What Belongs to Caesar?

What Belongs To Caesar
When I was a child I didn’t understand politics.

My parents were moderates – in an era when almost everyone was a moderate – and proud of it.

Back then, in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, unlike now, there were few extremists (except for the occasional lunatic, paranoid frenzy of McCarthyism and the John Birch Society) and the vast majority of both political parties were pragmatic, stodgy and, as a rule, routinely put national priorities and progress ahead of personal preferences or ideological purity.

Bi-partisanship was the rule of the day because work had to be done. Friendships, even marriages, were common across party lines.

As I look back on it, in contrast to the inchoate obstructionism that passes for ideology today, the teamwork that made prosperity and stability of that time possible seems like a childish fantasy.

The ideological lines were drawn, not along political lines, but upon different strategies to achieve what was best for all of us.

There was rarely a dispute over what should be done – the needs and demands of the time – poverty, Civil Rights, post-war and Cold War military requirements were obvious enough – the disputes, mostly civil, were about philosophy and long term strategies.

I’m not much of a joiner. During political seasons I follow both political campaigns with equal parts of fascination, dismay and, sometimes, sheer tedium.

I vote, or don’t, for issues and candidates based on how much they matter to me.

I have many friends who urge me to vote, work and even pray for the victory of Mitt Romney. These are reasonable, intelligent and imminently likable people, but when President Obama comes on TV, radio or even in conversation, they are reduced to red-faced, gibbering, near-incoherent babblers.

Their hatred is as palpable as it is incoherent. This is not racism, they tell me. Of course not. They just don’t like ‘him’. They don’t like the way he talks, or walks. Or his name.

These are good people – they look, act and believe like I do.

And they make me wonder what I would hate so passionately.

I can’t think of any person, place or thing that I would hate so much.

What comes to mind as worth hating are more like universal abstractions – things that, it seems to me, we should all hate; deception, hypocrisy, corruption, suspicion and injustice. This is what, I always thought, everyone of any (or no) faith would find intolerable and offensive. Not how someone walks.

Related: Is Choosing Not to Vote Selfish?

Perhaps I’m naïve, but shouldn’t beliefs should be personal – not stamped out by political platform committees?

Brave New Films

For example, my students are amazed when I tell them that before 1980, abortion was a personal and moral position – not a political fault line.

In most of our country, abortion has become the ultimate political dividing line, but not in my state; we have a  pro-life Democratic candidate for state senate and a pro-choice Republican gubernatorial option.

During Clint Eastwood’s ‘skit’ at the Republican Convention we saw many people’s deepest fear – an arch-nemesis with magical powers; a mythical being who, Thor-like, could raise and lower the oceans, cast hurricanes upon the Republican convention, and was single-handedly responsible for our social and economic ills – from homosexuality, to a stagnant economy, to high gas prices, droughts and much more.

Gone was Obama the Muslim, Marxist socialist. After a mere four years, Obama had morphed into a swirling, nearly invincible (even invisible) super-villain.

Meanwhile, Republicans portray themselves as the faithful remnant fighting valiantly for the restoration of a Thomas Kincaid America where everyone has – and knows – their place.

If only, they told us repeatedly, we could cast the evil Obama spirit from our land, all would be well.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) stated recently that the Republican Party is “not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

I see these angry white guys”– and their fear-filled fantasies – almost every day. But they, to put it mildly, do not bring out the best in us.

But some of us recognize that we are not – and should not be – all the same, and that reasonable people of faith can disagree (and still be friends) and that very few of us will hold the same beliefs we held five years ago or will hold five years from now, and when we hire someone to do a job – especially politicians – we expect them to do it. And we like fact-checkers who confirm how true – or false – a public statement might be.

And we particularly respect the right – if not obligation – of every citizen to vote.

Faith and politics define and express our deepest values, and sometimes fears, but neither of these should ever be static and self-immolating. Our beliefs, at their best, should enlarge ourselves, embrace and welcome others, and make the Kingdom of God more tangible – and approachable.

So I say halleluiah for our religious and political differences. We are as varied as our terrain and our ethnic, historic and religious backgrounds.

Our calling as citizens who express our beliefs can never be a rote exercise, and we dare not be lazy and mechanical as we express ourselves in this particular public forum.

Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

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Morf Morford

Morf MorfordMorf Morford is a writer, teacher, word-nerd, 98% vegan, listener, community story-teller, poet, advocate of the oddities of earthly existence. Scavenger of the unlikely.View all posts by Morf Morford →

  • Thanks for calling out the Obama hatred, which seems strongest in the very people who claim to follow the Prince of Peace. I think part of it is situational; I remember the same unhinged, irrational anger being directed at President Clinton, and Candidate Gore, and Candidate Kerry. Talk radio is able to lure gullible religious folk into amazing levels of black hatred through daily litanies of negativity, innuendo and untruths; sad that the religious seem most eager to believe lies and embrace a terribly negative narrative.

    • Never conflate the hatred of another’s behavior, political-economic philosophy, and governing methodology with hatred of the person who engages in these. Most people who hate Obama’s political-economic philosophy and methodology would love to attend a basketball game with him, have a few dogs and beers, comment on the game, and whoop and holler for the home team, especially if he’s paying and supplying the security team.

    • A.Lee

      Then I guess we have whom to blame for the threats many people posted on their twitter accounts after this last presidential debate wanting to assassinate Romney? Maybe MSNBC.

  • dmaxwell

    So, no one remembers this hatred directed at Bush? “Bush lied, people died”. We still have soldiers in those countries.

  • Cabbageguy

    Wow – your Republican friends are much different than mine. We don’t hate Obama – just his ideas. Yes, I am certain you can find many that say they “hate Obama,” but I’m certain you can find just as many Democrats that say they “hate Romney.” This blog entry is a bit one-sided, which is fine, that’s why it is a blog. Just a bit disappointed that it is on a Christian based website. I see too much “hatred” in many things these days – just look at the fans in sports as another example. Seems like you can’t cheer for your own team without “hating” the opponent. Let’s not elavate the small number of “haters” to make them mainstream – they are not a majority by a long shot – on either side of the isle. Our goals are the same – our approaches to accomplishing the goals are different. Let’s focus on our common love of our country and its people.

    • SamHamilton

      Thanks for posting. I agree.

  • So, I’m an “angry white guy” because I don’t agree with the president’s policies, and I don’t think he deserves a second term? Hmmm. I wonder what my mixed race family would say about that. As stated below, President Bush (who I personally did not support, either,) was on the receiving end of horrific vitriol, but that didn’t seem to bother many people. We all need to get a grip, vote for whomever you think is the best choice for the country, and quit damning the “other side!”

    • SamHamilton

      President Bush (who I personally did not support, either,) was on the receiving end of horrific vitriol, but that didn’t seem to bother many people

      This is so true. People should take a look at this website to see all the awful, disgusting things that were being said by people about George Bush.


      And here’s a tamer take on the same subject:


      Hatred of a U.S. President didn’t seem to be a problem for the left prior to President Obama’s election.

      • SamHamilton

        Hmmm…I’m confused why people gave my comment negative votes. Did they think the pictures and words in the links were too graphic for a Christian website?

        • 22044

          Sometimes I look at Zombie’s work. It’s a bit…shall we say…eye-opening. Probably not recommended viewing for everyone.

    • John

      If you guys can’t see a qualitative distinction between Obama’s errors of judgement and G. W. Bush’s then I wonder if we are heading for a new dark age.

      • SamHamilton

        That’s always the excuse. “What Bush did was so much more bad than whatever it is you all are upset with Obama for so our hateful, angry behavior is justified!!!”

    • Drew

      Morf was talking about angry white guys who subscribe almost mythical, evil powers and abilities to Obama. It appears you dislike Obama solely based on his policies. Therefore, you are not the type of person Morf mentions in the article. Please read a little more cautiously.

    • Middle Man

      Sam, I think he was also inferring that you are racist in addition to being an angry white guy. Apparently it’s okay to think and vote independently as long as you end up voting for Obama.

  • SamHamilton

    my students are amazed when I tell them that before 1980, abortion was a personal and moral position – not a political fault line.

    I presume you discussed with them a certain Supreme Court decision that turned abortion into a national issue with predictable political results…

    I can’t stand the way Christians on the left lament how abortion has become this divisive political issue. I wonder if they’d feel the same way if abortion was outlawed nationally and Democrats were using that fact to energize their base.

  • John Bailey

    The bipartisan era is for the time being a part of history. We are in the throes of a cultural loss of nerve so profound that to the confused masses, every political decision feels like an existential watershed. In the political sphere and the religious, there is a thirst for crushing victory unprecedented in recent generations. It will pass, there will be a new order, but (as with the comparable period of deconstruction into which Jesus was born), some of the political, ethical and spiritual resolutions we work out in the years ahead may be with us for quite some time.

