The National Catholic Review

Was Jesus a small-government, free-market conservative, or a welfare-state advocating liberal? There seems to be a debate about what, if anything, the New Testament offers in terms of government policy. From NPR:

What would Jesus do with the U.S. economy?

That's a matter of fierce debate among Christians — with conservatives promoting a small-government Jesus and liberals seeing Jesus as an advocate for the poor.

After the House passed its budget last month, liberal religious leaders said the Republican plan, which lowered taxes and cut services to the poor, was an affront to the Gospel — and particularly Jesus' command to care for the poor.

Not so, says Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee. He told Christian Broadcasting Network last week that it was his Catholic faith that helped shape the budget plan. In his view, the Catholic principle of subsidiarity suggests the government should have little role in helping the poor.

"Through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities — through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community — that's how we advance the common good," Ryan said.

The best thing that government can do, he said, is get out of the way.

But Stephen Schneck, a political scientist at Catholic University, says he thinks Ryan is "completely missing the boat and not understanding the real heart, the real core, of Catholic social teaching."

Schneck says Catholicism sees everyone as part of a mystical body, serving one another. True, the New Testament does not specifically speak to the government's role. "But charities and individuals and churches can't do it all," Schneck says. "When charities are already stretched to their limit, Catholic social teaching expects the state to step up and to fill that gap."

A couple weeks ago I watched Bill Maher’s irreverent documentary Religulous, and something said by Rev. V. George Coyne, a Jesuit astronomer who formerly was head of the Vatican Observatory, stuck with me. He was speaking to the debate over creationism and evolution, and he noted that the bible was written at specific points in human history, thousands of years before any texts that would be considered part of what we now call modern science. His point: even if the bible stories offer great insight to the human condition and our relationship to God and one another, the authors never intended for them to be scientific documents.

I wonder if the same can be said about the bible relating to modern governance and economics? The bible offers invaluable insight about how we are to treat one another, but do the texts offer comprehensive models for modern governments to follow? Certainly bible scholars know better than me, but I imagine that for the early Christians, who more or less expected Christ’s second coming to be sooner rather than later, writing economic treatises was less important than proclaiming the good news of the Resurrection. Catholic Social Teaching in particular and Christian ethics in general should be an important and integral part of policy conversation, especially for those lawmakers who consider themselves Catholic, but it is never helpful for either side to claim that God is on their side.

Michael J. O’Loughlin  

Comments

J Cosgrove | 4/25/2012 - 12:40pm
For a discussion of the hypocrisy of those who shout budgets will be slashed, watch the video in the link below which discusses the baseline budgeting process and the nuttiness that happens in our government


 http://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/how-to-cut-spending-and-make-government-bigger-at-the-same-time/


For those who have witnessed criticisms of the Paul Ryan budget, realize that this budget allows the budget to increase 48% in constant dollar terms over 10 years or 3.3% a year average.  You would think we are sending the poor to debtor's prisions or gulags to see some of the commentary including people on this site.
J Cosgrove | 4/25/2012 - 9:53am
I believe that what some of us are saying is that some relgious oriented people are overly zealous in interpreting religious doctrines in specific ways that suit their personal politics and not basic religious beliefs.  Tom, myself and other believe one cannot look to specifics in the Bible on how best to proceed economically, politically, or even legally in a lot of cases.  What we see often here on this site in OP's and in comments is politics dressed up as religion.  Catholicism flows not from reason alone but through revelation, tradition and the natural law.  We can all try to sculpt the religious beliefs we espouse on many things but in the end they must sync up with these sources for our beliefs.


So finding the odd passage in the bible to support one's fancy is not a new sport.  And those committed to a particular political approach will do their best to justify it with the bible, encyclicals, common sense when in some cases there are what appear obvious contradictions.  Hence we are left to our reason to sort what is best.


