How would Jesus vote? Would he vote at all?

I see my latest posting has, much to my surprise, provoked a theological discussion. OK, I’ll jump in, and regret it later.

I just wish both sides would stop trying to enlist Jesus for their party platforms.

Jesus was pretty much indifferent to government, and for good reason. If he had been walking the Earth as a man today, he might have been more interested in politics than he was. In our representative democracy, we expect government to reflect our values, and then we fight over what those values should be. There is therefore room in the political arena for the kinds of things Jesus spoke of. But as a first-century Jew, the government he knew was about raw, exploitative power (the same thing libertarians think it’s about today, but they’re delusional), and it had no intention of bowing to the values of Judea or any other part of the empire. The Roman system was a plunder economy. There was no chance that any taxes one paid would ever be used to benefit you and your community. Yet despite that, he said go ahead and pay your taxes. He was sort of saying, if that’s Caesar’s trip, go along with it so he’ll leave you alone. But give God his due, which is something else altogether.

As for capitalism — well, I’ve always been struck by the way his parables seemed to uphold capitalist values. And that still challenges me, because he was totally against anyone being acquisitive. If you have two coats, give one away — that doesn’t sound like an affirmation of a consumer society to me. And yet the servant who buried his master’s money to keep it safe was castigated because he didn’t go out and risk it in an effort to make a profit. The servants who played the market were the good guys in the parable, but the one who refused to be a capitalist was the bad guy. (Of course, maybe his master wouldn’t have been so mad at him if he hadn’t indulged in all that Marxist rhetoric, calling the master an exploiter of the workers and such. That was sort of imprudent of him.)

So really, whether you think Jesus would have been for or against an activist government, or pro or con on capitalism, you can find something in the Gospels to support (or undermine) your conclusion. This might make Jesus seem contradictory, to the modern mind. But the thing was (I believe), he just didn’t care about the kinds of things we argue about in the public sphere today. If some Simon Zealot from either end of today’s political spectrum could sit down and try to enlist Him in the cause, I think he’d shrug and change the conversation to what HE deems to be important.

This is why, as a Catholic, I can’t root for either side in the political wars. I don’t think Jesus would, either. He would care about certain issues, standing up for justice and mercy, but he wouldn’t join a side. Both parties hold positions that are inimical to all that Rabbi Jesus taught.

21 thoughts on “How would Jesus vote? Would he vote at all?

  1. David

    Brad, The best bet for this thread is to let it pass as quickly as possible. When religion is introduced into a policy argument, no one will ever respond in a rational manner. And yes, I agree, you can find scripture to support almost any course of action.

  2. Mike C

    We’ve managed to politicize everything, even the Boy Scouts. Christ’s message was one of personal salvation, not about what tribe you belonged to or what family you were born into. One attains salvation through one’s own efforts, not based on group membership.
    Which reminds me of the inane question: “What would Jesus drive?”
    The answer is clear from scripture.

  3. Mark Whittington

    OK Brad,

    I’ll make a challenge. I’ll write an op-ed on why Jesus’ teachings are wholly antithetical to capitalism if you write a piece in opposition. Are you up to it?

  4. Brad Warthen

    I’m with Mike on that last point. Mark, I don’t think you read what I wrote very carefully. If I wanted a point-counterpoint on Jesus and capitalism for the op-ed page, I could write both of them myself. I don’t have a side in this, because both sides are both supportable yet flawed.

    Personally, I tend to believe that Jesus was anti-materialistic — which means he would not approve of either capitalism or Marxism, since both arise from a materialistic view of the world, or what Pope John Paul II criticised as "economism."

    Of course, even that interpretation could be disputed. Jesus did seem to enjoy eating and drinking as the guest of people who could afford to set a good table. The author of Rabbi Jesus emphasizes that he was seen by many contemporaries as a glutton and a drunkard. (He even asserts that he was rather paunchy as a result, which I think is going kind of far, but modern authors always have to put their own stamp on much-traveled ground.) And to Judas’ dismay, he didn’t mind being anointed with expensive oils by Mary, the sister of Lazarus.

    Ultimately, it’s hard to say definitively that Jesus was or was not "materialistic," in a narrow sense. That’s the problem with trying to label him using the inadequacy of human language. Basically, he believed we shouldn’t worry about material things, and that we should be generous with them to the point of putting other people’s needs at least as high as our own.

    And in the end, we must remember that God’s ways are not our ways, and his understanding is infinitely beyond ours. That was Judas’ problem: He had a humanistic view of the ethics of charity, rather than one based in the mysteries of faith.

