The Jesus of Stephen Colbert

If you’re like me, you’ve seen this picture popping up on Facebook recently:

This quote was taken from the bit “Jesus is a Liberal Democrat” (you can watch the video or read the transcript below). Those posting this picture might do well to read the entire bit from which it’s taken.

What of Colbert’s comments?

There is a lot (and I do mean a lot) in the bit worth considering, but that’s not my intent. Those who watch Colbert know that he’s a satirist, and exercises a certain creative licence when it comes to content. His primary purpose is not to inform, but to entertain.

Rather, my purpose is to present important principles and let you consider Colbert’s comments for yourself. These principles have to do with political neutrality and provident living/giving.

A Kingdom Not of This World

It is erroneous to assume that the Savior would align himself with any political organization. In this post about why I love Jesus and religion, I discuss this principle. In short, it is inappropriate to tie a governmental system to the gospel of him who said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

This is why the LDS Church takes political neutrality so seriously. In an official Church statement, Church leaders write,

“The Church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics.”

It goes against the Savior’s own words to tie him to either liberal or conservative politics, and it goes against the purpose of this life to legislate and mandate those actions which we should be choosing to do on our own.

Our Commission to Love Others

At points during his monologue, including the viral quote above, Colbert equates the ideas:

  • “unconditionally loving others”
  • “unconditionally giving to others”

Certainly when we care for others we seek to help them better their circumstances, but this does not lead us to unconditionally give into any demand. For example, there are many things parents deny their own children even though they care for them deeply.

As I said, I won’t attempt to tackle the complex political and governmental issues that surround welfare or entitlements, nor do I think that it would be appropriate to defend any political action based on whether on not it’d be something that Jesus would do. As I explain later, it has been left to us to decide how to act upon the principles discussed below.

I just wish to point out that “loving” and “giving” are very different, though related, concepts.

That’s not to say that loving and giving are unimportant. The commandment to love others as ourselves was one of the two great commandments taught by the Savior:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

“This is the first and great commandment.

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).

Provident Living

Because I take issue with some of Colbert’s comments, don’t believe that I disagree with his suggestion that we should care for the poor and needy. I believe it is extremely important to care for the poor and needy.

There are two principles that we should keep in mind as we consider both our charitable giving and our desire for charitable receiving.

Our Commission to Provide for Others

In the Book of Mormon book of Mosiah, King Benjamin teaches,

“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?”

Elder Robert J. Whetten has said,

“Every unselfish act of kindness and service increases your spirituality. God would use you to bless others. Your continued spiritual growth and eternal progress are very much wrapped up in your relationships – in how you treat others. Do you indeed love others and become a blessing in their lives? Ins’t the measure of the level of your conversion how you treat others?… Service to others is what gospel and exalted life are all about.”

As Christians, we have a responsibility to help care for the poor and needy. For more on how Latter-day Saints feel about this commission, see here.

Our Commission to Provide for Ourselves

Watch the video below for what Elder Robert D. Hales says of provident living:

Church welfare is not given unconditionally. The LDS Welfare Fact Sheet says,

“The responsibility for each person’s spiritual and temporal well-being rests first upon himself, second upon his family, and third upon the Church…. The purpose of Church welfare assistance is to help people to help themselves. Recipients of these resources are given the opportunity to work, to the extent of their ability, for the assistance they receive.”

For more on how Latter-day Saints feel about self-reliance, see here.

Balance and Provident Living

How do we balance these two principles – that we have a responsibility to care for the poor and needy, but that we need to be self-sufficient, living within our means and working for those things we receive? We aren’t given any specific mandate in scripture. Like many things in the gospel, God has allowed us to work out for ourselves how to be generous and the best way to give.

The Lord tells us,

“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

“But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-29).

John Taylor told us,

“Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. ‘How?’ responded the gentleman; ‘to us it is very difficult.’ Mr. Smith replied, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.’

Knowing correct gospel principles, we can make good decisions even if our way is not explicitly laid out.

Twisting the Words of Jesus – What He Actually Said?

Colbert suggests several statements made by the Savior refer to unconditional giving. The first is from the Sermon on the Mount, and the second is the account of the Savior’s experience with the man often referred to as the rich young ruler.

Let Him Have Thy Cloak Also

The scripture Colbert refers to is from Matthew 5:40, which reads,

“And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.”

To what was the Savior referring? It was not any sort of humanitarian aid. Bruce R. McConkie says,

“Counsel to avoid law suits and entangling legal difficulties, lest fine and imprisonment result, is directed particularly to the apostles and missionaries as they go forth to carry the gospel message to a wicked world. It is more important that they suffer legal wrongs than that their ministries be hindered or halted by legal processes.

James E. Talmage wrote,

“Christ taught that men should  rather suffer than do evil, even to the extent of submission without resistance under certain implied conditions. His forceful illustrations – that if one were smitten on one cheek he should turn the other to the smiter; that if a man took another’s coat by process of law, the loser should allow his cloak to be taken also; that if one was pressed into service to carry another’s burden a mile, he should willingly go two miles; that one should readily give or lend as asked – are not to be construed as commanding abject subserviency to unjust demands, nor as an abrogation of the principle of self-protection. These instructions were directed primarily to the apostles, who would be professedly devoted to the work of the kingdom to the exclusion of all other interests. In their ministry it would be better to suffer material loss or personal indignity and imposition at the hands of wicked oppressors, than bring about an impairment of efficiency and a hindrance in work through resistance and contention.

