Colbert versus O'Reilly on the Meaning of Jesus

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OK, here’s the clip I meant to post:

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  • This is a good video, but it’s the wrong one. Sorry. I’ll get the right one up this weekend.

  • The actual Colbert versus O’Reilly on the Meaning of Jesus clip, linked in the comment before this one, is the one where Colbert takes on Papa Bear, and it is pure genius.

  • Kenton

    It’s too bad there’s not a 3rd way between what Jim McDermott is saying and what Bernie Goldberg is saying. But of course Jesus clearly taught that the solution to the problem of poverty was to use the political force of the empire to coerce wealth from the rich and redistribute it to the poor.

  • Jim

    I’m with Kenton on this one. The question is one of means, not ends. Of course we should help the poor, of course we should provide for them. The question is whether we do so through love or through the sword. Which would Jesus advocate?

  • Dan Hauge

    Is using tax revenue to pay for programs that create opportunity for poorer people really “the sword” and “empire coercing wealth”? If I advocate for government programs because they will be much farther reaching than what my family or my local congregation can do, does that mean I am not acting “through love”? What was the Jubilee, or gleaning concepts, then? Obviously there are stark differences between the theocracy/monarchy of ancient Israel and our modern democratic state. But I think it’s a hard case to make that taxation, and the use of revenue to help the poor, qualifies as imperial oppression.

  • Kenton

    Well, are you seriously suggesting it’s the same as “giving”, Dan??? My bible doesn’t have a story of Jesus sending Zaccheus or Matthew after the rich young ruler to shake him down.

    It’s easy to think the government can fix all the problems, but they’ve had a lousy track record. When you they try, we wind up with an earmark system that leaves the Polynesian Voyaging Society thinking it’s entitled to 300k/year along with 1000’s of other such groups. The voters have had enough and said as much last November.

  • If we truly followed the words and way of Jesus, then the government wouldn’t have to “coerce wealth from the rich and redistribute to the poor”.

  • Jim

    Anything the government does is coercion, Dan. That doesn’t make it oppressive, but it is coercion. If you don’t pay your taxes, you go to jail. That’s coercion.

    So we choose between giving to the poor because we are new creations, we love God and love our neighbor, and we delight in giving cheerfully out of our own dearly bought Christian freedom, or else because if we don’t, police take us away and lock us up. These are the two options.

  • As usual, the “there are two kinds” dichotomy is over-simplified and therefore wrong. Kenton and Jim seem to posit a government that is “somewhere out there,” alien from us, unconnected to the people it rules. It’s a great vote-getting, ire-raising line for the Republicans, but it’s barely half-right.

    To paraphrase Pogo, we have met the government and it is us. We see it when we look in the mirror every morning or ride the bus or sneak a peek into the next car at a traffic light. The only folks who aren’t involved are those who don’t vote – is that you, Kenton or Jim? – and even then, the choice not to vote is a choice to accept the will of the majority.

    The only choices are not “give as free individuals” or “watch the government take what it wants.” The third way is to participate actively in the political process and then accede willingly to its results, even when you disagree with their specifics – because part of being in a representative democracy is that you don’t get to “pick up your marbles and go home” if you don’t like the outcome. Part of our system of governance is that you agree, even if implicitly, to be guided by the will of the majority as an expression of what it best for the whole.

    This third way is not “coercion” but voluntary participation in a process that is greater and wiser than “my” opinion. If you don’t like it, there are plenty of opportunities to change the process, change the results, change the players.

  • Kenton


    Of course I vote!!! My voice was one of those that said “enough” last November, and my vote was one of those that DID change the players. 🙂 Likewise I pay taxes – even when I cast my vote with the minority. It’s precisely for those reasons that I’m justified in exercising my first amendment right to speak my mind, which is a necessary part of changing the results.

    So this thread is really less about a “give freely/tax coercively” dichotomy, and more about how Jesus’ name is being hijacked for political purposes. Progressive McDermott (who self-identifies as a Christian) claims Jesus would be a liberal Democrat. His conservative counterpart in this dichotomy (who self-identifies as Jewish) also claims Jesus would be a liberal Democrat. My seeking a third (second?) way is to say that this rare accordance should not be the last word.

  • Jim


    I may have been unclear. I’m not complaining about “that durn govment” that keeps taking my money. I’m well aware that the government is us. To paraphrase Chesterton, the answer to the question of “What’s wrong with government?” is “I am.”

