General Question

Poser's avatar

Was/Is Jesus a liberal?

Asked by Poser (7784 points ) February 21st, 2008

Sparked by a previous question. Based upon what you believe of his life and teaching; (<—Hi Gail!) were they more in sync with today’s liberalism, or conservatism? Why?

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36 Answers

cwilbur's avatar

I don’t think He’d have been in sync with any school of American mainstream political thought.

Look at what He taught: charity, compassion, loving your neighbor as yourself, turning the other cheek. Look at what He did: spoke the truth as He saw it to those in power, even though it resulted in His crucifixion. I don’t see these traits anywhere in the American political landscape.

VoodooLogic's avatar

He would be a political radical and, in my opinion, would be imprisoned in Guantanamo. But, I believe He lives on through members of the church who aren’t necessarily represented by conservatives.

Mangus's avatar

I’d echo the first two responses. I think the notion that “Jesus was a liberal” comes from the annoying liberal tendency to associate liberal with “good” and non-liberal or conservative perspectives with “evil”. The sentiment is really just trying to say “liberals are Good”. It’s a simplistic and pedantic worldview. (note that I’m not coming at this from the right, but from further to the left on the spectrum than American liberalism).

soundedfury's avatar

@Magnus – I don’t think it’s about the good vs evil thing at all. Jesus was quite clearly economically and socially liberal, especially in the ways he argued for the redistribution of wealth and forgiveness of transgressions.

This question is very vague to me. Are we talking politically, economically or socially? Are we talking on a worldwide perspective or strictly within the United States?

Poser's avatar

@soundedfury—Any of the above. You say he was clearly economically and socially liberal. What led you to those beliefs?

Mangus's avatar

I’m interested in soundedfury’s response to Poser’s question. Also, I think soundedfury’s comment about vagueness gets to the heart of things. It is a vague statement, as is the liberal claim to “goodness”.

Jesus was not a liberal. Liberalism (in the US) is the political perspective that holds that capitalism is a reasonable (or flawed, but the best we’ve got) system, and that progressive change can curb the system’s worst excesses, with some redistribution of wealth and government oversight to prevent the worst abuses. Liberals are by definition capitalists (adherents, not necessarily wielders of capital).

I have NEVER heard a quote or sentiment attributed to Jesus that would suggest support for an economic and social system based on property ownership, wage labor and extreme inequalities of wealth.

pope52's avatar

Obviously, this is a question rife with potential for flamewars.

Jesus is a tricky character to box into a party-scheme. He appears pro-social justice, but anti-sin. The trick is arbitrating between the two.

soundedfury's avatar

In a broader view, one that does not confine itself to strictly American systems, social liberalism focuses on the dissolution of class structure, while economic liberalism looks towards a radical redistribution of wealth. Can you argue that Jesus did not stand for these things?

Mark 10:21 – “And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor”

Mark 10:25 – “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.”

Luke 14:13 – “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind”

In Matthew 25:31–46 Jesus paints a picture of judgement in which there are 2 groups, sheep and goats. The sheep, who clothed and fed the poor, were welcomed. The goats, who did nothing for the poor, were cast aside.

There are more, but these clearly point towards a more communal approach in which individual wealth is discouraged and the well-being of the group is encouraged – a redistribution of wealth based on need rather than ability.

As for his social policies, he associated with the lowest members of the caste structure. In Mark 2:16 he was chastised for eating with sinners. He healed on the Sabbath. He broke with tradition and established norms, going so far as to viciously denounce the Pharisees. His actions showed an utter disregard for social structure, and disregard is a form of personal dissolution.

It seems that the only structure he was content to leave be was the political one. In Matthew 22:21 he states the infamous “render unto Caesar,” which has been interpreted as a division between the personal/religious and the state.

This is the opinion, at least, that I formed back when I was studying the synoptic gospels. It also discounts entirely John, which is highly stylized and likely written around 100–110 AD, and any of the remaining books of the New Testament. I’m just focusing on the 3 books that are considered more historical.

Poser's avatar

@soundedfury—Great points. I’ve always been of the impression, however, that Jesus’ numerous appeals to give liberally to the poor were not so much for the benefit of the receiver as the giver. The man whom he instructed to give all he had to the poor, for instance, was seeking eternal life. The very next verse speaks more to the heart of the matter than just helping the poor: “But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Just a few verses later, in Mark 10:24 he says, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!” I wonder how many liberals in government, whose solution to social problems is to throw (other people’s) money at them, would agree with Jesus on this issue.