And to show that I am not too low to sink to this approach, the new testament clearly portrays Christ as an admirer of investment bankers.  Just read the parable of the talents.  Oh, just a caveat.  I am not a big fan of Wall Street but absolutely love free market capitalism.
Kang Dole | 4/25/2012 - 7:01am
Well, no, Tom, it doesn't-I'm well aware of that. My point was that claiming that Jesus wants sensible discussion of economics (which is not an unloaded term for you) is just making him a puppet that mouths your own views. It may seem like a no-brainer that someone would want sensible discussion, but you can't actually take it for granted, especially with texts like the gospels. They're tough, insofar as foundational texts go. Doing so isn't any different than any other instance of someone molding Jesus into a representative of a particular set of contemporary views.
Craig McKee | 4/25/2012 - 2:22am
Luckily for us, the ''THEOLOGY of PROSPERITY as sign of GOD's PERSONAL FAVOR and POLITICAL FAVORITISM'' people have very nicely assembled and thematically arranged ALL of the pertinent Biblical references on both individual and corporate economy into one tidy little website:
http://christianpf.com/money-in-the-bible/
So to all on either side, let the PROOF-TEXTING begin/continue!

What I find most curious is that THE BIBLE has so much more to say about MONEY than it does about the currently hot button issues of CONTRACEPTION, ABORTION, HEALTHCARE, MASTURBATION, PORNOGRAPHY, HOMOSEXUALITY, and WOMEN'S ORDINATION combined! Could this possibly mean that the Bible itself is IN GRAVE DOCTRINAL ERROR (as the LCWR now stands accused of by the CDF) because it does NOT mention these things?

Memo to the Trinity:
Of course you will include all of the above-mentioned topics in your sequel, right?
Tom Maher | 4/25/2012 - 1:10am
Abe Rosenzweig # 20

The point is Abe as this post so ably points out with the quotes of Rev. Coyne the Gospel is not a scientific document.  It does not tell us anything about the management of the U.S. national economy ot U.S. finances or what the any policies of nations should be no more than it refuted Galileo's discovery of four of the planet Jupiter's moons.  

The challenge is that all people need to be aware of the basics of finance and economics.  Well intendtioned but ill-advised national spending beyond the resources of a nation will  have huge negative economic impacts  on an entire nation lasting for years as economic history shows.  But the Gospel does not have anything to say about a nations economy and how it should be run.  
Kang Dole | 4/24/2012 - 11:05pm
Sensibly? You're talking about a guy who was opposed to washing hands before dinner.

But seriously-and I think this brings this somewhat back to the original problem in this post-take another gander at the gospels. "Sensible" is not exactly the first adjective that leaps to mind when you read them, especially when it comes to whether they're a suitable guide for labor and benefits.
J Cosgrove | 4/24/2012 - 10:53pm
I believe the social security fund in now in the red on a yearly pay as you go basis.  That is yearly payments exceed revenues.  However, over the past 30 years the fund was in the black each year but the excess was spent by the government and the government gave the social security fund IOU's in terms of treasury bonds.  IOU's which will probably never be paid as social security is just another budget item which is now in the red.


So the social security fund is on paper in the black but in reality the excess does not exist because it has been spent by the feds and money must now be borrowed each year to pay for the current short falls which was moved up a few years because of the large unemployment problem and social security collection shortfalls.  It is also means that social security no longer is able to fund the current deficit.


So when people mention certain years in the future when the fund will be bankrupt, it is just fun and games to pull the wool over the people's eyes.  The money is gone and accounting games are just that, games. 


There are some things that would be prudent.  One is to cut benefits for new recipients in the future.  They are destined to receive more than current recipients in current dollars, I believe up to 40% more.  Limiting them to current benefits would help a lot but the fund is still in the red now and unlikely to ever return to the black.


However, social securituy is small change and the real problem is medical expenditures.  There is no good way to handle it and every year it is put off makes it harder to deal with.  And this is where Ryan spends more of his time looking for ways to control these costs but all Ryan gets in return is hate and disdain.  Ryan rightly points to the problem with third party payment policies and maybe this shoud be examined for real change and not just kick it down the road some more where the problem will be worse.


As bad as health care is for the future, it does not compare to the problems with those who have defined benefit plans and will demand to be paid as they live in to their high 80's or 90's with all the increased medical breakthroughs.  These pension payments are expanding dramatically each year.  I love it when people are cavalier about all these problems like there is some bottomless source of money.  In certain areas people are getting laid off because pension payments are eating up local budgets and that is real.


I have no idea where Christ would come down on this but I believe He would want us discuss it sensibly.
Tom Maher | 4/24/2012 - 10:43pm
Tom Blackburn # 10

Heads up Mr. Blackburn. Existing social program spending is ennormous and in big trouble that can not be minimized: both Social Security and Medicare are unsustaiable by trillions of dollars in their present form under current laws inclduing the new health care law.   The new York Times article titled "Social Security's Financial Health Worsens" began with the following assessment: 

      The Obama administration reported a significant deterioration in the financial outlook for Social Security on Monday, while stating that the financial condition of Medicare was stable but still unsustainable.


 
The Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2033, three years sooner than projected last year, the administration said. And Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund will be depleted in 2024, the same as last year’s estimate, it said.



“The projections in this year’s report are somewhat more pessimistic than last year’s projections,” Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said in issuing the annual report on the two programs, which together account for more than 35 percent of all federal spending.
The central message of the new report was the same as in recent years: the two programs are unsustainable without structural changes that have so far eluded Congress and the administration.
T BLACKBURN | 4/24/2012 - 4:16pm
E.Patrick #16, What has Warren Buffett to do with where Jesus would be? What does the effiency of his his kids' funds have to do with government? Government has to do the jobs that are inherently inefficient, since if the jobs could be done efficiently someone would be doing them for profit.
E.Patrick Mosman | 4/24/2012 - 4:02pm
While President Obama and the democrats advocate loudly and often the "Buffet Rule", that is, tax the wealthy to support the poor, the answer should be to quote loudly and often the following Buffett Position on the tax-free foundations he established for his family members and contributes to via Bill Gates. 
"In a 2007 CNBC interview, when asked why he shelters his money through tax-free strategies rather than writing big checks to Uncle Sam, Mr. Buffett responded: "I think that on balance the Gates Foundation, my daughter's foundation, my two sons' foundations will do a better job with lower administrative costs and better selection of beneficiaries than the government."
So Mr. Buffett thinks he and his family can put their money to better use than the government can. I guess he's really not so different from the rest of us after all. Every wage earne should be allowed to establish a Buffett style charitable foundation to which contributions would be tax free. This would eliminate the highly paid government middle men and direct the monies to charities of one's choice, not those selected by nameless,faceless bureaucrats.
  

Amy Ho-Ohn | 4/24/2012 - 3:01pm
Everybody can agree government initiatives are a rotten way to ensure universal health care. They're inefficient, bureaucratic, wasteful, expensive, complicated, easily-abused and annoying. But unfortunately, all other systems ever devised are worse. The only means ever thought up of providing a reasonable level of health care to nearly every member of a three hundred million member society is taxpayer-funded government intervention.

The only alternative to intrusive government intervention into health care markets is for a lot of people to not get health care when they need it. Anybody who thinks this is a great solution should just say so.

It is true that Medicare is probably not going to survive in its present form. But it can be made to evolve into some tolerable form by raising the eligibility age, raising taxes on taxpayers in the upper three-fifths of the income distribution, means testing non-essential care, limiting expensive end-of-life interventions and effecting widespread adoption of healthier living habits.

I would be in favor of universal, mandatory, national, daily physical education; calesthenics, weights, running, team sports. No exceptions for Cardinal Archbishops.
E.Patrick Mosman | 4/24/2012 - 2:57pm
"Again and again, liberal Catholics explicitly calls for the “redistribution” of wealth, and demands that government action show what John Paul II calls a “preference for the poor” by maintaining a safety net to protect the most vulnerable against poverty, homelessness, hunger, and poor access to health."
Does the writer propose that we no longer consider the Tenth Commandment "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods" in the rush to confiscate the neighbor's wealth for the "redistribution" theology. Is this simply  another name for 'liberation theology" using taxation rather than a gun? When will the Catholic leaders recognize that the Church is among the wealthy and many world leaders, President Obama, Hugo Chavez among the top, two have no respect for religions especially the Catholic Church and could easily call for the redistribution of its holdings, an auction at the Vatican Museum? 
The seven practices of charity toward our neighbor, based on Christ's prophecy of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:35), that will determine each person's, not presidents, politicians,  nor government bureaucrats, final destiny was taught us from the Baltimore Catechism:
    1.     Feed the hungry
    2.     Give drink to the thirsty
    3.     Clothe the naked
    4.     Shelter the homeless
    5.     Visit the sick
    6.     Visit those in prison
    7.     Bury the dead
For those who claim that Jesus was a big-government socialist provider with regard to helping those in need and reducing individuals personal responsibility to only "Love the Neighbor' and replacing it with government programs is a misreading of His message. Jesus Christ made the point "to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" with no guidelines as to how the Romans were to spend the tax monies.  
"For you will have the poor always with you" Matthew 26.11 and nowhere in the New
Testament does Jesus Christ lay the responsibility for caring for the poor, the sick the hungry or thirsty, the homeless or any oppressed people on any governmental body. He did not cite King Herod, the priests of the temple, the local politicians or the Roman powers as the source of Charity. He made it an individual responsibility time after time in His sermons, in His parables and in His own acts. The Good Samaritan was not an example of "Love thy neighbor" because he stopped at the inn to make a 911 call but because he acted, providing aid, comfort and financial assistance to his neighbor. Jesus Christ's teachings cannot be used be used to support states becoming the major or only source of charitable acts.

