The Perfect Messiah

I have zero tolerance for people who attempt to turn Jesus into some sort of secular political leader in order to further their own political agenda.  It’s reprehensible when done by social justice types on the religious left, and equally reprehensible when done by social conservatives.  So it saddened me to see this blog journal on Red State written by presidential aspirant Herman Cain titled “The Perfect Conservative.”  I’ll give you three guesses as to who he is talking about, and the first two don’t count.  Here’s a taste of his post:

He was not born into a royal family, but He left a royal impression on the world.

For 30 years, He learned the ways of the world without becoming of the world. He then changed the world for the better.

He led without a mandate. He taught without a script. His common sense parables filled people with promise and compassion, His words forever inspiring.

He never condemned what others believed – just sin, evil and corruption.

He helped the poor without one government program. He healed the sick without a government health care system. He feed the hungry without food stamps. And everywhere He went, it turned into a rally, attracting large crowds, and giving them hope, encouragement and inspiration.

For three years He was unemployed, and never collected an unemployment check. Nevertheless, he completed all the work He needed to get done. He didn’t travel by private jet. He walked and sailed, and sometimes traveled on a donkey.

But they made Him walk when He was arrested and taken to jail, and no, He was not read any Miranda Rights. He was arrested for just being who He was and doing nothing wrong. And when they tried Him in court, He never said a mumbling word.

He didn’t have a lawyer, nor did He care about who judged Him.
His judge was a higher power.

The liberal court found Him guilty of false offences and sentenced Him to death, all because He changed the hearts and minds of men with an army of 12.

The last point seems particularly odd.  Did the Sanhedrin cite penumbras and emanations in order to convict Jesus and hand him over to Pilate?

One defense of Cain in the comments is that he’s reacting to the left’s categorization of Jesus as some sort of Marxist revolutionary (like the idiotic New Stateman piece mentioned in the above link).  I think the appropriate reaction to that attitude is mockery, not mimicry.  Besides, to even engage in the game of “Was Jesus a conservative or a liberal” is to completely miss the point of Christ’s ministry.

Now, sentiments like those expressed by this commenter in reaction to Cain’s journal are also absurd.  We cannot divorce religious ideals from our political discourse.  Of course our religious faith should inform our political choices.  But when we debate how to put our faith into practice, let’s avoid the trap of putting Jesus into some ideological bubble.

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Dante alighieri


  1. Jesus was infinitely above our mundane political battles as he demonstrated by not saying a word about the Roman occupation of Judeae, the “hotbutton” issue of His day. Attempts to put Jesus in a political box are always wrong-headed if not blapshemous.

  2. Agree, Paul, that the commentator’s narrow, secular view woefully misses the point of our Blessed Lord’s divinity, which no human can adequate capture in words.
    There is so much to take issue with, but why bother debating such points, consider the source — a politician simply trying to exploit “the greatest story ever told” for his own selfish purposes.

    Bishop Sheen, in his excellent “Life of Christ,” sums up what Christ means by True Freedom:
    1. Political freedom from Caesar was not primary.
    2. True Freedom was spiritual and meant liberation from sin.
    3. To acquire this Freedom for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, He would submit Himself voluntarily as a ransom for sin.

    Jesus said no one took His life; rather He laid it down voluntarily.

    I also agree with Mr. McClarey’s salient point that “attempts to put Jesus into a political box” are doomed to failure, as are descriptions of His human and divine nature, which eternally remain a mystery. Which is one more books have been written about Christ than anyone in history.

    As Christmas nears, I hereby post a poem by Anderson M. Scruggs on its True Meaning:


    How can they honor Him — the humble lad
    Whose feet struck paths of beauty through the earth —
    With all the drunken revelry, the mad
    Barter of goods that marks His day of Birth?

    How can they honor Him with flame and din,
    Whose soul was peaceful as a moon-swept sea,
    Whose thoughts were someber with the world’s great sin
    Even while He trod the hill to Calvary?

    I think if Jesus should return and see
    This hollow blasphemy, this day of horror,
    The heart that languished in Gethsemane
    Would know again as great and deep a sorrow,
    And He who charmed the troubled waves to sleep
    With deathless words — would kneel and weep.

  3. OTOH: One day conservatives/lebertarians may come to understand that “eating our children” is not a winning strategy. Maybe when we’re squatting over a trash fire trying to keep warm while we starve . . .

    The forces of evil do not “eat their children.” That’s how we came to have Obama wreck our country . . .

  4. While Jesus is no liberal or conservative, he was, and is, certainly political. It is a mistake — a mistake that caused the disaster of secular humanism — to separate the body from the soul, the person from the community, and mercy from justice. Salvation does not occur to individuals, but to persons living in communion — a communion marked by not only love, but justice.

    Salvation, then, must include the political and social realms. And these realms were addressed with wisdom and force by Jesus in the Gospels. The most revolutionary of these teachings, what Pope Benedict called “the nucleus of the Christian revolution” is his teaching on the real nature of love — “Love your enemies”.

    By making love something private, spiritual, and merely devotional, by stripping love of its political force — a force that moves not merely mountains, but Empires and Civilizations — we turn Jesus into a figment of our own imaginations.

