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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. F1G

    PS: my apologies for capitalization errors with the word "Muslim".

    November 24, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  2. F1G

    Not looking for an argument, but I do have a question concerning salvation / faith. If you (as a Christian) had been born in a predominately Islamic country (say Pakistan, which I believe is 99% muslim), you would most likely be muslim. The reverse applies as well (muslim born in predominately Christian culture). Entry to God's kingdom (in either faith) has very specific requirements. Regardless of the cultural instruction, both were created by the same God.

    My question is: Do you believe salvation (Muslim or Christian) affords itself by chance (i.e. where you are born), or was it by divine design that many are excluded from the existential knowledge by no fault of their own?

    November 24, 2010 at 9:11 am |
    • He is Love

      Anyone, anywhere, has access to Salvation. makes no difference how, where, who you are, or where you were born. I believe that even if you were born in a Muslim country, or Russian country, and were told what to believe, ritualistically, or in a place where you are forbidden to have a bible, If you pray and ask you shall recieve, I believe that Jesus will make himself known to you.
      No one is excluded from Salvation, lest he decide he does not want it, or Jesus in his/her life.
      For those who will say, But..he knew before who would and would not accept, that is because he is all knowing. It has nothing to do with you being excluded, just that he see's the beginning and the end, to the choices YOU make in life.

      Christians acknowledge certain things as believers in Jesus Christ, that is: He is God, he is the Son of God, and the holy Spirit, all 3 distinct personalitys, but one God, known as the Trinity. That Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, concieved by the Holy Spirit, was God, incarnate. He died, was crucified and arose from the dead on the third day. He died for all the sins of men, by shedding his blood for us on the cross, so all could have eternal life in Heaven.

      We believe that any religion who do not acknowledge all of those facts, are not true followers of Jesus Christ. The one problem I see with the Muslim faith, is Mohammed, not Jesus is thier God. They also do not believe that Jesus was the son of God, nor God himself. So, I personally do not see them as Christian followers, no respect intended, just facts. They also do not believe that Jesus died for thier sins.

      November 24, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • civilioutside

      I'm not certain you got F1G's point. You see, 95% of people live and die in the faith they were born to. A person raised Muslim is 95% likely to die a Muslim. A person raised Christian is 95 % likely to die a Christian. A person raised Shinto is 95% likely to die Shinto. etc., etc. Many non-Christians will never be presented with a Christian version of Jesus, and so never even really have a legitimate possibility of accepting him. So what happens to these people? Is it fair that they were denied that possibility and so will go to he-ll? Or did god arrange things so that all of those people not Christian by birth and who never have the possibility of becoming one are all people who never would have accepted Jesus anyway even if they had been born to Christian families?

      November 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • F1G

      TO: He Is Love

      Thank you for the response. You said "If you pray and ask you shall recieve, I believe that Jesus will make himself known to you."

      So, if I am understanding you, prayer to the creator (Allah, Jehovah, etc) will reveal the Christ, and he will explain all of those requirements (knowledge / acceptance of Trinity, virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection, etc.) to the person in prayer [assuming this individual has no access to a bible]?

      TO: civilioutside

      Thank you also.

      November 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • Kelly Garrett

      @civilioutside

      Actually, no one is born a christian. They may be born to christians, but christianity is a covenant religion. It has to be volutarily accepted by someone of age to enter a covenant. If the Jewish terms of covenant are used, especially accepting the religion as in a Bar Mttzvah, they have to be at least 13 years old. Chrisianity is not a culturally embedded faith, like Judaism, Hindu, Traditional Native American, Shinto, etc. Ethnic/Cultural belief systems are part of the culture one is born into. The Jews have an extra step of formally accepting the "religous" aspects of their culture, but they are Jews whether they Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or not. (Here you will get some disagreements between the Ortnodox and other forms of Jewish practice.) The formal "practice" of the rituals of the cultural faith may not be picked up by individuals, but their cultural identity will always be there.

      The pseudo-Cultures of the Romanized west are Greco-Roman, not Judeo-christian as the followers of that faith would have you think. Westerners are born secular, not christian. When westerners are asked about their "religion" many will answer christian, but that is not a recognition of the covenant, just an acknowledgment of a "cultural" leaning, not the formal acceptance of a covenant. According to their bible, the covenant is formally accepted through a symbolic cannibalism ritual. The symbolic drinking of human blood, represented by wine, and the symbolic eating of human flesh, represented by the bread. That "seals" the covenant, because their christ said that the "covenant is in my blood." All rather barbaric and disgusting, really.

