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. Mike

    You will never change the mind of someone who is living by faith. That's the trick!

    November 23, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  2. blah

    fck jesus..fck allah...

    November 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  3. MannyHM

    I think Jesus lived like an Amish. It's quite tough to take that lifestyle but good to talk about it.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm |

    I think Pastor Rick Warren said it best: (loose paraphrase) "God didn't bless us to make us fat cats." We in the US have no idea what real poverty is. I have travelled extensively throughout Mexico. We are really spoiled in the US. We think suffering is being without air conditioning and a smartphone.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm |

      We should be about sharing with others from our abundance. Spoiled and materialistic. Makes me ill and ashamed.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
    • RD

      I have to disagree, our country has suffered poverty, and enrichment. I agree about sharing our common wealth with those who mean to use it to gain a better life, but only by choice, like it always has been with in our country, not by force. America leads every other nation in charity by sharing our common wealth with our own and with the world. Do to the fact we give out of our free will and grace.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:18 pm |

      I'm talking about the US now. And what would happen to charitable giving if it were not tax-deductible? I still say we are offensively materialistic.

      November 23, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
  5. stevie68a

    Fools who believe in the "prosperity gospel" would say jesus is a capitalist. I find it hard to fathom that he cares about your bank
    balance, when thousands of innocent children die of starvation everyday. Couldn't he multiply the loaves and fishes? He can't,
    because he is imaginary. jesus is imaginary. Shout it from the rooftops! It is time for the human race to wake up from this
    delusion. Do some research on the origins of christianity, and you'll find much earlier versions of the same story. Time to throw
    out that voodoo doll you call a crucifix. Whatever good there is in religion, can be had without it. Teach ethics instead.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
  6. Peter

    Umm, is Santa Claus a communist or capitalist? The Easter Bunny? Who cares.

    Anyway, the real question should be was he a socialist or capitalist? The term communist has come to mean Soviet-era Russia, e.g., totalitarian socialism.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  7. bobby

    you think if jesus was aroung today that he would hate lebron james?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  8. C

    Jesus is Lord. Whether you believe it or not is up to you, and it is definitely your right to disagree, and it will never be my right to force my religion on you. However, many scientists acknowledge the possibility of a Creator and leave room for Him even in evolutionary theory. So please do not assume we are all ignorant idiots... that's a bit unfair, not to mention Anti-Semitic and Anti-Muslim as well as Anti-Christian.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  9. Dave

    To Melissa- You are an educated and illiterate moron. There are many accounts of Jesus' life by historians and non-Christians from that time, outside of the bible. get an education will you.

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

      Dave, I have a university education in history. Idiot.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • Know What


      "Many" accounts of Jesus?...

      "The time of Jesus' alleged life was an extremely literate period in Human history. Here are a list of known writers who wrote at or within a century of the time Jesus is said to have lived:

      Arrian, Pliny the Elder, Martial, Petronius, Appian, Plutarch, Seneca, Juvenal, Apollonius, Dion Preseus, Theon of Smyrna, Pausanias, Valerius Flaccus, Damis, Ptolmy, Florus Lucius, Silius Italicus, Dio Chrysostom, Quintilian, Aulus Gellius, Hermogeones, Favorinus, Statius, Lysias, Lucanus, Columella and Valerius Maximus.

      The works of these writers would be enough to fill a library, but NOT ONE OF THEM refers to Jesus.

      Also, the Romans were obsessed with records and histories, yet there is no mention of a historical Jesus. It could be argued that Roman literature that mentioned Jesus has been lost over time. But surely any such texts would have been carefully preserved by the Roman Church once it held power in the Empire. Not only this, but it is safe to assume that well-educated early Christians, such as Justin Martyr, would have quoted these text in support of Christianity, but they DO NOT. A historical Jesus is missing from ALL the writing of the time, even though writing about historical people was common."

      November 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  10. Jake

    To Mike- Wrong again. On both accounts. You no doubt have faith in things that you can't see or prove (like pain for one example). And there is plenty of examples of things that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but wht waste the time with you.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  11. Trav202

    If anything he was an anarcho-socialist. He would definitely not have been a registered Democrat.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  12. Humble

    Jesus lived in poverty much of the time he was alive and depended on the charity of others for food and shelter. Of course, he put himself in this position on purpose in order to live a humble life of suffering. I don't think, however, that arguing over what political or economic position he might take if he were a human now has any validity other than to give religious (and non-religious) folks a reason to bicker and vie for the self-satifaction (delusion) that they know more about Jesus than others. The whole idea of trying to establish what opinions on modern life a man who lived 2,000 years ago would have is childish and needless. Let's continue to debate and solve the issue of poverty, though. But lets do it while focusing on the present, not the past.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  13. Mike

    To Jake,
    If you believe by faith there is no need for discussion. If you discuss it intelligently there is no proof for the belief.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  14. person

    Jesus is whatever is the most powerful for the argument of whatever person brings him up.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  15. Karon

    The system of government is communist and a system for running an economy is capitolist. You can have both of them like communist Chinese have. You can't compare a system for government with a system of economics because it is like comparing a car with an engine ...You can have a beat up government(car) with a great engine(economy) OR you can have a great looking government(car) where the engine is running on one cylinder(economy). You really can't compare the two of them BECAUSE they are very different. You can compare one system(cars) of government and you can compare one system of economics(engins) but you really can't compare government systems to economic systems because it is dumb to do that.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  16. JiminNM

    He said you must earn your own way and advocated individuals helping others, not government stealing and giving to others in exchange for their vote.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  17. JZ

    you people are idiots

    November 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  18. zdave

    "The extent of freedom is in direct proportion to a nation's compliance with Scripture."

    I can't help but agree: As compliance with scripture goes up, Freedom goes down. It's an inverse relationship 🙂 Let's all be Taliban.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • JiminNM

      Your freedom doesn't decrease, but your accountability does increase. Most people want the responsible to help the irresponsible eliminate the consequences of their bad "choices."

      November 23, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  19. Melissa

    What a bunch of closed minded garbage. Jesus, if he even existed since accounts of him don't exist anywhere other than in the bible, was a liberal. NOT a communist, and NOT a capitalist.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
    • C

      Plenty of historical accounts exist, but either way, He would not classify himself as "liberal" because He was, without question, pro-life.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  20. RD

    The idea of what Jesus was actually doing was nothing like Communisim, Socialism, Democracy or even a Republic Government idea. Son of God or not, Jesus taught the world humility and humanity. Looking and reading between what he was preaching about God.
    Jesus did things out of his own free will and grace for others, and in return others would start to follow his lead, not in the biblical aspect, but in the essence that working together, treating others as you wanted to be treated will have greater benifits then any religion or government ideal. Jesus, was not a political man or economically perfect, if looked at closely, if anything; he wanted less government and more freedom for eveyone equally.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • Terry from West Texas

      But the early church was controlled by bishops, who told everyone what to do. There was no concept of personal freedom. There is only one correct choice, and that is to follow Doctrine. Christians, until lately, found that it pleased God if they killed those who disagreed with His word as defined by the leader of the moment.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
About this blog

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.