Jesus Christ, the figurehead of the Christian church in all its Protestant and Catholic forms, has long been held up as an “icon” of the conservative right, according to liberal scholar Reza Aslan.
In reality, notes Aslan, he was “Bill O’Reilly’s worst nightmare.”
These comments came at a February appearance at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. Video from the event hit YouTube this week, and you can view it for yourself in full below.
But it’s worth pointing out that Aslan and many of his ilk are oversimplifying what Jesus Christ was all about. First, let’s go into what Aslan said. (Hat tip to Salon for the transcription.)
When discussing Killing Jesus, O’Reilly’s book, Aslan admitted that he’d only spoken to people who read it and read a few of the reviews, but “I understand basically he’s turned Jesus into a member of the Tea Party. Because it’s all about taxes as far as he’s concerned. That Jesus was upset about the high cost of taxes, which actually is true, and government interference, and that’s why he rebelled, and that’s why he was killed. That’s fine.”
“I will say this, though,” Aslan continues. “What fascinates me is the way that the political right in this country has sort of absorbed Jesus and made Jesus their own icon.”
“The Jesus of history is a Middle Eastern Jew who advocated free healthcare and fed the poor. That’s the nightmare of Bill O’Reilly! That’s about the exact opposite of everything Bill O’Reilly thinks.”
While I won’t speak for Bill O’Reilly — Aslan may very well be right in that assessment — it’s important to note there are some fundamental flaws in what Aslan is trying to say regarding what we know about Jesus Christ.
First, free healthcare.
If you believe the Gospels, the “free healthcare” that Jesus Christ dispensed was in the form of miracles that only he was able to do. Jesus made a personal decision to give free healthcare because he was capable of doing so, the story goes, not because he believed the government should take that responsibility on itself.
He believed the individual should help where they could because it was right, not because they were being made to by a secular state.
While it’s understandable a belief in miracles is a leap for many, it’s perhaps a bigger leap to say he expected the government to take over for the alleged Son of God after leaving earth.
As for feeding the poor, it’s more of the same.
Do it because it’s right, not because it’s mandated by a secular authority. It’s doubtful Jesus Christ would have wanted human beings to take their cues from government instead of the Creator.
In fact, he encouraged obedience to government only as far as it complied with the laws of God. And while many Christians and non-Christians alike believe that Jesus Christ came with the intention of abolishing the Old Testament law — seen as Draconian by many — it’s worth pointing out this Bible passage.
Matthew 5:17-19 — 17) “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
18) “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
19) “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
In other words, Jesus endorsed the intent behind Old Testament law. And just what did those laws have to say when it came to feeding the poor and doing for oneself?
Leviticus 23:22 — “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.”
In other words, provide for the poor, but don’t do the work for them. Leave some of the harvest unplowed, so they can do the rest.
Also, Proverbs 14:23 — “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”
Proverbs 6:6-11 — “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.”
Ecclesiastes 9:10 — “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
And from the New Testament, 2 Thessalonians 3 — “We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” (verses 7-8)
“If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (verse 10)
If Jesus Christ held these beliefs to be true — and by Gospel accounts, he did — then his views aren’t that unaligned with conservatives.
But what do you think, readers? Would Jesus Christ be considered liberal, conservative, or libertarian by today’s standards? Sound off in our comments section.