      November 24, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • F1G

      TO: Kelly Garrett

      My apologies. I read your post again, and first of all, it was not directed to me. and secondly, I clearly see that you explained the communion as a representation. I think that now I understand your comment of barbarism. Correct me if I am mistaken, but even the representation of consumption of blood / flesh is barbaric in nature?

      November 24, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • Kelly Garrett

      @FG1

      No problem. English is the fourth language I learned, though it is the second most spoken by me. I can get stuff messed up, and my interpretation of English in metaphysical terms is not the best. We are not Greco-Roman, so we think differently. Like the difference between the way the Indians (Hindi) think and the way the Chinese think. Different culture, different philosophies. As to the question as to whether a symbolic representation of an act is "less offensive" that an actual act...well, that is subjective. All I can say, is that to me, If a cult is supposed to practice infant sacrifice, it does not matter if they substitute a plastic doll for a live infant. There is still something wrong in the paradigm. In the case of the christian ritual I find it strange that their jesus, supposedly a Jew, would use even a symbolic act of cannibalism...or, being bathed in blood for that matter, as something that is "Kosher." If you as a Rabbi how to make a meal of a man Kosher....well, the results would be fairly negative, if you get my point. The cannibalism thing definitely points to the Romans, and reeks of Ba'al.

      Sorry for any confusion I may have caused. =8^)

      November 24, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
    • civilioutside

      Kelly, I was using the term "born Christian" as shorthand for "born in a family/culture that would raise them to believe in Christianity." And no, I am not going to get into a debate as to which "version" of Christianity is "true Christianity," because that's really kind of irrelevant to the point I was making. Nobody is actually born as any religious persuasion – they are merely indoctrinated iinto the religious beliefs of the culture that surrounds them.

      November 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • NL

      He is Love-
      So, if you were born in a Christian country and told what to believe, as many are, and forbidden to have real science books to study for your education, could you ever hope to transcend ignorance?

      November 24, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  3. Muneef"786"

    Maryam Sura 19:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; (30) "And He hath made me Blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (31) "(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; (32) "So Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)"! (33) Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. (34) It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it "Be", and it is. (35) Verily Allah is my Lord and your Lord: Him therefore serve ye: this is a Way that is straight. (36).

    November 24, 2010 at 6:11 am |
  4. Muneef"786"

    Al-Baqara
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of Messengers; We gave Jesus the son of Mary clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you a messenger with what ye yourselves desire not ye, are puffed up with pride? ―Some ye called impostors and others ye slay! (87).

    Those messengers We endowed with gifts some above others: to one of them Allah spoke; others He raised to degrees (of honour); to Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. If Allah had so willed, succeeding generations would not have fought among each other, after clear (Signs) had come to them, but they (chose) to wrangle, some believing and others rejecting. If Allah had so willed they would not have fought each other; but Allah fulfilleth His plan. (253).

    November 24, 2010 at 5:26 am |
  5. Brandon

    We have to stop putting our earthy views who Christ was he was not a Communist and a capitalist. He gave up divinity to put on humanity to save a dying world. Isaiah 53 says 1Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?

    2For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

    3He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

    4Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

    5But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

    6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

    7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

    8He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

    9And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

    10Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

    11He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

    12Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. If you want to know more about Christ check out this site http://www.AmazingFacts.org Jesus has the answers to everything 🙂

    November 24, 2010 at 2:25 am |
  6. Henry

    Jesus capitalism, or how da term Jesus should be it iz used, who uses it, whether ta sell or in Marxist theory, communism iz uh specific stage o' historical development dat rent it, an' da right ta da revenue generated by Jesus da property used as an analytical inevitably emerges from da development o' da productive forces dat leads ta uh category. Jesus dere iz, however, little controversy dat private ownership in including determining how fundamentally, others define capitalism as uh dere iz nahh consensus on superabundance o' material wealth, allowing fo' distribution based on need an' social da precise definition Jesus system where capitalism implies da right ta control property, The exact definition o' Jesus an' prices an' wages just uh transitional stage on da way ta communism. In modern usage, communism iz often iz elements o' capitalism. There iz uh variety o' historical it iz used, who uses it, Jesus whether ta sell or rent it, an' da right ta da revenue generated by da property. Cases ta used ta refer ta da policies o' states run by Communist parties, regardless o' da type o' which da designation iz applied, varying in tyme, geography, politics an' ta generate "most" iz in private hands ya'll iz mad mad mad stupid an' sheeit. Ya' dig?

