Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Catholic Reply to John Fugelsang

So there's a rant against Christians who plan to vote Republican in the presidential election this year that is making its way around the internet.  It seems to be attributed to a guy named John Fugelsang.  Here it is:

"Jesus was a guy who was a peaceful, radical, nonviolent revolutionary, who hung around with lepers, hookers, and criminals, who never spoke English, was not an American citizen, a man who was anti-capitalism, anti-wealth, anti-public prayer (YES HE WAS Matthew 6:5), anti-death penalty but never once remotely anti-gay, didn’t mention abortion, didn’t mention premarital sex, a man who never justified torture, who never called the poor ‘lazy’, who never asked a leper for a co-pay, who never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, who was a long haired, brown skinned (that’s in revelations), homeless, middle eastern Jew?  Of course, that’s only if you believe what’s actually IN the Bible.

Let's break it down from the Church's perspective:

Jesus was a guy who was a peaceful, radical, nonviolent revolutionary, who hung around with lepers, hookers, and criminals
The Church leads the way in terms of caring for the diseased (the modern lepers), prisoners, and those who have been pulled into the sex trades of our day.  The Church is for being peaceful, radical and nonviolent, and the Church is certainly revolutionary.  Violence and self-defense have long been considered different things, and so the Church has taught that it is acceptable to defend one's self and even to defend others from unjust aggression.  Jesus' admonition to "turn the other cheek" is one that doesn't mean just lay down and die - if it did, we'd all be exchanging currency with Hitler's picture on it.  Matthew 10:34: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

"[Jesus] never spoke English, was not an American citizen"
- I've never heard anyone say that he DID speak English or that he was an American citizen

"[Jesus was] a man who was anti-capitalism, anti-wealth"
Matthew 20:1 "“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a Denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard."  "Landowner" sounds capitalist.  Paying people a wage sounds capitalist.  Why would Jesus use a capitalistic setting to explain the Kingdom of Heaven if he were against it?

Again turning to Scripture (I'm beginning to wonder if it is actually Fugelsang who doesn't know what is IN the Bible) we can look at the parable of the talents.  Matthew 25: 31-46
"It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five.  He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’... Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said...out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant...Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth."

We see a) people not working are called Lazy in the Bible by a person Jesus says represents God the Father, b) we see the word "bank" in the parable - if Jesus were anti-capitalist would he use capitalism as a metaphor for His Kingdom?

in 1 Timothy (also from the Bible) we read: "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."  Note that it doesn't say "you can't have any wealth."

"[Jesus was] anti-public prayer (YES HE WAS Matthew 6:5), anti-death penalty..."  
- Jesus was not saying never pray in public he was saying if you are going to engage in private prayer don't do it publicly.  Jesus went to a synagogue often, and in the synagogue there was much public prayer that Christ would have taken part in.  Matthew 6:5 is not banning public prayer, it is banning people from drawing attention to themselves and trying to stand out by praying alone in public.

As for Christ being anti-death penalty the Church would agree for the most part, teaching that it is only justifiable in cases where the criminal poses such a threat to the safety of the community that the self-defense argument can be put into play.  John Paul II certainly felt that in the first world today, there was hardly a conceivable case where the death penalty would be needed.  As the Catechism notes: "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor" (CCC 2267). 

"[Jesus was] never once remotely anti-gay, didn’t mention abortion, didn’t mention premarital sex"
- Working backwards, no serious Biblical scholar would ever posit that Jesus was in favor of premarital sex.

There are a LOT OF THINGS Jesus never mentioned but which, given the entirety of Scripture, given the belief as Catholics that God continues to help us answer questions that arise as we move forward, we as Catholics don't need to see EVERY possible scenario described by Jesus in the Gospels.  Jeremiah talks about how God says "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you (Jer. 1:5)."  Is the word abortion mentioned there - no; does any reasonable person read Jeremiah 1:5 (and the rest of the Bible) and think Jesus supports abortion - no way.  As regards the immorality of homosexual sex, St. Paul certainly speaks strongly against homosexual sex, so I would say to our author of this little ditty we're dealing with here: "How can you talk, at the end of your ditty, about 'what's actually IN the Bible' while dismissing the Bible's consistent teaching on homosexual sex in both the Old and the New Testaments?"

Jesus didn't mention lots of things in the Gospels.  He didn't mention stockpiling nuclear weapons (the Church is still against it), Jesus doesn't mention pesticides, capitalism, communism, fascism, television, the death penalty, the internet, cell phones, global warming, the Keystone Pipeline, comic books, going to the Moon, any of the U.S. Presidents, rubber bands, CNN, Fox News, the idea that God is a trinity of three persons in one being, China, Iraq, Turkey, Antartica, 'Lil Wayne, 'Lil John, nor does he mention John Fogerty.  Some of these things are picked up as consistent themes throughout the Bible, while others are certainly implied in Christ's teachings.  Those topics that aren't obvious are granted clarity to a Catholic through the teaching of the Church through the centuries.  I admit that if one rejects the idea that God continues to give wisdom and guidance to the Church as it encounters new problems and difficulties then there are a lot of problems that surface.  If a Christian rejects that God guides the Catholic Church today, and instead believes that all we have to go back to is the Scriptures themselves, then that is a most difficult spot to be put in.  I've avoided that difficulty my whole life by remaining in the Catholic Church.

"[Jesus was] a man who never justified torture"
- Catholics agree and teach that there is never a justification for it

"[Jesus] never called the poor ‘lazy’"
As we saw above, Jesus never calls the poor lazy.  He does call those who refuse to work but could lazy, and in fact it is precisely their laziness that has them thrown into the darkness where there is wailing and grinding of teeth.  That doesn't leave much to the imagination.

"[Jesus] never asked a leper for a co-pay,"
- As Catholics we agree that no one should be denied health care and we support looking at ways to reform the health care system, we just don't think that it must necessarily involve a simultaneous annihilation of our religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.  

"[Jesus] never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes"
- Here it is important to remember that language is critical.  When you talk about tax cuts, it seems like you are assuming that it is money that is rightfully the governments.  That is a dangerous precedent because we should always use language that acknowledges that anything a person has earned does not first belong to the government but rather to the person.  I'm all for taxes, but to assume that any amount of money that a person earns actually belongs FIRST to the government is dangerous.  As soon as the government begins losing sight of the fact that "the government's money" comes from its citizenry, we are in deep trouble.

I'll end with St. Pauls words (from the Bible - 2 Corinthians 10-11):
"But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere (and pure) commitment to Christ...if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached."