MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell devoted one of his "Rewrite" segments this week to the topic of Rush Limbaugh and Jesus Christ. Upset with Limbaugh's dismissal of the left's "What would Jesus cut?" campaign, O'Donnell tore into the talk show host, imagining him flying "down the path of the damned" in his private jet should he fail to "give up" all his wealth.
As he sits in "full recline" on one of his jet-setting trips to play golf, Limbaugh should consider the perilous fate of his soul, thundered O'Donnell. Heed, he said, "the words of Jesus Christ. Give up everything. You can be a radio talk show host and you can make your 50 million dollars a year. But you cannot do that and be a disciple of Christ if you keep all of your 50 million dollars a year."
That an MSNBC host believes in the existence of hell is perhaps the most newsworthy element to emerge from this statement. But O'Donnell's implicit "rewrite" of the New Testament and equation of Christian discipleship with IRS payments are also notable.
Jesus Christ told his disciples to "give to the poor." But from O'Donnell's commentary, one would have thought that Christ said, "give to government to give to the poor." Christ's injunctions to individual charity and the exacting of taxes by government are treated as one and the same in O'Donnell's analysis.
O'Donnell casts Jesus Christ as the premier tax theoretician for the welfare state, interpreting Christ's message of "give up everything" as a call for Marxist levels of taxation.
"The New Testament does have an answer to Rush's question, 'What would Jesus take?' and it's not one Rush is going to like," said O'Donnell. "And since he obviously has no working command of the Bible, it will surely shock him because he will be hearing it now for the first time. The answer is everything, not 35 percent, not 39.6 percent. One hundred percent."
O'Donnell describes Jesus Christ here as a very eager socialist, but if that is true, Christ's pejorative references to "tax collectors" should be expunged from the Gospel and lines like "treat them [the unrepentant] as you would a tax collector" should be changed to "treat them as you would a tax cheat." O'Donnell didn't mention those needed rewrites.
The theology underlying O'Donnell's commentary is curious to say the least. He interprets Christ's calls for sacrifice wholly in terms of the good of Caesar, not God. In O'Donnell's telling, Christ wanted his disciples to "give up everything" not for the kingdom of heaven but for the expansion of government agencies. Support for government programs is the test of sanctity for O'Donnell, which explains why he thinks its critics like Limbaugh are going to hell.
O'Donnell reduces Jesus Christ to an advocate for big government, an advocate who isn't even allowed to call for defunding Planned Parenthood. O'Donnell's Christ has uncannily similar budgetary priorities to the Democratic Party.
Christ's "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" implies a limitation on government. But O'Donnell and company don't see any limitation on the government, in effect considering Caesar to be God. O'Donnell said that while "Jesus may not have specified specific tax brackets, he was the first recorded advocate of a progressive income tax. Jesus actually said, 'I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything, all she had to live on.'"
The story of the widow works against O'Donnell's claim. The widow gave freely for the benefit of her soul, which Christ commends. Were O'Donnell presiding over that treasury, he would have refunded the money and encourage her to resent the rich instead.