    November 24, 2010 at 1:44 am |
  7. David

    Jesus was definitely not a capitalist – no capitalist would throw out the money changers or advise against serving Mammon.

    He may not be a communist, but he was definitely an ultra-liberal, far to the left of Pelosi or Obama.

    November 24, 2010 at 12:21 am |
    • Andrew Messenger

      Jesus was not about free handouts. Jesus was about equipping individuals to make a difference.

      Give a man a fish, and you've fed him for one day.
      Teach a man to fish, and he will never grow hungry again.

      Jesus was about teaching 12 men how to be the greatest fishermen on the planet (fishers of men).

      He was about equipping people to accept responsibility for themselves, to not only be productive, but to productively, and compassionately, enable others to be productive as well.

      November 24, 2010 at 1:03 am |
    • Observer

      "Give a man a fish...." Jesus never said that and neither did the Bible.

      November 24, 2010 at 1:46 am |
    • NL

      When Jesus and his followers were preaching they were not working to support themselves, right? They slept outside a lot like our homeless do today, and helped themselves to the scraps of farmers' harvests, but also seem to have had money too. So, didn't they basically live off of the generosity and charity of others, much as modern day preachers do?

      November 24, 2010 at 8:10 am |
  8. ttwp

    Nothing's changed since Christ's birth. He is a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.

    November 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm |
  9. johnnymac1777

    "Your words have been harsh against Me,"
    Says YAHWEH(IAM, Eternal)
    "Yet you say,
    'What have we spoken against You?'
    You have said,
    'It is useless to serve Elohimn(Mighty Ones);
    What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance,
    And that we have walked as mourners
    Before YAHWEH of hosts?
    So now we call the proud blessed,
    For those who do wickedness are raised up;
    They even tempt Elohimn and go free.' "
    Then those who feared YAHWEH spoke to one another,
    And YAHWEH listened and heard them;
    So a book of remembrance was written before Him
    For those who fear YAHWEH
    And who meditate on His name.
    "They shall be Mine," says YAHWEH of hosts,
    "On the day that I make them My jewels.
    And I will spare them
    As a man spares his own son who serves him."
    Then you shall again discern
    Between the righteous and the wicked,
    Between one who serves Elohimn
    And one who does not serve Him.
    Mal 3:13-18 Word of YAH(IAM)...

    November 23, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
  10. Bill

    When will you children grow up and stop believing in fairy tales? Man made (up) god...not the other way around. Think for yourselves automatons!

    November 23, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
  11. Muneef"786"

    He was non..or some where in between but was conspired on by the capitalists fearing him of changing what they have systematized for them selves prospering out of the labour and agony of the poorer ones.

    November 23, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  12. Enoch

    “Jesus wasn’t anything that ended in “ist”

    Neither is Christianity. All ideologies end in "ism"; Communism, Socialism, Atheism, Islamism, Nazism etc.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • NL

      Evangelicalism, Protestantism, Calvinism, Catholicism, Baptism, Monotheism, Abolitionism, Creationism ... Capitalism. Americanism. Heroism, Patriotism.

      Yup, those "ism" words are all evil, you betcha!

      November 23, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  13. Ak2190

    It's quite amusing that Jesus was everything that the regular American conservative hates/is afraid of: radically liberal, quite socialist, and (dun dun dunnn) middle eastern. And yet they claim to be his loyal followers. It's hilarious actually. Have they realized yet that he wasn't white either?

    November 23, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
    • Griffin

      I'm afraid many of them don't even realize he was Jewish.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:08 pm |
  14. Cliff

    The parable of the talents (10, 5, &1) seem to convey a capitalist economic system rather than a socialist one. But the Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of Jesus Christ, says that we should be loyal to whatever form of government we live under. The only exception to being loyal to the system, would be that the system was to blatanly compel one to disobey God's commands and laws.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
    • Terry from West Texas

      The only form of government referred to in the New Testament was monarchy. God was the Heavenly King. Kings on earth ruled the world. The economy did whatever the king ordered it to do. He levied taxes at will, granted monopolies, and forbade certain activities.

