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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. jordan

    matt 7- 21 “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. 22 Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ 23 And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew YOU! Get away from me, YOU workers of lawlessness.

    there is one one Religion he is speaking to all the other so called christians

    November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • Millips

      "I will not eat them on a train." – Dr. Seus, Green Eggs and Ham

      Look! I can quote children's books too.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  2. Greg

    I don't think Jesus was too keen on hoarding money or individuals enriching themselves while others go hungry in the street. So I'm sure he probably wouldn't view America as an ideal place. But obviously God loves America more than any other country because we say so.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  3. JoeT

    All bow before him communist noodly appendages!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  4. Sam

    Griffen- You think, therefore you aren't!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
    • Griffin

      🙂 good one.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  5. Reality

    The following basically covers the reality of the simple, preacher man named Jesus:

    The Apostles' Creed 2010:

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary.

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under under Pontius Pilate,
    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many local semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension story was promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen

    November 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  6. Truth about Jesus

    This question is irrelevant because concepts such as capitalist and socialist are derived by imperfect human wisdom and does not originate with God.

    The Bible states that "Man has dominated man to his injury". It also states "It does not belong to earthling man even to direct his own steps". Furthermore it's written in psalms "Put not your trust in nobles, nor in earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs".

    Jesus was an advocate of God's Kingdom, which the bible describes as an actual government which the bible prophecies will replace all existing governments at the "conclusion of the system of things". In Daniel 2:44 it is written "In the days of those kings God will set up a kingdom that will destroy replace all other kingdoms, and will not pass away".

    Jesus is the appointed King of that kingdom, in which he will rule along side his "chosen ones" over earth in which, under it's righteous rulership, will be transformed into a paradise in which the meek will inhabit forever, with plenty of grain,housing, and freedom from every want imaginable.

    Now regarding the question was Jesus a communist or a capitalist, he was neither. He wasn't concerned with material wealth, but rather he encouraged his listeners to "not be anxious over what you are to eat or to wear, but seek the kingdom first, and all these things will be added to you".

    Let those that are alienated from God be preoccupied with capitalist/socialist nonsense. Fear God, seek the Kingdom, work righteousness, and recognize the work of God's true servants, who are "preaching the good news in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations". Win this work is brought to a conclusion, then the end will come.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
    • Truth about Jesus

      please excuse the spelling.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • Millips

      It's funny how God never revealed himself to the Chinese, who could actually read and write, but instead chose to send his son to the most uneducated part of the world. Interesting.

      Also, the Bible was written by men, so it can't be the word of a deity.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
    • domenic dandrea

      the basic problem with people is they imagine Jesus would be this or that.or he would drive a hybrid instead of a hummer.....thuth be told...he sais he wasnt part of the world.......nor its controversies a nor political systems, after all he was asked to be King and remove roman oppression ..but that was not his goal!!!!!!!!!!!!so stop with the asinine questions and stop wasting the precious little time we all have left and repent and ask God for forgiveness....

      November 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
    • jordan

      job was the greatest of the orientals job 1:3

      November 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
    • swohio

      ABSOLUTELY!! Wonderful response. I can't even imagine debating such a thing as whether or not our Savior was a communist or capitalist or anything such as that. He wanted us to first love God, and then to love each other....to think and act with love and kindness toward others the way we would want in return. We are to take care of one another.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
    • domenic dandrea

      hello brother......ah, finally someone who actually knows the truth and not part of other large but false religions........babylon the great has fallen!!!!!!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • civilioutside

      Gee, that sounds beautiful... if you don't exactly think about it.

      So, in this paradise... how exacly will everyone be rendered meek and free of want. Will they lose their free will? Will only people who are inclined by their nature to "freely choose" meekness and love of their fellow man be allowed to live in paradise (and if so, why didn't God simply design everyone to have such a nature in the first place)? Or will there be universal punishment for all instances of not living up to the perfect ideal?

      Will all the wants be taken care of because everyone will have to act out this spirit of giving, or will God simply use his omnipotence to ensure that no one ever wants for anything regardless of the actions (or lack thereof) of their fellow man (either by providing infinite resources, or directly removing the need for things like food, water, etc.)? Again, why wasn't the world designed that way in the first place?

      I know... don't think about it.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
    • Truth about Jesus

      @civilioutside

      No they will not lose their free will. Under the Kingdom arrangement, just like any other government, their will be laws, and trouble makers will not be allowed free reign. The difference will be that mankind's sinful inclinations will be corrected by the application of Jesus sacrifice. Have you not read the scriptures?

      All people even now have a capacity to love one another and choose meekness. Again sinful inclination makes this application difficult, which is why for the time being we are declared righteous by faith in Jesus, rather than by following a set of laws.

      God designed the first man and woman to be perfect. They chose to disobey.

      With the issue of Jehovah God's right to rule being resolved, no unrighteousness would be tolerated. Think about it. If mankind now in an imperfect and sinful state, does not tolerate murder, how much less would perfect mankind, not to a perfect government, under rulership of perfect rulers, all in submission to the perfect God?

