Who made Me a judge or divider over you?
That is a quote from St. Luke 12.13. It isn’t preached much because it is dangerous. It irritates both wings, the right and the left. And it is my business to make sure of this irritation.
This statement is plucked out of an obscure story mentioned only once in the Gospels. It has no parallel in the other Synoptics. The only reason why it gets noticed is that it prefaces the Parable of the Rich Fool – and in this, it is like a second-rate opening act that warms up the crowd before the real band comes on stage.
The story consists of just a mention of a man who wanted Jesus to settle a fraternal dispute over the division of estate. Obviously, the dead paterfamilias had not made his will very clear. Or maybe the executor wasn’t doing his job.
Or – what I think is likely – the plaintiff had gotten impressed with all this revolutionary talk of Jesus, and thought he could leverage eschatology for a present-day fiscal advantage. There was a convention from Tradition at that time that favored the elder brother over his younger sibling, and that advantage was significant -- perhaps to the extent of a two to one ratio. Maybe this supplicant had correctly recognized a Leader here Who was critiquing the status quo – especially the economic status quo. Moreover, he was hearing this revolutionary Teacher describe a new and generous pattern of giving.
So why not press his suit with this Rabbi? He was only going to get a third from his father’s legacy: his older brother was going to get two thirds. Surely in the “Kingdom” – whatever that was – things should be distributed more fairly?
I’ve heard this sort of thing before. “Jesus tells us to love each other, so make him be nice to me and do what I want.”
Well, that is the leftward irritation. Jesus does not care about judging and dividing out of statist structures. He is too transcendent for any historicist taste. He will not endorse any revolution: in fact, He told His disciples, at a crucial moment, to put away their swords (and, it appears, the Church should have taken that for a normative command). The state (and all other pseudo-state organizing structures, like large corporations), cannot be turned into apostolates or vice-royalities: “Put not your trust in mortal princes,” someone once said somewhere.
That said, we shouldn’t be too dismissive of the Left, as the Right is wont. The Left is ever the fault of Christianity. If you don’t believe me, go ask horseman Nietzsche. He was the true aristocratic philosopher who correctly blamed Jesus for sapping the West of its strong darwinistic dynamic – you know, that king-of-the-hill ariston historiography where Beauty becomes esoteric (and rather arbitrarily set at that) and separated from the Good, and especially distinguished from Love.
It is Jesus’ fault, he said, that the slaves and the weak, the poor and marginalized, the halt and the lame, get all these second chances. We’d all be much more efficient without them: we'd be like the Greek heroes (nice lot, they are, can you imagine grabbing a cold one with Jason? Agamemnon?).
There is a reason, I’d like to tell the equine (and trench-prone) German savant, why Greek aristocrats of myth can only understand tragedy: the hero can only be aristocratic, and his nobility can only emerge in the cartharsis of the ugly gods snuffing out the singular, heroic flame.
Comedy, happy endings and eu-catastrophes are the proper stuff of the proletariat, especially the agrarian kind, the am ha-eretz.
Pull out your Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (I have mine right here from Jerry Falwell’s Old Time Gospel Hour Edition – you know, the one with the cheesy flame), and you won’t find a single nice thing Jesus said about the rich.
He always kept telling them to give everything away. It seems that the “camel and the needle” thing was meant to be taken seriously: and it might turn out that no, a rich man really cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven – his only hope is to divest himself and become poor (okay, maybe “poor in spirit,” but that should not be taken as an easier option).
He never said: “Oh, it’s okay, just be nice with your money.” He offended the right wing repeatedly, over and over as He turned the moneychangers’ tables over and made offensive remarks about “where thieves break in and steal, where moth and rust corrupt.”
It’s a good thing He didn’t say that after the Wall Street debacle of 2008. He’d have been sued for slander, libel, even insider trading (there is a stock advantage, I think, in knowing the future). Mr. D. Trump would have said, to the Son of Man, “You’re fired,” on the broadcast, I imagine, of “God Apprentice.”
Not to beat a dead horse, but Nietzsche is right to blame Christianity for insinuating a viral weakness into the Western narrative. Like soldiers who leave the front lines to take care of a wounded comrade, the Gospel has delayed and belabored the European ethos with a profitless care for those who may not – and probably won’t – contribute.
The Gospel makes every Western man an Atlas: and no man, God says, is allowed to shrug.
Christianity invented the humane aspirations of the Left.
That is ever the irritation of the Right.
Interestingly, Christianity did not invent the Right. The right wing has always been with us, like the poor … there has always been someone who hearkened to either “might makes right” or “my country right or wrong.” There have always been the bowers and scrapers and ring-kissers … and, on the other hand, always the sword and trebuchet-makers and the wannabe-dukes sending in their manor-men as battle-odds with the hope of getting their own castle, land, and that good old-fashioned droits de seigneur.
The Right is hard to nail down historically. It has, over the ages, endorsed the strong men of petty Greek city-states, the republic of Rome (think Cassius and Brutus here), the pro patria sentiments of Roman veteran-colonists, Frankish lords and to-their-manor-born progeny.
These sponsorships make sense of course, and they are all of a piece. But in the modern age things get complex. The old aristocracy used to get huffy at the up and coming merchant class, who wanted to redefine everything in terms of commodity and contract – including people. Oddly (only “oddly” for us moderns), the old right wing had established a lot of onerous regulation on commerce – and these regulations on industry and economy were characterized, then, as “conservative.”
The whole idea of interest-driven “laissez-faire” economy was, in turn, characterized as wildly liberal.
