On Jesus’ political views (probably not what you think)

We can’t know for sure what Jesus thought of politics, but I have a pretty good guess.In the gospels, Jesus says a lot of things that don’t sound all that well in tune with the views of modern conservatives. On closer inspection, though, there isn’t much in the way of knockdown arguments here, because Jesus (as portrayed in the gospels) is pretty much never explicit about the political implications of his teachings (except when he says you should pay your taxes).

Take for example the story of Jesus stopping the execution of a woman who had committed adultery, from which we get the saying “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (and ignore the fact that this story was probably an interpolation). It’s tempting for opponents of the death penalty take this story as supporting their views, but Jesus doesn’t exactly say you should never have the death penalty. You might wonder, “okay, he stopped the execution of an adulteress, but would he have stopped the execution of a murderer?”

And if you think it’s obvious that the answer is “yes,” you can extend the logic of this story even further to saying things like, “let he who is without sin guard the jails,” and conclude Jesus would be against any legal punishments for anything. Most opponents of the death penalty wouldn’t take it that far, though it does make a certain amount of sense given the apparent endorsement of radical nonviolence elsewhere in the gospels, such as the saying about turning the other cheek.

But again, the gospels aren’t quite explicit here. Turing the other cheek to a slap is one thing, but what if someone’s trying to kill you? What if they’re trying to kill your family? There’s been no shortage of non-pacifist Christian theologians who were firmly committed to the authority of the Bible; just look up just war theory.

I was thinking about this issue today, and facepalmed a bit inside when I finally connected some dots I hadn’t before. Because very likely the reason the gospels don’t get explicit about politics is because early Chritians, including Jesus himself, thought the apocalypse was coming within their lifetimes. I know the claim that Jesus thought the apocalypse was nigh is controversial (see Mark 13 for some quick evidence), but I’ve accepted it ever since I read Bart Ehrman’s Jesus. I just never quite realized its implications.

So here’s my guess for what Jesus (probably) thought about politics: God is going to dramatically intervene in history very soon to overthrow all existing governments (or at least set up a completely new one in Israel), rendering all that secular politics shit completely irrelevant, so we should ignore it and focus on preparing ourselves for the apocalypse.

My debate with Randal Rauser is out!
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