    Which is precisely why I hold the views I do. Giving to the poor, so long as I do it in faith, is pleasing to God. Forcing my neighbor to give to the poor against his will, I do not believe is pleasing to God. It’s the road to hypocrisy. My own hypocrisy.

  • Okay, Jim, let’s suppose that voluntary individual giving is the epitome of biblical charity, and governmental involvement in addressing poverty is ultimately and always inappropriately coercive and therefore unbiblical and uncharitable. The guiding principle, then, seems to be that what “I” do on my own is desirable, and what others are somehow involved in “assisting” me to do (with or without my cooperation) is to be avoided at all costs.

    What then would either of you say about something like racial equality? We can find a biblical warrant in Paul’s affirmation that “there is neither Jew nor Greek…for all are one in Christ Jesus.” Is this only valid if I choose to do it voluntarily as an individual? Is this coercive and evil if the government requires racial equality?

    Or take any other instance – gender equity in the workplace, legal acceptance of conscientious objector status in wartime, laws requiring emergency rooms to provide basic life-saving care regardless of ability to pay, whatever it may be. Are these things to be avoided and actively opposed if government requires them, because “someone” might be coerced against their will?

    I can’t help but hear a faint echo of the old “I have a friend who…” in your protestations. Sure, you’re happy to do all you can individually, but “someone else” might be unfairly coerced? Baloney.

    Kenton, I agree that it is distasteful (and anti-biblical) to coopt the name of Jesus to promote a given political agenda. However, when you’ve already got the “religious” right riding “Jesus says” to the polls for more than a generation, isn’t it somehow understandable (if not quite forgiveable) when the left finally wakes up and realizes their own, better claim to be acting in concert with Jesus?

    Since this all started with a reference to Bill O’Reilly, I’ll repeat my own criticism of a recent column of his, which I voiced in my local newspaper. O’Reilly ended a column arguing against McDermott’s interpretation of what Jesus’ teachings call us to do by quoting “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” as if that were theological warrant for his own self-sufficiency views.

    The problem is, “The Lord helps those who help themselves” isn’t biblical. It’s Aesop’s Fables – pre-Christian, pagan Greece – in a tale involving the demigod Hercules. If O’Reilly wants to base his personal theology and social action on that, fine; but don’t claim to be Christian by it. At least McDermott quotes the actual Jesus of the Gospels.

  • Kenton

    Yes. It is understandable and falls into the “two wrongs do not make a right” category, and yes, I recognize that “The Lord helps those who help themselves” is not an axiom of scripture. (FWIW, not all truth is scriptural truth, but I digress.)

    To your point of racial and gender equality and perhaps in a way to address the problem of poverty: the government has a role to play in “establish[ing] justice”. That role certainly includes assuring that people are not discriminated against on the basis of their skin color or gender. We can quibble over a definition of what exactly “justice” is, but I would even concur that “justice” includes assuring that the rich do not exploit the poor. I would further concur that we have work we can do in that area. The problem is that when we address it with Robin Hood method, history shows that it will always fail and leave the economy broke.

  • Al Noonan

    Can you honestly call a progressive tax system, one in which the rich pay a greater proportion of tax than the poorer because they can afford more, a Robin Hood method? That’s a gross simplification. It’s also part of the reason why the US government is continuing the slide to bankruptcy. Actually ye are already bankrupt, ye just don’t realize it. Bill Gates et al. could pay a higher rate of tax and still have more money than he could ever spend in a lifetime. All this complaining about government tax has resulted in is the creation of a new American aristocracy. As the wealth is passed down from generation to generation, thanks to low or no estate tax, and fewer chances for others to work their way to the top. As with poker, money is power in capitalism and the rich pull up the ladder of progress behind them.

    The economy is broke because of your approach. Promoting and extending a regressive taxation system, like the Bush tax cuts in the hope that people will be charitable is foolish in the extreme. The state should be able to provide basic healthcare, shelter and eduction to every one of its citizens, just in order to fulfill basic human rights and dignity. The idea that a poor family would become poorer simply trying to pay for the medical costs of a member is perverse, and barbaric. How anyone that calls themselves Christian could oppose any move that improves the condition of the poor at minimal cost to those who can easily afford it would make me question whether they had heard the Good News at all.

    Whatever you neglected to do unto one of these least of these, you neglected to do unto Me!