I admittedly would have been actively shouting "Preach it!" at the top of my lungs had I read Jesus for President during my brief flirtation with socialism a few years ago. But recently I've been delving into a lot of economic writings and I kind of ran out of my socialism experiment almost screaming. I'm starting to learn things about economics which I wish I had known several years ago.
Even to my libertarian mind, the thought of Jesus being a socialist - an idea which I defend to this day - is one that I've always appreciated, if only for the irony value. It just brings a smile to my face hearing "God bless America" and "godless communists" knowing that the communists were in fact the ones who had it right. Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne, Chris Haw, and Ryan and Holly Sharp is an impassioned plea to start following the teachings of a dyed-in-the-wool-red Jesus. It impresses me that these four authors continue to have the wide-eyed idealism of ten thousand campaign workers for Barack Obama, but the combined intelligence of about half a rock.
These four authors have an incredible knowledge of the social and political history of the ancient Roman Empire and are able to put it into Biblical context, so there is some powerful history in here. This helps understand why some of the things written in the Bible contradict themselves. But what they know in ancient Roman history is made up for in what they don't know about many of the other subjects they try to cover. For the amount of time and research they threw into learning about the Roman Empire and explaining social and political contexts, their views on the American Empire contain all of the intricate elaboration and political contexts of your average Superman comic. It's black and white, good and evil without the slightest regard for honest history.
This really doesn't shock me because it's a common feature seen in utopian liberalism. No, the shocking thing here is the double standard clearly shown. Understand Jesus, understand Rome, but give the United States a big black blanket to cover all and get your point across? The relationships between the settlers and the slaves and the Indians are actually among the most complicated racial relationships you'll ever read about in history. They involve a lot of understanding of context, times, and the fact that all white people were in fact not slobbering barbarians who stole, pillaged, and killed just for fun. The problem with the authors' historical view of America is that it ignores enormous chunks of the historical record and is very reliant on a preposterous romanticism applied only to the races we were supposedly abusing. Like many liberals, they like to misrepresent and oversimplify the racial relationships which created this country.
At a recent discussion about a book some friends of mine and I are reading, I vented about what I see as a culture of guilt. It's an idea that we are being taught to feel guilty for not showing enough sorrow for historical sins we personally never committed. It is the idea that certain people should always walk around feeling guilty and never defend ourselves in the historical record. Anyone who tries is deemed hateful or even racist. Claiborne, Haw, and the Sharps are hell bent on taking this guilt to an extreme. Jesus for President is written, to an extent, to throw this historical burden onto others.
The authors imply that thinking differently from the way they do is criminal. They are outwardly hostile toward individualism and they blame it for many of the problems in the world today. But they fail to bring up the idea that one could have an idea for helping others which doesn't fit their idea of helping others. And this is where their hostility toward individualism proves to be extremely shortsighted. If the authors ruled the world and someone should have a disagreement about what help is, what would they do? It would be very hypocritical of them to just let them have their own ideas, since they hate individualism. Would they reeducate (read: propagate) their dissenter? That wouldn't be very Jesus-like because Jesus never forced his views on others. It would make them more like Stalin. The thing they don't understand is that not only do people have different definitions of help, but since everyone is an individual with different needs, ideas, motivations, and personalities, the people who need to be helped - whatever that means - would likely need different forms of help.
But reason and logic are useless weapons against those wielding self-righteous outrage. This is what I hated more than anything else about Jesus for President. The authors base all of their ideas on the thought of creating a utopia. A utopia may be a beautiful thought, but it is only a beautiful thought to the individual thinking of it because every individual has an individual definition of a utopia. Claiborne, Haw, and the Sharps not only take up the utopian quest, but they are basing their ideas on a magical happy land which exists only inside their heads. They are not comparing their perfect paradise to anyplace which ever did or could exist. One might argue they are comparing it to the Kingdom of God, but then you have different religions' ideas of THAT to deal with. This is why communism never worked.