      All wants will be taken care of because mankind will no longer be ruining the earth, and their won't be any red tape or political bickering regarding who gets what. The earth will be able to produce to it's full potential. And God is certainly capable of augmenting it's potential with his unlimited power.

      The world was designed for this purpose. Did you not read the account in Genesis when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden?

      The bible answers every single one of your questions. That is what is you should think about. Or does the spontaneous combustion of a singularity expanding into the universe as we know it with life also spontaneously arising out of primordial soup and diversifying to the variety we see today all in the name of blind chance sound more reasonable?

      November 23, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
    • kso

      segregationist.

      November 23, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
    • civiloutside

      God made the first man and woman perfect. They chose to disobey. Well there's the rub, isn't it? If two supposedly perfect people could choose to disobey god, why believe that the next time he comes along and makes us "perfect" again we won't disobey again? Was that first "perfect" not quite "perfect" after all? Maybe god needed a do-over (and a few thousand years of tinkering and pondering on his mistakes) to get it right, threw Jesus in there as a stopgap so that we could be "for the time being we are declared righteous by faith in Jesus, rather than by following a set of laws" until such time as he could get around to getting things right, and this next time everything will be perfect for real. Although why a perfect being would have done perfection wrong the first time around makes for an interesting question in and of itself.

      This is one of those things that gets me. You cannot claim that god "planned" for humanity to be perfect, and that Adam & Eve's choice to disobey him overthrew that plan, without admitting that god's plan was fallible... that he made a mistake... that he was not, in fact, perfect. The other possibility is that he is perfect and incapable of making a mistake... in which case he knew the choice A & E would make, he made them and put them in a position to make that choice anyway, and is therefore responsible for every horrible thing that resulted from it because it was all part of his plan to begin with.

      So anyway... your answer is that paradise will be maintained through a combination of changing human nature to make us more likely to choose obedience, absolute enforcement of the law, and god's direct intervention in worldly affairs. One has to wonder why, if he's capable of and content to rule in this fashion and thereby maintain perfect paradise forever, didn't he simply do so in the first place?

      And actually... yes, the random happenstances you disparage do sound more reasonable to me. By a fairly wide margin.

      November 23, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  7. JoeT

    But Mohammed was, by all accounts, a capitalist.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  8. Fred

    To Dave- And I vote to elect you as atheist clown of the day. Now, go take an early exit poll to see how you're making out.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  9. Dipper

    To Griffen- Thanks for nothing. Your point? I certainly already know not everyone will ever agree to follow one particular set of beliefs. However, there is such a thing as an absolute truth (e.g. Washington is the nation's capital even if everyone denies that it is). So it doesn't matter that there are multiple religions and even no religion at all. Either they are all wrong or all are wrong except one,. That's what your reasoning and mind are for, to find the truth. Personally, I don't care who believes what (a shortcoming of mine) but I have done my investigation and know what I believe.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • Griffin

      I made my point. I think I was clear enough.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  10. dave

    Aren't we all a little too old to have an imaginary friend? I vote "god is not Great" as the new bible.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  11. Nyonben

    I love a good mythology debate.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • Barf

      here here.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  12. VernS

    Well, given that he never existed as anything more than a mythical amalgam, it doesn't really matter, does it?

    November 23, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  13. Mathew

    It's quite plain that capitalism is MOST like: EVOLUTION! Survival of the fittest, only the strong survive!

    In a pure capitalistic system, if you make an economic mistake, fail ill, suffer an accident, or for any reason cannot earn enough to support yourself, you simply don't deserve to exist anymore. Really ought to be put out of your misery.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  14. Patrick

    There is no god and Jesus was just a guy whose ideas influenced some people. Unfortunately this little cult caught fire and now we are all paying the price exacted by nearly 2 billion deluded people who need a father figure. (Same with Islam) Time to grow up children and use your gifts of reason. This debate is really about what each of us think. There is no need to try and bring Jesus into it to support our side.

    Capitalism and Communism are ideas that provide bookmarks along a spectrum. Both systems in practice are not entirely pure. They are in a gray area because neither can work with out elements of the other. Like it or not this argument is about where we should be along that spectrum. The United States has one of the widest gaps between rich and poor in the industrialized world. Does that seem right? of course it does not. We also know that the former USSR was no great bastion of equality and innovation. I believe someone once said money is the root of all evil. We should take that as a warning. What we need is a highly responsible and moral version of capitalism. No one person should ever be paid hundreds of times more money than another who puts in an honest days work. No person should ever be allowed to make money on the manipulation of money it's self. That idea just leaves work out of the equation all together. We use to have much higher tax rates for the wealthiest people in this country and the economy did not suffer for it. Lets re-tune this engine of capitalism so it purrs along steady and we all get a nice ride out of the deal. I won't even complain about it if someones seat is a little nicer than mine. I'm sure they worked hard.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • Mathew

      >>>> No one person should ever be paid hundreds of times more money than another .....

