The Conservative, the Liberal, the One in the Middle

A tumultuous 2016 draws to a close. An uncertain 2017 lies ahead. Time to consider where we’ve been and where we may be going from the vantage point of the three who have defined this political year – radical conservative Donald Trump, the old liberal Bernie Sanders, and the one in the middle – the defeated presumptive front-runner Hillary Clinton.

And introduce three who define the religio-poltico shape of a much earlier era that still resonates today – conservative James brother to Jesus  of Nazareth, liberal Saul of Tarsus, and the war-horse in the middle – St. Peter of Capernaum.

What’s the Comparison?

Comparing three characters of biblical proportion with the trio that have dominated the political headlines of the last couple of years may seem a bit odd – perhaps forced. Bear with me and consider:

  • Of the leaders of the early Christian movement, Jesus’ brother James was a Johnny come lately. James criticizes his brother’s earthly ministry, yet somehow mysteriously ascends to leadership of the Jerusalem church as carefully alluded to by Luke the writer of the Acts of the Apostles. As later recounted by the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus, James climbed his way into but was then murdered by the establishment aristocracy. Mr. Trump similarly came out of nowhere to overturn the establishment of his party and the political correctness of the two coasts. A wealthy and privileged New Yorker, he yet remains an outsider scrapping his way to anointing as leader of the yet dominant nation on the globe. One difference: James fell to his antagonists while Donald (so far) has prevailed.
  • Yes, Paul was the liberal of his era – breaking the new found Christian movement free of its Jewish moorings. With a message that appealed to a Roman world hungry for authentic rather than tired and ineffectual spirituality. And like his modern counterpart Bernie Sanders, Paul pulled no punches – even advocating that those troublesome followers of James and Peter castrate themselves. The difference is that Paul’s message of a universal Christianity prevailed while Bernie’s socialist crusade has foundered – at least for now.
  • Then we have the front-runners who choked before getting to the finish line – tripping over flaws too big to ignore. As Jesus’ lead disciple, we know about Peter’s impetuous behavior – such as cutting off the ear of an officer come to arrest Jesus. There may have been worse – witness the demise of Ananias and Sapphira at the hands of Peter as the first leader of the post-resurrection church. In the fourth century, church leader John Chrysostom was forced to deny rumors that Peter may have had an active hand at least one of these deaths. While Hillary Clinton may not seem to be so openly brash, think throwing dishes at Bill Clinton over Monica and other trailer trash . Think Whitewater, conducting national business on a personal server, or maybe Vince Foster. Unending, whispered and not-so-whispered rumors.

Definitions

Before going further, it’s time to define the terms of engagement. Webster’s dictionary offers the following definitions for the terms liberal and conservative:

  • Liberal – “one who is open-minded or not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional, or established forms or ways …”
  • Conservative – “believing in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society …”

In short, the conservative is ever glancing in the rear-view mirror; the liberal looks and acts forward. 

So, What are the Take-Aways?

At first blush, there is no apparent rhyme or reason to the determination of whether the conservative, liberal or one in the middle will prevail. Fate seems so fickle, blown about by the moods of the moment combined with the quirks of the respective lead personalities:

  • The reactionary movement of the Donald has carried the day today – although the much earlier conservatism of James lost out despite the familial connection with the anointed one – the Savior.
  • The liberalizing and liberating New Testament theology of Saul (renamed Paul) prevailed because it played to the interests of the Roman populace for a more believable deity than the shopworn gods of the Greeks and Romans. Two millennia later, Bernie’s socialist ideals would play well to millennials feeling betrayed by their elders – but not enough to carry the day (at least not yet).
  • The losers then and now were the middle of the road types – a Peter who vacillated between adhering to Judaism versus opening to Gentiles and a Hillary who has wavered on issues ranging from global trade to support and then opposition to the Iraq war.
  • In ascendant periods, middle of the road types represent continuity combined with the aura of all boats rising together. Think Peter as lead disciple during Jesus’ ministry continuing forward for awhile as leader of the pack once his master had departed the earthly scene. In the U.S., think Eisenhower as the victorious WWII general leading a homogeneous nation during the period of American ascendancy in the 1950s. Or consider Hillary’s precursor in husband Bill as the New Democrat in the wake of the post-Soviet 1990s.

But in uncertain and troubled times, the mood swings to more extreme options. The only question is whether the populist conservative or liberal plays better to the temper of our times. For Christianity, liberality won out because it played to a much larger market – the whole Roman empire, not just one isolated province. In 2016, the reactionary (but not fully traditional) conservative solution won out because the populace found itself betrayed by the patronizing liberalism of two Obama administrations. As many working class Americans and millennials have perceived. the emperor is wearing no clothes.

In the End, Liberalism Wins

Does the example of Paul or that of Mr. Trump better represent likely long-term outcomes? For all of the arrogance and independent of any theological truth, the Pauls of this world always win out in the end. Inclusion beats parochial self-interest. Serving the common good is better politics than propping up the cultural and economic elites. And despite twists and turns along the way, the world of today is better than that of renaissance Europe,the Greco-Roman empires or even earlier civilizations whether on the scale of the Egyptians or nomadic tribes from Africa to the Americas.

For better or worse, there are two reasons why liberals inevitably beat out their more conservative counterparts:

  • The first reason is empirical. Despite jarring cyclical swings between liberality and retrenchment, the long-term march is upward – toward the ever-beckoning city on a hill. The world is a better place to live today than at any time in recorded human history. And so long as we survive our own suicidal tendencies, life 100 years from now will be even better than today.
  • The second reason is spiritual. The divine embodies the discordant mix of mercy and judgment. Individually and culturally, we are responsible for our actions. But in the end, mercy trumps judgment. And as Jesus would say: “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

If this view is correct, President-elect Trump’s victory may be short-lived. For us conservatives, now is the time for some thorough house-cleaning. Whether or not Mr. Trump is the man for the job remains to be seen.

