The ‘gospel’ according to Herman Cain

Ethan Miller GETTY IMAGES Former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza Herman Cain participates in the Republican presidential debate airing on CNN, … Continued

Ethan Miller

GETTY IMAGES

Former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza Herman Cain participates in the Republican presidential debate airing on CNN, October 18, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

What is it with the crowd at GOP debates? So far, they have cheered capital punishment and letting an uninsured person die, and they jeered a gay soldier. At the most recent debate, they stood and cheered loudly for Herman Cain’s reassertion of his statement “Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

I would say, if you don’t like the nastiness on display in these debates, don’t blame the crowd, blame these candidates. Blame the candidates for their sometimes astonishingly frank assertions that it is really okay for people not to come together and help each other out in time of need, like being unemployed and falling into poverty.

For that’s what government is in a democracy, it’s us, the U.S., all of us together, helping one another in time of need. That’s all. It’s just U.S.

People coming together in a democracy and helping each other out, however, is not in the ‘gospel according to Herman Cain.’ In Cain’s version of the biblical account of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus is a “perfect conservative.” “He helped the poor without one government program. He healed the sick without a government health care system. He feed the hungry without food stamps…For three years He was unemployed, and never collected an unemployment check.”

It’s a stretch even to call Cain’s perspective in this article “biblical literalism,” since there are so many actual errors of fact, as in Cain’s statement, “And when they tried Him in court, He never said a mumbling word.” See the Gospel of John, chapter 18.

But the biggest error Cain makes, and it is an error made by many who want to privatize helping the poor and the unemployed, and use the scripture to justify ‘keeping government off our backs, is to fail to recognize Jesus did not live in a democracy. Instead, Jesus lived under Roman occupation. Rome, a vicious, militaristic occupying power, was not exactly known for its excellent government programs to help the poor. Roman occupiers were far more likely to enslave you as to help you with food and job training.

If you would like to go a little deeper in scripture, and actually understand Jesus and his view of the Romans and unemployment, read John Dominic Crossan’s
God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome Then and Now.

Crossan caused me to ponder this question: Why did Jesus walk all the way to the Sea of Galilee and recruit fishermen for disciples? Why not recruit disciples from closer to his home in Nazareth? The reason, according to Crossan and his excellent combination of biblical interpretation and use of archeological material, is because the imperial Roman occupiers had wrecked the fishing industry for the locals with their oppressive policies. Why did Jesus find the disciples on the shore of the lake and not out in their boats? Because, Crossan helped me see, they were probably unemployed, our at least underemployed.

In other words, Jesus went to Galilee to call these unemployed and underemployed fishermen because it is they who would understand “(T)he logic of Jesus’s kingdom program…that program built a share-community from the bottom up as a positive alternative to Antipas’s Roman greed-community established from the top down.” (p. 118)

Hmmm. Share-community versus greed-community? Sounds a lot like what the folks at #OWS are saying, doesn’t it?

Mr. Cain, if you’re going to bring the Bible into your view of government and the economy, then go the whole way.

Understand that there’s a choice to be made: it’s Jesus versus Rome, then and now.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • nikosd99

    I see that Thistlethwaite is at it again ~ coming up with conjectures that aren’t supported by the Bible. In this case she refers to a book by Dominic Crossan, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome Then and Now. Thistlethwaite, being the sucker that she is, rises to the bait and asks, “Why did Jesus find the disciples on the shore of the lake and not out in their boats?” She then gives us the answer. “Because, Crossan helped me see, they were probably unemployed, our at least underemployed.”

    Well, if you read Matthew 4: Mark 1: and Luke 5 you will find that, (1) Peter and his brother Andrew were casting their net into the water. (2) James and his brother John were in the boat with their father mending their nets. and (3) the disciples were out of their boat washing their nets. In all three of these cases, it’s what fisherman do. No hint of unemployment or underemployment. In fact, the reason that they were washing their nets was because they had been fishing all night. Jesus had told Peter and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.

    The sad truth is that Thistlethwaite has a PhD in religion but it’s not based on biblical facts. She needs to put her pride aside, humble herself and get “born again”. Religion is one thing. Christianity is another.

  • david6

    The Bible is unreliable from the first page. If God exists, the claims found in the Bible about God are not trustworthy.

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    Why, oh why. After two thousand years do people have to take every part of the Bible literally and as historical fact. Why do people quote Psalm 53:1. ‘The fool says in his heart, There is no God.’ was written by someone who could not understand why some people need actual evidence of a deity. It is easy to turn that piece of scripture around, but as an atheist, I don’t think all religious people are fools. We are living in such ignorant, and parodoxical times where the Christian Right worship the capitalist philosophies of an atheist named ‘Ayn Rand’, whilst forgetting the their savior hated the rich and helped the poor. Now I am sure that there’s an angry Christian ready to pounce on me.

