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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. HeyHey

    I often wonder the same thing about other imaginary beings like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Honestly, this one story explains a lot about why the US is so effed up.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  2. joe

    “Jesus wasn't anything that ended in “ist""

    so Christians shouldn't call him ChrIST? 🙂

    November 23, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  3. iceaxdave

    Jesus, Lord of Avatars, the Christos, Son of God...no need for an "ist" on the end of that!

    November 23, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  4. Clark1b

    Jesus is the King of kings. He teaches the right to private property and the voluntary giving to those in need. He teaches against greed, lies, adultery, theft (even by the government), coveting what He hasn't given you, and He teaches that we should obey the authorities that He has put in power unless they tell us to do something against His Will.

    So He is neither a Capitalist nor a Communist ... especially sine Communism is a Christian heresy.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      Communism is what filled the void after capitalism hijacked the message of christianity and turned christians into greedy money changers.

      November 24, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  5. ames wolff

    Jesus of Nazareth was a socialist as far as human needs were concerned and a true capitalist concerning matters of taxes and government. His greatest foible was "turning the other cheek". It got him nailed to a cross. He should have been a bit more militant.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • Alverant

      Jesus said to give Ceaser Ceaser's due. That's not capitalistic, at least how capitalism is practiced today.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      you mean militant like Muhammad. Unlike Jesus, Muhammad quickly sorted out that if you wanted to preach monotheism to the gentiles, you would have to put the jews to the sword. otherwise, they would quickly take you away from God thru their mischief.

      November 24, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  6. devilsporkchop

    this is disgusting. these two are idiots. but even Jesus would forgive them.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  7. trixen

    I'm not going to waste too much of my time thinking about what someone who lived and died 2000 years ago might have thought about economics. To say the least, times have changed.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  8. Aezel

    This is the dumbest question I've ever seen. It's like asking if the tooth fairy wants you to invest in Roth IRAs or if Santa thinks we should bail out American auto makers. Jesus is a figment of your imagination and trying guess what he wants people to do is an utterly idiotic way to run an economy.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • NickO

      And yet you come and spend time to let people know that they are wasting their time on a figment of their imagination? You are either really bored or you believe that you could be someones savior from ignorance. If you want other to know truth, then let them know that Christ died for them, not because he was a mad man, but that He is exactly who he says he is and that he died so they could live. We are not just physical beings, we are also mind and spirit. Christ came to save all of us, not just part of us!

      November 23, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
    • Clark1b

      Jesus is an historical reality ... over 500 eyewitnesses to His Resurrection from the dead ... were willing to be martyred for that fact.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • Alverant

      Clark1b those 500 people were an invention of the person writing the bibles and were not independently verified. Fictional characters will do whatever the author wants them to do. And in the unlikely event they were real, then all that shows is that they were willing to die for the cause ... like suscide bombers.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • Brian

      @Alverant
      Just debating your last point:
      It wouldn't be like today's suicide bombers. Today's suicide bombers are dying for a belief in most cases – not something that they witnessed. If the witnesses existed and were martyred for telling people what they saw that's something different. Most people, in my limited experience, would not choose death over some scheme they made up if they knew they hadn't seen what they had said they had seen. That was a bit convulted.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      Do you have a list of the names of these 500 people who witnessed the death of Jesus. According to the Gospels, there was a huge storm while Jesus was up on the cross for a mere 6 hours. Such a storm would have easily dispersed everybody, leaving no eye-witnesses. Allowing for Jesus to be taken down alive by an influential follower and hidden away in a large roomy chamber. Which is precisely what happened. And interestingly, there is no eye-witness testimony of the people who took down Jesus from the cross, claiming that they had themselves seen a dead Jesus. Jesus survived the cross, its all there in the Gospels, yet the blind see not.

      November 24, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  9. WMesser58

    There was no "JESUS" just a fairy tale dreamed up to keep the people in line.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • NickO

      This may help you sleep at night but is not truth. Learn the truth, learn why Christ died for you personally. I will gibe you a hint, so you could have a relationship with you, and that you would know that you are loved by your creator! Peace!

