With Christmas fast approaching, the time has come once more for Americans to turn our thoughts to family, friends, presents, lunar herding, and the ongoing war on everything we believe in or hold dear. Being Jewish -- it's like Christianity, but our thoughts turn additionally to moo shu and Fandango -- I took particular interest in a story that broke last week regarding a holy skirmish between ultra-conservative Christians and an ultra-conservative Jew, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus. It seems that a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, John Cook, has been leading the charge to replace Straus as Speaker due to a desire to see "a true Christian, conservative running [the Texas House]."
Naturally, I was shocked -- a Jew got elected Speaker of the Texas House?! -- but as I got further along in the story I found myself giddily anticipating Cook's inevitable disavowal of the absurd and, frankly, you know, offensive idea that he might be anything less than the all-time number one fan of the Jews. I didn't have to wait long:
"They're some of my best friends," he said of Jews, naming two friends of his. "I'm not bigoted at all; I'm not racist... My favorite person that's ever been on this earth is a Jew," he said. "How can they possibly think that if Jesus Christ is a Jew, and he's my favorite person that's ever been on this earth?"
Point Cook! Once I had finally extricated myself from his inarguable Gordian logic-knot of dialectical wonder, I got to thinking about Cook's favorite Jew, and what he might have to say about the big ol' political-media carnival we've created for ourselves here in what I'm pretty sure I heard was his home country. I thought about it again on Friday, when Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Hill Valley) engineered a stirring filibuster inveighing against the impending tax deal; Sanders, who is Jewish, castigated a chamber of eighty-five avowed Christians for the better part of nine hours on the iniquities -- both financial and moral -- inherent to the compromise. I wondered: would Christ have stood with Sanders, or would he have followed those who profess to follow him?
Justice Antonin Scalia once told me that if you want to know something for certain, you go to the text (note: this didn't actually happen). No single person has had as profound an influence on American politics as has Jesus Christ, and it seems only natural that we ought, on occasion, to examine the actual words that have apparently inspired so many of our contemporary public servants, particularly those of the conservative variety. With the help of the King James Bible, I went looking for clues as to Jesus' potential political proclivities -- a delicate venture, to be sure, but one I hoped to approach with the appropriate level of earnestness and sobriety. I have no intention of making light of anyone's religious beliefs; while my tone in this space is frequently glib, I know that the subject of Christ is one of unparalleled gravity to hundreds of millions. Without further ado, then, here's Jesus on the record.
Ye cannot serve God and mammon. -- Matthew 6:24
Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. -- Luke 12:15
Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. -- Matthew 22:21
But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed. -- Luke 14:13-14
If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. -- Matthew 19:21
Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. -- Matthew 19:23-24
Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is refusing to participate in Tulsa's annual "Holiday Parade of Lights" this year because the word "Christmas" has been removed from the celebration. He also joined the entire Republican Senate caucus in filibustering unemployment benefits, and signed onto a letter -- again with every one of his GOP colleagues -- promising to block all items of legislation unless massive tax breaks were extended for those Americans earning in excess of a quarter million dollars per year. While the Senate serves mammon, the Tea Party renders unto Caesar the finger, and Christian politicians cry "Armageddon" at the healing of the sick and "socialism" at the helping of the poor, Bernie Sanders stands alone. I don't know what Jesus would think -- he doesn't strike me as the political type -- but when I look past those hypocrites who, in his name, rail against his philosophy, when I hear the junior Senator from Vermont give voice to those who are struggling in this country, the words spring inexorably into mind: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.