  • dukediv2011

    David, I hear your frustrations with the Bible. However, I don’t think that you can make a bold statement like that without proper reasoning.

    Sure, there are discrepencies in the Bible. What do you expect from a book that was started because of oral tradition. I’m sure that if you had a conversation with a Biblical historian that you would find that the stories found in the Bible (especially in OT scripture through the time of King David) have greater purpose that historical documentation.

    A great example of this is the story of Noah and the Ark. Historians would be first to admit that the Bible was not the first document to contain this story. The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian folk story, first documents the “Great Flood.” But, through oral tradition early Jews created a story that they could pass down from generation to generation. This story has greater purpose and meaning (God’s faithfulness to creation) than the historical story.

    As a Christian and a minister I find it discouraging that you feel this way about the Bible. But I am more ashamed by the way that Christians, throughout history and especially in 21st century America, have misused the Bible and have forced individuals, like yourself, to have such a negative view of such an important book in our faith.

  • nikosd99

    To areyousaying ~ I perceive you to be not too bright. Ms. Thistlethwaite was implying that the disciples were sitting on the shore twiddling their thumbs because the mean ol’ Romans had ruined the fishing industry. To disprove her conjecture, I used scripture that showed that they were very much busy plying their trade. Your charge of my “cherry picking” scripture is ridiculous. Which scripture did you want me to use? Something totally unrelated?

    Thistlethwaite stated that Jesus found them on the shore and not in their boats, so she must have gotten that idea from scripture. But scripture makes it very plain that they were casting their net into the sea. Also, others were not on the shore but in their boat mending their nets. And if Ms. Thistlethwaite would really understand scripture she would find that Simon Peter was partners with James and John in the fishing industry. They had two ships and were fishing side by side in the lake of Gennesaret when Jesus directed them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They pulled up such a haul that their ships nearly sank. Even so, when Christ told them to follow Him, they forsook all and went with Him. You can read the account in Luke 5.

    You stick with Mother Goose. I’ll go with God’s Word.

  • dukediv2011

    nikosd99′s original is exactly what is unnecessary. The main point of the article is that so called “Christian” political leaders in America today are too focused on getting elected that they are willing to neglect the people who are desperately in need of compassion and grace. Jesus’ teachings were all about love and grace, not judgment.

  • persiflage

    Reading Crossan is an excellent idea for perspective, because he de-mythologizes Christianity while portraying Jesus as a very human, itinerant preacher of a kind that was hardly uncommon at the time.

    In fact, Christianity is a sociological phenomenon sans all the supernaturalism, if you take Crossan ‘literally’. He doesn’t believe in heaven, hell, or even necessarily in God, much less in a supernatural Jesus. HIs views are not at all unusual among scholars of comparative religion………….

    The religious right in the USA is also a socio-political phenomenon, first and foremost. Herman Cain seems to be it’s most featured representative – for about 15 minutes……and I predict his time is about over.

  • dukediv2011

    Scott,

    The problem lies in the fact that Christians have long neglected the poor to the point that individuals and religious groups are unable to provide the proper care for the poor.

    You are correct, politicians are not called upon in the Bible to provide for the poor. A major reason for this was that the early Christians had no political standing so it would have been uncharacteristic for Biblical writer to address government. However, there are Christian leaders today in politics and so if Christ expects for them to look after the poor, then he definitely expects them to do that in everything that they do (including governing). Am I wrong?

  • nikosd99

    To dukediv2011

    And you, sir, are a discouragement to me. I am ashamed that there are ministers, and so-called Christians like yourself who cause multitudes to disbelieve the authenticity of the Bible. What magic do you use to determine which parts of the Bible you are going to present as truth in your sermons, teachings, and ministering to others? The Bible warns that there will be false teachers like you.

    You, like Thistlethwaite, preach a social gospel. As ScottinVA said, “You have fallen prey to the fallacy of ‘Social Justice’, which makes a virtue of confiscation of private property in order to give it to other private citizens.” Do us a favor and give up your ministry and become the mere philosopher that you are.

    You stated that my original posting was unnecessary since the main point of Thistlethwaite’s article was to show that politicians were more interested in getting themselves elected rather than caring about the needs of the people. I know what her main point was. My main point was to show that she is totally unqualified to decipher what the Bible has to say since she can’t even understand what the fishermen were doing on the shore of the sea of Galilee.

    Hopefully, you will be able to understand this quite simple message.

  • dukediv2011

    It is obvious that you, nikosd99, are a literalist. And that is ok. There is historical evidence to disprove the historical authenticity of some ancient Biblical texts, but I don’t believe that historical authenticity is the major point of the stories. The Bible is not a textbook and neither should it be treated as such. Do you believe that all of the parables are historically accurate or do you believe that they have greater meaning for the followers of Christ then and now? These rich stories that Jesus told his disciples instruct how to live and love. So why is it such a problem for you to understand that the ancient OT stories do not have to be true in order to be True.

