Was Jesus a communist or a capitalist?
November 23rd, 2010
09:30 AM ET

Was Jesus a communist or a capitalist?

Editor's Note: By CNN's Gabe La Monica

At the inner Washington offices of the American Enterprise Institute, I pitted the question to Shane Claiborne and Peter Greer, both Christian advocates for the poor. They had just participated in an in-depth discourse moderated by Eric Teetsel at AEI about the existential nature of charity.

Claiborne is a lanky, tall fellow with long dreadlocks, earrings and a goatee.

The founding member of the Simple Way community in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, responded: “Jesus wasn’t anything that ended in “ist” - he was an existential lover - but I think that he was challenging all these systems, and he was pulling the best of the people in those systems out.”

Deferring to Claiborne, Greer, the crisply suited, clean-shaven, close-cropped blonde president of HOPE International, said that “Jesus was a restorer; he didn’t fit in any of the camps, but he did come to make things right.”

The discussion at the AEI event revolved around the  Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan and the problem of providing immediate relief for compounding and overwhelming needs but still being able to make the transition to sustainable development.

The concept of microfinance and microcredit, for which the founder of the Bangladeshi Grameen Bank was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, has been applied under HOPE International to 14 countries serving more than 250,000 clients.  I asked Greer whether he thought microfinance could become a broken system, and about the phenomenon of loan sharks emerging in India's microfinancing world:

"What’s happening right now in the microfinance base shows why it’s necessary to have something else than just access to capital or some new way of providing loans to the poor; that in and of itself is insufficient to see real transformation that happens in communities.

So the situation in India - we also operate in India - but have a different operating model; we make sure that the profits that we’re generating are reinvested back into those areas.  We emphasize training, we emphasize savings, and we don’t have the belief that if you just give individuals 50 dollar loans that that’s gonna result in huge transformation.

That’s an important piece.  It takes money to make money.  But it’s only a piece of a bigger picture of what it takes to transform a community.

Peter Greer takes the podium

Though neither is prone to depict Christ as a capitalist or a communist, Claiborne and Greer do have differing conceptions of economics.  I asked Claiborne if he thought of the world economy as a fixed pie:

I wouldn’t say that I think that it’s fixed, but poverty wasn’t created by God.  God didn’t mess up and make too many people or not enough stuff.

Shane Claiborne takes the podium

Poverty was created by us because we really haven’t lived into His vision of loving our neighbor as ourselves and of really understanding that someone else’s suffering needs to be mine and it demands something of us.  When you have a massive disparity between the rich and the poor, that is unsustainable.

The world is never going to be safe as long as masses of people are living in poverty so that a handful of people live however they want.  It’s all of our responsibility to figure out how the great gifts that this world has are shared amongst the people.

Greer views the world economy as an expanding entity:

It’s possible to generate wealth.  It’s possible to be creative.  My experience in places of poverty says that there’s no place that does not have the ability, the entrepreneurial spirit to make a different world.

To create a different village requires just a little bit of capital and the belief that individuals living in those places have abilities, have capacity and just need to be partnered with and not just pitied.

Shane Claiborne and Peter Greer debate

Existentialism is often traced back to the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who argued that the universe is fundamentally paradoxical, and it’s within this framework that Claiborne and Greer’s philosophies align.

Claiborne encapsulated it best when he said, “A lot of times charity is a good place to start, but it’s a terrible place to end.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Charity • Christianity • Poverty • United States

soundoff (707 Responses)
  1. Newyorker

    This is like trying to decide how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. Completely pointless. Jesus, if he did exist was a humble carpenter. All the rest was made up.

    December 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  2. Richxx

    Jesus left us no writings. His disciples left us no writings (we do have some forgeries). So all we have are verbal stories passed along for 20 to 100 years before being written down by anonymous sources. So how can we say what Jesus really said? Or if he was one thing or another?

    December 24, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  3. zealot

    Jesus was fully GOD and fully man; a requirement of being fully man, therefore, he was bound to time and space.

    Communism was tried by the Puritan pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1650's; but not formally invented until Karl Marx and never being perfected, because it never will.

    Since time is bound to a linear passage, we cannot, therefore, bind CHRIST -who was also bound to linear time before his Ascension- so long as we assert that he was both fully GOD and fully man.

    We should also make note that the First Church had something Karl Marx never considered -nor could he comprehend- and that is the role of the Holy Spirit within the Church.

