If Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin Don’t Like the Pope, They Won’t Care Much for Jesus

Staunch conservatives maintain an unhistorical view of Jesus.

Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are starting to sour on the new pope.

In response to Pope Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation, in which the pontiff denounced “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” these two paragons of the far right – both of whom regularly invoke the teachings of Jesus to bolster their own political views – have suddenly turned their backs on the man whose actual job description is to speak for Jesus.

Sarah Palin complained that Pope Francis sounded “kind of liberal”
in his statements decrying the growing global income equality between the rich and the poor (she has since apologized).

Rush Limbaugh went one step further. “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope,” he harrumphed into his giant microphone.

Limbaugh, in his trademarked conspiratorial style, speculated that the pope’s tirade against “widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion” must have been forced upon him by somebody else. “Somebody has either written this for [the pope] or gotten to him,” he said.

Limbaugh is right. Somebody did get to Pope Francis. It was Jesus.

Self-styled “defenders of Christianity,” like Palin and Limbaugh, peddle a profoundly unhistorical view of Jesus. Indeed, if you listened to those on the far right you would think that all Jesus ever spoke about was guns and gays.

But even many modern Christians who reject the far right’s perception of Jesus tend to hold an inaccurate picture of the historical Jesus, viewing him as some kind of celestial spirit with no concern for the cares of this world – a curious assertion about a man who not only lived in one of the most politically charged periods in Israel’s history, but who claimed to be the promised messiah sent to liberate the Jews from foreign occupation.

This popular view of Jesus, which I challenge in my book, has dominated Christianity ever since the days of the Holy Roman Empire. It is not difficult to see why. After all, if you think of Jesus as an apolitical, pacifistic preacher of good works whose only interest was in the world to come, then you can domesticate Jesus’ radical teachings and more easily accommodate him to your own political or economic agenda.

You can be millionaire megachurch pastor Joel Olsteen, preaching a “prosperity Gospel” that claims Jesus wants to you drive a Bentley. You can be Republican congressman Steven Fincher, citing Jesus to denounce welfare and food stamps. You can be libertarian icon Rand Paul appealing to Jesus’ teachings to advocate ending foreign aid.

The truth is that Jesus’ teachings were so revolutionary that were he to preach today what he preached 2,000 years ago, many of the same preachers and politicians who claim to promote his values would be the first to call for him to be silenced.

Jesus did not preach income equality between the rich and the poor. He preached the complete reversal of the social order, wherein the rich and the poor would switch places.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be fed. Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall soon be laughing” (Luke 6:20–21).

These abiding words of the Beatitudes are often remembered as a promise of vindication for the poor and the dispossessed. But that is because few bother reading the verses that follow.

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you laughing now, for soon you will mourn” (Luke 6:24–25).

Jesus is not simply describing some utopian fantasy in which the meek inherit the earth, the sick are healed, the weak become strong, the hungry are fed, and the poor are made rich. He is advocating a chilling new reality in which the rich will be made poor, the strong will become weak, and the powerful will be displaced by the powerless.

“The first shall be last and the last shall be first” (Matthew 5:3–12).

While modern Christianity has tried to spiritualize this message of Jesus, transforming his revolutionary social teachings into abstract ethical principles, it is impossible to overlook the unflinching condemnation of the wealthy and powerful that permeate Jesus’ teachings.

“How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23).

As one can imagine, such a radical vision of the world would have been both profoundly appealing for those at the bottom rungs of Jesus’ society, and incredibly threatening for those at the top. The fact is not much has changed in two thousand years, as Palin and Limbaugh have proven.

Yet if these “culture warriors” who so often claim to speak for Jesus actually understood what Jesus stood for, they would not be so eager to claim his ideas for their own. In fact, they’d probably call him a Marxist.

Reza Aslan is the author most recently of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Image via Edgar Jiménez.

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  • ScottVA

    Ah. the old “Jesus was a Marxist” canard.
    I suppose you have forgotten that Jesus wrote the whole of the Bible, being God.
    Jesus spoke against the independence that wealth tends to bring to the soul.

    And note that He said, “Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT…”
    He wasn’t speaking of economics, but of character.

