Paul Ryan and Jesus Christ

Flipping open the new issue of Time (9/3/12), a piece by Michael Crowley begins:

Paul Ryan may be America’s most famous budget wonk.

Oh good grief.

Crowley’s point is not just to praise Ryan’s devotion to spreadsheets. No, this piece is about the influences that made Paul Ryan the wonk he is today:

But he’s more than a number cruncher. Ryan’s budget math is drawn from the political and economic theories of his many intellectual idols.

And you get what you’d expect: Ayn Rand, Jack Kemp, Friedrich Hayek. But it’s the passage about Ryan and Catholicism that is especially bizarre.
Jesus/Tony Unruh
After quoting Ryan praising Saint Thomas Aquinas, Crowley writes:

Ryan may be known as a numbers man, but he’s also a devout Catholic who follows his church’s lead on social issues.

As you might expect–or fear–“social issues” means opposing abortion rights, gay marriage and supporting don’t ask, don’t tell.

Now, anyone who’s ever spent any time near a Catholic church or knows much about the teachings of Jesus Christ knows this is a pretty short list of “social issues.” Indeed, many Catholics have argued that Paul Ryan’s views on other social issues do not line up with Catholic teachings. As Melinda Hennenberger wrote at the Washington Post:

This spring, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took the unusual step of repudiating the deep cuts envisioned in Ryan’s budget proposal as out of keeping with the teachings of Jesus. One of a series of their letters to congressional committees read in part:

“I write to urge you to resist for moral and human reasons unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs [that would] hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”

This summer’s Nuns on the Bus tour (which was exactly what it sounds like) drew attention to core Catholic teachings about social justice and charity that are directly in conflict with Ryan’s budget schemes. Other scholars of the faith have done so as well.

So either these nuns and bishops don’t know which “social issues” matter to their faith, or Time magazine is taking a remarkably narrow view in order to portray Ryan’s faith in the best possible light.

But it’s not as though Time ignores Ryan’s budgets. Not at all; they find a way to argue that Ryan’s views are line with the Vatican:

But Ryan says Catholic doctrine informs more than his views on social issues. His mission to reduce spending is partly inspired, he said in April, by the Vatican. “The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are ‘living at the expense of future generations’ and ‘living in untruth,'” he said. In which case the Ryan budget could be interpreted as a play for fairness and honesty, at least in the eyes of its maker.

Sure, it could be interpreted that way. But it’s an odd way for a journalist to examine the question–allowing Ryan to explain how he’s doing what the Pope would want. Others might disagree with Ryan’s self-assessment, not to mention his understanding of what Pope Benedict would think. Here’s Daniel Maguire, professor of moral theological ethics at Marquette University:

Just last year, in October 2011, Pope Benedict’s Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace gave all the help you need. They summed up centuries of “Catholic social teaching” in a single document and applied it to today’s tottering global economy. When asked about the document, you equivocated about whether you had read it. Clearly, from your recent utterances you either did not read it or you read it and trashed it. Small wonder. It would give Ayn Rand a stroke. Jesuit Thomas Reese said the document is “closer to the view of Occupy Wall Street that anyone in the U.S. Congress.”

“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.” Those are words attributed to Jesus. He did not say much about giving the wealthy a massive tax cut, paid for by cutting aid to the needy. But perhaps Time could give Ryan space to explain how a budget that does just that is just what Jesus would have done.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.