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What Jesus Said

What Jesus and the Bible said about capitalism, greed, and the American way:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus in Matthew 5:3-10

And all that believed were together; had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

Acts, 2:44-45

Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth.

Jesus in Matthew 6:19

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.

Jesus in Matthew 19:24

What more does the Bible need to say about the evils of capitalism and greed? Any Christian who applauds Bush's giveaways to the rich either hasn't read Jesus's words or is too dumb to understand them.

The overall contradiction between Christian dogma and American reality is crystal-clear to anyone who cares. Jesus ordered his followers to put compassion before self-interest, and specifically not to amass wealth. Bush, the multimillionaire stooge of big business interests, is violating Jesus's word.

Theological experts from St. Augustine on support this understanding of Jesus's message. One of them is Thomas Cahill, who authored How the Irish Saved Civilization. Here's what he wrote about Christianity in the LA Times, 12/25/99:

[T]here is the question of what the essential content of Christianity is and whether its nearly 2 billion adherents truly subscribe to this content. The content of Christianity is, of course, to be found in the teachings of Jesus as laid out in the New Testament. Although these teachings, also called the Gospel, may be summed up in different ways, they are extremely clear: the Kingdom of God belongs to those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and comfort the afflicted. This is because "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them."

Thanks, Mr. Cahill, for stating the obvious: that Jesus's message is "extremely clear." That his teachings concur with a progressive party agenda. That people like Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, Edward Kennedy, and Ralph Nader have followed Jesus's mandate. Because they're liberals, not conservative/libertarians.

Other good Christians also get the point. An article in the University of Chicago Magazine, April 2001, describes the Catholic Worker Movement as

a loose national organization of Catholics and non-Catholic sympathizers united by their commitment to social justice, nonviolence, and "personalism"—the belief that large social problems like poverty impose on each individual, in the words of one of the movement's founders, "the personal obligation of looking after the needs of our brother." The Catholic Worker's radicalism is not the radicalism of Marx and Lenin but of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.

What others have said
Proof that evangelicals don't believe in the Bible:

Custodians of chaos

In this extract from his forthcoming memoirs, Kurt Vonnegut is horrified by the hypocrisy in contemporary US politics

By Kurt Vonnegut


How about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly George W Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

More on how Jesus's views don't seem to match those of (conservative) Americans:

A Closer Walk With Bush and Jesus
Politics: Teachings from the Bible don't match up with the policies of the Texas governor.

Los Angeles Times
January 3, 2000

Author: MADISON T. SHOCKLEY II; The Rev. Madison T. Shockley II, a member of the board of directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference/Los Angeles chapter, was a candidate last year for the Los Angeles City Council.

Many have dismissed Republican presidential front-runner George W. Bush's claim that Jesus Christ is the political philosopher to have influenced him the most. His assertion was seen as religious pandering at its worst. Yet I decided to take him seriously, and I discovered that Bush had not taken the "political" teachings of Jesus seriously. Indeed, he betrayed no knowledge of their content.

Let's look at just a few of Jesus' best-known political teachings.

When telling of the judgment of the "nations" (ergo political), Jesus said, according to Matthew's Gospel: "For I was hungry and you gave me food . . . I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. . . . Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers . . . you did it to me." It sounds to me like welfare, open immigration, universal health care, increased international aid and prison reform, all in one sermon.

In another sermon (you know, the one on the Mount?) Jesus is reported to have said, again according to Matthew: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, 'Do not resist an evildoer.' But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also." This is a direct contradiction to the very idea of the death penalty. Yet Bush has shown no pity when it comes to executions in his state.

If Christ is Bush's favorite political philosopher, why are none of these themes reflected in his so-called political philosophy of compassionate conservatism?

If these are not his understandings of Christ's teachings, then he should show what connections he has made between his positions and those of his close friend, Jesus. Maybe we ask too much of a person who, when asked about his daily reading, listed several newspapers and a book or two but not the Bible. Politicians who run on the coattails of their religion do so at great peril to their political credibility and the confidence of a diverse constituency.

As an ordained minister who ran for political office myself, I listed my employment in the church as a point of departure, not a destination for my political leadership.