    The Socialist view simply replaces God with the government, which supplieth all our needs.
    Pure Capitalism (ala Ayn Rand) is equally abhorrent to Jesus. This is what He faced during His time on earth, so this is the majority of text regarding money.
    Christianity is Capitalism mixed with charity.

    “One runs a business ultimately to do well so you can do good for everyone.”
    ―Ted Malloch

  • Gloria2

    Reza Aslan should berate his own Muslim faith detractors who commit evil killings in the name of Islam, instead of trying to “police” Christians on their comments about the Pope.

  • RickyGibson

    Rush Limbaugh seems to be quite qualified to philosophize on religion and morals.

    According to Wikipedia, Limbaugh’s marital history is

    Roxy Maxine McNeely (1977–1980, div.)
    Michelle Sixta (1983–1990, div.)
    Marta Fitzgerald (1994–2004, div.)
    Kathryn Rogers (2010–pres)

    Personally, I’m not even sure I’ve ever met someone who has been married four times. What was the problem? Limbaugh is a very aggressive and combative personality. Are we talking spousal abuse? Violence? One spouse only lasted three years.

    His eight figure income could buy an awful lot of silence.

    Limbaugh is a known illegal drug abuser. Seems to me a lot of ugly behavior goes hand in hand with that.

    Yep. Rush Limbaugh seems to be quite qualified to philosophize on religion and morals.

  • aCriticalEye

    So now the “Religious Right” doesn’t like the POPE ! Wow, they really have gone to the dark side.

  • aCriticalEye

    Did he say something against your heros? Awhhhh..
    Rush doesn’t deserve the air he breathes, every day he is alive is a crime against humanity.

  • lucretius

    ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.
    It has been found difficult; and left untried.’

    – G.K. Chesterton

  • Craig14159

    Nothing new the Catholic Church in 1931 Pius XI – in The Reconstruction of the Social Order (Quadragesimo Anno) critiqued both unbridled capitalism and communism. Mr. Limbaugh and Ms. Palin would do well to check out the development of Catholic Social Teaching not to mention their New Testaments.

  • whitney s

    Those scriptures do not mean that the rich shouldn’t have money and the poor should be rich. To say that’s what Jesus means in those scriptures is to take His word out of context. He is speaking directly to people who put their value IN their wealth, and not in HIM. Our inheritance is in heaven and eternal life if we are in Christ, whether or not we are rich or poor. Those scriptures give comfort to those who don’t have as much here on earth because the Lord will provide for them. This is evident in Philippians 4:19 when Paul says “And my God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Key words: his riches in GLORY in Christ Jesus. Not money. In giving Christ glory. Christ is most glorified in US when we are most SATISFIED in HIM. Not in money.


    Your response fails to understand the Gospel of Jesus in its entirety. While it is true that those who claim to follow Jesus should be their faith in Him and above anything of this earth (including riches), it is also true that the way we treat one another on this earth is critically important. The so-called “parable of the rich man and Lazarus” (cf. Luke 16:19-31) makes just this point. It was precisely because of the rich man’s treatment of the poor beggar Lazarus with disdain and contempt that he (the rich man) was not welcomed into God’s Kingdom. Christianity teaches that the way we treat “the least among us” will be the standard by which we are judged. Palin and Limbaugh (and other fundamentalists like them) have no clue as to the true meaning of Gospel of Jesus and the values of Christianity. Thank God there’s a man like Pope Francis, a man sorely needed in our times.

  • AC Lossner

    This should make Rush blush

  • Who is Jesus

    US Code 42-666 subsection 13, as it relates to the mark of the beast 666 and Revelation chapter 13 as it relates to the mark of the beast. Come to Christ!

  • Who is Jesus

    Your social security number is the mark of the beast 666, it is the number of a man and all shall recieve it free, bond, rich, poor, and whoever accepts it in order to buy and sell is condemned to the lake of fire. Come to Christ!

    DC was founded by freemasons. “They go against God”. – Dianne Foster Reiddy, House of Representatives Stenographer 20 years. On the eve of the House vote on Obamacare.

  • inflight

    Advocating for a government to take the role of ‘benevolent dictator’ is hardly Biblical, Mr Aslan. Nor is advocating for government to replace our moral compasses. Free will must prevail, regardless the temptations of the left to hotwire us all into their ideals of morality.

