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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. Terry from West Texas

    I don't think Jesus could imagine either Communism or Capitalism or Global Corporatism. His only reference to government was to monarchy. I don't think he could have imagined a world that was not ruled by kings.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  2. CRAIG HAMPTON

    Jesus Christ is perfect, he was perfect before he was born of a virgin, in the act of creation, with the father and the Holy spirit, he will always be perfect. That is why I put my faith in him and not in mankind

    November 23, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
    • SHRIKE

      High Priest: Great Wall of Prophecy, reveal to us God's will that we may blindly obey.
      Priests: [chanting] Free us from thought and responsibility.
      High Priest: We shall read things off you.
      Priests: [chanting] Then do them.
      High Priest: Your words guide us.
      Priests: [chanting] We're dumb.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
    • RD

      Craig,

      I slightly agree and disagree, Jesus through the bible is perfect, but through history Jesus was a man who had a lot of grace and free will. Everyman woman and child sins, even Jesus. Although, Jesus made up for his sins by living a life fighting for mankind, not fighting against mankind, he had faith in his fellow man that one day humanity would overcome temptation and help eachother out of grace and free will, not to force citizens or followers into charity ir single mindedness.

      In my honest opinion; If Jesus came back today, he would look at the world and all of it's governments and religions and probably ask "Has history not taught you anything?"

      November 23, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  3. bobby

    i heard they were going to give out the answer in the new movie "passoin of the christ two" crusify this!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  4. Mark A. Griffin

    I am continually amazed at how many people dismiss Christ’s existence and fulfillment of prophecy as outlined in the Old Testament. There are over 180 points in the Old Testament that point to Christ’s life, all written BEFORE he came.
    If God did not inspire the writings, it is a crazy coincidence to have so many different writers foresee the same thing!

    Even Jews and Muslims believe in Christ’s existence, and thousands of Jews are converting to Christianity each year when they are presented with the truth.

    Read the “Case for Christ” may help you get your arms around what really happened.
    Be Encouraged Today-

    November 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Terry from West Texas

      Those prophecies have been interpreted as pointing to Jesus by Christians. Jews and Muslims disagree vehemently. None of those prophecies were understood in the way YOU understand them until Jesus had died. There are no 2 Christians who can agree on the correct interpretation of any verse in the BIble.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
    • Mark A. Griffin

      Terry from West Texas – I disagree- There are thousands of Christians who agree on the interpretation, there are no disagreements with the 10,000 partners at my Church. One way- Jesus

      And by the way, the people at the time of Christ’s birth were waiting for him- with expectancy.

      Seriously- Take a deep breath and do some open minded research- I fought believing for many years until I did research and was exposed to the truth. Happy Thanksgiving-

      November 23, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • Kelly Garrett

      @Terry from West Texas The arrogance of Gentiles to say that THEY know that the Roman bastardization of Yeshua is the REAL jesus is staggering. It is the God of Abraham, and the prophet sent by that god. The Jews are the only source on who their Messiah is/was. There is also a difference between Messianic Jews, and Jews that convert to the Roman invention of christianity. The Messianic Jews that I know point to the Yeshua in the Gospels According to Thomas, which is not part of christianity. I don't think they meant that was the texts they use, just that was the best point of reference for a Gentile, when given the choice between the two. When anyone tells you (especially a Gentile) that Jews are converting to christianity one needs to keep in mind that they will include Messianic Jews as christians. I believe they have a totally different opinion on that than the Gentiles. The notion of the Gentile supercession of Judaism, because they denied the Messaiah whereas they heeded him, drives them nuts, if the ones I know are of any indication. If one is going to ask a Jewish person their feelings on these matter one could get different answers, depending on who the Jewish person thinks they are speaking with. The ones I know "assumed" I was christian, or "Judeo-christian," and gave me one answer. Once she got to know me, and found out I was paleo-pagan, she told me she needed to "correct" the answer she had given me much earlier on that subject. When I asked her why she had changed her mind, she replied "Oh, I didn't change my mind about what I believe, I changed my mind about you and how you would take it." I thought that was very interesting.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • Griffin

      To Mark A Griffin. You said "There are thousands of Christians who agree on the interpretation, there are no disagreements with the 10,000 partners at my Church. One way- Jesus". Well, there are millions of Christians that disagree strongly with your "one way" and that would be Catholics. The Pope would have burned the 10,000 partners at your church for heretics not so long ago. Try a little humility as an antidote to arrogance in your life.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
  5. 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.