    Indeed, putting the Gospel into political action is a hard problem. Thank God for the Church and its Social Doctrine. I suggest every purchase and read (twice) a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, as well as reading Pope Benedict’s Spe Salvi a few times.

    Peace and blessings to you all as we head into Christmas!

  5. How is the restoration of the King’s rightful authority anything other but conservative? How is an ethic which leads naturally to people working with their hands to earn their daily bread anything but conservative? Large parts of our faith have been hijacked by people who would, if they were given their way, actually kill off the human species and bring an un-redeemed end to as many people as possible. Perhaps it was in poor taste for Cain to do this, but it wasn’t wrong in matters of fact.

  6. Nate, where in this do you see the suggestion that we privatize the Gospels? Or the idea that we ought to “separate the body from the soul, the person from the community, and mercy from justice”?

  7. What a silly post. I mean the original one being quoted here. “The liberal court”? Really?

    There’s a great deal of validity to the argument that a Christian society should have a minimal state, and that left-wing social engineering destroys the soul and the Christian faith. But that doesn’t make Christianity automatically “conservative” either. Conservatism is for us fallen and flawed humans. It’s not a divine institution.

  8. Zach,

    When we say, as Paul did, that “our religious faith should inform our political choices,” then we’re going in the direction of eventually saying, as Donald did, that “Jesus was infinitely above our mundane political battles” — this is a narrowing of the Gospel to saving individuals rather than redeeming the person who can only exist in community.

    Pope Benedict in Spe Salvi describes this situation well:

    “16. How could the idea have developed that Jesus’s message is narrowly individualistic and aimed only at each person singly? How did we arrive at this interpretation of the “salvation of the soul” as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?”

    On separating the body from the soul, it is an old gnostic tendency — to degrade creation itself as fatally flawed, as even the creation of an evil deity, and to propose liberation from the body as the key to salvation. In such a scenario, earthly politics is a diversion and red-herring, if not an outright obstacle to salvation. And so mercy becomes an individual route to salvation, rather than the key to justice on earth.

  9. I don’t see how my comments even remotely come close to “narrowing the Gospel.” It’s a twisting of words to transform them into some abstract definition so that Nate can come in and say I’m contradicting the Pope, when clearly I am not. There is nothing “individualistic” in suggesting that our religious faith should inform our political choices – in fact it’s quite the opposite. If we are truly inspired by Christ’s ministry then we can make our polity conform to the heavenly ideal. All I’ve said in this post is that transforming Christ into some kind of ideological leftist or rightist, and especially using modern conceptions of the terms, is itself narrowing and, as has been suggested by others, fairly blasphemous.

  10. Paul, I didn’t say that you contradicted the Pope, only that your words were “going in the direction” of narrowing the Gospel. For example, do you believe that forgiving “seventy times seven” has any place in a criminal justice system?

  11. The liberal court found Him guilty of false offences and sentenced Him to death

    I thought “liberal” courts were against the death penalty?

  12. Paul? I’m assuming that your response will be similar to Art’s, but I might be wrong, and if so, please take no offense.

    Forgiving seventy times seven has a place at the heart of any system of justice, for as the Church teaches, there is “no justice without forgiveness” and without forgiveness, justice “betrays itself” (see JPII’s ‘Rich in Mercy’ and his many World Day of Peace messages). The grave injustices inflicting our world will continue until Christ is put at the center of the social institutions that are responsible for addressing injustice.

    Restorative Justice, as a political proposal, comes closest (although with many secular problems) to the type of politics that flows from the Gospel:


    If the mercy of Christ is excluded from governance, and limited to individual action rather than social relationships, then the Gospel has been narrowed.

  13. Nate, have you considered that perhaps the way towards mercy and establishing the love of Christ in the world is at least partially through retributive justice?

  14. Paul, I have given it a fair deal of thought. I’m interested in how you would define retributive justice, both in principle and in practice. Some thoughts:

    Cardinal Dulles wrote about the Death Penalty in First Things, and presented a good definition of retributive justice, I think: “Just retribution . . . seeks to establish the right order of things,” which is actually simply a restatement of the definition of justice itself — the right order of things. It seems to me that ‘retributive’ justice is not really a category of justice, but a proposed way of arriving at justice — through a tit-for-tat, an eye for an eye, a balancing of the scales.

    It is quite interesting, however, that Cardinal Dulles offers this explanation for retributive justice: “guilt calls for punishment . . . sin calls for the deprivation of some good.” What is strange, however, is that while St. Paul speaks of the death as the “wages” of sin — sin as being inherently itself a deprivation or disorder of good — retributive justice seems to assume that sin does not automatically or inherently cause a deprivation of good. Rather, an external act must ensure that an eye is taken for an eye, that death follows sin. And so Cardinal Dulles notes: “Retribution by the State can only be a symbolic anticipation of God’s perfect justice.”