  • itsthedax

    Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are conservative icons, and their rhetoric reflects the values of the American Republican Party. They demonstrate that the fundamental beliefs and practices of Republican politicians are directly opposed to those of the Pope, and of christianity.

    So, all you “Values Voters”, are still going to follow orders and vote the way that Sarah and Rush tell you?

  • jamie171

    At least David Stockman agrees with the Pope. Stockman admitted that ‘trickle down’ economics is a scam to steal money from the middle class and the poor. Socialism for the rich.

  • jamie171

    ‘Limbaugh, in his trademarked conspiratorial style, speculated that the pope’s tirade against “widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion” must have been forced upon him by somebody else. “Somebody has either written this for [the pope] or gotten to him,” he said.’

    Yes, it looks like the Pope does not have ALEC write his speeches for him, unlike many right wing GOP governors and legislators.

  • Joel Hardman

    Did you read the Exhortation from the Pope? Maybe that’s where you should start.

  • Joel Hardman

    The good old Bible interpretation algorithm:

    1. Do I like what this passage says?

    2. If yes > literal truth. If no > metaphor.

    Works every time.

    Specifically here, Jesus’ life doesn’t support the claim that his talk of wealth is metaphorical. In his time, he commanded his followers to give up their wealth quite literally, did he not?

  • Joel Hardman

    I’m actually not that surprised. Much of the conservative Christian populace in the United States is highly suspicious of Catholicism. They’ve put some of that suspicion aside for political gain recently, but I think it’s still there.

  • Joel Hardman

    Maybe you could argue that capitalism is compatible with Christianity, but to say that capitalism is Christianity? That’s absurd. If it’s true, how did Christianity exist in societies before capitalism became dominant?

    You’re inspiring me to revise the biblical interpretation algorithm:

    1. Do I like what this passage says?

    2. If yes > literal truth. If no > metaphor.

    I’m going to have to add a bit about emphasizing what you like and deemphasizing what you don’t.

  • cymrycat1

    Gloria2, Aslan spent quite a bit of time as a Fundamentalist CHRISTIAN before he went back to the faith of Islam. In addition, Aslan is a RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR who has a PhD in NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES. He is a professor of NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES. Maybe you should consider that he is well-qualified to speak as to what is and is NOT said in the New Testament? Maybe you should consider that he is well-qualified to speak to whether the Pope is following the teachings of JESUS (as opposed to SAUL) or not.

    Or are you of the opinion that only current Christians can speak to what Jesus said? After all, they are parroting what they have been taught by people who have NOT studied the teachings they claim to espouse as much as Aslan has and thus are NOT as qualified to speak to the teachings of Jesus as Aslan is. I, personally, would rather accept the word of someone who has a DOCTORATE in those teachings than someone who may or may not have a divinity studies degree from a theological department. And I CERTAINLY an going to listen to Aslan before I listen to two people who have NOT even had a comparative religious study or even taken college classes in their faith and instead are parroting their VERY fallible “Preachers” and “Reverends” or whatever they call those people who stand up at the pulpit on Sunday and corrupt the teachings of the man who they claim to revere and follow.


    Martin Luther (1483-1546). While studying law, Luther, fearing death in a thunderstorm, promised God he would become a
    monk if God spared him. As a monk and professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg, Luther attempted to secure his
    salvation by adhering to a very strict code of ethics, obedience to the monastic order, and ceaseless confession. This proved
    unsatisfactory and Luther continued to have intense emotional struggles with his own salvation until an epiphany struck him in
    the tower of his Augustinian monastery. It was during this “tower experience” that Luther realized that salvation was a free gift
    imputed to man through Christ’s righteousness. We are justified by the grace of God through the atoning death of Jesus on the
    cross. Our good works, then, do not cause our salvation, but rather they are a result of our salvation. God does not love us
    because we are good—we are good because God loves us. With this new understanding of salvation, Luther went on to criticize
    the Catholic Church for, among other things, selling indulgences to people with the promise that these purchases would help
    assure their salvation. Luther protested this and other things in his famous Ninety-five Theses. This eventually led to a major
    conflict between Luther and his German supporters and the Catholic Church in Rome. The end result was the Protestant
    Reformation, although Luther saw himself not as the creator of a new church, but as a reformer of the Catholic Church, leading
    her back to the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone.