The PJ Tatler

Would Jesus — or Judas — support Obama's tax policy?

Back when I was in college and still at an impressionable age, I heard one night while listening to an “alternative” radio station an old song called “Stand Up For Judas,” by British folk singer Leon Rosselson. I didn’t know at the time that Rosselson was a communist and an atheist, nor did I particularly follow politics back then; all I knew was that the song was “counter-intuitive” and anti-authoritarian, which meant that it was hip and daring, which was good enough for me. I hummed it on my way to class and imagined myself so very risqué.

I’ve since moved on from that embarrassing phase of life, but the song’s lyrics have stuck in my head ever since. Rosselson’s thesis, in “Stand Up For Judas,” is that Jesus was in fact a “class traitor” who encouraged the perpetuation of poverty, by focusing on metaphysical questions and the afterlife rather than trying to create a utopia on Earth here and now. Judas, on the other hand, was a firebrand revolutionary dedicated to overthrowing society’s status quo.

I was reminded of “Stand Up For Judas” once again when I read this morning that Obama said “Jesus would back my tax-the-rich policy:

“For me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that for unto whom much is given, much shall be required,” Obama said, quoting the Gospel of Luke.

(The masochists among you can watch his entire 20-minute-long self-aggrandizing speech here.)

Now, politicians of all stripes have been claiming that “Jesus would support my policies” as far back as anyone can remember, invariably without the slightest justification.

But on the specific issue of taxation to benefit the poor (leaving aside the inconvenient side issue of high taxes stalling economic growth which would in the long run hurt the poor), who has the better argument: President Obama, or Leon Rosselson? Who would be more likely use the existing worldly power structure to take money by force from the wealthy and give it to the poor: Jesus, or Judas?

To help you decide, here’s a video of Rosselson singing “Stand Up For Judas,” along with the lyrics underneath for you to follow along. Warning: If you’re a Christian, the lyrics might make you blow a gasket, but try to suppress the outrage for a moment and appreciate Rosselson’s line of reasoning, which when it comes to the issue of taxation and which of the two historical figures was more into “social justice,” is actually pretty convincing:

Stand Up For Judas
by Leon Rosselson

The Romans were the masters
When Jesus walked the land
In Judea and in Galilee
They ruled with an iron hand
The poor were sick with hunger
And the rich were clothed in splendour
And the rebels, whipped and crucified
Hung rotting as a warning
And Jesus knew the answer –
“Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”
Said, “Love your enemies”
But Judas was a Zealot and he
Wanted to be free
“Resist”, he said, “the Romans’ tyranny”

So stand up, stand up for Judas
And the cause that Judas served
It was Jesus who betrayed the poor with his word

Now Jesus was a conjuror,
Miracles were his game
He fed the hungry thousands
And they glorified his name
He cured the lame and leper
He calmed the wind and the weather
And the wretched flocked to touch him
So their troubles would be taken
And Jesus knew the answer –
“All you who labour, all you who suffer
Only believe in me”
But Judas sought a world where no-one
Starved or begged for bread
“The poor are always with us”, Jesus said

So stand up, stand up for Judas
And the cause that Judas served
It was Jesus who betrayed the poor with his word

Now Jesus sowed division
Where none had been before
Not the slave against the master
But the poor against the poor
Caused son to rise up against father
And brother to fight against brother
For “He that is not with me
Is against me” was his teaching
Said Jesus, “I am the answer
You unbelievers shall burn forever
Shall die in your sins”
“Not sheep or goats” said Judas but
“Together we may dare
Shake off the chains of tyranny we share”

So stand up, stand up for Judas
And the cause that Judas served
It was Jesus who betrayed the poor with his word

Jesus stood upon the mountain
With a distance in his eyes
“I am the Way, the Life” he cried
“The Light that never dies
So renounce all earthly treasures
And pray to your heavenly father”
And he pacified the hopeless
With the hope of life eternal
Said Jesus, “I am the answer
And you who hunger only remember
Your reward’s in heaven”
So Jesus preached the other world
But Judas wanted this
And he betrayed his master with a kiss

So stand up, stand up for Judas
And the cause that Judas served
It was Jesus who betrayed the poor with his word

By sword and gun and crucifix
Christ’s gospel has been spread
And two thousand cruel years have shown
The way that Jesus led
The heretics burned and tortured
And the butchering bloody Crusaders
The bombs and rockets sanctified
That rain down death from heaven
They followed Jesus, they knew the answer
All unbelievers must be believers
Or else be broken
“So place no trust in saviours”
Judas said, “for everyone
Must be to his or her own self a sun”

Now, atheistic communists like Rosselson generally reject religion entirely, and dismiss the Bible as fiction. But in “Stand Up For Judas” Rosselson does something interesting: He accepts the Biblical narrative as factually true, but sides with the Gospel’s villain, rather than its hero. Whether he did this in all sincerity or rather because he simply thought it would be a good ideological strategy to undermine Christianity’s appeal, I could not say.

Postmodern academics waste their careers trying to retroactively apply contemporary political mores to the literary classics — “Feminism in Shakespeare,” “Colonialist Oppression in The Canterbury Tales,” and so forth — and Rosselson’s injection of socialist concepts into a Biblical setting is just as pointless and ridiculous.

But if one were to sit down and — purely as an intellectual exercise — ponder whether Jesus or Judas would be more in favor of compulsory wealth transfer from the rich to the poor, I’d have to cast my vote, alongside Leon Rosselson, for Judas.

I imagine that Jesus and Judas were both against the kind of taxation the Romans imposed, in which money was extracted but not returned in benefits to the colonies. But what about taking wealth and instead of carting it back to Rome, distributing to the poor? it would seem that was Judas’ position, not Jesus’:

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

(Interesting to note that even back then, those who advocated wealth redistribution [like Judas] were condemned for skimming some of the wealth for themselves.)

Is Christianity inherently socialistic, as Obama claims? Or was Judas, not Jesus, the champion of the poor, as Rosselson claims?

Or is it a completely absurd exercise to mix religion and politics, the ancient and the modern, the worldly and the spiritual, such that we should condemn both Obama and Rosselson as political mountebanks?