  5. Mark Whittington


    So, this is your analysis? One may hardly believe that you take the Gospels seriously. Jesus repeatedly made rock-solid statements against greed (enlightened self-interest) and usury (the basis of capitalism-investment is a form of usury). Jesus also preached against hierarchy, and hence undemocratic government.

    Undoubtedly, you are a master of equivocation, yet there is no legitimate contest between capitalism and socialism here. The evidence for a system of governance based on the Gospels, in modern parlance, so overwhelmingly supports something akin to what we now call Democratic Socialism, that to say otherwise is absurd. Jesus in fact did fight a political battle with the professional middle-class (the Pharisees) of his day as well as with the wealthy Sadducees. Over and over again, Jesus pointed to the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, greed, and love of privilege. Jesus was a champion of the poor and downtrodden despite the Pharisees’ incorrect belief that the plight of the poor was of poor people’s own making.

    Jesus not only spoke to us on a personal level, but his mass appeal should lead us to collective action. If we as individuals love God with our hearts, souls, and minds, and if we love our brothers as ourselves, then democracy will surely follow. We should give to our brothers through our own volition-and yes that includes in the collective, governmental sense. By serving our fellow man, we serve God. Any society that does not follow Jesus’ core teachings is in no sense Christian, and any system, regardless of Locke or Adam Smith or whoever, that does not follow Christ’s teachings is not an order worth being called Christian.

  6. Mike C

    Mark –
    Thank you! I love the idea of voluntary taxation that you espouse: “We should give to our brothers through our own volition-and yes that includes in the collective, governmental sense.”
    Is sales tax also voluntary under your reading, or just property and income taxes?

  7. Steve

    Would love to hear a conservative spin
    on Jesus’ sermon on the mount…
    Or on aligning a true Christ-like attitude with supporting the war in Iraq…
    It’s impossible to be a successful
    politician and a Christian at the same
    time. The closest we’ve come to it
    on the highest levels was Jimmy Carter.
    His Christianity both during and after
    serving as President has been mocked
    by “conservatives” as weakness.

  8. Mike C

    Steve –
    If you want to make it political, it’s obvious that conservatives relish the Sermon on the Mount because it provides a guide to good, wholesome, and holy behavior to make it to heaven. It’s a guide for the ideal Christian life wherein one is motivated by an internal sense of righteousness, not by what others may think of them. It underscores the concept of personal responsibility, something conservatives make a big deal about. It celebrates marriage as sacred and binding,
    But that does not make it either conservative or liberal, it was not meant to be political, but personal.
    As for Jimmy Carter, that folks did not care for him had nothing to do with his faith, but with his leadership ability, management style, and personality.

  9. David

    Steve – You really have a strange perception of Christians and politicians. The list is too long to list but to name a few we have Lincoln, Reagan, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Bush 41 and 43, Carroll Campbell, and Truman. These were all eminently successful politicians who were also Christians. Carter’s poor performance as a president had almost nothing to do with his Christianity. In that I agree with Mike C that his downfall was that he was a micro-manager of the worst sort. The man had no concept of delegation.

    As for the Sermon on the Mount, conservatives accept personal responsibility as a foremost principle. That says it all.

    Mark – How could Jesus (God) preach against hierarchy when he had Moses create the world’s first known organizational structure? Scripture also explicity points out that the husband is the head of the household. Oh yes, the liberal left has tried to pervert that to be that a female can now be the husband, but that is a whole different topic. Anyway, there are many references to hierarchy in scripture as I see it, including master and slave.

  10. Steve

    There’s a difference between saying you’re a Christian and behaving like one. Rather than list politicians who claimed to be Christians, how about listing the political decisions they made that demonstrated their beliefs. I remain firm in my belief that you cannot be a good politician and a good Christian because the set of behaviors for one is mutually exclusive to the other.
    Politics is based on compromise, wielding
    power, us versus them, spinning, patronage, and the all important dollar.
    Also, selecting “personal responsibility”
    as the foundation of the Sermon on the Mount is convenient but leaves out a whole lot that doesn’t match the conservative
    Blessed are the peacemakers,
    For they shall be called sons of God.
    (Maybe Rumsfeld and Cheney missed that
    But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. (Reagan was an adulterer according to Jesus)
    Turn the other cheek. (Unless the other
    guy is a “liberal”, then hit him twice
    as hard)
    Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Unless your name is
    For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Halliburton?)
    I’d encourage you to read the Sermon
    on the Mount and then see if all the
    tenets apply to conservatism. If each
    one doesn’t apply, then they all do not.
    It’s not a pick and choose belief system.