All persons of faith, whether clergy or lay of whatever religion, best represent their beliefs when there is a seamless relationship between their deeply held values and the work they have done.

Among the 2000 presidential contenders, only Democrat Bill Bradley has refused to discuss publicly his religious status. In the face of all the Bible-thumping going on in both major parties' campaigns, his practice seems as bold a statement of his spirituality as any overt claim of piety by the others.

Which reminds me of some other sayings of Jesus, also from Matthew's Gospel: "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them." And: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father."

Copyright 2000 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times

Here's someone who seems to understand Jesus's message. From the NY Times, 6/17/05:

Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers


IT would be an oversimplification to say that America's culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion relates to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.

It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state.

People of faith have the right, and perhaps the obligation, to bring their values to bear in politics. Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God's truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God's kingdom, one that includes efforts to "put God back" into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality.

Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.

But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues.

In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God's side and you are not, that I know God's will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God's kingdom is certain to produce hostility.

By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God's truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God's work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today's politics.

For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord's table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics.

John C. Danforth is an Episcopal minister and former Republican senator from Missouri.

And more:

[N]ascent Christianity has, from the beginning, stipulated a positive ethos, an ethical morality to guide human behavior, e.g., love of one's fellow man, compassion in thought and action, and forgiveness as the only intelligent solution to vengeance-based cycles of violence. Christianity asks only that we think for ourselves in comprehending the dark side of vengeance-based moralities, absolute legalism and penalism, and marketplace pragmatism.

Dr. Gerry Lower, "Gandhi's Seven Root Causes: An East-West Dialectic Synthesis"

Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.

Mikhail S. Gorbachev

The following letter to the editor pretty much says it all. The LA Times published it 6/20/01 in response to a piece analyzing Jesus's dual nature:

Sartwell's commentary on the wrathful and loving sides of Jesus is correct and well-argued as far as it goes. What he omitted is the object of Jesus' wrath. The bulk of Jesus' anger, by far, was aimed at the rich, comfortable and self-righteous men who condemn others while ignoring the plight of the poor and hungry. Similarly, the lack of morality that so angered God at Sodom and Gomorrah was not sexual sinning but the failure of those towns to show charity and hospitality.

If conservatives continue to condemn President Clinton for lying about sex while ignoring the sin of Reagan/Bush in forcing millions of Americans into poverty and despair, then Sartwell hasn't convinced me that Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and his cronies are not un-Christian.

Ken Lanxner
San Clemente

In short, Jesus denounced self-serving capitalists. 'Nuff said.

Evangelicals finally get a clue?
From the NY Times, 1/30/05:

One More 'Moral Value': Fighting Poverty

During the inaugural festivities in Washington this month, three evangelical Christian groups sponsored a black-tie "Values Victory Dinner," where they celebrated the electoral strength of "moral values" as a factor in the campaign. In the shorthand of postelection polls and analysis, that meant opposition to abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.

But many religious leaders, including some evangelicals, think the current focus on moral values has created a platform to talk about other issues, especially poverty, as both political and moral concerns. "The good news about the bad news was that the spin doctors, whether they got it right or wrong, have said that values are so important to our political system," said Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, an association of liberal denominations that represents more than 100,000 congregations. "They've given an opportunity for us to say, 'We're people of faith, too, and we're going to talk about what the Bible says about poverty.' When nine million children are living in poverty, that's a moral value."

Mr. Edgar and other religious leaders across the theological spectrum are trying to shift the debate. Last week, Mr. Edgar announced an ecumenical summit meeting, sponsored or supported by more than 30 religious groups, to promote world peace and the elimination of global poverty.

Evangelical organizations, whose views were often stereotyped after the election, are also seeking a broader definition of moral values. "We've let not evangelicals, but the right wing determine what moral values are," said David J. Frenchak, president of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education, a nondenominational group that helps develop urban ministry programs at 12 seminaries or divinity schools around the country.