    I do preach Social Gospel, but I don’t only preach Social Gospel. Every minister should preach Social Gospel and if they are not then “they are like a clanging cymbal or noisy gong.” To say that the church doesn’t need Social Gospel preached is to say that the church does not need Jesus preached.

    As for your call for me to give up my ministry, I will not and neither should you.

  • cricket44

    dukediv, you are refreshing delight to read. The *use* of faith for personal and political gain, while speaking malice and promoting contempt for American citizens who are suffering is one of the most discouraging and disgusting trends right now. To claim such darkness is “from God” is horrible. It can turn into a 24 hour job pointing out that these people do NOT represent all Christianity, no matter what they claim.

  • nikosd99

    To dukediv2011
    A parable is a parable, is a parable, is a parable, meaning comparison, illustration, analogy. The stories of the Bible that are not identified as parables, such as the Creation; the Flood; the Parting of the Red Sea; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the Virgin Birth; Jesus Walking on Water, etc. are historical events. If that is what you mean about me being a literalist, than yes, that’s what I am.

    If you don’t understand or believe this it is because the following scripture applies to you. “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corintians 2:13,14)

    In the 3rd chapter of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” A few verses later Nicodemus asks, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said unto him, “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?…..If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” So I ask of you, dukediv2011, are you a Christian minister and knowest not these things?

    You can choose to believe that there are discrepancies in the Bible because you think the stories began merely as oral traditions, but I would suggest that you consider the following verse. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16,17)

    I strongly urge you to heed this advice.

  • SyGood

    People, people… temper yourselves. It is quite interesting to read theologically based articles and the responses on what Jesus taught only to be filled with hate. How about a simpler explanation? Jesus was neither conservative nor liberal. He preached helping the poor and making sacrifices out of suffering love to help others but he also taught personal responsibility and one’s own response to his call to the social gospel.

    Can capitalism lead to greed, self-promotion, and the antithesis of what Jesus stood for? Certainly. Does it? Yes. However, does socialism lead to a rejection of God while people look to a government to fix their issues and fulfill their charitable duties? Yes as well. Both systems are incomplete and unable to fulfill the mission of Christ. That’s why Jesus founded the Church. Our government and its separation of Church and State philosophy will always fail in truly helping others. The best way I can explain it is in the words of Pope Benedict XVI from his book, Jesus of Nazareth, when he says that the negative outcome of the Marxist experiment is that “God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things”. Speaking mostly about Western aid to developing countries, it applies equally to a society that looks to a government to aid others. He says that we have “thrust aside indigenous religious, ethical, and social structures and filled the resulting vacuum with [a] technocratic mind-set” and that “history cannot be detached from God and then run smoothly on purely material lines”. That is a striking condemnation of both capitalism and socialism.

    It reminds me of that commercial on TV where after someone does something good for another, that person in return does good. I think it ends with “charity, pass it along” or something along those lines. When government does the charity, the interaction between two people (the helper and the helped) that enables love to

  • dukediv2011

    The above commentary is a great example of what is called “proof-texting.” If one reads the entire book of 1 Corinthians he/she would easily recognize that Paul is referring to people who do not recognize that the things of God are greater than the things of the earth (i.e. sexual immorality, idols, the abusiveness of power by the Corinthian church, etc.)… people who become so involved in the earth that nothing exists beyond the material world.

    The main issue for some literalists is the fact that they use individual verses to make a claim or point without looking at the context around the verse.

    As for your claim that I believe that the stories of the OT are “merely oral traditions,” I never said that. I said that they were passed down by Israelite leaders to instruct the people. The characters and exact dates and times of the story did not have to be true in order for the Israelites peopIe to recognize the importance of God’s faithfulness.

    I believe that it is completely possible for a person to believe that the stories of Creation, the Flood, Moses’ escape from slavery in Egypt, etc. have greater and more life-giving power than historical accuracy. There is Truth found in these wonderful stories and they don’t have to be historically accurate in order to be Truthful.

    Finally, your final proof-texted quote from 2 Timothy explicitly says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching.” Never in this text does it say that the word of God is “inerrant or infallible.” The Bible is divinely inspired so that we might use the stories in it and the Truth in it to teach people about the nature of God, not to bash over people’s heads.

  • dukediv2011

    In the ideal world this is perfect. Unfortunately it isn’t ideal and this is not happening. I wish it did!

    Thanks for sharing your response. It is appreciated.

  • pretax

    Ms. Thistlewaite is right, it is Jesus vs. oppressive government as always but isn’t that the point Mr. Cain was making?

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