    There are lots of versions of Christianity, and they have little in common.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  6. Jake

    To Mike- You are wrong. There can be discussion and belief is up to you. You are the one that is naive if you actually believe what you said.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  7. bobby

    i just read dougs comment about democrats r for real? lol

    November 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  8. Mike

    Jesus was a man. A good man with moral teachings. Everything else has been made up by men to fit there own purposes at the time. Then we are told we must believe, by faith. So then there can be no discussion, how naive.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  9. Truth

    Jesus would have been enraged at all of our political bickering, like he was when he turned over tables in the temple. He was about loving God first and then loving your neighbor as yourself...and also about loving your enemies.
    Matt 22: 36-40
    Luke 6: 27-36

    November 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  10. A.A

    People have no right to relate Jesus Christ "The Son of the Almighty God" to politics this is just a waste of posting

    November 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  11. atlpd

    jesus actually came from an entrepreneurial family. His 'step" father was a self employed carpenter and that business was in fact a small family business. They didn't work for others per se. Honestly, Jesus came not from what we like to consider a "poor" family, but rather a more middle class family of that time. He could read and write, as could his brothers and sisters! Not at all common in those days for the "poor". So in all likelihood, if he actually would have answered in "todays" terms, he would have been a Republican – albeit of the grass roots Tea party variety. He was certainly no Libertarian, as evidenced by "Give unto Caesar what is Caesars, and unto God what is Gods".

    November 23, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  12. billy

    eric do you have any suggestions on how a better system would work? since you so critical of ours.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  13. Doug

    If the 10 comandments said thou must steal thou must kill then I could see Jesus a lib, however the last thing you could get from his teachings is that he wants us to treat our fellow man the way Democrats treat others in the bluest parts of this nation.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
    • Griffin

      Again, you court the shame of a bigot.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Observer

      Let's see: which side supports welfare for the less fortunate more? Which side has more of the rich who supposedly won't be able to pass into Heaven?

      November 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
    • Doug

      7of the 10 richest memeber of congress are Democrats.

      Those who have came from nothing and earned what they have, who also give to charity are Republicans, it is the elitist rich who crave power now since they have all the wealth they could ever need and it still hasn't made them happy who are the Democrats that want to control the people.

      Republicans give a far higher percentage of their wealth to charity than do Democrats, which goes without saying when you comapre how people treat each other in the red areas Vs. the blue areas.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
  14. nick

    "Though neither is prone to depict Christ as a capitalist or a communist,"

    Bingo. Your whole article is now crap because of this one quote. Stop sensationalizing your journalism.

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

      Yes, I agree about the article. It's was not what it seemed. Poor journalism, poor captioning, and manipulative... know that it would stir the emotions by using "trigger" words. Low.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  15. eric

    When was the only time in the bible Jesus lost his temper? When he encountered the money changers (bankers) performing usury in the house of God. Jesus understood that bankers are evil and their banking practices rob the people of their wealth and enslave them.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  16. Doug

    I love the question: Why are so many Democrats athiests?

    Its simple really, go check out how they live their lives in the ultra blue parts of this nation, how they treat their fellow man, their total disregard for human life, their selfishness, their elitism, their dishonesty, and you tell me how a person who believes that one day you must answer to a higher power for your actions on earth could ever be a Democrat, it is simply not possible.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • Griffin

      That's an extremely prejudiced and ignorant generalization.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • Observer

      Extreme simple-minded nonsense.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  17. james manuel

    Jesus is not subject to any ism nor ist put in place by mere mortals , believe in Him or not , we will die one day ! Then we will see who is right or wrong

    November 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • Griffin

      Right! Meanwhile, why don't we just stop bullying each other.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      @Griffin
      Smile when you say that. 😛

      November 24, 2010 at 2:27 am |
  18. Dale Partridge

    Rock-on Peter. Keep getting us out there. Hope to chat soon.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  19. icedawg

    The answer is simple. Neither.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  20. Henry

    Most forum contributors are babbling pettifogger bobbling about in a see of ignorance, flaunting their biased malarkey hoping to impress and draw other to perdition. They avoid truth at all cost, but they pursue and swear by falsehoods and lies. They are the lost offsprings of the devil, scoffing and following their own evil desires, they are lovers of money, lovers of themselves, boastful, proud, abusive, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, cowards, and without self-control. Consequently, they haven’t got any principles whatsoever; money is their deity and only motivator. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Griffin

      What?

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

      It is also written in Matthew 27: "51And behold,the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many."

      Do you think that many dead people were resurrected, burst out of their tombs, and wandered around Israel and no one noticed except the anonymous authors of Matthew? Isn't that a bit difficult to believe?

      November 23, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • SHRIKE

      High Priest: Great Wall of Prophecy, reveal to us God's will that we may blindly obey.
      Priests: [chanting] Free us from thought and responsibility.
      High Priest: We shall read things off you.
      Priests: [chanting] Then do them.
      High Priest: Your words guide us.
      Priests: [chanting] We're dumb.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Observer

      "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

      Sure not much of an endorsement for people using the brains that God gave them, but it does explain a lot.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:48 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.