Was Jesus A Socialist, Capitalist a Communist …
February 10, 2013 in uncategorized
Was Jesus A Socialist, Capitalist, Or Something Else?
Bill Flax, Contributor
My writing explores the intersection of economics and culture.
Politicians demonstrate uncanny memories for selected Bible passages trumpeting secular economic platforms. The Left’s emphatic opposition to intermixing church and state rarely precludes recitation of Scripture for progressive causes. Liberals suggest it’s “un-Christian” to deny lavish benefits for illegal immigrants; or, equate socializing medicine with Moses freeing Israel from Egyptian slavery.
President Obama repeatedly references the “least of these” even as he avoids crediting “their Creator” when quoting the Declaration. Obama disdains association with those bitter Bible clingers except to heap guilt upon taxpayers.
It’s fascinating how frequently modern dilettantes re-make Christ in their image via Matthew 25. Socialists finesse Scripture to justify redistributing wealth to “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40), while capitalists overplay the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Both tout Christ’s teachings as a crucial trump card.
Other passages are mentioned. Socialists highlight descriptions in Acts of voluntary, privately orchestrated, local and temporary communalization to prescribe permanent, coerced communism under a distant, godless government. As shown previously, Christianity and Marxism share little similarity.
Likewise, capitalists espouse Proverbs and various idioms found throughout the epistles. But Matthew 25 leads from both directions.
The rapidity and carelessness of these misappropriations of “End Time” parables startles anyone who actually reads Matthew 25. Either these essential lessons are torn from context transforming Christ into favored worldly philosophers, or this man who changed history contradicted himself within the span of several sentences.
He demanded sustenance for “the least of these” twenty seconds after declaring “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
Like most of Christ’s ministry, Matthew 25 teaches spiritual lessons. We are to serve Christ with all our talent which entails supporting brothers and sisters being persecuted. The “least of these” in Matthew 25 are Believers enduring the tribulation described in Matthew 24.
Taking these passages in an economic sense eschews their essential meaning. Christ’s mission wasn’t to elevate our physical status, but to redeem mankind. Christ came to ransom sinners, not to cure cancer and extend voting rights; nor implement free markets. He comforted temporal afflictions to authenticate his claims so we’d believe, not for humanity’s physical comfort.
Politicians expand power by sowing discontent with our worldly estates relative to others – what the Bible calls covetousness. Demagogues encourage jealousy to justify looting taxpayers. They violate the eighth and tenth commandments through programs enabling recipients to avoid the fourth commandment’s requirement of work (Exodus 20:9).
This misaligns incentives from the underlying goal of economics: efficient allocation of scarce resources. To fund this largesse, Washington employs counter-productive policies that arguably violate Scripture: progressive taxation which distorts incentives (Moses instituted a flat tax); exploding public debt (Proverbs says borrowers are slaves to lenders); and debased currency (the Bible repeatedly condemns false balances).
Old Testament rules for Israel’s small, homogenous theocracy are less relevant to large, diverse secular states except in principle. Christ freed his followers from the Law anyway so applicability to present conditions is tenuous, but redistributive “social justice” appears un-biblical even if the “poor” get part of the booty in exchange for votes.
Elections are popularity contests and democracy allows crowds to compel injustice, but God’s truth is eternal. Divine justice doesn’t flutter per public opinion.
Our Heavenly Father shows no favoritism. We stand equal before Him, but not in an egalitarian sense. Biblical jurisprudence entails impartial application, not neo-Marxist conceptions of “social justice” enforcing equal outcomes. Nowhere in Scripture are states tasked with leveling wealth.
Egalitarianism rarely lifts the “least of these.” Instead, it deprives their right to rise beyond their circumstances. Even the poorest in America generally have more than anyone save perhaps the dictator’s inner circle where governments enforce equality.
The Bible prescribes impartial justice, sound money and sanctions property. Scripture also advises limited government – the foundations of free markets. Christ even employed capitalist principles in several teachings. Jesus obviously understood incentives. He created us.
However, Christ wasn’t Adam Smith any more than liberals fancy him a hippie. The Bible provides a guidebook for life including politics and economics. It ought to inform our very essence. Yet, when Joshua asked pre-incarnate Christ before Jericho, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” Christ responded. He captained the Lord’s army.