The “sinners” with whom Jesus ate in Mark 2:16 were government tax collectors; poor in spirit, not in wallet.

I suppose my question was awfully vague. I guess I was wondering, in your opinions, which philosophy—liberalism or conservatism—more closely aligns with Jesus teachings, and on what do you base that belief? Granted, Jesus was most certainly not speaking in a political sense, being more concerned with saving individual souls. But assuming that there are liberals and conservatives who strongly believe in their respective philosophies’ ability to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number, which one is closer to what Jesus taught?

soundedfury's avatar

The appeals to give liberally to the poor may be to benefit the giver, but it has the same economic result as any other reason. It’s no different than saying redistributing wealth because it benefits humanity. The reason for the benefit isn’t particularly important from a purely economic standpoint.

My point with Mark 2:16 is that he’s breaking social classes through the act of eating with the tax collectors. But I want to correct that tax collectors were not anywhere near wealthy. They took their wage from the taxes they collected, but they had to pay Rome first. If they were unable to collect fully, which was often the case, they had to first pay Rome in full before they could draw a wage.

From a very personal standpoint, I think that the question isn’t fair. It’s impossible to judge Jesus (or any historical figure) in a modern context. For his time period, he seems to be liberal and radical, but he does so within a certain conservative framework in that it’s not an attempt to change the political structure, but instead change the social structure. In modern times, we tend to believe that change in one is impossible without change in the other.

Besides, Jesus wasn’t particularly concerned with the most good for the most people. He looked at much more personal, micro scale.

The question is like asking if Jefferson was a racist. By the standards of today, yes, he was a racist, but by the standards of his day he was among the more enlightened in regards to race relations.

gooch's avatar

No Jesus would be neither liberal or conservative. I do not think he could support gay marriage or abortion as do most liberals nor could he be a self-promoting person and supporter of double standards as most conservatives. Jesus would be an Independant as far as political affiliation who would probally not vote in the end due to views that he could not support

segdeha's avatar

Jesus was liberal, but not a Liberal.

gailcalled's avatar

HI, Poser. I offer no opinions on religious beliefs, biblical study or theology in general, EVER. And I really know bubkis about the accurate depiction of the historical Jesus. But thanks for the greetings; at this point I wouldn’t dare even define “liberal.”

Poser's avatar

@gailcalled—Nice semicolon.

gailcalled's avatar

@poser: Laughing too hard to write. Thx.

pattyb's avatar

If mankind truly followed his teachings or intentions, there would be NO political parties or agendas.

cwilbur's avatar

But Jesus wasn’t about a radical distribution of wealth or the elimination of class systems for their own sake—He was teaching that wealth was unnecessary and relevant in the greater scheme of things only because having a great deal of it was a distraction from important things. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Much the same applies to class systems—He wasn’t teaching that class systems needed to be abolished, but that they were unimportant in this life in the face of much greater issues.

In other words, I don’t think either “conservative” or “liberal” politics align themselves with what Jesus taught was important. It’s not about “the greatest (Earthly) good for the greatest number”; it’s about salvation, which is freely available to all, and which is a greater thing than anything temporal politics can accomplish. I think both sides, and all sides, are going to have a great deal to account for, in the context of “what you do to the least of these, you do to Me also.”

nerfmissile's avatar

If what the man said was true, then think of where he’s coming from. His perspective isn’t going to be rooted in the political contrivances of some barbaric backwater planet on the verge of self-annihilation, like ours. I think his ideology could be much more closely typed as “Universal” than “Liberal” or “Conservative”. as mentioned above, liberals believe in fixing problems via artifice : tweaking systems via affirmative action, busing, taxation in favor of perceived victims—many of which are no longer victims. Conservatives believe that the ultra-rich are a precious minority to be given tax breaks, and that there is no need for sustainability because the global ecology will take care of itself and the bottom line is more important anyway.

Universalists or intelligence coming from an older, wiser perspective? Learn to forget yourself and your own ego, and improving the happiness of others becomes your happiness. Act to help the universe and the universe acts to help you. Kindness and love are of paramount importance… none of the artifices of social engineering or tax cuts for the wealthy can or will solve the problems that need to be solved.

