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Paul Ryan, Part II - Rise of the Neo-Catholic

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From flickr.com/photos/34956641@N03/4303829672/: Paul Ryan
Paul Ryan
(image by U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan)

When last we left our dubious hero, he was learning a great lesson about life, liberty and the pursuit of Ayn-Randian self-aggrandizement -- and whether or not it squares with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Given the very public manner in which Ryan flaunts his catholic faith and how it informs his legislative positions -- put a collar on it, would ya'! -- it's worth asking, is he doing what Jesus would do? Is he the compassionate shepherd tending his flock? Or is he just another brutal overseer finding new ways to justify oppression?

It's not a trick question. But trying to answer it depends on which interpretation of JC's teachings you agree with. The traditional view presents him as a champion of social justice and economic equality. According to the gospels, the four biblical narratives that recount Jesus' time on earth, he spent virtually his entire life hanging out with the disadvantaged, the sick and the homeless. He defended the weak, broke bread with prostitutes and preached humility and service to others. It's true he spoke of loving the enemy and of turning the other cheek. (Yeah I know. What a wuss.) But he also denounced injustice, particularly the structural kind, and he was a ferocious critic of the corporate banksters of his time. His message could not have been clearer: if you worship money and the privileges of power, you can kiss any chance of a spiritual afterlife goodbye. The rich and powerful are not getting into heaven. Period. It would be like trying to teach your camel to thread a needle. It ain't happening.

Surely catholics who see Jesus as a working class hero would reject outright the kinds of policies Ryan routinely endorses. His budget proposals, for example, are about as blatantly anti-christian as it gets. Then again, maybe there's another way to read the gospels that coincides with Ryan's peculiar brand of catholicism and that therefore allows him to glean a different lesson from the example of Jesus' life? A neo-catholicism?

According to this interpretation, when Jesus said give up your worldly possessions he was talking to the 99% -- certainly not the ruling elites. He meant average citizens -- the poor, children, retirees, cops, teachers -- advising them, in so many words, to willingly give up whatever they possess, whatever they'd worked for. Place your faith in the spiritual, not the worldly. It's all part of god's plan. Or, in the vernacular of the political, average citizens should passively accept having their homes and their retirement stolen from them because Jesus said it was okay. This version of the Savoir admonishes the rabble not to fight but to embrace their disenfranchisement, and he assures them their heavenly father not only blesses the homeless and the destitute, but he's in favor of adopting an economic model that institutionalizes their social standing. This version of Jesus assures us that wealth is perfectly acceptable. It's just making sure it "trickles" away from those who don't deserve it and "up" to those who do, and neo-catholics like Paul Ryan work tirelessly to make it happen.

According to this interpretation, denying needy people gov't assistance is not the act of a twisted sadist but that of the true catholic. People are by nature fallen, vain, ignorant, easily tempted to sloth. The true catholic makes it harder for these people to pay for basic necessities because he knows that that's the only way they'll learn to be self-sufficient. He knows that cutting food stamps for single mothers, for example, is the only way to teach women to be responsible -- to take better care of themselves -- to make better life-decisions they won't regret later like having children or marrying an abusive husband or being female. And yes, the true catholic knows that some people will never be able to function on their own. But he also knows that more gov't handouts only delays the inevitable.

(This appears to be the signature achievement dividing traditional catholics from their "neo" counterparts. Whereas catholics used to feel compassion for the downtrodden, now they throw stones.)

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According to this interpretation, those who believe in Jesus as a class warrior got the story backwards. Ryan's Jesus wasn't talking about leveling the social or economic playing field. He was talking about getting his and to hell with the rest of you clowns. Ryan's Jesus is Jamie Dimond in flip-flops, swinging with the Philistines. Think John Galt meets Rambo -- a machine-gun toting, free-market loving, gov't hating, buffed up bible-quoting soldier of spiritual fortune. Yee ha! "I love the little son of a b*tch!" Ryan's Jesus brings not a dove but a drone. He kicks ass for Wall Street. He blesses individual freedom and you better know he's first in line at the altar of the fatted calf -- which, by the bye, he buys wholesale from Ryan's own stock for thirty pieces of silver each.

So what's it going to be? Either Jesus fights for the rights of the disadvantaged or he runs cover for the ruling elites. Either he believes in economic equality or he's down with a financial system that feeds the excesses of the rich at the expense of the rest of us. Either he's a soldier for social justice or he's a court jester with a couple magic tricks and a going-away prize.

We know where Paul Ryan and the neo-catholics like him stand -- Boehner, Kerry, King, Biden, Landrieu -- Brownback, Cantwell, Collins, Murkowski -- Christie, La Page. Their record is no secret. They've been squeezing the 99% for years, demonizing poor people and people of color, blaming the victims of corporate greed for problems they did not create, undermining the rights of workers and shredding the social safety net wherever they can. They say they're good catholics doing god's work. It's only a coincidence that their interpretation of god's work happens to align perfectly with the politics of the ruling elites. But, remember, Jesus said it was okay.

So what's it going to be? The sword or the plow?

Hell, just nail me up now and get it over with.

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Teacher, writer, filmmaker living in California.

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