Garry Gets It Right

Or half right, at least. From Garry Wills's April 9 op-ed in the NYT:

Jesus brought no political message or program. This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea.

Wills reminds Democrats (and welfare-state Republicans) about a basic difference between private persons and the state:

The state cannot indulge in self-sacrifice. If it is to treat the poor well, it must do so on grounds of justice, appealing to arguments that will convince people who are not followers of Jesus or of any other religion. The norms of justice will fall short of the demands of love that Jesus imposes. A Christian may adopt just political measures from his or her own motive of love, but that is not the argument that will define justice for state purposes.

As for Jesus himself,

He was never that thing that all politicians wish to be esteemed — respectable. At various times in the Gospels, Jesus is called a devil, the devil's agent, irreligious, unclean, a mocker of Jewish law, a drunkard, a glutton, a promoter of immorality.

The institutional Jesus of the Republicans has no similarity to the Gospel figure. Neither will any institutional Jesus of the Democrats.

I can't recommend Wills's What Jesus Meant at all, though.  About the most I can say in its favor is that it makes me want to read Wills's Why I Am a Catholic, since in reading the book's attacks on institutional Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular one certainly has to wonder why Wills's still calls himself a Catholic.

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