Capitalism began in Christendom and surged post-Reformation. Some say Calvin invented capitalism or attributed its success to the “Protestant Work Ethic.” This is exaggerated, but Calvinists did commend material progress as socially desirable and developed usury codes in keeping with the spirit rather than letter of Mosaic Law.
Although capitalism appears compatible with Christ’s teachings the Bible never specifically endorses free enterprise. Neither are markets anywhere condemned, only the sinful actions of those abusing others. Markets offer freedom, which amplifies character. Without room for good or ill, morality is irrelevant.
Capitalism wonderfully fulfills the supply half of economics. It says nothing about applying the output. Free enterprise bestows bounty extraordinarily well, but Christian compassion remains a vital complement filling the gaps. Charity is necessary helping those incapable of fending for themselves.
Benevolence is best done privately through evangelistic outreach. Charity ought not to enable those who could, but won’t provide their own needs. Nor can voting others’ wealth into your coffers be supported scripturally. As detailed here: Government welfare is often counterproductive and un-biblical
Capitalism is the best platform man has yet devised. However, the Bible consistently condemns its corruption by sinful men and Scripture allows other systems. Communalism if private and voluntary can certainly reflect Christianity well, but will inevitably collide with human nature.
No economy can thrive without acknowledging our character. Socialism misses that men are inherently selfish. Adam had everything, yet still sought more. Biblical depictions of humanity mirror life today: people exhibiting good (charity, industry, inventiveness and art) and bad (greed, sloth, envy and violence).
Capitalism is imperfect because man is flawed, but it may offer the only avenue where otherwise debilitating qualities orient toward harmonious community. Free markets reward our positive attributes by spurring production without enabling our propensity to only take.
In capitalism, wealth generates by mutually beneficial trade. Profit comes by boosting value. Competition for scarce resources channels self-interest into cooperation. Markets guide our unique talents for society’s benefit. There is nothing exploitative about profits derived by honest, free exchange serving others.
But what of greed?
Capitalism forces the greedy to produce thereby growing the overall pie. To gain they must provide what others willingly purchase. It’s ironic that while those relentlessly pursuing materialism search for contentment in error, the rest richly benefit by the impoverishing lifestyles they pursue.
Those most responsible for increasing wealth accumulate more, they should, but in so doing lift their community’s living standards. Even America’s poor live well by any material measure.
In socialism, greed shifts from productivity into consumption. Without property rights or opportunities for profit, men quickly descend into mutually destructive envy. Our base instincts betray us. Output plummets. When we see someone slacking and still taking – we produce less. When we see others hoarding – we snatch more too.
If nothing can be acquired, advantage is only feasible by consuming beyond one’s share of public goods. As Adam Smith said of slavery, “A person who can acquire no property can have no other interest but to eat as much and to labour as little as possible.”
Without freedom to elevate one’s family, production falls forcing government to become oppressive. Socialism renders workers slaves to the state. Finding scriptural support for secular, state administered socialism that ineluctably involves coercion is puzzling. Biblical teaching does not sanction involuntary socialism by secular governments.
Jesus was, as C.S. Lewis posited, lunatic, liar or Lord. Those thinking the former should stop citing him for pet, secular purposes. If acknowledging his divinity, don’t diminish it be remaking his mission into yours.
I’m a capitalist and you might be socialists. Christians can be both, but Christ was neither. He was the Author and Finisher of faith.
Jesus was a Socialist by Valentine Logar
Jesus was the very first Socialist. Got your attention with that statement, didn’t I?
Over the past several months, many of my more politically right friends and family members have grown quite bellicose during discussions about the current administration and in particular the current President. One of the most frequent slanders I have heard is, “Obama is a Socialist!” Well, as I have heard this label more than once applied to this President, to many Liberal Democrats, and to others myself included who believe there are better options than flat out capitalism I decided to look into the situation and determine for myself the following:
A) Is Obama really a Socialist?
B) Is Socialism an entirely bad economic framework?
C) What was the basis of Socialism, where did it start?
In the West, we have peculiar views of Socialism. In fact, all too often, we wrongly equate Socialism with Nazism, the Third Reich, and post WWII Russia Communism / Marxism, in truth many pundits, those talking heads where so much of our social views seem to be derived from have put horns, cloven hooves, and a tail on socialism and call it evil. Further, we wrongly connect Socialism with a political movement, which it is decidedly not. Consider the definition of Socialism, there are many however, for the purpose of this discussion I will use the following classic definition:
“Socialism”. Oxford English Dictionary. “1. A theory or policy of social organization which aims at or advocates the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc., by the community as a whole, and their administration or distribution in the interests of all. 2. A state of society in which things are held or used in common.”
