Ted Cruz’s Big Problem: He’s Not Religious Enough

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In recent weeks, I have seen numerous people express their concern that Ted Cruz is too religious. Given his public posturing, I can see why. He is consciously courting the votes of Christians, particularly evangelicals, and attempting to link his own image to a form of religiosity that he believes will appeal to these voters. This image is a big part of his strategy. And it makes sense that many voters (for whom the image is not designed) find his approach unappealing and off-putting.

But the problem with a Christian who threatens to carpet bomb areas where civilians live, strip the poor and vulnerable of the assistance they desperately need, and bar refugees fleeing terrorism from the US is not that he’s too religious. It’s the opposite.

Ted Cruz says that he is a Christian first. And since he is running as a distinctly Christian candidate who says that he represents Christian values, it is only fair that we evaluate his devotion to the Way of Christ.

Ted Cruz has basically declared his intention to be a war criminal if he is elected president. Christians are typically proponents of just war theory (or pacifists), which draws a sharp distinction between combatants and non-combatants. Cruz’s proposed carpet bombing strategy in Syria and Iraq would quite obviously fail the test of discrimination by indiscriminately slaughtering innocent men, women, and children. Not only is his plan intellectually vacuous—it promises to violate the basic laws of Christian morality (and human decency).

Of course, Ted Cruz is not particularly knowledgeable when it comes to foreign policy, which is perhaps why he thinks a reasonable path to stability and security includes dictators engaging in mass murder to subjugate their populations. His real passion is his plutocratic agenda.

Ted Cruz’s tax plan offers the most extreme overhaul of the current system, one designed to overwhelmingly benefit economic elites:

The Cruz plan would save the lowest fifth of taxpayers only $46, or 0.4 percent, on average. By contrast, the top 0.1 percent would get nearly $2 million back, or 29 percent. And that’s only in 2017. By 2025, the poorest fifth of Americans are actually paying more on average — $116 each, to be precise. The VAT would impose a double burden on the poorest Americans, both raising the cost of goods and reducing wages (because they wouldn’t be deductible the way they are with a corporate income tax).

The overwhelming majority of the plan’s cost (79.6 percent) goes to helping the richest fifth of taxpayers; 43.7 percent goes to the top 1 percent alone.

Cruz’s plan would either dramatically increase the deficit or rely on shredding the social safety net (probably both):

Cruz needs $860 billion less spending every year. By comparison, eliminating Medicaid entirely would only save about $500 billion a year. Eliminating Obama’s subsidies would only save $92.5 billion.

In fact, you could eliminate both of those, plus the Children’s Health Insurance Program, plus food stamps, plus Supplemental Security Income (which helps desperately poor old and disabled people), plus all federal unemployment compensation, plus Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, or welfare), and still not be able to pay for all of Cruz’s tax cuts. You could eliminate all non-defense discretionary spending stuff like funding for the FBI and other federal law enforcement, Head Start, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, etc. — and it wouldn’t come close to paying for Cruz’s plan.

Christians are called to exercise a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, which means paying particularly close attention to the way public policies impact those on the margins. Cruz’s plan relies on stripping the most vulnerable Americans of their basic needs in order to increase the wealth of the richest Americans. This plutocratic mentality is pretty much the antithesis of the Christian mindset. Cruz’s views are not shaped by the Christian commitment to human dignity and the common good, but by an extreme individualism that is entirely irreconcilable with the Christian faith.

We see this same cold indifference in his belief that the US should turn away those fleeing the barrel bombs of Bashar al-Assad and the terrorism of ISIS. The Christian impulse is to provide refuge to those fleeing such brutal, merciless violence. But Ted Cruz seems to have no interest in the Christian call to shelter those in desperate need.

Christianity is about the pursuit of a love-based justice. Ted Cruz’s agenda is rooted in selfishness and indifference. He prefers a market morality and the politics of fear to Christian morality. But perhaps (looking for the most generous explanation for his immoral proposals), we might think that Cruz is merely the captive of a flawed political philosophy that confuses the role of charity and justice.

Sadly, his (underwhelming) commitment to charitable giving undermines the possibility that he believes charity can somehow supplant justice through civil society absorbing the critical roles played by the government. Over 5 years, Cruz made millions of dollars and gave less than 1% to charity and none to his church. Philanthropy cannot replace the government’s role in maintaining a social safety net, even if there is an extraordinary wave of generosity. But if people behaved like Ted Cruz, charities and churches would not even be able to continue the critical work they already do.

The reality is that Ted Cruz only focused on his religion when he calculated that it would help him electorally. He is inauthentic, dishonest, and narcissistic. The other Republican candidates are all decrying his underhanded tactics. His policy positions would deeply undermine the common good and hurt the poor. In other words, from the perspective of Christian morality, as a presidential candidate, Ted Cruz is not religious enough. Far from it.