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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. dragonhunter21

    Captailism, communism, socialism- none of these existed during Jesus' life. They're all modern concepts. Feudalism existed, but not identified as such, because that was The Way It Was Done, and the way it would be done for centuries. Trying to decide if Jesus was capitalist or communist is like deciding if Cesar was Republican or Democratic. It can't be done.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  2. Cal Naughton Jr

    i like to picture jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt. cuz it says like "i wanna be formal but i'm here to party too". i like to party so i like my jesus to party.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • Skeptical Analysis

      “I like to picture Jesus with angel wings. And he’s singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I’m in the front row hammered drunk.”

      November 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  3. Cat MacLeod

    Where does Odin stand on sushi? Where does Budda stand on real estate trends? What's Kali's take on best vacation spots? If we are going to ask religious icons and mythical beings about current events then lets get real.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  4. Trent

    To the atheist David Johnson- Quit pushing your myopic atheist agenda, what you believe REALLY requires a leap of faith. I hereby nominate you for the "Biggest Blog Buffoon Award".

    November 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Me

      Actually, Not believing in a god does not require a leap of faith at all. It's so simple to prove that God never existed. Christians have no way to prove that he did. You have a bible.... A Book. Whoopdy do. We have the science to back up our statements.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  5. Valerie

    The "economy" that Jesus preached was not intended to be law. We should give freely from the heart, not out of obligation or requirement. We can do this as individuals by giving away what we have- we should not need to rely on the government to help people in need.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Valerie

      To add to what I said, this is the ideal situation, but not realistic based on the overwhelming mentality that seems to prevail in our culture of "every man for himself"- everything is all about "me".

      November 23, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  6. Guster

    Mick - Why sooo angry? The very fact that you feel the need to make such statements only shows that you do believe deep down in your heart. You know you do. Let the anger go, and let God's infinite love and forgiveness heal your bitterness.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • Mick

      religion is the cause of all problems on this planet. People forcing their views on others. Religion is a personal choice, not a political tool, and imposing it as such is crime against humanity. Seriously, the UN should declare religion as such, until people can learn to have their belief system without imposing it on others.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  7. Buckfinster Q Crabtree

    Seriously, who cares?

    November 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  8. TG

    First off, anyone who says Jesus did not exist is wrong. Jesus was as real an individual as Julius Caesar. That is a historical FACT!

    As to whether he was a communist or a capitalist, he was neither. If anything, he was an individualist. Each person is responsible for their own actions. Althought you can't really compare individualism with communism or capitalism, as they are economic philosophies. Whenever asked about this, I always refer to Jesus's quote: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's." Jesus had no interest in monetary policy. He also did not put governments or kingdoms or any group of people in charge of you. He put yourself in charge of you. That is who you will have to answer for.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • Mick

      don't say something is fact when it is not. It is not a fact, it is a book that is completely unverifiable that says he existed. But even if he was a person, then what makes you think he wasn't some loony like Manson gathering followers and they bought into all his nonsense, and they made him a god in their minds when in fact he was just some hippy dude who loved Birkenstocks and wandering around alot. I would laugh my ass off if in 2000 years people are running around claiming Manson was Jesus, just because some crackpots wrote a book about him claiming as much. Ignorant people, seriously.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
    • Mark C

      No, actually IT IS NOT an historic "fact." The "evidence" is thin, at best.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      Jesus is cited as a real person in more books than the Bible. It is world-wideley recognized that He existed. Now, according to some, everything he said was myth, but some say otherwise. The main point is-He existed.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      The Holy Qur'an verifies that a holy person by the name of Jesus lived in earlier times. So we know, that the person of Jesus was well established atleast 1,400 years ago.

      November 24, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
  9. Michael

    Christ does instruct use to care for those impoverished. However, the Bible speaks of poverty as a matter of fact, a social reality. There is no commandment to eliminate it. Certainly we can help through the goodness of our hearts in our personal generosity, but we cannot eliminate it. Further, Christ offered these instructions to us as individuals. He did not lobby the Roman government to invoke sweeping social policy to mandate "generosity" from all it's citizens or suggest we do the same.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  10. McLuhan

    If only Jesus would have known that there would be a real estate agent on every corner!

    November 23, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      and a p orn shop.

      November 24, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  11. JoeT

    Definitely more communist than capitalist. Why do you think the authorities nailed him to a tree? (Hint: remember the money-changers in the temple?)

    November 23, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  12. Henry

    The world is a huge holding cell for condemned men; essentially the entire human race is destined to eternal damnation in hell. Jesus Christ came into the world as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  13. John

    I wish he would come back and tell us himself. This world could really use him.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
  14. Mick

    Who the hell cares? How is this news worthy? Religion is crap for small minded people who need a crutch to lean on. Someone to tell them what is right and wrong because they can't figure it out themselves. F religion.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  15. Mike

    Jesus is not a communist, nor a capitalist. Read the Gospels. The Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of God. He is a monarchist. But unlike earthly monarchies, his is a monarchy with perfect justice and peace.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  16. Guster

    Aezel - Prove to all of us weak minded Christians that Jesus is a figment of our imaginations. If you can't, why make such non-sensical statements?

    November 23, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  17. paul.cos

    The mere though that jesus was a capitalist is absolutley laughable.The right will try anything to align jesus with their pathetic doctrine of rich getting richer and the poor can go to hell.Jesus was anti capitalist,he was pro free health care.When jesus healed the sick did he ask" excuse me sir are you insured"?...i dont think so,he healed for free.He distributed food for free,he went to the money changers in the temple and over turned their tables,telling them that "they make a mockery of his fathers house"...capitalits dont do that!..Sorry wingnuts jesus was against everything you stand for,he didnt kill people,didnt give breaks to the rich and never trampled the poor,thats what conservatives do.And by all accounts in the bibnle jesus was a socialist,its so cut and dry,even having a debate about it is redundant.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  18. chiva2k

    Trying to find out if Jesus was a communist or capitalist it's just a waist of time and arguing if he was the son of God or not its like arguing what came first the egg or the chicken like Jesus said "Give to Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and to God the things which are God's." before posting any one comments on Jesus first read the bible if your are from a different faith pleases respect someone else's beliefs.

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

    It does not matter.
    Man invented/Created God.
    Amen, Amen, Amen,
    © 2010

    November 23, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  20. Alverant

    Accord to the bible, Jesus told people to sell their stuff and they HAD to give to the poor to get into heaven. That sounds pretty commie to me. Also god could be labeled as a fascist since he owns everything (including your lives) and can do what he wants without answering to anyone.

    "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven."

    November 23, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
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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.