    This is quite a statement! We live in a world where evil seems, contrary to our theology and contrary to our scripture, to flourish without consequence. The wages of sin is death, but murderers and mass-murderers live to a ripe old age while the innocent die in their cribs (if not wombs). So where is God’s justice? Surely sin deserves death! But where is death? And so men go one step further and say not only that sin causes death, but that sin ‘calls’ for death. And so in an effort to fulfill this ‘call’, humans ‘symbolically’ enact God’s justice through their laws, courts, prisons, and executions.

    And yet injustice continues, grows, and the scales do not balance, but become worse.

    Is it possible that sin does not ‘call’ for death, but that sin is death itself?

    My conclusion, and I believe it is the Church’s conclusion, is that the punishment for sin is sin itself, for sin does not exist — sin itself is a disorder, a deprivation. The punishment, for example, of homosexuality is . . . homosexuality itself. The punishment of murder is . . . being a murderer. With homosexuality and murder comes broken relationships, hatreds, psychosis, and all kinds of evils. Justice does not require more evils to be heaped upon homosexuals and murderers. Justice, if the form of Christ, does the opposite — it seeks out the lost, corrects them, forgives them, heals them, and lifts the burden of evil from their shoulders.

    So then, the modern Church teaches that punishment serves two purposes: defending society and correcting the sinner. It no longer mentions retribution, and if it does (as in Cardinal Dulles’ case), it only does so by mentioning its ‘symbolic’ nature.

  15. Nate, a concrete example. Several years ago I was involved in a custody fight between a mother and a father regarding a little girl and an infant boy. The parents had never been married. After two years of court hearings the mother was awarded custody and the father was granted liberal visitation. Over Thanksgiving visitation in 2002, the father shot to death the little girl who was 6 and the little boy who was three. It was his way of reversing the custody decision. For good measure he also shot to death his live in girl friend. He dumped the bodies of the little children in a river. A nation-wide man hunt ensued. After he was apprehended he refused to say where the children were, other than that “they are in a better place.” The mother spent an agonizing three weeks suspended between hope and despair before the body of her son was recovered by a fisherman. The next day, after a massive search, her daughter’s body was also found in the river. The father was sentenced to life imprisonment. As you view Christ’s admonition to forgive seventy times seven, what impact, if any, should that statement have on the penalty assessed by the law for this triple murder?

  16. That is quite horrific, Donald, and very evil. I don’t think I’m well qualified, or informed enough, to give concrete . . . what would it even be? Advice? Suggestions? But some thoughts?

    In this case, I think the man poses a clear danger to others, and society needs to be protected from him until he finds redemption and healing — a process that may not be finished on earth, especially considering that his time in the American criminal justice system may not be conducive to conversion and penance.

    The impact that Christ’s admonition would, or should, have, is in making the American criminal justice system conducive to conversion, penance, and mutual forgiveness — leading eventually to a ‘new man’ capable of living in community.

  17. Forgiving seventy times seven has a place at the heart of any system of justice, for as the Church teaches, there is “no justice without forgiveness” and without forgiveness, justice “betrays itself” (see JPII’s ‘Rich in Mercy’ and his many World Day of Peace messages).

    Forgiving ‘seventy times seven’ has a place in human relations generally. However, when you are making public policy, you have to ask whether the procedure you follow is ‘scalable’. With regard to what is done to practice mercy – which is to say the refinement of justice to adapt to very particular circumstances – it is likely not. You add a great deal of discretionary authority to the practice of criminal justice and you will not get mercy, you will get California ca. 1977. Court systems are cleavers, not scalpels.

  18. “The impact that Christ’s admonition would, or should, have, is in making the American criminal justice system conducive to conversion, penance, and mutual forgiveness — leading eventually to a ‘new man’ capable of living in community.”

    Rehabilitation is enshrined in most of the penal codes of most states Nate, along with punishment. Rehabilitation in my experience works rather well for people who commit misdemeanors. For most people a one time experience with the criminal justice system, not to mention paying the fee of their defense attorney, is all they need to be on the straight and narrow. The question is more difficult for people convicted of serious crimes, felonies. Often times these people are enmeshed in a life where criminal activity is fairly constant. Efforts are undertaken to rehabilitate them, however. The female prison in my village of Dwight has a wonderful program with the inmates training guide dogs that has had good results. The ministerial association here is active in helping the inmates in the prison and reminding them that they are not forgotten. However, my experience does indicate that with some criminals the best that be hoped for is that they are locked up securely so that they cannot hurt others. It is hard to strike a balance between justice and mercy but the law does try, usually with the type of mixed results that all efforts of fallen man tend to produce.

  19. Everybody (except ignorant, knuckle-dragging neanderthals like Sarah Palin and me) knows the perfect messiah is Barracks Obama.

  20. The ministerial association here is active in helping the inmates in the prison and reminding them that they are not forgotten.

    Appropriate for a charitable fellowship whose particular concern is straightening out convicts. Rather more problematic when conducted by state employees on salary. Also problematic is state employees (e.g. parole boards) offering benefits to convicts (e.g. early release) based on speculative judgments (about their inner life or about what they are likely to do in the future). Might suggest that the task of prison and jail wardens is to be one component of a chain of practices which render the relationship between acts and consequences as predictable as possible, and the task of the Church and the congregations to persuade convicts to behave better.

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