Colmes's radio program, I realized that his overall position concerning politics and how they relate to theology had some glaring economic inconsistencies.
For instance, here is his basic philosophy as expressed at his website, Liberals Like Christ:
If Jesus of Nazareth was anything, he was an extraordinary friend of the downtrodden, definitely a Liberal, whose advocacy on their behalf so infuriated the ultra—Conservative religious and political leaders of his day that they had him killed to prevent the public from hearing the very liberal teaching that you will see quoted in Jesus' own words here on this web site!
Those who actually know what the Bible says about the life and teaching of Jesus, should recognize that far from being like Jesus of Nazareth, today's "Religious Right" are much more like the kind of clerics who battled this revolutionary prophet from the day he opened his mouth until the day they had him nailed to a cross.
As one delves further, it becomes apparent that the Reverend's guiding tenet is that religion and conservatism are mutually exclusive concepts that could not possibly co—exist in the same soul:
For Jesus, as for many other great prophets of the Bible, the pursuit of riches and the pursuit of salvation are so incompatible that one cannot choose one without turning away from the other. And the more riches one possesses the harder it is to choose salvation, because it requires the repudiation of those riches. Any true follower of Christ who sees today's "Religious Right" inviting the wealthy to come into their churches, to bring all their money in with them, to share it generously —— not with the poor, but —— with the churches and their clergy, knows that there is something very wrong with this picture.
So, I guess, using this logic, liberals can't be interested in money. Of course, if this is indeed the case, why are the wealthiest members of Congress liberals? I guess the Reverend didn't know that the top five richest senators in our nation are Democrats, or that John Kerry who sits at the very top of this list is considered to be the most liberal member. Isn't this somewhat incongruous? In addition, if Kerry had won this past November, he would not only have become the wealthiest president that America has ever had in its history, but also likely the most liberal. How does this fit with the assertion that liberal dogma is antithetic to greed and avarice?
Taking this a step further, the most outspoken liberal members of Hollywood are amongst the wealthiest members of our society. Folks like Michael Moore, Julia Roberts, Tim Robbins, Steve Bing, Barbra Streisand, and Susan Sarandon are all extraordinarily rich. Given their well—established liberal ideologies —— as well as their desire to share these beliefs with the rest of the nation —— if the Reverend's contentions were accurate, shouldn't these folks be 'turning away from' their riches and, instead, "[choosing] salvation?'
Conversely, with regard to the inherent greed of conservatives, in 2003, a Republican—controlled Congress, along with a Republican president, passed and enacted the largest expansion of an entitlement program since 1965. Strangely, only eleven Democratic senators voted for this huge social spending increase, as compared to 43 Republicans. Even more bizarre, in the House, only sixteen of the 220 votes in favor of this bill came from Democrats.
This obviously leads one to wonder how Jesus would look upon those who voted against a bill that for the first time in American history would pay some of the costs for the medicines that senior citizens take every day, and how the Reverend might reconcile this peculiar historical divergence in liberalism and social spending.
I further wonder how Jesus would feel about the huge reduction in tax burden on the poor orchestrated by the current administration and Republican—controlled Congress. For instance, as reported by the Congressional Budget Office in August 2004, due to the 2001 and 2003 tax law changes, the lowest 20% of wage earners in our nation pay an effective federal income tax rate of 5.2%. If 2000 statutes were still in place, this rate would be 6.7%.
That means that the average wage earner in this bottom quintile is paying roughly 22% less in federal income taxes as a result of these legislative changes than under Clinton. Would Jesus disapprove of this tax reduction on our nation's poor? Would Reverend Dubuque?
I also wonder how Jesus would view the charitable donation habits of the members of both of our political parties. For instance, the Catalogue For Philanthropy recently released their 2004 Generosity Index with some rather stunning findings. What this directory of non—profit organizations does every year is compare the average adjusted gross income of each state to the average itemized charitable deduction, and derive a ranking based upon the differences in these statistics.
According to their calculations, for the eighth year in a row, Mississippi is the most generous state in our nation, followed by Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Alabama —— all red states that Mr. Bush won by an average margin of 25%. In fact, the top 25 most philanthropic states according to this study all voted for Mr. Bush. This means that all the states that Mr. Kerry won in November fall into the bottom half of charitable contributions as related to income in our nation. Moreover, the worst seven states in this study also all voted for Mr. Kerry, including number 49 (Massachusetts) which Mr. Kerry won by a comfortable 25% margin.
Given these statistics, what would Jesus think of liberals if he were alive today? Is the Reverend correct in his assertions that Jesus would actually want to be one? Or, is this quite missing the point? Would Jesus be so myopic? Would he view charity in terms of numbers and percentages? Or, would he instead be pleased by the generosity of all souls, and not make such inane comparisons?
In fact, wouldn't Jesus look at the poor in our nation, and how they live compared to anywhere else on the planet —— with television sets, DVD players, satellite dishes, and, maybe most important, the freedom to worship whomever, whenever, and wherever they want, and conclude that Americans —— Democrats and Republicans alike —— are by far the most charitable and generous of souls regardless of political leaning?
Finally, wouldn't this guide Jesus towards being an Independent —— for as soon as one side believes that it possesses a monopoly on religion, doesn't religion fail? Or worse —— hasn't religion then become a tool of oppression rather than a liberator from it? Wouldn't Jesus, therefore, strive to prevent such a divisive outcome?
Yes, Jesus would most definitely be an Independent. Unfortunately, this would exclude him from participating in presidential debates...which is potentially the most delicious of ironies.
Noel Sheppard is an economic and geopolitical analyst and writer residing in Northern California. Noel welcomes e—mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.