Is it the role of government to be the essential and probably soon the only source of Charity as the Obama administration and other presidential candidates offer plans to reduce the tax credits for charitable contributions for those who provide the most: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/the-war-on-philanthropy-15190

This would have a serious impact on the financial ability of all religious affiliated charities to carry out their good works.
When does confiscatory tax rates in the guise of 'for the common good' on wage earners who already provide 90%+ of all incomes tax revenues become a challenge to the ability of religious and non-government charitable organizations to carry out their own charitable functions? 47 percent of all wage earners pay no income tax and are already recipients of considerable welfare in the guise of tax credits and the untold number of government programs, both federal and State. It appears that the Catholic Church and other religious groups do not even recognize that Obama plans to reduce or eliminate religious organizations and non-government groups, from their historic roles and replace them with socialistic government run programs.
All one need do is to observe the complete and total failure of total government control in communist and socialist countries of caring for their poor. Why any thinking person would advocate inflicting government as the major or sole giver of help to our poor is beyond belief.
Kang Dole | 4/24/2012 - 2:51pm
Well, hell, Tom, what do you expect when you teach that a guy who went around saying, "Consider the lillies in the field..." is God? Fiduciary sensibility? Sane planning for a sensible tomorrow? Not bloody likely.
Arnold Richardson | 4/24/2012 - 2:45pm
Tom Maher #11,

I doubt many believe the government should use all its resources and beyond in providing social services.  But if the Church is correct in promoting the preferential option for the poor, it follows that Catholic taxpayers would hope some of their taxes should contribute to that promotion. And it's not just many Catholics who think the poor need a helping hand.  There are many people of faith and no faith, who think this way.  It isn't a question of all or nothing, but a question of how much government should contribute.
T BLACKBURN | 4/24/2012 - 2:20pm
@ Tom Maher. You need a better grasp of what the trustees are talking about before you go around saying that Social Security and/or Medicare "will go bankrupt" or face "predicted bankruptcies" at any specific date. The trustees' estimates are based on current trends. The year at which outgo will exceed income for each of those programs has been moved up since last year not because the program has changed or because Democrats did something really stupid while Republicans control the House, but because the economy did not improve by as much as the trustees thought it would when they made their projections last year. The year will move back next year if the economy improves more than the trustees expect it to this year.

To help you a little further: 1) Any trend (at all) if projected far enough into the future will result in disaster. 2) If the national growth rate were 8 percent, say, which China has achieved in recent years, we would not be talking aboout problems with Social Security or Medicare. 3) Any problems with Social Security or Medicare can be fixed by congressional tweaking or, in emergencies (which seem to be the only things that can get Congress to act) by major overhaul. Bankruptcy is not only not precisely predictable and not inevitable, it is not likely.
Arnold Richardson | 4/24/2012 - 1:44pm
OK. Back to basics. When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain replied "Am I my brother's keeper?"  God didn't answer him. because the answer is obvious.  The Church has put the answer into practise and proclaimed a 'preferential option for the poor'.  Considering that there is a political dimension to almost every human activity, and considering the complexities of life on our rapidly changing planet, does being 'our brother's keeper' mean expecting him to pull himself up by his own bootstraps, when he has neither boots nor straps?  Does Jesus approve of such insensitivity?  Tell, say, the unfortunates in Haiti to get out of poverty by their own efforts. They are trying, but the odds against success are overwhelming. Their only help now comes from NGOs.  But NGO help, however successful and heartwarming, is insufficient. It is obvious to many NGOs that governments must play a large part in relieving poverty by providing social services. That means poverty relief at home as well as abroad. Government has an obligation to be proactive and not merely to watch from the sidelines.
Tom Maher | 4/24/2012 - 1:44pm
The Trustees of the  federal Social Security  and Medicare Trust funds gave their annual report to Congress yesterday.  Their actuarial report states that both Socail Security and Medicare will go bankrupt in the next two decades due to radical demographic changes in the  U.S. population where many more retired people will be living mmany decades longer than ever before. 

