In his "Rewrite" segment last night, MSNBC's "Last Word" host Lawrence O'Donnell pounded out a 9-minute-long sermonette against conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
O'Donnell slammed Limbaugh as biblically illiterate, reacting to a monologue from his April 25 program in which Limbaugh complained about liberals co-opting Jesus Christ for political purposes in the federal budget debate, posing questions such as "What Would Jesus Cut" from the budget.
"What would Jesus take?" Limbaugh countered, answering "nothing." O'Donnell vehemently disagreed, going on to cite Scripture references -- divorcing them from context -- in order to argue Jesus was a fan of "progressive taxation," among other things.
"The New Testament does have an answer to Rush's question, 'What would Jesus take?' and it's not one Rush is going to like," O'Donnell began, adding smugly, "And since he obviously has no working command of the Bible, it will surely shock him because he will be hearing it now for the first time."
"The answer is everything, not 35 percent, not 39.6 percent. One hundred percent," O'Donnell continued, referring to marginal tax rates for top income-bracket earners, citing as his proof text a passage from Mark 10 in which a rich man comes up to Jesus and asks "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
O'Donnell then selectively edited Jesus's answer:
Go and sell all your possession and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven...
But right after the ellipsis, verse 21 continues "and come, follow me."
O'Donnell also ignored the thrust of the story in context, which is the high personal cost in this age of following Jesus, but the eternal inheritance that awaits those who abandon all to follow Jesus, whose kingdom, Jesus himself repeatedly said, was "not of this world."
But alas, O'Donnell is concerned not with rendering unto Christ but rendering unto Caesar.
"It seems very clear that Jesus would be cool with a 39.6 tax bracket for those making over $250,000," O'Donnell concluded from the text. What's more:
Well, it was as if Jesus was talking to Rush. As the story continues in the gospel according to St. Mark, "...but at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to his disciples, How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. 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.
Once again, O'Donnell left out the full context, stopping at verse 25. A few verses later, Mark records that Jesus's disciples "were exceedingly astonished, and said to him 'Then who can be saved?'" to which Jesus answered "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God."
It's impossible for O'Donnell to know Rush's heart and if it's right with God, but again, O'Donnell's concern is not fidelity to the context of the passage but hijacking Jesus Christ for a political pontification.
O'Donnell continued his shoddy exegesis of Scripture:
That`s not the only clue we have in the New Testament about what would Jesus take. Jesus also said, "any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."
O'Donnell was quoting Luke 14:33, ripping it out of context. The preceding verses (25-32) make clear the concern is not just material, but immaterial, calling on followers of Christ to love Christ more than blood relative and if called to, shed their blood as martyrs for His sake:
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
There's no indication a similar fealty is commanded by Christ to the state, to Caesar, but again, why stop when you're on a roll?:
That means you, Rush. And that means everything. Give up everything. Those are the words of Jesus Christ. Give up everything. You can be a radio talk show host and you can make your 50 million dollars a year. But you cannot do that and be a disciple of Christ if you keep all of your 50 million dollars a year.
O'Donnell continues, ripping another passage out of context (emphasis mine)
While Jesus may not have specified specific tax brackets, he was the first recorded advocate of a progressive income tax. Jesus actually said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything, all she had to live on."
What would Jesus take? Obviously, he would take from each according to their ability to pay. That is the clear Christian philosophical basis of a progressive income tax; 10 percent on low incomes, 35 percent on high incomes is the current structure.
And that passage from Mark 12:43-44 advocates progressive income taxation how? The widow gave ALL she had to live on while the rich gave generously out of their wealth. Seems like a regressive tax system to me, the widow didn't get an earned income tax credit!
But seriously, the passage is not about tax structures for civil government, but rather the heart-based motivation for giving. The widow gave out of a worshipful gratitude to God, the rich gave out of a show of their wealth. That's the point.
What's more, shouldn't this passage bother socialists like O'Donnell?
This same Jesus who chased moneychangers out of the Temple did nothing to redistribute wealth from the rich to the widow. He sat by as a widow gave away her last mite to the Temple treasury and the rich did nothing to give their money to the widow. What's up with that?
As to his claim that progressive taxation is the "philosophical basis of a progressive income tax," O'Donnell failed to offer evidence that the early church in the New Testament expected a higher percentage of income donated to the church from the rich than the poor.
Indeed, passages in the New Testament about giving focus on the motive of giving, not cold hard numbers. As St. Paul wrote the church in Corinth (emphasis mine):
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Give as he's decided in his heart? Not under compulsion? Cheerfully? When does that apply to anyone regarding any tax?
Sure, the Bible commands Christians to pay their taxes and fees to the government as they are due, but there's nothing in those passages advocating the Roman government to adopt certain tax or budget priorities. Indeed, if O'Donnell wants to draw political conclusions from Bible passages, there's a libertarian/conservative argument to be made from this passage that government's sole objective is punish evildoers, not redistributing wealth:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. [Romans 13:1-7]
O'Donnell concluded by asserting that Rush had "lie[d] about what Jesus Christ said" which is "one line they [Rush's Christian listeners] will not let you cross" nor would O'Donnell.
Actually, Larry, I think discerning Christians who know their Bible will weigh your screed in the balance and find it lacking.
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