Without fail, liberalism will live to again carry the day. This will happen when liberals regroup to again embrace rather than patronize the needs, the preferences, the aspirations of all humanity – not just the imperatives of like minded elites.

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For additional information, even insights, on jesustheheresy, check out the full web site at: http://www.jesustheheresy.com

Jesus vs Trump – On Trade (Part 2)

In the wake of the November election, I wrote that President-elect Trump’s opposition to free global trade was not only bad economics but downright immoral. Looking back to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the case is made that if The Donald is to define neighborly based on America first (to the exclusion or detriment of our extended neighbor network), then he’s missed the point of what the Christ advocated.

The message of Jesus is clear. Eternity belongs to the neighborly – even when it may cost to be neighborly. And in the end, squeezing our global neighbors will prove counterproductive. The road kill we pass by will inevitably include our own.

In this sequel to the earlier blog, a counterargument is made from another event during Jesus’ ministry. That counterclaim is that Jesus argued that taking care of your own comes before taking care of the alien, the other. Is Jesus contradicting himself? Or How are these two seemingly opposed viewpoints to be reconciled? And what practical advice can be drawn for application to the steps that Mr. Trump may take upon inauguration.

And was asked in the first installment of this blog discussion, the question is posed: What would Jesus say about being pro- or anti-trade? 

Jesus A Racist?

For a different perspective on how the Christ – the anointed one – might react we look not to a parable but to perhaps the most perplexing encounter that Jesus has with a stranger as recorded in the Christian New Testament. As recounted by the gospels of Matthew and Mark, this is Jesus’ encounter with a Gentile woman from the non-Jewish area of Tyre and Sidon (in present day Lebanon). Jesus deliberately left communities in the Galilee with Jewish population to venture into less familiar Gentile territory. He finds and enters a house where he could be incognito. But alas, his whereabouts are soon discovered – by a women desperate to find a cure for her demon possessed daughter.

The exchange that then unfolds between the male rabbi and the female foreigner is nothing short of astounding:

  • The Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.
  • Jesus doesn’t answer – but ignores this foreigner, this alien.
  • Jesus’ disciples pile on, urging Jesus to “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”
  • Then to make sure the welcome mat is withdrawn, Jesus for once supports the logic of his disciples, saying: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
    Implication: Preferred access to God’s kingdom is for the Jewish population to the exclusion of all others.
  • The woman tries again, calling out to him: “Lord, help us.”
  • At this point, the Savior of the universe comes across as more than a little bit perturbed, answering: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Meaning little bitches, or at best little puppies. The debate over what Jesus meant rages down over 20 centuries. What we do know is that dogs were not man’s best friend in Jewish culture – but were low on the animal pecking order. As the Proverbs say, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, So a fool repeats his folly.”
  • In today’s world, Jesus remark would be taken as blatantly racist, certainly not politically correct. But this alien woman holds her ground, bypasses the insult, and responds with even a bit of good humor: “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
  • She has the better of the exchange and Jesus caves: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed “that very hour.”

So, What Does this Have to do with Donald Trump & Global Trade?

Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus Christ – or Donald Trump. Do you see much difference?

  • Both demean the foreigner
  • Both espouse taking care of the people at home first
  • Both deliberatly insult the one(s) who come across as their adversary
  • Both engage in what at least appears to be racist rhetoric
  • And both are engaged in no holds barred negotiation.

Jesus makes a 180° turn, yielding to the woman’s better reasoned case. The Donald has shown, in some cases, similar flexibility (witness his bromances with Dr. Ben Carson, maybe even Mitt Romney). Could he cave on trade as well?

And the Moral of the Story Is …

Put aside the apparent put-downs, the seeming racism, the disingenuous baiting of the audience, the blatant inequity of parochialism. Admittedly, these are thorny moral questions. But morality may be irrelevant to outcome.

What is on display with Jesus  and Mr. Trump is the willingness, the seeming reckless abandon, to push for resolution that would not have been possible without an adversarial encounter.

And What does this Mean for the Global Community?

Based on the parable of the Good Samaritan,  I have argued that President-elect Trump’s opposition to free global trade is not only bad economics but downright immoral. How is the example of the caring Good Samaritan to be reconciled with the image of a grasping Canaanite woman and her belligerent all-powerful adversary?

The answer comes down to the distinction between free trade and fair trade:

  • The example of the Good Samaritan speaks loudly for free trade – a world where every nation, every person is our neighbor.
  • The example of the Canaanite woman speaks volumes for fair trade – if you’re going to get, you have to give.

So, it is for Mr. Trump. Uphold the global community. Reward those who can do more for less – for improved standard of living and reduced environmental footprint.

Concurrently, push without ceasing for exchange that recognizes the full cost versus benefit for all transacting parties.

And if it all involves a bit of hard-edged politics along the way, so be it.

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Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician (Canaanite) Woman (Matthew 15:21-28, NKJV)

Then Jesus went out from there (around the Sea of Galilee) and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”

But He answered her not a word.

And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”

But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

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For the first installment (Part 1) of Jesus vs. Trump on Trade, click: https://jesustheheresy.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/jesus-vs-trump-on-trade

And for additional information and insights on jesustheheresy, check out our full web site at: http://www.jesustheheresy.com