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. Sean

    How the h*ll could it possibly matter what he was?

    November 23, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  2. jordan

    2 tim 3: 1-5 But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, 3 having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, 4 betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • Smite Me


      2 tim 3: 1-5

      ... he left out, "and they smell bad."

      Perhaps Paul meant well, perhaps not. He also thought that the world was going to end in his lifetime (well, for him, it did...). He was a typical blowhard evangelist.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  3. Summer

    Does anyone else think that Shane Claiborne looks EXACTLY like a 'before' pic of Peter Greer??!!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  4. jesusisgreat

    I Hurd Jesus was a Moslem,

    November 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
    • Summer

      Ummm no. Jesus was born into a JEWISH family. Sooooo...

      November 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • marie

      No sorry.. Muslims didn't like him much. He was Jewish Liberal.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  5. Ron31

    Jesus isn't Democrat or Republican......

    November 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
    • marie

      He was a liberal.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • C

      He was of no political party...but I guarantee He was pro-life.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      How can he have been "pro-life" when he is supposedly going to massacre billions of people when he "returns"?
      The blood is supposedly going to be very, very deep and very, very long – like a river of blood.
      Those are people he is going to murder, not words in a book!
      But then again, it IS just words in a book. Just words written by men, not God.

      Where are the words Jesus wrote? Nowhere.

      For all that Christians are supposed to have "personal relationships" with Jesus himself, no one is able to ask Jesus whether he is a communist or capitalist?
      No one knows how to pray? No one actually TALKS with Jesus or God, only TOWARDS "them".
      No words come back. No sentences we can use. No words of guidance, of explanation, of anything like what we should expect if prayers were actually WORKING?

      After all the posts in this thread, NO ONE can actually ask JESUS what the truth is? What we should do? Why this or that happens? What a surprise. Words written by men are not the words of a god, but of men only.

      And NO ONE has yet to prove ANY god exists anyway!
      NO ONE! You religious believers are DELUSIONAL and cannot refute this simple statement AT ALL!

      Go ahead and ask Jesus what he was advocating in terms of taxation or money or economic policies or political policies we should "follow".....go ahead!

      I challenge any Christian to pray or do whatever it takes to get a real answer from either Jesus or God.

      Go ahead. Make our day. 😛

      "Pro-life"...what a total crock of BS, like the Bible. BS
      BS, BS, BS, BS.....

      November 24, 2010 at 2:12 am |
  6. Pitdownman

    Fact is Our Lord knew all about the power of money: He gave capitalism a tiny niche in His scheme of things, He gave it a chance, He even provided a first installment of funds. Can you beat that? It’s so magnificent. God despises nothing. After all, if the deal had come off, Judas would probably have endowed sanatoriums, hospitals, public libraries, or laboratories.
    —Georges Bernanos

    November 23, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  7. Tom

    Does anyone understand what the hell HotDoginBuns is trying to say? I think he needs serious help.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  8. Mary

    Too many of you equate Jesus' message of sharing, giving, and generosity with GOVERNMENT HANDOUTS. NOWHERE does Jesus advocate using government as the arbitor. Instead, his is a message of personal and INDIVIDUAL salvation. We are so used to government reaching into our pockets and distributing the wealth where THOSE IN POWER see fit, that we forget that charity was an individual decision before government got so big and intrusive that we expected it to do the giving in our stead.

    The current system robs us of our charity, because what used to be voluntary and done because it was the right thing to do is now a conflict where we all try to line up for the government goodies and fight to keep the bureaucrats out of our pocket. The current system is wrong and unChristian.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  9. HotDogInBuns

    Fail blogs for sure. Ok... 1.) Jesus took a high ranking tax official for one of his disciples...don;t think they ever had chit chats about finance? fairly sure they did. He traveled far and wide into lands not accepting him, he needed a coin bag at some point. Unless he gots more magic tricks. Which is point B.) Jesus story was about himself and god guiding his message, so money can maigcally be handled by the big CFO upstairs... no problems. Except when it comes to try and apply magical tales with real world situations.
    If any of these idiots got their headds out of bibles and into HISTORY books. You would see that The entire western world of America was founded on an early 1800 concept of Darwinism. Darwin NEVER said we were monkeys or wanted to implement survival of the fitest with business...Stingy no good American business men incorporated DARWINISTIC BUSINESS to get rich. Our rail roads and resources were harvested by American pverty, while rich people sat back and got rich. GOOGLE it. also google "American Steel industry". You will no doubt always find the word "Darwinism". This was also a political adaption. Leaving the poor out of politics becuase they were pre disposed due to their financial conditions. Only powerful and wealthy survived. This has nothing to do with Jesus or any of this bable.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  10. Henry Edward Hardy

    Jesus and his disciples held their money in common in a single purse. John 12:6, John 13:29.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
    • Da Truth

      but who got to wear the purse, and was it coordinated with his outfit?

      November 23, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      @ da truth: lol

      November 23, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  11. Druid

    To Matt- You don't have much to hate because there isn't much you know. Go play and work harder per your earlier post. You just come off as another know it all atheist that has to stomp on the beliefs of anyone that has faith in something greater than themselves. For the record I am an agnostic (you'll need to look that up) but I am open to possibilities. You on the other hand are positive and conetnt in your atheism. Good for you, just go away now please. In reading your posts I used to think you were a cold and heartless troll, but you really are quite.....emotional..

    November 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
    • marie

      JESUS.. is a Jewish Democrat Mmmmmmm seksi.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  12. Ron31

    All of you non-believers out here in this world, may God bless your soul. To thank that there is no Lord, Jesus Christ is ignorant. Jesus is the reason you have a job to buy the computer your making these dumb comments on. Jesus is the reason that you are breathing air. You people need to go to church and ask God in your lives and see how amazingly it will change the person you are.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  13. marie


    November 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  14. marie

    Jesus is a DEMOCRAT.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  15. WWJD1965


    November 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
    • marie


      November 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  16. dave

    Volney and Dupuis 2012! Resurrect, then elect!
    Jesus one of several solar myths.....death (winter) rebirth (spring).

    November 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  17. Michael

    Don't blame political groups like the Republicans or Democrats for not helping. It was and should still be the church that feeds the poor.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
    • Griffin

      I totally disagree with your assessment of what should be, but thank you for expressing it.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  18. Matt

    Since there was no such thing as communism, capitalism, etc back then, wouldn't Jesus have been a Jewish despot? I hate knowing stuff.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  19. kd

    This is just stupid. So tired of these useless 'debates'. Jesus is a myth, one of dozens that were all extremely similar. The only thing the Jesus myth proves is just how primitive and frightened people still are.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  20. LB

    For those of you whom insist on saying Jesus is a myth: When I was 19 a long long time ago I did a research paper on Jesus. The books in the library (see how long ago) were interesting. The books written in the 1950's challenged the existence of Jesus Christ. The books written I would say in the 1970's for the most part all agreed on one thing – Jesus Christ was a real person who existed during a period of time in history. When I see people make the comment Jesus Christ is a myth, I assume that is simply uneducated about the subject but insist on insulting those who 1) have investigated and chosen to believe or 2) those who have investigated and chosen not to believe. Those that don't believe don't think Jesus is a mythical character, the don't believe He is God. Most historians – believers, atheist, or indifferent don't question the existence of the man Jesus.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • Matt

      Pics or it didnt happen.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • kd

      you don't study very hard, then...

      10 Christ-like deities that pre-date Christ


      November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
    • Me

      I'm with Matt. Pics or it didn't happen.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:21 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.