I want to go a step further and identify the historically and generally accepted forms of socialism; I believe they are applicable. During my reading, I found many different theories, different standards, and applications. I was surprised to learn how far back the theory of Socialism went, the first writings of which were by Henri de Saint-Simon in 1823. What you say, nearly 200 years ago that can’t be right; nevertheless, it is indeed the truth Utopian Socialism emerged as a economic theory in the early 19th-century laying the groundwork for modern Socialist thought.
What I found in my reading were two distinct schools of thought:
The first is the Social Democrats; this theory proposes a mixed economy with the nationalization of key industry. Social Democrats promote private ownership of property, capital, and enterprise. What appears to be the differentiators in those nations where Social Democrats hold or have held sway is market-regulation and tax funded welfare programs.
The other school of thought is the Libertarian Socialist; this theory rejects all forms of state control and private ownership reverting instead to collective ownership of production and the economy. Decision-making done via councils or workplace democracy. The Libertarian Socialist movement is more closely aligned to the original Utopian view of Socialism, which espoused communal ownership and no private property or enterprise.
Now, having established the forms of Socialism as both economic and social theories it is time to examine why I believe Jesus was the first Socialist.
Jesus was the first Socialist, this isn’t really a question, but a statement of fact based upon the New Testament Bible. In fact I find it an interesting phenomenon that those who are most vocal in their rejection of social programs to assist the poor and displaced of our society are the very same who in most cases call themselves the “Moral Majority” and espouse Christian values as the basis of their political stance. Nevertheless, let me return to my proofs of why Jesus was the first Socialist, how I have arrived at this conclusion.
I am going to start with Mark Chapter 10:21-25 21Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
So here, we have a very good example of Utopian Socialism in action with Jesus telling the wealthy young man the only way to follow him and gain heaven was to give away his great wealth to the poor, in other words redistribution of personal wealth to those with great need from those with great riches. Naturally, this must be very difficult for some to swallow, notice that the young mans face ‘fell’ when told he must give away his wealth to follow Jesus. Here though is our first proof, we must have no personal wealth beyond our needs; Socialism seems to be de rigueur.
Moving on to the next area that might prove my point and which certainly has a few feathers ruffling today; that of health care or in this case Jesus Healing those in need. He certainly didn’t seem to pay much attention to the conventions of the time, like oh say working on the Sabbath, which got him into a few bits of trouble with the powers that be. Nonetheless, heal he did without concern or consideration for pre-existing conditions or whose toes he was stepping on Jesus made his way through the land casting out demons, healing leprosy, epilepsy, and other dastardly illnesses that afflicted the people, he cared not a whit for whether a person was rich or poor, of the ruling class, or the most destitute beggar before the temple he healed them. The Pharisees, although the ruling class within the temple at the time and thus in control of wealth, law, and healing could not prevent him from teaching or healing, even on the Sabbath. There are many examples of this sprinkled throughout the New Testament, here are just a few:
Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 17:14
Mark 7:31, 8:22
Now to one of the best proofs and that is found in Matthew 25:31-46: The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. For those that don’t know this one the key statement is as follows:
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”.
Finally, the teachings continued after the death of Jesus, the best example of the Utopian Socialism being the following by James found in 2:1-7:
1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
So now, we circle back around to my original questions; is the current President, Barack Obama a Socialist? I think the answer is that he is not any more a Socialist than any other American is, we simply have a difficult time recognizing ourselves or our economy for what it truly is. The fact is the current economic system has some aspects of Socialism including government regulation of certain industries, provisioning of health insurance for the elderly (Medicare), provisioning of care for the poor at a state level (Welfare, WIC, and Medicaid), taxing authority supported police, fire, and aid (911) are all examples of socialist programs. Each is generally found in countries with mixed economies, that is Socialism and Capitalism are both at work. Thus, my first conclusion Barack Obama is not a Socialist he is not even very far left of the middle; he is a Democrat and that is all he is.
The next question I asked is easily answered, is Socialism an entirely bad economic framework? The answer is yes, it is a bad framework as a stand-alone economy it is not possible to successfully manage a country in a pure Socialist economy. Nevertheless, the mixed economy of capitalism and Social Democracy is the appropriate and moral basis of a successful nation. This is true both from an economic standpoint and from the standard of ensuring all members of a society are able to their ability to be educated, work in relevant jobs, participate in government, and be cared for when necessary. Providing for the weakest members of society should be a given rather than a fight. Just as a purely Socialist economy is not sustainable neither is a purely Capitalist driven economy as we have ample proof of today in the United States.
