I am going to depart from the normal news-oriented political commentary on American Radio Journal and turn instead to the season — the season of Easter — which those of us of Christian faith celebrate this Sunday. What sort of politics did Jesus practice? The secular and academic world loves to portray him as a socialist. We're all familiar with his statement that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Then there's the practice of some first-century Christians to hold property in community trust and to pool resources to take care of the poor. So they claim Jesus taught the values of socialism.
I will attempt here to make the counter-argument: that Jesus was not one of the first socialists but rather that he was one the first conservatives.
Let's begin by going straight at one of the central points that the other side tries to make, when they say Jesus is a socialist: compassion. Jesus taught, and exemplified, that we should be compassionate to our neighbors. There are six instances in the Gospels of Jesus teaching his disciples to love their neighbors as themselves — which actually harkens back to a passage in Leviticus, so Jesus was saying it not only in his own authority but was also basing his teaching on the authority of the Jewish scriptures.
Then there are four similar instances in the Epistles where this teaching is reinforced. It is crystal clear in all cases that Jesus was talking about the personal attitude, and thus actions, of his listeners and followers.
Compassion is a personal emotion. It can't be delegated or outsourced to someone else. The Christian is personally responsible for loving his or her neighbor. Charity is a virtue practiced and praised by conservatives, while liberals often cite government spending and government programs as the index of compassion. In other words, Christian charity is a personal action, while liberals hold that acting charitably is properly a government function. Jesus' values and those of modern day conservatism are thus perfectly aligned.
In a similar vein, as Aaron Rodriguez wrote in the Intellectual Conservative, Jesus taught that giving ought to be voluntary, not compulsory. In Matthew 6, Jesus instructed his disciples to give to the needy in secret so one's philanthropy is not seen by others and admired, praised or memorialized. He warned them that if they displayed their charity in public, they would not receive their heavenly reward. This passage is enlightening. If the only or primary purpose of charitable giving were simply to improve the well-being of the poor, then why would it matter if such acts were in public? In fact, it could be argued that public giving could promote and produce likeminded behavior among others, which would ultimately benefit even more of the needy.
And yet, Jesus states that God would withhold His reward if they made a public display of their giving. The answer is quite clear — charity is not even primarily about the poor, it's about a willful sacrifice. As Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has documented in several of his books and articles, conservatives are the ones who actually give voluntarily and sacrificially, giving nearly four times as much as liberals. Even if you deduct all church-related giving from the reported charitable giving of religious conservatives, they still out-give liberals in supporting secular causes. Why? Because liberals support the compulsory extraction of money from others to distribute to the poor, in the form of taxes, rather than the voluntary charitable giving that Jesus and conservatives support.
But it's my friend Herman Cain who has argued most compellingly that Jesus was a conservative. Here's what Herman wrote just before last Christmas, and it seems particularly appropriate to read it again, just before Easter:
For 30 years, He learned the ways of the world without becoming of the world. He then changed the world for the better.
He led without a mandate. He taught without a script or a teleprompter. His common sense parables filled people with promise and compassion, His words forever inspiring.
He helped the poor without one government program. He healed the sick without a government health care system. He fed the hungry without food stamps. And everywhere He went, it turned into a rally, attracting large crowds, and giving them hope, encouragement and inspiration.
For three years He was unemployed, and never collected an unemployment check. Nevertheless, he completed all the work He needed to get done.
When He was arrested and taken to jail, He was not read any Miranda Rights. He was arrested for just being who He was and doing nothing wrong. And when they tried Him in court, He never said a word. He didn't have a lawyer, nor did He care about who judged Him. His judge was a higher power.
The liberal court found Him guilty of false offenses and sentenced Him to death, all because He changed the hearts and minds of men with a rag-tag army of 12.
Never before and not since has there ever been such a perfect conservative.
Thank you, Herman. Now Herman would agree that Jesus was much more than just an early proponent of conservative values — he is a savior sent from God who offers eternal life, not merely a philosophy or worldview. His sacrificial death, followed by his miraculous resurrection, give us a picture of the spiritual rebirth that he offers all who accept him as their savior. But he was most definitely no socialist. He was, in every sense, one of us.
So, on that happy note, let me wish you and yours a Happy Easter, because He is risen indeed.