December 2, 2013

Analysis: If Limbaugh and Palin don't like pope, they wouldn't like Jesus

By REZA ASLAN Special to the Washington Post

Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are starting to sour on the new pope.

click image to enlarge

In this Nov. 23 file photo, Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he arrives for an audience with healthcare workers, in the Pope Paul VI hall, at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013.

AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

In response to Pope Francis's rejection this week of the idea that trickle-down economics, "encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world," these two paragons of the far right — both of whom regularly invoke the teachings of Jesus to bolster their political views — have suddenly turned their backs on the man whose actual job description is to speak for Jesus.

Palin complained that Francis sounded "kind of liberal" in his statements decrying the growing global income equality between the rich and the poor. (She has since apologized.)

Limbaugh went one step further. "This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope," he harrumphed into his giant microphone.

Limbaugh, in his usual conspiratorial style, speculated that the pope's tirade against "widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion" must have been forced upon him by somebody else. "Somebody has either written this for [the pope] or gotten to him," he said, referring to the remarks in Francis's first apostolic exhortation outlining his thoughts.

Limbaugh is right. Somebody did get to Francis. It was Jesus.

Self-styled "defenders of Christianity," such as Palin and Limbaugh, peddle a profoundly unhistorical view of Jesus. Indeed, if you listened to those on the far right, you would think that all Jesus ever spoke about was guns and gays.

But even many modern Christians who reject the far right's perception tend to hold an inaccurate picture of the historical Jesus, viewing Him as some kind of celestial spirit with no concern for the cares of this world — a curious assertion about a man who not only lived in one of the most politically charged periods in Israel's history, but who claimed to be the promised Messiah sent to liberate the Jews from foreign occupation.

This popular view of Jesus, which I challenge in my book, has dominated Christianity since the days of the Holy Roman Empire. It is not difficult to see why. After all, if you think of Jesus as an apolitical, pacifistic preacher of good works, whose only interest was in the world to come, then you can domesticate Jesus's radical teachings and more easily accommodate Him to your political or economic agenda.

You can be Joel Olsteen, the millionaire megachurch pastor, preaching a "prosperity Gospel" that claims Jesus wants to you drive a Bentley. You can be Republican Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher, citing Jesus to denounce welfare and food stamps. You can be libertarian icon Rand Paul, appealing to Jesus's teachings to advocate ending foreign aid.

The truth is, Jesus's teachings were so revolutionary that were He to preach today what He preached 2,000 years ago, many of the preachers and politicians who claim to promote his values would be the first to call for Him to be silenced.

Jesus did not preach income equality between the rich and the poor. He preached the complete reversal of the social order, wherein the rich and the poor would switch places.

"Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be fed. Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall soon be laughing" (Luke 6:20-21).

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