And from Clarke’s Commentary,

“Every where our blessed Lord shows the utmost disapprobation of such litigations as tended to destroy brotherly kindness and charity. It is evident he would have his followers to suffer rather the loss of all their property than to have recourse to such modes of redress, at so great a risk. Having the mind averse from contentions, and preferring peace and concord to temporal advantages, is most solemnly recommended to all Christians. We are great gainers when we lose only our money, or other property, and risk not the loss of our souls, by losing the love of God and man.

The Rich Young Ruler

Much like the except from the Sermon on the Mount, this story was distorted and taken out of context. The account reads, in part,

“There came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

“And Jesus said unto him,… Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

“And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

“Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

“And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

“And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples,… It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Does this account really teach us to sell all we have to give to the poor? It does not. Instead of the focus being on the receiver of gifts, the focus is on the individual. In this case, the Achilles Heel of the individual was personal wealth. James E. Talmage writes,

“In his way, he yearned for the kingdom of God, yet more devotedly he loved his great possessions. To give up wealth, social position, and official distinction, was too great a sacrifice; and the necessary self-denial was a cross too heavy for him to bear, even though treasure in heaven and life eternal were offered him. Love of worldly things was this man’s besetting weakness; Jesus diagnosed his case and prescribed a suitable remedy. We are not warranted in saying that the same treatment would be best in all cases of spiritual defection; but where the symptoms indicate the need, it may be employed with confidence as to the cure.”

Flapping His Gums

What was Jesus’ message? What can we consider to be his most oft-preached message? What did he “flap his gums” about the most?

I’d like to offer that it was an invitation to come unto him, often phrased something like this:

“I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

Conclusion

While some of the measures that Colbert suggests or quotes in his bit could be considered helpful to others, we cannot forget that God’s kingdom is not one of earthly politics.

I repeat, it goes against the Savior’s own words to tie him to either liberal or conservative politics, and it goes against the purpose of this life to legislate and mandate those actions which we should be choosing to do on our own.

Full Transcript – Jesus is a Liberal Democrat

It just seems to me that the democrats don’t get Christmas. Another example? Congressman Jim McDermott, who used the baby Jesus to push his pro-poor people agenda. Jim:

“This is Christmas time. We talk about good Samaritans. We talk about the poor and the little baby Jesus in the cradle and all this stuff, and then we say to the unemployed, ‘We won’t give you a check to feed your family.’ That’s simply wrong.”

Of course it’s wrong! We shouldn’t be talking to them at all! They’ve got unemployment cooties.

And I’m not the only one upset by McDermott’s flagrant injection of charity into the Christmas season. So is Papa Bear Bill O’Reilly. In his weekly column, he wrote,

“Every fair-minded person should support government safety nets for people who need assistance through no fault of their own. But guys like McDermott don’t make distinctions like that. For them, the baby Jesus wants us to “provide” no matter what the circumstance. But being a Christian, I know that while Jesus promoted charity at the highest level, he was not self-destructive” (December 9, 2010).

Good point, Bill. Jesus said, “We only have to love those who deserve it.”

Now, what I like best about Bill’s argument is it’s complete factual inaccuracy. Because it would be inconvinient to guys like us to repeat what Jesus actually said. For instance, if someone wants your coat, give them your cloak as well, or rich people should sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor. Plus, the fact is, Jesus was way beyond self-destructive. He was self-sacrificial. I mean, the guy was God. He could have floated off that cross like Chris Angel Mindfreak.

And I love, I love, how Bill closes with “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” kind of implying that Jesus said that… when it was actually Ben Franklin… who I believe belched out that proverb between mouthfulls of French whore.

But as much as I’m a fan of Bill’s willfully ignorant borderline heretical self-justification, I gotta tip my hat to Burnie Goldberg, who came on the “Factor” to call Jesus like he seesus (sic). Jim:

“As a matter of fact, you know, Jesus probably would be, except for one or two issues, a liberal democrat if he were around today.”

Yes. Jesus was a liberal democrat. It’s right there in his name – Jesus H. Christ. That “H” clearly stands for “Hussien.” Plus, Jesus was always flapping his gums about the poor, but not once did he call for tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Romans, even though they create all the good slave jobs. And don’t forget – Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes. No good conservative would be caught dead with tax collectors.

What fightens me, really, what really frightens me about this, is now we know we got a liberal Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father. He’s basically Yawhew’s Joe Biden. Anything happens to the big guy, we could end up with a socialist deity redistributing my loaves and fishes.

Well, it hurts me to say this, folks, but if Jesus really is a liberal, it’s time to get the Christ out of Christmas. Now listen, you know me, I’m no fan of the term “X-mas,” of “X” anything – I make my kids play “Christbox 360”, and if they break a bone they get “Christ-rays” – but it is time to take baby Jesus out of the manger and replace him with something that’s easier to swallow. How ’bout a honey baked ham?

Because if this is gonna be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and then admit that we just don’t wanna do it.”

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One thought on “The Jesus of Stephen Colbert”

  1. The Colbert quote is a prostitution of Jesus’ words: “Sell all you have and give the money to the poor.” Nothing in Jesus’ command suggests that one should give his or her money to Obama so Obama can buy the allegiance, support, and votes of a permanent class of mendicants and freeloaders created by his cradle-to-the-grave government charity. If charity must be mandated, it is only fitting and proper that one should get to pick and choose his or her own charity.

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