    December 22, 2010 at 7:03 am |
  4. AWM

    Jesus never suggested that governments mandate a certain sort of economic behavior, but rather encouraged individuals to act in a certain way of their own volition. Assigning the characteristic of charitableness, and subsequently the approval of Jesus, to socialism really transposes Jesus' words onto a dynamic that he never commented on. A portion of your wealth being automatically reallocated to the needy by your government, I don't think, qualifies as individual charitable behavior. You could exhibit individual charitable behavior under either system.

    Furthermore, it should be noted that Jesus always assumed that governments, the pharisees, the priests, elders and the Roman occupiers, were corrupt. I don't think he'd look at the most idealistic capitalist- or socialist-themed authority any differently.

    December 3, 2010 at 2:21 am |
  5. Stosh

    "Was Jesus a communist or a capitalist?"

    I think he was a Nazi, just like Obama.

    December 3, 2010 at 1:43 am |
  6. sync4

    The main reason that nobody really understands iManuel's path in this world 'cause you people don't have any deeper understanding about the general operating condition for a person who was born to be (or not to be) a First Mover.

    So, if you are interested, I can tell you that the original mission says that starting from within you have to create an interactive (social) system that is good for the people and good for God, in sync :), and the FACT that iManuel failed to delivered THAT is the main reason that he is so controversial, not-understood and miss-understood in this world.

    If you are further interested, I can tell you that in the original Mission the garden of Eden is not at the beginning of time, it is just at the beginning of the (coded) Bible, and that one of the jobs of the First Mover is to build this (first) Garden, and then, if it's working both ways, to generalize it to planet Eden ...

    Now you can see, the question is: is capitalism or socialism this (first and reversed) Garden, or not? Neither or what?
    And: God himself quickly, or the slow History will deliver the verdict to us? Plainly or (once again) in a coded message?

    In conclusion, it is your problem, you (many) people, that you killed the One that maybe – and probably 🙂 – could do THAT, before you asked him more about the Original Mission. iManuel was God Himself 'cause he tried to do it, and Man Himself 'cause (when) he failed to deliver ... not the message, the act.

    So, maybe and probably, it is for your own good to try to think more of your self and your action, and try to find in your reality what this or that "original sin" means, to be prepared, and not trivialise the few people who in his own personal reality can read the (original) Words of the (original) Mission ... without any translation.

    He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
    He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
    Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

    So, be aware of things to come ... or not to come 🙂

    November 27, 2010 at 3:51 am |
  7. Muneef"786"

    To summarize both it means both systems were disbelievers while Jesus was a believer and therefore he and all prophets couldn't be of any of these systems and that they have a system of their own named as the straight path to God the one and only.

    November 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  8. Muneef"786"

    The Prophets of God always appeared among the poorer, weaker, wronged, oppressed,aggrieved , victims of injustice and only those gave them support and believed in them to stand against the richests and most powerful ones who were not in favor of any change of ending slavery and providing equality among human races and the levels societies...!
    But they were neither capitalists nor communists? They were calling for God and justice among human beings beside calliing for compassion between the rich and poor through charity and Zakat.. So it was some thing that came in between both linking them together by eliminating differences through religion were all are equal to God and levels of differances became to be as how faithful they are and not how wealthy or powerful...

    November 26, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • Muneef"786"

      Capitalism is more like the story of Korah in the Quran:
      Sura 28: Al-Qasas 
      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

      Now Korah was of Moses' folk, but he oppressed them; and We gave him so much treasure that the stores thereof would verily have been a burden for a troop of mighty men. When his own folk said unto him: Exult not; lo! Allah loveth not the exultant; (76) But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which Allah hath given thee and neglect not thy portion of the world, and be thou kind even as Allah hath been kind to thee, and seek not corruption in the earth; lo! Allah loveth not corrupters, (77) He said: I have been given it only on account of knowledge I possess. Knew he not that Allah had destroyed already of the generations before him men who were mightier than him in strength and greater in respect of following? The guilty are not questioned of their sins. (78) Then went he forth before his people in his pomp. Those who were desirous of the life of the world said: Ah, would that unto us had been give like of what hath been given unto Korah! Lo! he is lord of rare good fortune. (79) But those who had been given knowledge said: Woe unto you! The reward of Allah for him who believeth and doeth right is better, and only the steadfast will obtain it. (80) So We caused the earth to swallow him and his dwelling-place. Then he had no host to help him against Allah, nor was he of those who can save themselves. (81) And morning found those who had coveted his place but yesterday crying: Ah, welladay! Allah enlargeth the provision for whom He will of His slaves and straiteneth it (for whom He will). If Allah had not been gracious unto us He would have caused it to swallow us (also). Ah, welladay! the disbelievers never prosper. (82) As for that Abode of the Hereafter We assign it unto those who seek not oppression in the earth, nor yet corruption. The sequel is for those who ward off (evil). (83) Whoso bringeth a good deed, he will have better than the same; while as for him who bringeth an ill-deed, those who do ill-deeds will be requited only what they did. (84).  