In Chicago last weekend, Dr. Frenchak joined a gathering of 20 Christians, mostly evangelicals, to produce a book defining moral values to include a focus on poverty. At the meeting, one man held up a Bible from which he had cut every verse that addressed poverty. "There was hardly anything left," Dr. Frenchak said. "He said, 'I challenge anyone in the room to take their Bible and cut out every verse about abortion or gay marriage, and we'll compare Bibles.' "

Dr. Frenchak said he had been involved in more conversations about moral values in the past two months than ever before. "We meet to discuss how poverty got left out of the discussion of moral values. The question is, 'How do we talk about what we do as a moral value, rather than as an assumed good?' I don't think a day goes by that I don't get some communication about rethinking an understanding of moral values."

In postelection analyses, "values voters" were often equated with evangelical Christians, just as "values" were equated with opposition to abortion and gay marriage. But evangelical churches and seminaries have become increasingly mobilized around poverty both in the United States and abroad.

"This is the great secret story," said Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical who runs Sojourners magazine and Call to Renewal, a network of religious groups committed to combating poverty.

"The perception of evangelicals is that all they care about is abortion and gay marriage, but it isn't true," he said. "It hasn't been for years."

Mr. Wallis has long tried to assemble a coalition of progressive or moderate evangelicals and Roman Catholics with mainline Protestant organizations on moral issues like poverty. Though his voice has sometimes been a lonely one, his new book, "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It," enters the New York Times best-seller list this week at No. 11. Mr. Wallis, Dr. Edgar and other religious leaders, including Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, met with Democratic members of Congress to advise them on how Democrats could inject their faith and moral values into discussions of their policies, including those intended to help the poor.

"There's serious new common ground to explore on poverty, across theological and political lines," Mr. Wallis said. "Poverty is front and center, and not just among mainline Protestants, but at Fuller and Wheaton," he added, naming two of the nation's largest evangelical schools.

Glen E. Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said his students, who were largely conservative, agreed that poverty should be part of the moral values discussion.

"A lot of Christians who are worried about abortion see poverty as a pro-life issue, because if you undermine the safety net for poor mothers, you'll increase the abortion rate and infant mortality rate," Dr. Stassen said. "We've seen that happen since welfare reform, just as the Catholic bishops predicted."

Dr. Stassen, who describes himself as "pro-life," added that many evangelicals, including his students, want to change the current moral values rhetoric because they think it drives people from, rather than to, the church. "They're both offended and worried that it will persuade people concerned about justice that they should not be Christians," he said.

At Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a liberal school, students this year developed a nine-day course called the Poverty Immersion Experience to provide a practical grounding for the moral values discussion.

"How do you preach on poverty?" said Amy Gopp, one of the students who developed the course. "People rely on theological apathy -- 'The poor will always be with us' -- things that don't demand that we do anything."

On a blustery January morning, Ms. Gopp and 10 classmates piled into a rented van to meet with a group of formerly homeless people in northeast Philadelphia who had organized to protest their condition.

The intent of the course is to get students to think "beyond the soup kitchen" or charity work and consider how religious institutions can address the underlying structure of poverty, said Willie Baptist, who is a scholar-in-residence at the seminary. A community activist and organizer, Mr. Baptist had been homeless in this Philadelphia neighborhood. "We're not just crying crocodile tears about poverty or singing 'Kumbaya,' " he said. "We're making contact with an organized section of the poor that's doing something about poverty."

The students visited neighborhoods where drugs are sold on street corners. They met a woman who described her experiences living in a tent city, including bathing her children in water from a hydrant. The woman is now on the staff at the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, an organization started by poor people in the neighborhood to call attention to their plight.

For some of the students, it was their first close look at urban poverty. "I've done academic work on poverty, but here is a chance to meet poor people firsthand," said Paul Gremier, 23, who said he might use his education to become a minister, a social worker or a professor.

On the ride back to New York, Ted Pardoe, a former Wall Street executive, said the trip had given him ideas about ways to work with the poor through not-for-profit agencies. "Yesterday I was skeptical about reality tours," Mr. Pardoe said. "Now I'm not skeptical at all. Each person we met was more impressive than the one before."

There was little discussion of God or church on the trip, but lots of talk about values and responsibility. Andrea Metcalfe, who is studying to become a Lutheran minister, said she was frustrated that the issue of poverty had received so little attention in all the recent talk about values and voting. Ms. Metcalfe blamed a reticence among liberals to connect their faith publicly with their actions.

