Friday, August 5, 2011

Jesus and the budget debate

In the wake of the debt/deficit fracas in which people on both sides invoked divine approval for their position -- WaPo columnist Michael Gerson writes:

This use of religion in politics is a source of cynicism. It should raise alarms when the views of the Almighty conveniently match our most urgent political needs. A faith that conforms exactly to the contours of a political ideology has lost its independence. Churches become clubs of the politically like-minded. Political dialogue suffers, since opponents are viewed as heretics. And when religion becomes too closely identified with a detailed political platform, both are quickly outdated. Despite William Jennings Bryan’s best efforts, who now recalls God’s view of bimetallism?

Yet religion is not a purely private matter. There is a reason that, two millennia after his execution as a rebel in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire, people still ask, “What would Jesus do?” Despite his indifference to Roman politics, his teachings on compassion and human dignity have had dramatic public consequences. While a Christian position on monetary policy is a stretch, Christian opposition to slavery or segregation is a matter of consistency. Faith does not dictate specific policies, which are properly determined by the prudent assessment of likely outcomes. But religion helps define the priorities of politics, which include solidarity with the disadvantaged.

As a moral matter, federal budgeting lies somewhere between bimetallism and abolitionism, leaving room for healthy debate. Two recent dueling efforts have attempted to draw out the ethical implications of budget choices. . .

Keep reading for Gerson's wise critiques of these dueling efforts by two groups of Christian leaders -- one generally sympathetic to Democratic priorities and the other to Republican priorities. For what it's worth, Gerson is an evangelical Christian and former policy advisor to George W. Bush. In other words -- Paul Krugman he ain't.

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