These predicted bankruptcies do not include the huge and growing loses due to waste, fraud and abuse of both Social Security and Medicare.  For example the Obama administration estimate Medicare loses 500 billion dollars to waste,fraud and abuse - that is a half trillion dollars out of our approximately 15 trillion dollar economy.  

Medicare bankrupcy is now 2024 supposedly pushed back from 2019 by the new healthcare reforms law that aims to correct in total the the 500 billion dollars annually loses of Medicare due to waste, fraud and abuse.

Social Security is scheduled to go bankrupt in 2033.  It also has massive and growing claims against it for fraudulent diability claims.  In some areas of the country it has become an art form to claim total disability while holding down a full time job with unreported income.  

One women on C-SPAN this morning had an easy solution to the problem.  She thought more taxes on the rich and a 10% tax on all churches would solve everything.  She reaseoned both groups had more money.  She had her own "fair share" utilitarian theology where governemnt programs are the highest possible moral good that everyone else should be subordinate to and serve.  The Pharoah was more ieniente with his slave in his pyramid building projects. 

People just do not have any conept of how ineffiecent, wasteful;l and poorly designed  governement initiatives typically are.  This is why the Societ Union and its satillites, the ultimate in unlimited government,  so massively failed economically and politically.  But people maintain the infantile view that government is all-wise, able without limit or question.  This is more than a debate.  Beleive in unlimited government power itself is a reliigion where government programs are uncritically favored and sought after as a solution to everything above private expertise and effort.
Daniel Bridon | 4/24/2012 - 11:15am
''For role models, the Church proposes saints to us. And one of the really consistent things one can't help noticing about the saints is that they were very quick to offer needy people assistance, not overly concerned that the assistance might be misused, and not very confident in the omnipotent benevolence of free market economics.''

Concur.  I would add that the Church is not very confident in the omnipotent benevolence of socialist government nanny state economics either...
Thomas McCullough | 4/24/2012 - 8:50am
I like the liberal agenda because I am not a good peson. I feel relieved by the inastitutioal servicing of the poor as it relieves me of being a chrstian, which, behaviourally, I am not. My blessings on those of you who are.

I am not writing satire.
Thomas Farrell | 4/24/2012 - 8:36am
Without knowing it, Michael J. O'Loughlin has in effect raised a question that I have been thinking about for many years now. As a result, I'd like to share my observations and reflections with you here.
 
What, if anything, would the historical Jesus do?
 
The historical Jesus proclaimed an exciting message to his fellow Jews in the ancient Jewish homeland. His proclamation as recorded in ancient Greek in the Christian scriptures is usually rendered in English as the kingdom of God. However, years ago, I learned from the biblical scholar David M. Stanley, S.J., that the Greek words can accurately be rendered in English as the reign of God. So the historical Jesus’s proclamation that the reign of God is here, is as true for us today as it was for him in his day.
 
The historical Jesus was not proclaiming that God would somehow rule politically – as a king might rule politically, for example. Jesus was not proclaiming the political rule by God had come to the Jewish homeland.
 
Instead, Jesus was proclaiming that the non-political rule by God had come to his fellow Jews in the Jewish homeland in his time – and God’s non-political rule is still available to all people around the world today.
 
Nor was the historical Jesus proclaiming that he himself should be the warrior-king to bring about God’s rule in the Jewish homeland, with himself as the ruler of the government. The historical Jesus was not proclaiming himself to be the long expected Jewish messiah, the warrior/king of the Jews. For understandable reasons, the Roman empire had a zero-tolerance policy for would-be kings. But nothing has come down to us that would support the claim that the historical Jesus was a political revolutionary. On the contrary, he was not political. For an excellent examination of the execution of Jesus, see Paula Fredriksen’s book JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS (1999).
 
I repeat, the historical Jesus was non-political. He was not proclaiming a political message. In plain English, he was not suggesting how God would rule a political government. On the contrary, he was suggesting that God’s style of ruling human persons is not political – it’s non-political.
 