And rather “un-Christian,” too, since the Church in the West sought to conserve not only the more humane Guild system (which recognized the primacy of the person and his house in the economy), but more to our point, a marketplace that was not driven by usury, and derivatives of usury (i.e., where money itself becomes a commodity – a rather unseemly thing in the old-fashioned point of view).
Now, you have a Right Wing that claims to be patriotic, but espouses a radically secularized economy – and for the first time in history, this economic secularity must not be criticized, even in Christian circles, because Christianity (it is said -- by Christians!) has nothing to say about the economy.
That is liberal. Not Left, but exceedingly liberal, in a most rebellious manner.
What is liberality? “Liberal” can be a good term, as in "generosity" and "education." But in its negative sense, in historiography, “liberal” connotes the old collection of patterns that converge on one goal: the destruction of the moral tradition of the Church.
Today’s news reveals, every day, the advance of liberality. Gay marriage seems to be an inevitability, when only four years ago we were wincing at “civil unions.” Abortion is accepted by a majority of the population (if you can define “acceptance” by a weak assent to contrived survey questions). Anti-evolutionists get laughed at everywhere. Church attendance has been displaced by entertainment and soccer matches.
And hyper-capitalism now flies under the flag of an odd coalition of the Right Wing, fundamentalist protestants and Mormons.
The ascendancy of hyper-capitalism is, weirdly, the culminating victory of liberalism.
It is customary for right wing analysts like Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, various Fox intellects (and I’m sure there are others) to lump liberalism and the Left together. This is an error, as many of these same right wing voices turn out to be patently liberal themselves. A good test for this is whether any of them would accept Christian controls on capital, the marketplace, the commodification of the environment (which is the real and only argument against pollution control) and any prophetic challenge to the redefinition of Man as Consumer.
It is always amazing to me that so many low-income households have been marshaled to vote against themselves in favor of large corporate interests, in extremely liberal directions, all in the name of – can you believe it? – "conservative Christianity."
I have blamed Christianity for the existence of the Left.
I will now blame the Left for the existence of Right Wing Christians.
The problem of the Left is that it left. It was schooled in its humanitarian, bleeding-heart ways by the Tradition of the Church. It learned of welfare and healthcare and justice in the Christian academy. The First True Revolution was Christ and His Body: but the Left went off one day, disaffected by the Christian narrative, and tried like the Prodigal Son to narrate its own story. Self-defined. Enlightened. A rationalism predicated on autonomy.
I have wondered why this happened, why the Left left. Was the creationism too onerous? Where the bishops and the priests too outré? Were the patriarchal rules too hard? Did the indictions against transgression hurt too many feelings? Dampen too much of that human spirit? Obstruct too much immediate self-gratification (otherwise defined as “happiness”)?
Voltaire, Rousseau, Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Danton, Napoleon, Marx, Shelley, Freud – Leftists all, did not like the moral confines of the Christian narrative. They happily cut out the offending pages of the Bible (some of them quite literally), for the express purpose of reducing the organizing power of the Church … with the disingenuous hope that they could isolate the humanitarian tradition and amputate it from its natural place in Christian Tradition.
The amputation died in all the subsequent, derivative (and devolved) revolutions … revolutions, I should say, that continue unabated. They happen so often that we cannot tell the difference from one regime to the next. Just so the marketplace is preserved, free from the toxin of Judgment.
In fine, the Left produced Right Wing Christianity when it demanded the extinction of Natural Law … when it extinguished Christian speech from civil institutions … when it ridiculed creationism and enshrined homosexual and transgressive practice as a civil right … when it colluded with the Corporate principalities to individualize the household, by defaming the paterfamilias and canceling the single-living-wage …
… and today, by prodding the State to force Christian institutions to provide contraceptives and abortifacients.
Right Wing Christians are the fault of the Left.
When the Left left, the Right took flight. In the Christian narrative, of all places. Where it most definitely does not belong.
I suppose the Left, one day, came like the truculent younger brother to Jesus, and said “Teacher, bid my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” And it was upset, like the younger brother, when the Son of God showed no interest in re-establishing power amongst the masses.
Of course, the older brother could not have felt better by Jesus. The primal heir was probably not there in the first place: the rich habitually pay attention to neither the Father nor the Son, fogged as they are by rusting treasures. The older brother and his rich friends would not have been entertained by the immediate Scriptural context: Satan falling like lightning … undocumented illegal immigrants being held up as the ideal of good neighborliness and divine mercy … women neglecting housework in favor of religion … generosity (without hope of repayment) established as a prime virtue … demons and exorcisms and the threat of re-possession … an esoteric wisdom that exceeds Solomon and all his freemasonry and Templar friends … and this same esoteric wisdom shouted out from the housetops and given to the proletariat (for Christ’s sake!) … the condemnation of commercial religiosity with its book sales and seminars and conventions at four-star resorts that serve “mint and rue and every herb” … and the identification of civil religion’s favorite pastime – the persecution of prophets in Wall Street (where else?).
Neither brother, younger or older, were satisfied with Jesus (maybe because they were not so hungry for righteousness in the first place); and they were pretty irritated, I’m sure, with the dismissive “Who made Me a judge or divider over you?”
For the Church will always criticize the immediate from its place in the transcendent. Always, and we will die for the privilege, whether persecuted by State or the State’s many Masters.
For no one, not even the Evil One is to be feared. No one except “him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12.5)
This is not a popular verse in today’s insipid religious speech, but it is, after all, the reason why Christ and His Church do not stoop to judge or divide.