US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Math and theology with Herman Cain

Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Herman Cain sure has an interesting understanding of religion, not to mention math.

As the Republican presidential candidate has skyrocketed from fringe contender to leader of the pack, Cain has come under a lot of scrutiny. Lately, he’s been taken to task by the media for two particular subjects: his comments about Christianity and his “9-9-9” tax plan.

At first, it seemed like he didn’t want to get into all the religious discussion that was surrounding some of his fellow Republicans. When asked by CNN about whether Mormons are Christians, Cain refused to answer the question, saying that he’s “not running for theologian-in-chief.” But he does have some pretty clear views on Jesus, who he considers “the perfect conservative,” according to an article he wrote last December that has been making the rounds. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite already decoded those comments yesterday, showing why Cain’s logic is flawed in understanding Jesus’ actions in the context of his own time.

But now Cain is promising that he’s bringing his religion with him if he makes it to the White House, despite what he told CNN. He told an audience in Las Vegas yesterday, in reference to a comment Barack Obama made on the campaign trail in 2008 about Americans clinging to guns and religion, that "I kinda like my guns and Bible. I ain't going to give them up."

We’re still not clear, though, on how exactly Cain is going to use that Bible. In another CNN interview, he said that he is absolutely against abortion in all cases, but then turned around and said later in the same interview that his personal beliefs aren’t “a directive on the nation” and that he’s against the government telling people what they can and can’t do. So he’s pro-life, but not necessarily in favor of the government prohibiting abortion, which would make him pro-choice.

Confused yet? Well, we still haven’t gotten to Cain’s view on taxes. His writing on “conservative Jesus” stresses that the gospels never mention the use of government programs to help the poor, but he proposes a tax plan that will help everyone: 9 percent personal income tax, 9 percent corporate tax, and 9 percent sales tax. (Here’s a graphic from the Chicago Tribune that maps it out.)

Cain defended the plan by saying that although the knee jerk reaction was negative, once you do the math it makes sense. So people started doing the math, and what they found is that the proposal would help the rich and hurt the poor. Here’s a graphic that shows how substantial the tax cuts for the rich would be compared to the increases for average working Americans.

I’m no theologian in chief, and I don’t profess to have a perfect understanding of Jesus and his teachings, but I do know the Catholic Church teaches the importance of a preferential option for the poor. You can make arguments about whether those tax cuts will help the rich be more generous to the poor or create more jobs, but as Catholics, we should at least be skeptical of any plan that seemingly takes from those who have little and gives more to those who have an abundance.

But that’s not Herman Cain’s view of Christianity. Or maybe it is, and he just doesn’t think the government should impose it on people. Or maybe someone’s just doing the math wrong. At this point, who can really tell?