      November 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  15. chiva2k

    Matthew 22:21 "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Jesus was not a politician or economist he was a Man dedicated to his father GOD.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
    • Terry from West Texas

      I always thought that was a pretty mealy-mouthed answer. It says nothing. It's like saying "Whatever!"

      November 23, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
  16. Lindsay

    Neither, none of the above, He is GOD Incarnate! Jesus is concerned about the state of our souls, period. He wants us with Him. : )

    November 23, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
    • Ak2190

      Ignorance is bliss, isn't it?

      November 23, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  17. rick

    Well said chuck. If god showed up today and i could meet it face to face, i'd smack him a good one and say, "were the hell you been, clown?" There's been countless, i repeat, countless generations of goofballs that thought jesus was about to return in their time because of all the bad things going on in then, that was supposedly prophesied in revelations....wars, plagues...etc. Let me do my best duh.....DUH, starting way back with the neanderthals and even farther back, man, prehistoric or modern, has been conquering, capitalizing, fighting, bickering, molesting, adulterating, stealing, Here's a good one. Start with the teabaggers. They're claiming to take this country back. Back to when? Before blacks were free and could vote? Before your wives and mothers could vote? Or maybe back to when they ruthlessly robbed and tortured the Indians and took everything they ever had, beginning with jamestown or little rock, take your pick. As Emerson, Lake and Palmer so simply put it...."the pilgrim wandered in, committing EVERY sin, that he could.......so good." You clowns need to get a grip on life. I've got your god....right here. god, what a concept. Almost every single aspect of the church has favored he in command of his so called flock, from the poop, his legion of bishops, cardinals right on down to jimmy swaggert, jim baker, eddie long.....and the list goes on and on and on. Grab a sandwich and do a google. I saw a cute post about a priest in texas that tried to hire a hit on a kid he molested....and got busted. I love it! The response was, "hey, why don't any of those perverts ever target me, I could use a nice car and some video games." Some people never learn. LOL, and for anyone with at least a GED that cares to correct my response, be my guest. aNy tiepoS where Intennshinal. Have a great day all.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
    • ScottK

      Well said rick 🙂 I loved the line "Grab a sandwich and do a google."

      November 23, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  18. P H Catania

    The real answer is distributism. According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism) or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals. Cheers!

    November 23, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  19. JackieInDallas

    @EpicurianLogic

    The time speculated for the time of Jesus was NOT the Bronze Age, you twit! Even the most recent dates for the Bronze Age were 1200 years prior to the beginning of the Christian era for the area. I'm all for sounding intelligent, but at least check your facts. The term Bronze Age applies to cultures prior to the development of iron (primarily, but not absolutely), and usually refers to only those cultures of Europe and the Mediteranean regions. The Far East, China, and Southeast Asia have different scales in time. If you are going to doubt Jesus' existence, that is your right, but the Christian Era is a very real cultural differentiation and should be placed in the correct time period.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
  20. freddy fred

    here is the true answer:

    Does not apply! Read the bible for once, cnn. It will teach you alot, especially about not being hipocritical!!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
    • Observer

      Reading the Bible will just point out how hypocritical it is due to all the contradictions.

      November 23, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
    • Terry from West Texas

      Fred, I've read the entire Bible once and the New Testament three times, cover to cover. I finally realized that its nothing special. It is a hodge-podge of books of dubious authenticity assembled at the order of Constantine. If you want wisdom, science fiction, philosophy, or history, the Bible is pretty much a waste of time and brain cells.

      As a young man, I thought, "This book HAS to be wise because God wrote it. What is wrong with ME that I can't see the wisdom?" Then I realized that it is a bunch of primitive nonsense. Then it made sense to me. Now the Christian scholars after Constantine who tried to make sense of it wrote some wonderful things, and Christians have done more good than any other religion (I think), so I have a lot of respect for Christianity. But Christians would be much better off if they burned their Bibles instead of Korans.

      November 23, 2010 at 6:09 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.