But what could this possibly mean? It means that when God reigns, as it were, over our hearts and minds, then God rules, as it were, over us. In effect, God is inside us, inside our hearts and minds, and God thus influences us from the inside. So when we have learned how to understand the two great commandments of the Mosaic law, we then have an inner experience of the Mosaic law. And our inner experience of the Mosaic law can be understood as the reign or rule of God inside us, inside our hearts and minds.
 
The two great commandments of the Mosaic law can be found in Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord, our one God; and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (REB). Leviticus 19:18 says, “you must love your neighbor as yourself” (REB). Also see Mark 12:28-34; Matthew 22:34-40; and Luke 10:25-28. For a fine discussion of the inner experience of political law, as distinct from the Mosaic law, see David Granfield’s book THE INNER EXPERIENCE OF THE LAW: A JURISPRUDENCE OF SUBJECTIVITY (1988).

I should point out that the pre-philosophic thought-world in ancient Greece was dominated by the Homeric epics. Homer was the teacher of Greece. Eric A. Havelock has studied the imagistic thought-world of the Homeric epics in detail in his fine book PREFACE TO PLATO (1963) and elsewhere. I would borrow Havelock’s terminology and characterize the pre-philosophic thought-world in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible as an imagistic thought-world.
 
When the historical Jesus expressed his excitement about his experience of the reign of God, he used the imagistic language of parable. The biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan undertakes to explore the imagistic thought-world of the Christian Bible in his ambitious and important new book THE POWER OF PARABLE: HOW FICTION BY JESUS BECAME FICTION ABOUT JESUS (2012).
 
In the four canonical gospels, Jesus is portrayed as using parables. So Crossan examines parables in detail, especially those attributed to Jesus – the fiction by Jesus mentioned in the subtitle of Crossan’s book. The fiction about Jesus mentioned in the subtitle refers primarily to the four canonical gospels. To be sure, the four canonical gospels are based on the historical Jesus and contain passing references to certain other historical persons and events. Nevertheless, the anonymous authors of the four canonical gospels were writing historical fiction, fiction based on certain historical persons and events. Crossan moves from characterizing as parables the fictions that Jesus used in teaching to characterizing as megaparables the four fictions known as the four canonical gospels. In a word, each of the four canonical gospels is a parable in spirit, or parabolic. As Crossan cleverly puts it, each canonical gospel is parabolic history or historical parable.
 
Like many other early followers of Jesus after his death, the anonymous author of the Gospel of Mark is preoccupied with the servant songs in the book of Isaiah (specifically in the part of the book that critical biblical scholars refer to as Second Isaiah, a prophet whose identity is not known). For the four servant songs, see Isaiah (1) 42:1-11; (2) 49:1-6; (3) 50:4-11; and (4) 52:13-53:12. As a result, the author is fashioning Jesus-the-hero to be a servant of God in an exemplary way. To be a servant of God is a great honorific in the Hebrew Bible.
 
The author of the gospel of Mark is straightforward enough to put the following words on the lips of Jesus to clue us in: “[W]hoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10: 43-44; quoted from Crossan, page 162). This is a remarkably straightforward expression of the author’s understanding of Jesus as servant of God.
 
Now, let’s back up and consider the entire passage that Crossan quotes from Mark 10: 42-44: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
 
Now, to this day, the rulers in political governments can be understood to rule over or lord over the governed, regardless of the kind of government that is involved. Thus the author of the Gospel of Mark implies that Jesus was not referring to a political government. It would be an enormous idealization to imagine a political government in which the rulers are somehow the servants of all the governed. I’ll be happy to see each elected or appointed member of the ruling class (i.e., the governing class of people) do his or her assigned job to the best of his or her ability.
 
No, the author does not seem to be imagining an institutional structure of any kind, idealized or not. Instead, the author appears to me to be spelling out through these words placed on the lips of Jesus how in the author’s view Jesus’s followers should proceed to regard one another with respect to recognizing merit and conferring prestige and honor and admiration within the group.
 
This kind of orientation toward serving others opens the way for considering political friendships and for considering networking and for considering how mentors should also become sponsors and benefactors. These relationships are not relationships that are governed by political laws.
 
