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. TheNorthernBear

    Jesus needs to be eliminated from the public. It offends Muslims.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • hotcarl


      November 23, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  2. Guster

    Sun Stevens - prove it to us. You seem to be making God-like statements. Ironic.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  3. John

    Should we get involved in other peoples lives to give them a lift when they're in need? We live in communities don't we and when someone else suffers it will eventually reach us. We can't isolate ourselves because we don't live in a vacuum. We can try, but the failures and shortcomings of others will, in time, affect us all whether we deserve it or not.

    Or is that going too far? Should we keep every cent we earn and not be expected to shoulder the burdens of the community? Why should we have to help pay for others failures or others problems or others goals? Shouldn't we keep what we earn? We shouldn't be expected to look after our fellow man like they're a brother or sister. People can't learn to live on their own and shoulder their own individual burdens if others are helping them. Communities are great, but without individuals they're just welfare societies that're unsustainable.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • JoeT

      As I recall, that was the reaction to the first two travellers who passed by the injured traveller that the good Samaritan finally helped out. Granted, it was a parable, but still a teachable moment from Jesus.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  4. Sun Stevens

    Since Jesus was a fictional character, I suppose you could write him any way you felt comfortable in writing him. Capitalist, socialist, radical, liberal...whatever.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
    • Vanilla Gorilla

      There some very minor historical references to Jesus. However what he he did and what he said is a matter of speculation and to a very large degree faith. The gnostic gospels seem to have a much better handle on what Jesus may have actually said. Basing anything on the four gospels is an exercise in "blind faith" as they contradict each other and were written by individuals who were at best were able to talk to someone, who talked to someone, who actually heard the spoken word.
      In today's world – not admissible – it is hearsay.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  5. T_Gregory

    The answer to this question tells quite a bit about a persons beliefs with government. Many people today have a problem separating society from government.

    The Bible talks about helping others, but it never once says to run to government to make a bill that forces everyone to give money to something someone else believes in. It always talks about doing things YOURSELF. That alone makes Jesus not a Communist. Jesus also was a carpenter, right? So he made and sold things. That puts him closer to a Capitalist than anything.

    There. I saved people the time of reading lengthy books or watching the above videos.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  6. allanhowls

    Jesus was also neither Republican nor Democrat.
    Mostly, he wasn't a republican. Today's GOP has none of the love, compassion, or concern that Christ had. They are pharisees.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • T_Gregory

      I definitely wouldn't disagree with you, but he wasn't for FORCED assistance; which is what the Democrats prefer. You're not exactly donating your money if it's being taken away from you by laws people put into place to "help" others.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  7. Odalice Yolanda Feliz

    good to know.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  8. Drake

    Hey Fosta- You sound like a well adjusted and opinionated boob. I bet you have a really high IQ too! Even if that dubious bet is correct, what exactly does that mean? Isaac Newton had perhaps the highest IQ ever and he was seriously Christian, as were many other "geniuses". Your point, assuming you have one, is as illogical as you are. Fade away now.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  9. Gort01

    omg!!!! who cares....this is the stuypidest headline and waste of "news" space Ive ever seen...

    November 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Mick

      thank you!

      November 23, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  10. TheNorthernBear

    Fidel Castro is a Capitalist.......he is worth billions of dollars! Liberals, what do you say about that since you want death to capitalists?

    November 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • Da Truth

      I say Sarah Palin!

      November 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  11. Mark C

    He was a pacifist, socialist hippie, plain as day. The verbal gymnastics conservatives do to get around that blatantly obvious fact never cease to amuse me.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • T_Gregory

      Did Jesus say to help others ourselves...or to lobby our politicians and vote away money from other people to help others?

      November 23, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  12. Fostah

    Why is this fiction taken seriously. The IQ level of the readers here really shows.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  13. Linda

    We can say a lot of what Jesus Christ would want, but you only know about Him if you talk what you hear others
    say or have said about Him. He said if you love Him, keep His commandments: Love Him and Love one another.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  14. Bill Meadows

    am i suddenly reading the onion??????

    what the hell does this have to do with anything??????

    November 23, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • Da Truth

      Sarah Palin?

      November 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  15. Da Truth

    How does Sarah Palin figure into this?

    November 23, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  16. Anon

    Jesus taught that everyone should help in the way that they can. For example, those who are rich can donate money and goods, those who are poor can donate time and love. Everyone has something to give but it must be given by choice. That is where the government goes wrong.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  17. Jordan

    We all know that the Jews killed Jesus. And dogfighting should be legalized.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  18. rjm

    jesus put the run on the jew bankers... good for him!


    November 23, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  19. Guster

    Yea. David Johnson and Dawkins, the rhetoric will make your head spin. Don't worry, God believes in you.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  20. Irritated by stupid

    And the tooth fairy is a socialist...

    November 23, 2010 at 12:28 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.