  • This piece is titled, “What Belongs to Caesar?” But somewhat queerly this question was never answered and arguably not even addressed. Perhaps because the Key Word “Caesar” in the title’s question was errant.

    Caesar no longer rules. He did in Jesus’ day. Sure, “Caesar” can be thought of as a metaphor for all governments everywhere for all times. But America is not ruled by an Emperor with delusions of deity — at least I hope not — and we are NOT a foreign occupied entity. Yet.

    Thus, the better question is, “What Belongs to America?” Or perhaps, “What do Americans owe the American Constitution?”

    My presupposition is that the Constitution and the men and women who fought with their blood and treasure to craft and adopt it knew better than most politicians do today about most things most important to our nation, not the least of why is because the latter rarely consult it, never mind recite it and inductively study it. My evidence? The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, without which the former was not possible, have survived for 236 years and 224 years, respectively (the Constitution was RATIFIED in 1788), whereas no Presidential (Caesarian) regime lasts more than eight years and some only four. I predict the current regime will last only four years for many reasons, not the least of which is its leader has strayed too far from the Constitution, as flexible in some regards as it is. As of this date Rasmussen, Gallup, Real Clear Politics, and the University of Colorado predictive model which has accurately predicted every Presidential Election since 1980 support my prediction.

    Christians living in America, as well as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Mormons, B’haie’s, pantheists, atheists, agnostics, spiritists, wiccans, etc., all have the freedom to practice their religion sans criminal activity. Nevertheless, all of us must obey the criminal and civil laws and torts; the fountainhead of every individual law and tort is the Constitution of the United States of America.

    So what do we owe the Constitution of the United States of America, to which all governments – federal, state, and local – are subordinate? We owe allegiance. Obedience, Fealty. And rather than leaving our religion and morality at our doorsteps in the morning we take it with us wherever we go.

    The Constitution was designed with so much Liberty and Freedom built in that our framers knew and insisted, at a time when there were very few atheists and most everyone newly emigrated to America was a Christian or Jew embracing Judeo-Christian values and morality — well known historical sins notwithstanding — that our “experiment” in a Liberty-based Rule of Law Republic would implode were it not for religion and morality. Listen again to founder and 2nd President of the United States, John Adams

    “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.”

    If it was up to me I would read the above at the beginning of every Congressional session, before every Presidential Cabinet Meeting, and before every Supreme Court hearing. It should be read from the pulpit at least a couple times per year and in every classroom from Kindergarten to College Senior.

    The genius of our founders and framers was that they understood wo/men’s highest aspirations for this temporal life were Liberty and that everything else great and lofty they desired required Liberty to achieve; LIFE first — no abortions; LIBERTY — to attain to wo/men’s greatest potential; and the pursuit (but NOT the government guaranteed attainment of) HAPPINESS — in whatever form wo/men choose for themselves sans illegal behavior.

    Religion and morality are sine qua nons that virtuously and principally govern people from taking LIFE via homicide, filicide and genocide; squelching others’ LIBERTIES by enslaving them literally or figuratively and making them dependent in one way or another upon slave masters and/or governments for their nurture and succor; and robbing others of the means to pursue personal HAPPINESS.

    Our founders understood that the right to practice religion and to carry religion and morality into the workplace, civic institutions, schools, Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court were not only quintessential aspirations of wo/men but absolutely essential to virtually ensure our Rule of Law Republic became and remained viable and prosperity producing. And that without them we should indeed anticipate that our Republic will collapse and our society will fall through any irreligious and immoral safety net it erected. And this, I maintain, is exactly what is happening in America.

    America’s sitz im leben is characterized by an increase in irreligion and immorality, and it is occurring both in the highest levels of government and at the grass roots. Our Constitution is wholly inadequate to vouchsafe the warp and woof of our religiously and morally devolving society that not only ignores but in some cases tramples upon the Constitution by insisting it says things it does not, that it insists upon things it never has, and that it contains the seeds for a godless, Marxist based type of European style Democratic Socialism. Balderdash. These can NOT even be found in “emanations of penumbrae.”