  11. Mike C

    Steve –
    Sheesh! And they call me judgmental!
    Just because peacemakers are blessed doesn’t mean that the war-mongers are cursed. Heck, my folks named me after Michael the Archangel; lots of human saints were handy with a sword, like Joan.
    My point is that it’s really tough to judge others, that’s the role of whoever is at the center of your religion. We may think we know what motivates folks, what’s really in their hearts, but we’re just guessing most of the time.
    I find your attempt to besmirch conservatives annoying. So some conservatives are divorced, some don’t turn cheeks, some are big in the love of mammon: that says nothing about whether all the tenets apply to conservatism, let alone liberalism or Jacobinism. If you’re implying that conservatives are evil, that’s as idiotic as saying that liberals are evil.
    You are of course entitled to your opinion, but I find your view that politicians can’t be good and decent folks pessimistic and depressing. Don’t get me wrong, I hold politicians as a class in no high esteem, but there are good folks who seek elective office because they believe in a civic obligation as well as spiritual obligations.

  12. Laurin

    Nice to be missed. 🙂 I haven’t been around largely for 2 reasons:
    1. I’ve been a little preoccupied with trying to keep from failing out of law school
    AND, more importantly,
    2. I’ve really regretted some of the comments I’ve made on here in moments of less-than-solid judgment (those moments arise frequently inside the head of Yours Truly). Particularly re: the piece you did on Will Folks’ Op-Ed. Will and I have gotten to be good friends as a result of my attack of him published on my site and the unkind remarks I made on here. I learned a hard lesson about the need to watch what I say, particularly regarding things that are none of my business and things I don’t have all the facts on.
    With that said, I still plan to have a little fun and stir a few pots in the blogosphere. 🙂

  13. Laurin

    Sure is. Every time I looked at my “referring URLs,” my stomach would churn when I saw another Google search for the “Will Folks’ Op-Ed ReMix.” That’s not the kind of thing I want people thinking my site is all about. Since I published it, I’ve maintained about twice the number of daily hits than before, but if I could undo ever publishing it, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

  14. Mike C

    Laurin –
    Sorry to butt in, but it’s good to see humor and good manners on the net. I sincerely hope learning your lesson wasn’t too dreadful, but it sounds like you had the wonderful opportunity to correct your excess in person. Good for you.
    Now if other folks in this neck of the woods could adopt some civility, we’d all have more fun.
    Good luck in law school.

  15. Laurin

    Thanks, Mike! Yep, a blessing did come of the whole thing in that I stumbled into a friendship with an interesting, challenging guy.
    Computers should come with warnings concerning how easy it is to become a monster behind one. I find myself saying things I would *never* say to someone in person!

  16. Mike C

    Laurin –
    Those of us who seek to convince try to stay cool whether in person or via correspondence. We are confident in our beliefs, careful with our facts, and considerate in how we phrase our interrogatories. For example, we don’t ask, “What are you smoking?” Instead we lead with, “I may have misunderstood your point; do you mean to say that all rich people should be murdered, or only some?”
    That doesn’t mean that one should refrain from the occasional outrageous statements, a tool that can be used to elicit an unscripted response from an adversary in an attempt to discover what the argument really is. Parody is a wonderful device in searching for truth, but be careful of irony, it’s often misunderstood. Just on Brad’s blog I’ve been called a racist, an anti-Semite, a guy who’s never performed hard labor, and so forth. I guess I should count my blessings since they’ve never mentioned my paucity of hair and prominence of paunch. Yet.
    What folks need to keep in mind is that there’s a whole bunch of Big Brothers on the Internet – Google, Teoma, Yahoo, heck, even Lycos is still around. They constantly record the tracks folks leave on blogs, whether as authors or commenters, enabling interested parties to find out what simple folks like you and I have posted in the past.
    Many of the trolls who post anonymously don’t realize that savvy website operators like Charles Johnson can and will track their IP addresses just to keep an eye on them and their disruptions.
    But the bottom line is that there are really very few folks in the whole wide world who are truly worthy of knowing what I as an individual think of them: those I love and those that I admire. The rest either won’t care or won’t pay attention.
    There are a few prominent folks with whom I’ve corresponded. With two in particular I simply emailed that I appreciated their work and their courage in pursuing what’s obviously true and important, despite the condemnations that are directed their way daily, and that I realized that at times they must feel discouraged, but that they should carry on with the knowledge that there were folks who appreciated their sacrifice.
    In both cases I got timely replies expressing gratitude and the thought that I’d made their day. That’s what life is all about.

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