THE QUESTION:

Was Jesus a socialist?

THE RELIGIOUS GUY’S RESPONSE:

Well no. On the one hand, this term, as with rival capitalism, relates to modern industrialized society. The 1st century economy consisted mainly of day-to-day subsistence agriculture, along with fishermen, petty merchants, individual artisans, and a small class of wealthy lords. But the above question was asked this month by a the wall street journal column, so let’s briefly review some aspects of Christianity and economics.

Those familiar with the New Testament will immediately think of the incident between Jesus and the “rich young ruler” recorded in three of the four gospels (here we will follow Luke 18:18-27 in the RSV translation).

The ruler asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus recites many of the ten commandments that must be obeyed. The sovereign replies that he has been doing this since his youth. Jesus then said to him “one thing is still missing. Sell ​​all you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. The ruler “became sad, for he was very rich.”

Jesus then observes: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle”, but he concludes: “What is impossible with man is possible with God”.

You can have fun reading the commentaries on this passage online or at your local library. Softening the force of Jesus’ words (a bit too easily?), biblical scholars often say that it was a unique saying for an individual who was perhaps miserly and had set his heart too much on his wealth while neglecting God’s priority, that he be served by service to his needy people.

Whatever the ruler ends up doing with his wealth, we know of male and female Catholic orders where those who join voluntarily take a vow of poverty and keep only minimal personal possessions, and the same is true in Buddhism.

Jesus made no such heavy demands with anyone else, so it is not a requirement for salvation or church membership except in some small worships. Additionally, his “parable of the talents” (take a look at Matthew 25:14-30) praises wisdom and entrepreneurship, though commentators generally spiritualize it in Jesus, urging believers to use the gifts and abilities given to them to spread out energetically. the kingdom of God on earth. Again, see for yourself what the reviews write about it.

The Hebrew Scriptures (the “Old Testament” of Christians) and the New Testament are full of warnings that believers in God, to the extent of their ability, should help the poor and needy. However, this does not necessarily tie Jesus to socialism, since believers can practice charity in a capitalist context just as easily, if not more so.

What about the first disciples of Jesus? Baptist pastor and U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock has declared that “the early church was a socialist church,” and politically liberal theologians agree. It was the subject of the Log column, written by Texas Tech University economics professor Alexander William Salter.

We have the following description of the close-knit Jerusalem church of early Christians in Acts 4:32-37 (RSV). “No one said that any of the things he owned was his own, but they had everything in common. . . . There was not a needy among them, for all who owned land or houses sold them, and brought the product of what had been sold, and laid it at the feet of the apostles; and the distribution was made to each according to his need.

As Salter acknowledges, this sounds like the well-known slogan of communist atheist Karl Marx, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” In fact, Marx borrowed and popularized this maxim from French Christian socialists and took it from the passage in Acts.

Salter insists that this does not mean that Christians have to be socialists or that capitalism is anti-Christian. “There is little biblical evidence for a total condemnation of property and commerce.”

Another important point is that the property division in the Acts was voluntary, not the state imposition of a socialist command economy. The Jerusalem church in this phase can be considered related to these communal Catholic monasteries and convents. In Jesus’ time, the same discipline was chosen by those joining the Jewish community we know from the modern discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Among the commentaries on Acts that The Guy consulted, Catholic exegete Joseph Fitzmyer wrote that Acts “does not mean that all gave up their property or that it was a universal practice”. Protestant pioneer John Calvin, considered an early proponent of capitalism, wrote that “we must have hearts harder than iron if we are not moved” by Acts’ narrative of charity and sharing, in contrast to the economic inhumanity he saw around him. .

American evangelical James M. Boice wrote that the example in Acts was not about socialism but that these Christians were generous because “God had been generous with them”. Catholic popes since the late 19th century have emphatically supported the right of individuals to private property over the rigorous systems of socialism or communism.

Drawing on biblical scholars, University of Massachusetts political scientist Glenn Tinder’s “The Political Meaning of Christianity” (1989) gave capitalism a cheer or two. Marxism sees private property as the root of all evil, he noted. Biblical religion locates evil in “the character of human beings.” Christians “cannot idealize private property” because of mankind’s downfall but do not see its elimination as a guaranteed remedy. Meanwhile, “common sense” tells us that capitalism combines “moral weakness” with “practical advantages”. All economic systems are “very imperfect”, but “capitalism is perhaps the most viable”.

Catholic lay theologian and lifelong pro-union Democrat Michael Novak was a three-cheer guy when he presented a moral case in “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism” (1982). As with Tinder, people’s universal sin was the basis of his argument, and economies “must treat humans as they are.” Hence his position: Past systems gave control to the clergy, the army or the nobility. Socialism gives it to the state and its bureaucrats.

Democratic capitalism grants “ultimate” economic power to the people’s elected government to control excesses in commerce, but leaves wide freedom to economic interests to compete in a market open to those of “all classes, races and creeds”. Individuals’ self-interest (which may be religious, charitable, or artistic rather than merely financial) is channeled to make “sinful tendencies as productive of good as possible”, deriving “from self-interest its most creative potential”. In short, capitalism is “a system designed for sinners”!


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