    Americans owe America fealty to our supreme governing document. As we are NOT a theocracy and NOT civically and criminally ruled by any religious text, in order to perform our civic duties and maintain the rule of law, we must study, re-study, and study again our great founding documents, the supplementary documents such as the Federalist Papers produced by a select group of our founders, some of the official writings of our founders and framers, and the writings of some of the great people who heavily influenced our founders and framers; Cicero, Augustine, John Locke, and William Blackstone, among others come to mind. And one of my favorites, Alexis de Tocqueville, who famously and presciently stated,

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

    To the extent that America further devolves into a Mob Rule Tyrannical Democracy will the probability increase that de Tocqueville’s observation becomes true. We must “keep our Republic,” as the venerable Ben Franklin answered and stated when asked upon emerging from the Constitution’s framing, “What have you given us?” It is instructive that he did NOT say, “A democracy, if you can keep it.”

    For there is little daylight between practiced Communism and Socialism arrived at democratically. Communism enslaves men by brute force; Socialism by democratic voting followed by imposed redistribution and “equalization” euphemistically known as “collectivization.” One great philosopher described it as the difference between homicide and suicide. The analogy is apt given how many people were killed, killed themselves, or died from starvation by their own States last century — upwards of 100,000,000 within China, the U.S.S.R., North Korea, and Cuba, among others.

    America’s slide toward Democratic Socialism — voted for Marxism — makes the probability of de Tocqueville’s observation and prediction higher.

    America owes it to herself to return to religion and morality — incompatible with Marxism in all its godless forms — and to vouchsafe our Constitution with its insistence upon the Rule of Law within a Limited Government, Federalist, States’ Rights Republic.

    • Questioning

      William you sure do talk perty…. all kidding aside, your comment is verbose and passionate but, at least to my feeble mind, a bit short on specifics and missing some things. I think the gist may be found in your conclusion: “America owes it to herself to return to religion and morality — incompatible with Marxism in all its godless forms — and to vouchsafe our Constitution with its insistence upon the Rule of Law within a Limited Government, Federalist, States’ Rights Republic.”

      I’m not interested in quibbling over the “States Rights Republic” part, but I would like to focus on morality.

      First you mention abortion, but abortion is just a symptom of a larger disease…. that being man’s brokenness. We’re never gonna cure that, but we should at least treat the disease and not the symptoms. Just arbitrarily banning abortion, by itself, is not the answer. We need to do all we can to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. If that’s providing education and contraceptives, then so be it. Even so, there will still be unwanted pregnancy. If abortions are banned one of two things is going to happen: either a black market abortion, or there is a good likelihood that a child will be brought into this world who is either a) unwanted or b) will be born into a family that is not able to adequately raise and provide for the child. Are we going to allow an increasing number of children to fall into this quagmire, requiring an ever burgeoning drain on our government resources when they cannot take care of themselves? Before we ban abortion, we had better have a plan and funding for how we are going to care, raise, and provide for them, so that they have a chance to become productive. The private sector will not be able to do this alone, government will have to step in. Somehow though, I suspect you might be against more “big” government. Abortion AND allowing a child to be brought into this world who cannot be properly cared for, and then telling that child “your on your own”, are both immoral acts.

      Secondly you state: “the genius of our founders and framers was that they understood wo/men’s highest aspirations for this temporal life were Liberty and that everything else great and lofty they desired required Liberty to achieve; LIFE first — no abortions; LIBERTY — to attain to wo/men’s greatest potential; and the pursuit (but NOT the government guaranteed attainment of) HAPPINESS — in whatever form wo/men choose for themselves sans illegal behavior.”

      Can I draw from this then that you are in favor of gay marriage? After all it’s not against the law to be homosexual, heck it’s not even a choice. Here is a quote from a straight man about gay marriage. I make no claims about the accuracy of all his points, but rather focus on the implied meaning: “they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. ” Is it immoral to deny another human being their rights based on a belief or just because they were made differently from the majority of us? Of course if you are still clinging to the “It’s a choice” dogma, then I am wasting my time on this one. I’m a straight man, but I know and have known homosexuals, had them as friends, and even have a beloved member of my family who is gay. I think I might have the edge on you in experience and perspective in this matter. Again though, I suspect you will disagree.

      Finally you seem concerned about socialism and redistribution. The real question is why are we talking about these things? It’s not for no reason. Again these are just symptoms. I hope you can agree that there is an ever widening gap between those who have and those who have not in this country. The rich are becoming fewer in number, while their bank accounts grow larger. Meanwhile the middle class is shrinking,and the poor grow in number and poorer. I mean seriously… does a CEO deserve to be paid millions while employed and then millions more when he/she leaves, regardless of his/her success? Is this moral? Is it moral, for example, to buy a company, with the sole intent of selling it, keeping it just long enough to pad the stock portfolios of a few, and finally closing the doors, depriving livelihoods for the many? And we do this why? Because we can, because we have money and power? Yes, America must return to morality, but is has to include stepping away from the love of power, the love of money, and greed. Oddly enough, you do not seem to mention these things, but rather want to harp on the symptoms of our immorality.