However, in addition to these various ways in which we can use our freedom to help enhance the lives of others and in the process enhance our own lives, there will be formal institutions and formal roles within those institutions, which are the kinds of things that are properly governed by political laws. As I say, I’ll be happy to see each person perform his or her own elected or assigned role to the best of his or her ability. Nevertheless, I would point out that people who see themselves as would-be servants of God would probably carry out their assigned roles in the spirit of service.
 
So that’s the biblical theory about servants of God. In practice, what does this servant-of-God biblical theory look like? In practice, in person, it’s I-thou communication, to use Martin Buber’s term.
 
In terms of the kind of thought-world that we refer to as Western philosophy, the servant-of-God biblical theory informs deontological moral theory.
Stanley Kopacz | 4/24/2012 - 4:34am
Over the last thirty years, neoliberals have been given everything they want, one thing after another.  Look where we are now, look where we're going.  And they want more and more.  The government Ryan wants will only be weaker in representing the interests of the majority and consolidate the powers of the oligarchy to a frightening degree.  As for subsidiarity, total hypocrisy.  Look at the recent fracking bill passed by the repub legislature in PA and signed by Governer Corbett.  It takes away the power of local municipalities to regulate these extractive and environmentally destructive procedures.  This country will either continue with an oligarchic choke hold on our government, economy, media, resources, or we will figure it out.  I'm not even sure that a return to New Deal controls will be enough.  They will just do it all over again.  
J Cosgrove | 4/23/2012 - 11:33pm
I will ask my oft unanswered question.  Is something socially just if it hurts the poor?


One of the things that liberals seem to universally ignore is that there may be an alternative to their line of thinking that may be better for society and the poor in particular.  If Mr. O'Loughlin wants a dialogue then that would be welcomed.  We have seen that the current economic malaise is certainly hurting the poor and maybe we should engage in open and in a non contentious way, what is best for all.  I have read the Catholic definition of subsidiarity and agree with Mr. Ryan, that Republican policies are in sync with it.


As an aside Mr. O'Loughlin, Fr. Coyne is not the best one to look to for a thorough understanding of the evolution debate.  There is much more besides the young earth creationism/literal translation of the bible that is central to the truth there.
Tom Maher | 4/24/2012 - 2:25pm
Arnold Richardson # 9

There it is again.  Unlimited resources. umlimited control over all resources and unlimited power to redistribute resources on whim.   A frictionless world without effort, cost or competing demands for resources.  No need to set priorities.  Only will something and it will be accomplished.  We only have to be willing to make it everything happen. No skill, care or design is needed that we do not create other problems.  People really think that government is a means of creating paridise on earth.  No problem too large or complex for governnemnt.  Just hryt gobvernemnt to write a check We can always barrow more money from the Chinese.   There is no such thing as a national debt limit beyond which a country goes bankrupt.  
Amy Ho-Ohn | 4/24/2012 - 9:43am
Christ does not seem to have been overly concerned with human rights, even as they were understood in the first century. In all his recorded homilies, he never once mentions slavery, torture, gladiatorial games, genocide or human sacrifice, all of which were fairly widespread in his earthly milieu.

Should we conclude he had no objection to slavery, torture, gladiatorial games, genocide or human sacrifice? No, of course not. We conclude he thought Moses and the prophets had been sufficiently clear on those points and concentrated instead on accomplishing his supernatural mission (the redemption of mankind.)

The second person of the Blessed Trinity is not a very useful role model for mortal humans. Jesus spent a lot of time performing miracles and berating people who didn't accept his message. Most humans are not good at miracles and non-infallible in our utterances.

For role models, the Church proposes saints to us. And one of the really consistent things one can't help noticing about the saints is that they were very quick to offer needy people assistance, not overly concerned that the assistance might be misused, and not very confident in the omnipotent benevolence of free market economics.
T BLACKBURN | 4/24/2012 - 7:38am
Jesus will be on - and at - God's side, His right hand to be metaphorically precise. What He said and did should inform everything we say and do. The simple concept of enlisting Him on our side, or conceding Him to the other - which is how NPR (and others) set up the scenario - is ridiculous.

I can twist Catholic teaching to support almost anything I want to do. But having twisted it to support what I want to do, what have I done to what Jesus wanted me to do? The question, really, isn't whose side Jesus is on. It's whose side we are on. Even the devil can quote Catholic social teachings.