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. Johnny

    Since there's no god from now on refer to me as your GOD.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  2. billy

    @factnot fiction
    cahse dorway was joking... calm down

    November 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      What was I joking about? The only joke in my comment was Dora or Boots? I do that to lighten up the atmosphere. It may not have been funny, but it lightened up the atmosphere.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  3. Chase Dorway

    I'm not going to lie... This article doesn't make much sense. Not as in the story line, but in the purpose. I think Jesus was neither. We shouldn't pigeonhole people into two categories (it's always two) Republican or Democrat? Conservative or Republican? Christian or Atheist (they never mention any other faiths. Just Christianity and Atheism.)? Socialist or Capitalist? Dora or Boots?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
    • Griffin

      um hmmm. We are constantly pushed with that "only two ways to go" stuff. Christian or Atheism? Umm hmmm.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I know I hate it!

      November 23, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      @Chase Dorway

      Here's a suggestion, why don't you prove that God exists by praying and getting God to give you proof?
      Would he deny you this gift? Would you burn in hell just for asking? lol

      Jesus may have been gay. Why don't you ask him what really happened when he was alive?
      Why don't you ask for answers you can share instead of giving us the same old "personal interpretations" of what other men wrote about other men who may not have even existed?
      Where is your proof? Where are your answers?

      November 24, 2010 at 2:26 am |
  4. bobby

    no he was a capitalist did u see his house? huge! a modern mcmansion

    November 23, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  5. FactNotFiction

    Who cares?! God why do people still base their lives on this crazy fiction? Need answers, pick up a book by Darwin.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      But when you read a book by Darwin,not only do you not get moral codes that make sense, you're just accepting it on faith, and you don't have any real proof, which is exactly what you mock us for.... so who really gets answers from anywhere?

      November 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  6. john

    A man named Chuck made a comment maligning Christians in this thread, so I have a question for Chuck who implied that I am wasting my time being Christian. Chuck, who is the one wasting time here? ~YOU! Do you post on every story involving any particular Disney character? Do you chide kids for believing in Santa? No, you don't. You just bully Christians. If your beliefs and behavior were valid and consistent you atheists would spend equal time fighting all things you perceive to be imaginary and mythical. Go pick on kids at the next Disney film and leave Christians alone for a bit...... your act is tired and old

    November 23, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I think that the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast) was a communist.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
    • Know What


      When Mickey Mouse starts wanting to run the government for all of us, and his followers threaten/promise eternal damnation for not heeding his words, non-believers will participate on those forums too.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  7. Dman


    November 23, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  8. William Bergmann

    Is there any more offensive comment than what CW replied to CL?
    He threatened everyone who disagrees with his fantasy world. Basically, he drags out the preposterous threat that we will all burn in hell for eternity unless we drop to our knees and beg forgiveness! Only base cowards submit to such threats! Choose your own way, and i won't threaten you for doing so.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • Griffin

      Yes, that is a problem with civil discourse, somebody always drops out, opting instead to bully.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
    • Griffin

      Well, maybe not "always", but online? Often.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  9. Dan

    Jesus whipped the money changers in the temple and 'they' killed him. What happens to people that mess with the fiat debt slavery money system like Lincon or JFK....'they' kill 'em!.......

    November 23, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • Exactly


      November 23, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  10. Joe

    Jesus IS what you would call a "socialist."
    But the future economy of this planet will be a combination of capitalism and socialism.
    But first, the stock market has to completely collapse.
    That will happen very soon.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • Griffin

      Ummm... you may be right, looking at the DOW.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      That actually makes more sense than almost any other comment on this page

      November 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  11. Santa Clause

    So am i and im a socialist 😉

    November 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  12. Terry from West Texas

    Jesus never mentioned a form of government other than monarchy. Even God was a king and ruled with an iron fist, smiting the heathen and rewarding the faithful. I don't think he could imagine anything other than monarchy.

    When Constantine chose Christianity as the faith of the Roman Empire, what he liked about Christians was their obedience to their bishops and their existing social structure. The worshipers of Sol Invictus – the other religion that Constantine considered, were disorganized and no one had to obey anyone. Constantine wanted a religion that emphasized obedience and discipline.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • William Bergmann

      Of course he liked the submission factor with Christians, any ruler would. Remember it was Napolean that said wisely, "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."

      November 23, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • C from West Texas

      I think if you read the New Testament or take a theology class, you'll find that the Christian God is believed to be much more than you summed up in a few self-righteous sentences. No offense, but It's one thing to have a difference of opinion, but it's another to imply that all religious people are ignorant or gullible simply because they disagree with you, especially when clearly you view their faith through a filter of a narrow worldview and only partial accuracy. Darwin was a scientist, and many scientists believe creation theory or at least allow for the possibility of a Creator in evolutionary theory. So even if you diagree, which it is of course your right and privilege to do, please realize that it's a bit unfair to imply that all people of faith are idiots.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      People of "faith" are not necessarily idiots, but they ARE delusional.
      Absolutely and definitely delusional. Mental cases, every one.

      November 24, 2010 at 2:18 am |
  13. pete

    hey i was a teenage anarchist.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
    • Terry from West Texas

      Jesus was just a guy, not a god. He imagined that God would destroy the monarchy, expel the Romans, and rule Israel. After he died, his followers invented Christianity 2.0, which consisted of waiting for Jesus to return real soon. Constantine invented Christianity 3.0, which consisted of being a member of the Catholic Church and going to heaven when you died. Martin Luther invented Christianity 4.0, with the Protestant Reformation, which consisted of being a good person and going good deeds. Modern televangelists have invented Christianity 5.0, which consists of dialing a toll-free number with one hand while holding your Master Card in the other.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I "invent" Christianity 6.34567897432 (I like numbers with a lot of figures in them) That says that we go to heaven on whether or not we help spread God's word. I think that God made us, and will reclaim us, but for the time being, isn't doing a lot. Not nothing, but not a lot. We should follow the morals and principles that the Bible teaches (which even the most skeptic atheist has to admit that they make sense). Jesus is still our Savior, because He will save us (remember the reclaim part).

      November 23, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
    • Terry from West Texas

      Jesus was a man, not a supernatural being. He imagined that God would destroy the monarchy, expel the Romans, and rule Israel. After he died, his followers invented Christianity 2.0, which consisted of waiting for Jesus to return real soon. Constantine invented Christianity 3.0, which consisted of being a member of the Catholic Church and going to heaven when you died. Martin Luther invented Christianity 4.0, with the Protestant Reformation, which consisted of being a good person and going good deeds. Modern televangelists have invented Christianity 5.0, which consists of dialing a toll-free number with one hand while holding your Master Card in the other.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  14. AJ

    Ummm...Jesus was a fictional character.
    Asking that is like asking where Darth Vader stood on the economy.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      He was a communist and single-government. 🙂

      November 23, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  15. SHRIKE

    [Old Man Waterfall takes a stand against the Decapodian war machine.]
    Old Man Waterfall: You can crush me but you can't crush my spirit!
    [He is crushed.]
    Old Man Waterfall: Ow, my spirit!

    November 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  16. Emma

    I think he was neither communist nor socialist but rather an anarchist.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  17. tsmoke

    neither...he was an anarchist. No need for govt, laws or even countries.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  18. pete

    john 10:13 and it came to pass that goverments became socialists and all was good

    November 23, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  19. NCVenusProjectTeam

    Perhaps if you remove the ism's and the monetary system you could have a solution that would benefit all of humanity. We need a Resource Based Economy. Acts 2:42-47.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  20. pete

    we all know he was a socialist right?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.