      November 23, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • @WMesser58

      I don't think he's the one who needs help sleeping at night pal

      November 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I need help sleeping at night, but that's because I'm a very hyperactive person and an insomniac. That aside, Jesus is recognized in more places than one as a real person.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  10. NickO

    Jesus was more concerned with the bankruptcy of the soul than he was with any physical economic condition. Notice that when Christ was asked if they (Jews) should pay taxes to Rome, he said "Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius. Jesus didn't even carry money on his personage. He relied on the Father and the Father alone. He didn't worry about money, He didn't even worry about food and you want to paint him as a capitalist or a socialist or a communist. HE is the Son of God.....PERIOD!

    November 23, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  11. Trollface

    Gabe La Monica is trolling everyone who reads this article hard.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  12. jason

    I think everyone likes to determined what Jesus' message was/is. However, if we truly would or could follow his teachings there would be no need for communism or capitalism. Since we cannot and we are sinners despite our efforts the only message we need to be concerened with is that Jesus brought us our salvation from our sin and from this timeless arguement.
    Given my knowledge of both subjects I would bet Jesus would support the system that maximizes freedom of choice. The ability of every individual to freely choose to be saved through his teachings and there by saving the most immortal souls. So by that rational Communisam is defintiely out, becuase communicsm ultimately has to use coericion of peoples natural thought to be successful on a grand scale. Individual choice and freedom to choose such a thing as religion would be at odds with the communist state. A person could not worship openly for sure for fear of the any Difference they may spawn in society.
    In short, this sounds like a tactic used by athiests and commies to undermind religion and spirituality of all kinds. To a commie, they want the state to become the new god. Make the comparsions for yourself.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • Observer

      Being unable to separate atheists and Communists makes the comments ridiculous.

      November 23, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • Kelly Garrett

      @Jason,

      The message of jesus is in the last half of Revelations. He returns to bring heaven to earth, since it can never happen with mankind alone. He returns...and slaughters every man, woman and child that has no accepted him. Yeshua ben Yosef, however, will do no such thing.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  13. Matrix

    Telling individuals to help the poor is not the same as telling the state to steal money from most people and waste it trying to help the poor. It's also not the same as giving equally to everyone. There was also nothing telling people to dedicate their lives in the pursuit of wealth.

    BTW, I'm not a Christian nor believer in Jesus. I'm Jewish.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • McLuhan

      If you are really Jewish, then you know that there where laws against usury!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  14. Da Truth

    I'll tell you what He was not: a Palinist.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  15. McLuhan

    I bet Jesus would have wanted Corporate executives to spout his name and then earn "fantastical" salaries for little or no work! Really? How about televangelists? That can't honestly believe that bufon hairdos, 4000 square foot houses and BMWs/ Mercedes Benz autos are fooling God, can they? You can thank John Calvin for all of this!

    November 23, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  16. Observer

    Jesus in the Bible seems to be far more loving and peaceful than God in the Bible who is often portrayed as a vengeful murderer. Try to find one time where Jesus advocates killing and compare that to God's long list of people to kill.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  17. god-delusion

    is this article intended to make americans feel better about the fact that 10% of it's population holds 90% of the money? If so then the man you fools named jesus would not be either.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:52 am |
  18. AmishAirline

    ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME JESUS CHRIST CAN'T HIT A CURVE BALL?

    November 23, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Chase Dorway

      Assuming that baseball wasn't invented a long time after He left the Earth....

      November 23, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
    • Pedro Cerrano

      Hey Bartender, Joe Boo needs a refill.

      November 24, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  19. TY

    Jesus knew that the only hope for everlasting peace, security, end of war, end of famine and hunger, seeing our dead love ones again, no pain or suffering, etc. was what his Father taught in the Bible, Gods Kingdom. He was neutral in political affairs as the Bible assures us. Gods original purpose for mankind was to live forever: perfect and in paradise. His purposes have not changed. We do well to study the Bible to see when and how He promises that will happen and what we can do to be a part of its fulfillment.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Shawn

      I must have skipped that page. It was probably buried amongst the violence and hate that is printed on the other thousand pages.

      November 23, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • jhg

      finally, someone with accurate information. i can't believe the ignorance of the bible (which is God's word) and if anyone really wants to understand it, do what ty says and study it. but do a real research. contact Jehovah's Witnesses in your area and you might just learn something worth talking about.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  20. GG 206045 Allin

    For a second there I thought I clicked onto The Onion's newspage.

    Next week: Is the Easter Bunny a Marxist?

    November 23, 2010 at 11:50 am |
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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.