Claiborne, Haw, and the Sharps try to talk utopian economics in Jesus for President. But their understanding of the most basic economics is nonexistent. They believe in a government that gives you more welfare and free health care but ask for lower taxes. Those two things actually run hand in hand with higher taxes. They believe in redistribution without caring or even knowing that redistribution would badly hurt the poor people they desperately want to help. Basic economic law says, in the blunt words of economics expert Tim Harford, that you can't make someone's economic situation better off without making someone else's worse. The authors' idealistic economic ideas are all a massive joke. They range in feasibility good-hearted but impossible to destructive. When they suggest reviving the tradition of a Biblical Jubilee every seven years - a full year in which no one works and everyone shares free consumer goods in the center of the city market and debts are all forgiven - you can't help but laugh and wonder where all these wonderful goods would come from and what would happen if they ran out. Come to think of it, they hate industrialization in general, which makes me wonder they would get all their consumer goods in their perfect little world. No one has the aptitude to makes everything he needs. Shane, Chris, Holly, Ryan: I'm starting to think God left a few lights off.
These four launch into vicious attacks against capitalism without even understanding it fully. (Read: Understanding it at all.) They hate capitalism and they make that clear. But later in the book, one describes an idealist who doesn't know what to do so he visits Palestine. There, he gets inspired and opens up a clothing company which now employs over 1000 Palestinians. This person is treated as a hero for this action. But the fact that what he did isn't new is lost on them. This is lassaiz-faire, free market capitalism in its purest, most untouched form and that fact rolls right on by the authors. Of course if they were smart enough to realize this man is a brilliantly opportunistic capitalist, they would probably launch into a rant about how imperialistic he is.
I really lost my temper when Claiborne, Haw, and the Sharps took it upon themselves to defend a terrorist. Not a guy from the middle east who was raised on anti-Americanism, mind you, but Timothy f***ing McVeigh. Why? The gist of it is because they thought McVeigh was sane for showing more remorse at the atrocities he committed in Operation Desert Storm than the average soldier who came back home and returned to his day job. I don't know if this was some kind of show of solidarity or what. But christ, there are plenty of people in the United States who committed war crimes are are silently suffering and hoping for a chance at penance. The authors chose to stand up for the guy who came home and blew up a building and more than 100 people along with it.
Okay. I'm starting to run out of gas. One of the reasons why my reaction to Jesus for President is so visceral is because the book isn't written so much as it is shouted in print. The authors don't even care to be clever or witty. They're using timeless old liberal protest slogans which you can see on many bumper stickers. "Once we're free of the yoke of global capitalism..." is in this book. "This country was built on the backs of the working class" is in here too. They seem to believe in a world where people are allowed to be lazy and are not allowed to be innovative on a big mass level. To their credit, they are actually against a large government. (This is within the behavior of Jesus too: Jesus distrusted Caesar and was very contemptuous of Herod. One of the great historical explanations of Jesus for President tells us why Jesus referring to Herod as a fox was such a shocker.) But with no force, how would they plan on bringing about their paradise? Sorry Shane, Chris, Holly, and Ryan, but you've wasted my time.
Jesus for President is a swift read because it's simple and filled with little pictures. Its 350 pages or so won't feel like it. But the authors berate you, describe an impossible utopia, oversimplify things which they clearly know nothing about, and force you to wear a burden for things you never actually did. In the book, Shane Claiborne, Chris Haw, Ryan Sharp, and Holly Sharp place a lot of footnotes at the bottom of pages. One of them says they had trouble deciding whether or not to write this book because they keep thinking of the factory workers who were involved in getting it to the masses. Well guys, in the off chance you'll ever read this, first you should know your computer was built on the backs of the working class. So you should destroy it and throw it into the fire. But before you do that, let me give you this advice: The next time you have trouble deciding whether or not to write a book because of your thoughts about the working class, don't do it.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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A radical manifesto to awaken the Christian political imagination addresses the relationship between faith and allegiance, arguing that the ultimate hope of individuals lies not in partisan political options but in Jesus and the incarnation of the peculiar politic of the church as a people "set apart" from this world. Original. 35,000 first printing. $20,000 ad/promo.