      Couldn't agree more. I am sick of these CEO types who can say with a straight face that they are worth $20 million a year. BS, if that person disappeared the world would continue as we know it (humm, Mark Hurd of HP left in disgrace a few months ago–has that corporation fallen apart??) Those at the top of the capitalist heap exhibit pure greed on a daily basis.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
    • Swingstater

      Sane comments. You should have written this article.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
    • Matt

      A great CEO is worth every penny he is paid. Pay is based on responsibility. A simply machinist at a corporation, though important, is easily replaceable. If he leaves the company keeps running. The CEO has the entire company on his shoulders as well as 1000s to 100s of thousands of investors depending on his actions. Telling me that a guy who runs a profitable company and generates profits for possibly 100,000 people isn't worth millions? That is silly. If the company isn't producing then the CEO isn't worth the salary and there is where the problem lies. If companies I own pieces of are making me money then keeping paying the CEO to do what he is doing. Not just anyone can run a company successfully.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
    • Mathew

      >>Matt, according to Business Week (certainly not a "liberal media outlet" 🙂
      –in 1980 the average CEO of a major corporation made 42 times the average hourly worker's pay in 1980
      –in 1990 that had grown to 85 times the average employees' pay
      –In 2000, the average CEO salary reached an unbelievable 531 times that of the average hourly worker.

      Note that is for the AVERAGE CEO, not the one or two examples you and I might point to that are the exceptions, not the rule. From your comment, it sounds like you believe that imbalance is justifiable and consistent with good business practices. In a purely capitalist system that may be true 🙂 but I don't think a purely capitalist system can survive long-term.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
    • Griffin

      It's pretty simple. I watched it happen from the inside. The CEO's compensation is set by the Board of Directors according to the recommendations from HR...Human Resources. Human Resources reports to, answers to, "serves at the pleasure of" the CEO. Done deal.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  15. Michael

    To Matt- Really? How did it all start? Get yourself educated moron, there is no conflict between real science and Christianity and a creator. Stop reading the comics and get soem real books. I could recommend a few but suspect they's be over your head.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • JoeT

      While Matt makes some misstatements regarding science, our understanding of nature can only be furthered by science, because it does not have a final, devinely-revealed answer. In your mind, you have an answer regarding how the universe came to be. It is likely inaccurate and does not yield the possibility to yield new information. In this sense, the supercollider at CERN is more useful than a bronze-age text which combines Babylonian and Egptian myth to explain the origins of the universe.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • Matt

      Comics? This coming from someone who claims the bible is a book of fact and quality reading? Make me laugh, make me laugh. Religion is a farce to make those with sad lives feel good about themselves. They lean on this myth of better things after death. I don't believe that, nor do I need it. I love my life. Work hard, play hard! Life is good.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  16. Griffin

    Dipper, the wolrd will never follow just one teaching. More teachings show up every day. A one dimensional "truth" that everyone must follow will fail until the end of time, whether it's tomorrow or in eons to come.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  17. Matt

    Scientific fact can be disproved by only one piece of evidence. Religion goes about it the other way, they ignore what doesn't fit their story. Religion and conspiracy theory are the exact same thing. Science makes assumptions and then creates tests to try and prove or disprove those assumptions. Religion makes up facts to support their assumptions. It doesn't work that way. I have never seen an ounce of evidence to support a higher being. Is their life elsewhere? Of course there is. The universe/multiverse is infinite, so there are infinite other planets with beings just like us and infinite other planets with beings completely different from us. When dealing with infinity you can throw odds out the window, but infinity always trumps odds!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  18. DMORE

    After reading some of these post, It's clear that we as humankind are limited in our ability to progress and think outside ourselves. Especially in developed countries that place such a high value on greed and selfishness.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  19. Paula

    Hey Blackspeak- You are so stupid it sits on you like a halo.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  20. Herb Rosenbaum

    If I were a serious, well-informed Christian I would regard this entire question as a blasphemous assault on the savior's life, concepts and prophesies. It wrenches out of the wholly integrated, seamless notion of earthly and heavenly life, devoted to the service of God and of Others, the concept that one's material existence is even capable of being thought as separable from one's so-called religious or moral existence. It also tends to elevate the concept and function of "economics" to a governing, even super-ordinary consideration of one's existence. That is especially true because the cited analysts seem to be devoted to applying the so-called "free market" point of view, which is, in fact an application of the idea of self-seeking, self-aggrandizing behavior. That is contrary to the doctrines favored by the Christian Savior.
    It is understandable that advocates of that idea are seeking to make the case that their dogmas deserve shelter within, or under the umbrella of, Christian doctrine, or even that they are a serious expression of the faith generated by the Savior's life and beliefs. They could then pass off their subversive notions as deserving the reverence now being accorded to Christianity. No doubt, they are also likely to apply at the doors of Islam, Judaism, and other religious dominions, unless they have already done so.
    A Holy Economics one bows down to, or kneels to, or prays for ? Perish forbid ! Guard the Gates, True Believers ! New Barbarians are at the Gate !

    November 23, 2010 at 1:53 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.