"There's this tendency for liberals to say, 'We don't want anything to do with mixing church and politics,' " Ms. Metcalfe said. As a result, she said, liberal Christians and their concerns have not entered the values debate.

Elizabeth Theoharis, a doctoral student and community activist who was leading the class with Mr. Baptist, challenged the students: "How do we move from the idea of poor people being sinners to poverty being a sin?"

That, she said, was a moral value, and the students agreed.

Government spending reflects morality

From Beth Quinn's column in the Times Herald-Record, 2/14/05:

Bush's budget reflects new low in moral values

"Budgets are moral documents, revealing our true priorities."

– Jim Wallis, "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It"

We liberals have screwed up.

You know how? We've allowed the debate about moral values to be defined by the Religious Right.

By their definition, there are only two moral issues: abortion and gay marriage. All other aspects of our society – poverty, health care, war, the environment – have been left out of the discussion.

They shouldn't be. They are all moral issues, as Jim Wallis points out in his book "God's Politics," a must-read for us all. We might even discover common ground through this brilliant theologian.

If we expand the debate about morality, as Wallis suggests, we must look at how we spend money. How is our morality reflected in our spending priorities?

Examined in that light, Bush's proposed budget is one of the most immoral documents ever produced in our nation's history. It bolsters greed even as it cuts off help for the poor, the sick, the disabled, our school children, our veterans and our elderly.

Consider the following items in Bush's budget:

A cut in food stamps for the poor by $1.1 billion over the next decade, which means hunger. Allowing people to be hungry is immoral.

The elimination of school funding in areas like gifted and talented programs, vocational education, literacy and anti-drug efforts. That's bad public policy, and it makes a lie of No Child Left Behind. Immoral.

A 50 percent cut in the rental assistance program for people with disabilities. Sorry. Letting the crippled and blind go homeless is immoral.

A freeze on funds for veterans' health care despite rising costs and the newly wounded. Breaking promises to our soldiers is immoral.

A $60 billion cut in Medicaid for the poor, which means one of two things – sick people without care or higher local taxes to offset Bush's cuts. Immoral.

A reduction of $80 million in heating subsidies for the poor, which means cold people. A lot of them are elderly. That means old, cold people. Meanwhile, the oil barons are jacking up oil prices. Immoral.

There's also the extra $81 billion Bush is planning to spend this year on his war. That's not even in the budget. It's "extra."

I'm no math genius, but I do know that when I spend money that's not part of my budget, I have to put it on a credit card. That's called a debt – or maybe it's a deficit. I don't know the difference, but it all sounds like "owing money to someone else."

And if I drop dead carrying a huge debt, I'll just be passing a major IOU on to my boys. That's immoral. I want to leave them with an inheritance, not a debt.

And I want to leave them well-tended property, not a run-down mess. Bush's plan to slash funds for the Environmental Protection Agency creates garbage for our kids to clean up. Immoral.

And then there's the moral values kicker: Greed.

At the same time Bush is turning his back on the poor, he's asking Congress to make permanent his tax breaks for the rich. The old lady in the unheated apartment next door might be eating dog food and cutting her blood pressure pills in half, but by God the multimillionaires deserve a break. They've got pools to heat, vacations to take and champagne to drink.

In the Bible, caring for the poor is the most important moral (and political) issue. Individuals as well as entire cultures are judged by how well they take care of those who can't take care of themselves. By that measure, America was once a very moral society.

Not any more. The weird, uptight Religious Right has hijacked the moral values issue, narrowing the debate to gay sex and unwanted pregnancies. And their president has hijacked the treasury for a spending plan that reflects corrupt morals and incomplete values.

It's time for the rest of us to redefine the debate.

Jesus: fact or fiction?
Finding My Religion:  Documentary argues that the biblical story of Jesus Christ is a myth
The Jesus Puzzle:  Was there no historical Jesus?
The Truth About Jesus:  Is he a myth?
Why Do We Think Christ Was White?

More on interpreting Jesus
Surveys on what Christians believe

Related links
Turning the other cheek
Prince of Peace or God of War?
Faith in free markets

Readers respond
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