How sad that all of our elites seem to conspire in missing the point because they think that bigger yacht, that line of coke or that extra medal or title will make them happy. Their lack of imagination is destroying the world.

nerfmissile's avatar

One of the reasons I find the message of Christ so compelling is that it appears to be universal in nature. It’s like a force of Nature… simple, elegant, immortal… and horribly abused and misapplied by humans who feel the need to objectify, dissociate, persecute, stratify and fling poo in order to feel special.

trainerboy's avatar

Only the self appointed righteous woudl pretend to have a clue as to whether or not Jesus was a liberal or conservative.

steelmarket's avatar

To His followers, as well as the established authorities of the day, Jesus was a radical. He changed lives (still does – changed mine big-time!), which often brings about discomfort (even good changes), shifts in focus and values. One day, as He was teaching, His good Jewish family came around to take him home because He was, in their perspective, acting crazy.

allengreen's avatar

If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people—their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties— if that is what you mean by a “Liberal,” then I believe Jesus was a liberal.

winblowzxp's avatar

I don’t think that Christ was pro-choice. Since most liberals are pro-choice, no, Christ wouldn’t be a liberal.

gailcalled's avatar

He also had no opinions on segregated drinking fountains, the death penalty, seat belt laws, Botox, reality TV, hedge funds or why socks get lost in the laundry.

aidje's avatar

@gailcalled
I know you’re joking, but what you’re saying isn’t entirely true. We know that he wouldn’t have been a fan of segregated drinking fountains, because he once went up to a well and asked a Samaritan, a prostitute, a woman to draw water for him, and even sat down and talked with her. Three taboos, right there.

He also once stopped the death penalty from being carried out, even though everyone knew that the accused was guilty and that the law demanded death (though it may be a stretch to extrapolate that out to the entirety of the issue).
—-
As for the main question at hand, I don’t think Jesus fits in those categories. Heck, even I don’t fit in such shallow categories.

thegodfather's avatar

It really depends on whether you accept Jesus as divine or as just a man. If Jesus is divine, then categorizing him would be inappropriate because we would necessarily, as mortal human beings, be of a lower class than he. It would be like a slug trying to define what it means to be human, and what one human being thinks about politics. If we are discussing Jesus as a non-divine human being, then it certainly requires analyzing his teachings and statements and measuring them up against the thinking of his time, which I suspect would be much too difficult to accomplish here.

Also, the work of categorizing philosophers, etc., is something that is so heavily debated, or at least debatable, that you’re probably best in reading the source material yourself, reading some opinions out there, and then making as objective and sound a judgment as you can. I recommend reading the four gospels and looking for direct statements from Jesus himself, not necessarily what others have to say about him, and using this as a starting point, but there are certainly a number of ways of tackling this question.

susanc's avatar

jesus was a radical.

susanc's avatar

@winblow: there weren’t any contraceptives in Jesus’s time, nor were there
effective abortifacients. pro-choice wasn’t an issue. what an odd idea you have
here. where on earth did you get it?

cooksalot's avatar

@susanc your right Jesus was a radical. He was a rebel and an upstart. Totally not what anyone was expecting. They wanted this rich warrior king and instead got a carpenter that went against all expectations.

Judi's avatar

His heart bled liberally on the cross for the salvation of the world. He was the original bleeding heart liberal.

SeventhSense's avatar

Well as a contemporary at Oxford with Stephen Hawkin remarked, that at one point he realized that not only was he not in the same ballpark as Stephen but that Hawkin was in a ballpark on another planet in a completely different galaxy..or something to that effect. The most human of humans is the most profound. How do you gauge the temperature of the sun with a thermometer?

Crusader's avatar

Christ was a Radical in the era of His Coming,
However he stipulated very clearly,
‘We are in this world but not of it…’
Very esoteric, yet, today, I believe he
would be center-right, Socially Conservative
Todays Western standards,) And financially moderate.

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

A liberal, as he fed everyone with food that miraculously came from nowhere and cost ‘nothing’!

gailcalled's avatar

@Noel_S_Leitmotiv: Your definition would have made him a miracle-worker on a budget.

SeventhSense's avatar

Jesus was not a Radical, Liberal or Conservative although he acted at times both radically, liberally and conservatively. His, was a direct experience of life and an expression of that moment to moment. The closest example would be an enlightened zen teacher today. He used any “tools” of thought or expression befitting his mission to awaken others.

His followers on the contrary would be those motivated to find a suitable label. For example Simon Peter would have desired an overthrow of Rome. He was rebuked and told by Jesus “My kingdom is not of this earth”. Jesus’ revolution was not political but one of consciousness.

Carol's avatar

Of course Jesus was a liberal. He was a Jew, wasn’t he?

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