So I say again, Jesus was the first Socialist. Perhaps all those who shout from their pulpits and their soapboxes about their moral right to gain riches on the backs and at the cost of others should check their premise. While they are pointing fingers and calling names, perhaps they should read the book they are standing upon, yes that would be the Bible they so readily reference usually incorrectly. During their ranting and ravings, their demand that the government “keep their hands off their Medicare”; perhaps it would serve them well to review the statements and teachings of the man who is the basis of their entire belief system, maybe this would help them.>
Obama is not a Socialist. Jesus however was the first Socialist.
Biblical Communism By Austin Cline, About.com Guid
What Does the Bible Say About Communism & Socialism?
One topic of discussion which comes up every so often is the connection between fervent evangelical Christianity and equally fervent anti-communism. In the minds of many Americans, atheism and communism are indelibly linked and political actions opposed to communism have long taken the form of strengthening America’s public Christianity.
It was thus that the American government made “In God We Trust” the national motto and put it on all money in the 1950s. It was also for this reason that “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance around the same time.
Because of all this, one gets the impression that the Bible is some sort of treatise on capitalism and Jesus an early venture capitalist. The fact that just the opposite appears to be true is thus very surprising. The book of Acts has two explicit passages depicting the very communistic nature of the early Christian community:
All that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Is it possible that Marx’s famous line “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” took its inspiration directly from the New Testament? Immediately following this second passage is a very interesting story about a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who sold a piece of property but only gave the community a portion of the proceeds, keeping some of it for themselves. When Peter confronts them with this, they both fall down and die – leaving the impression (for many people) that they were struck dead.
Killing bourgeoisie land owners who fail to give all of their money to the community? That’s not merely communism, that’s Stalinism.
Of course, in addition to the above, there are many, many statements attributed to Jesus which emphasize doing all that you can to help the poor — even to the point of him recommending that a rich man sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor if he really wishes to get into heaven. The Old Testament also indicates that something akin to communism is the preferable way to live:
This is what the Lord has commanded: Gather of it, every man of you, as much as he can eat; you shall take an omer apiece, according to the number of persons who each of you has in his tent. And the people of Israel did so; they gathered some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; each gathered according to what he could eat
It is no wonder, then, that any number of Christian groups have adopted ways of living which, while explicitly based upon biblical stories, are also expressions of communist ideals. Such groups include the Shakers, Mormons, Hutterites and more.
In summary, this isn’t so much a problem with the Bible as it is a problem with the people who claim to follow the Bible and use it as their primary guide to how they should live their lives. Some certainly take passages like the above to heart — witness the strong social ethic of many Catholics and the very communistic Liberation Theology which has developed out of Catholicism.
Most, however, simply ignore the above passages – just as they ignore so much else which is politically or morally inconvenient.
Christian communism is a form of religious communism based on Christianity. It is a theological and political theory based upon the view that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support communism as the ideal social system. Although there is no universal agreement on the exact date when Christian communism was founded, many Christian communists assert that evidence from the Bible suggests that the first Christians, including the Apostles, established their own small communist society in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. As such, many advocates of Christian communism argue that it was taught by Jesus and practiced by the Apostles themselves.
Christian communism can be seen as a radical form of Christian socialism. Christian communists may or may not agree with various parts of Marxism. They generally do not agree with the antireligious views held by secular Marxists, but do agree with many of the economic and existential aspects of Marxist theory, such as the idea that capitalism exploits the working class by extracting surplus value from the workers in the form of profits and that wage-labor is a tool of human alienation that promotes arbitrary and unjust authority. Christian communism, like Marxism, also holds that capitalism encourages the negative aspects of human nature, supplanting values such as mercy, kindness, justice and compassion in favor of greed, selfishness and blind ambition.
Christian communists also share some of the political goals of Marxists, for example replacing capitalism with socialism, which should in turn be followed by communism at a later point in the future. However, Christian communists sometimes disagree with Marxists (and particularly with Leninists) on the way a socialist or communist society should be organized. In general, Christian communism evolved independently of Marxism, and most Christian communists share the conclusions but not the underlying premises of Marxist communists.