      I can only conclude, that either you left out or forgot some things in your tale of woe, or maybe they are too close to home. You seem to have some pretty specific targets for your morality corrections. It’s easy to be all high and mighty about morality when it does not affect us directly, or when we perceive ourselves as right and everyone else wrong. To use the current vernacular…. “just sayin.”

  • Allie

    Thank-you for this post. I too have been discouraged by the rage and hatred demonstrated during this election. It goes both ways, of course. But how can a nation of peace, hope, and charity be built on this hatred? If the foundation is rotten, the house will fall. No matter which party you choose to vote for, don’t let your choice be defined by hatred for “the other side”.

    • SamHamilton

      Amen Allie!

  • Middle Man

    I am an independent and I have to say that this was kind of a bizarre article. Since when does a balanced independent thinking person only point out the hatred and hypocrisy on one side of an issue. Slanted arguments and straw-men only play well with those who come to an issue with heavily preconceived judgements. I wish we could keep this site reasonably unbiased and intelligent. Otherwise it will end up with readers that only limp to one side.

  • Middle Man

    I am an independent and I have to say that this was kind of a bizarre article. Since when does a balanced independent thinking person only point out the hatred and hypocrisy on one side of an issue. Slanted arguments and straw-men only play well with those who come to an issue with heavily preconceived judgements. I wish we could keep this site reasonably unbiased and intelligent. Otherwise it will end up with readers that only limp to one side.

  • Arthur Ramsey

    I believe your moderate tag went out the window as you threw McCarthy and the JBS out under the bus.

    I’m going to throw out a thought here….maybe… just maybe…we should educate everyone on the horrors of the communist Bolshevik reign in Russia where countless thousands (millions?) of Christians were killed in the name of the Red cause.

    I’m all for sharing what I have but that’s never been what communism is about. It’s about keeping everyone on one level (the poor level) with the elite at the top and nothing in between….oh yea, and good luck with freedom to worship the god of your choice in this kind of environment. Communism has also worked so well for the people under Mao and the people of North Korea.

    Maybe…just maybe…McCarthy was scared to death of this virus/plague taking root in the blood of the American body. Just a thought.

    • Drew

      If you’re defending McCarthy, you are an extremist among extremists and have no right to disqualify others from being “moderate.”

      • Arthur Ramsey

        I didn’t say that I liked the way that McCarthy did things, nor do I support all the causes of the JBS. But I’m far from ‘far right’. I don’t believe the excesses that we’ve come to call ‘normal’ and ‘the American Way’ are right. I believe in giving as much as I can to those in need. I don’t believe in war. I don’t believe in the way that huge modern corporations exist.

        I’m just pointing out that the author paints a pretty picture of America’s past; only scarred by the face of anti-communists. It gives me the feeling that the author is ok with communism. I would say with some tenets of it, I would feel comfortable, but it is never as good as it sounds on the surface. Again, ask the victims of Lenin’s October Revolution how the communist way of life worked for them. This happened less than a hundred years ago. It could happen again.

        • Drew

          Fair enough, UW-Madison had the Sterling Hall bombing in 1970 by anti-war protestors, and there were others on the extreme left who were violent as well.

  • Amos

    Good words. Thanks so much.

  • Trev

    I don’t vote. When Jesus said “give to Caesar what is Caesars, God what is God’s” I take that very seriously. What is God’s and what is Caesars? Widely interpreted, but the way I see it Caeser can make claim to all material wealth he wishes, he can may claim to my labor and my income, but my love, admiration, faith, hope, heart and soul are all God’s. By voting, I’m giving a part of those traits to Caesar. Voting implies that you have hope and faith in a man to cure all our ills, you put your love into a rotten system that has since the dawn of its existence, led to more pain and death and misery than any othr institution in history(I’m talking about the State). You are partaking in a system of idolotry unlike any other. I see the political conferences, these men on stage stealing all of God’s glory, swelling with pride and being given mankind’s admiration. Good, normal Christians will turn their faith to a man in a suit who’s no different than the rest, nearly worshipping a false idol that will lead us astray. The government, the State in its nature is idolatrous and antithetical to Christian ethics. No thanks, ill opt out.

    I know I just stirred a pot and will certainly fuel the hatred of a lot of people, but this is how I feel deep down.

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