      November 26, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • Muneef"786"

      Communism was always against Religion and were calling it the opium of nations and made many give up their beliefs..and therefore they were more like Quran said in Sura Al-Noor 24:  
      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

      As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are as a mirage in a desert. The thirsty one supposeth it to be water till he cometh unto it and findeth it naught, and findeth, in the place thereof, Allah Who payeth him his due; and Allah is swift at reckoning. (39)..      

      November 26, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  9. Muneef"786"

    Al-Anbiya Sura 21:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    The Day whereon We shall roll up the heaven like as the rolling up of a scroll for books. Even as We began the first creation, We shall restore it: a promise binding upon Us; verily We have been the Doers. (104) And assuredly We have prescribed in the Scripture after the admonition, that: the land! there shall inherit it My bondmen righteous. (105) Verily in this in a preaching for a people who are worshippers. (106) And We have not sent thee except as a mercy unto the Worlds. (107) Say thou: this only hath been revealed unto me, that your god is only One God. submit ye then?! (108) Then if they turn away, say thou: I have proclaimed unto you all alike, and I know not whether nigh or far is that which ye are promised, (109) Verily He knoweth that which is public in speech, and He knoweth that which ye hide. (110) And know not; haply it may be a trial for you, and an enjoyment for a season. (111) He saith: my Lord! judge Thou with truth. And our Lord is the Compassionate Whose help is to be sought against that which ye utter. (112)

    November 25, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  10. Muneef"786"

    Jesus was of the creed of Abraham and Abraham was as per the Quran:
    Sura 03: Al-E-Imran
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    Abraham was not a Jew, nor yet a Christian; but he was an upright man who had surrendered (to Allah), and he was not of the idolaters. (67) Lo! those of mankind who have the best claim to Abraham are those who followed him, and this Prophet and those who believe (with him); and Allah is the Protecting Guardian of the believers. (68)..    

    November 25, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  11. Kedron

    The debate must definitely lean toward the notion that Jesus' views leaned more in favor of his being a Communist or Socialist.

    In his own words: "If you desire to be perfect," replied Jesus, "go and sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have wealth in Heaven; and come, follow me." Matthew 19:21.

    See "The Supply Side Jesus": http://www.beliefnet.com/News/2003/09/The-Gospel-Of-Supply-Side-Jesus.aspx

    November 24, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • Reality

      But did the simple preacher man aka Jesus really utter Matt 19:21?? No he did not according to many historic Jesus exegetes.

      e.g. http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?ti-tle=253_The_Rich_Man

      November 25, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  12. Harry Naimes

    How about this Mr. Magoo child drives up to the bar in his car and beeps his broken horn. A pimp gets out and goes into the bar with him. They encounter a group of people so steeped in blaspheme they can never get into heaven. Just who do you think you snowing. Your game is over. Your day is done. Don't even bother going through the motions. The Judgement is ours. Time for you to leave. Keep that kind of farce up it's going to get worse not better.

    November 24, 2010 at 10:54 am |
    • Observer

      Lots of bitterness and hate here. Certainly nothing like Jesus would have said. Hypocrisy is not unusual.

      November 24, 2010 at 11:29 am |
    • NL

      Honestly, how would you know what Jesus was capable of saying? Certainly if he was a real person then he must have said more things than are recorded in the bible, right?

      If you disagree with a Muslim about Muhammad being God's final, sealing prophet, are you doing so out of hatred and bitterness? Some, if not most of us, just disagree with you because we don't find your arguments compelling enough to accept. No need to read anything more into it than there is. Others mock the character Jesus has been made out to be just as you might mock a cartoon version of George Washington madly chopping down every tree he sees, wooden teeth barred. The Jesus some people believe in is just ridiculous, and I'm sure that there are plenty of versions of Jesus you would find ridiculous too, right?

      If some of us don't believe in a divine Jesus then how is our criticizing this belief in him hypocritical? If you don't believe in vampires then criticizing the Twilight series isn't being hypocritical in any way, is it?

      November 24, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
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