Preposterous Universe

Wednesday, September 08, 2004
How would Jesus vote?

From Crooked Timber, the local political news is fraught with religious significance: Alan Keyes says that Jesus wouldn't vote for Barack Obama. (Presumably, He would vote for Alan Keyes, although Keyes is too humble to draw the obvious conclusion.)

For we non-believers, these esoteric theological discussions are all very confusing. I've gotten the wrong impression countless times by simply reading the Bible without an expert commentator at my elbow to help me along. Consider for example the famous passage in Matthew 19:24:
And again I say unto you, 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.
(The story is repeated in the other synoptic gospels, Mark and Luke.) Now, the meaning here seems pretty straightforward to the uneducated reader -- rich people are going to have a really hard time getting into Heaven. An impossible time, actually; as Jesus surely knows, camels don't fit through the eyes of needles. (Some weasels try to claim that the "eye" was really a gate outside Jerusalem, or the "camel" was really "rope," but these ideas have been rightfully smacked down.) But that's only because I'm a naive reader of the scriptures. At least I am quicker on the uptake than Jesus' disciples, who dutifully play the straight man:
When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
Here I would have expected Jesus to slap the disciples, aggravated at their cluelessness. If rich people won't enter the kingdom of God, it seems pretty obvious that Heaven would be populated by (formerly) poor people. But that's why I'm a physicist rather than the Messiah. Jesus explains:
But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
So the point is not that rich people won't enter Heaven; it that's they can only enter with the help of God (just like everybody else)! All those parts of the Bible where Jesus appears to be saying disdainful things about wealth are really just a smokescreen -- what's important is not how much money you have, but how deeply you believe in Him. Otherwise how could our President stand a chance?

So I'm not going to offer an opinion about who Jesus would vote for. For all I know, He may think that the good citizens of Illinois should walk around carrying concealed machine guns. Sure would make the morning commute on the El more exciting!

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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