Jesus Christ, Socialist?
To start: I am a Marxist-Leninist, not a Christian. With that being said, I can’t help but love the figure of Jesus Christ in the Bible. In Christ, I see a fellow revolutionary, a radical community worker helping the oppressed at every point and pointing people to a new and better world. Jesus wasn’t a Marxist, as Marxism is socialism rooted in science and materialism, whereas, Christ’s politics are rooted in religion and idealism. However, Christ’s teachings are compatible with a religious based socialism utterly opposed to capitalism at every point, and thus, his followers must be also to be true Christians. All of the biblical quotes below will be taken from the New American Standard edition of the Christian Bible for the shear literal nature of its translation.
And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.” – Luke 6:20–26
Now, the Beatitudes are generally considered the very core of Christ’s ethical teachings. Right out of the gates, we have Christ both recognizing that economic classes exist and immediately showing with which class he stands in solidarity and which class receives his disdain. This disdain for the wealthy classes is reiterated in the Parable of the Rich Fool:
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:16–21
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” – Luke 16:13
Capitalism is, of course, rooted at every point on the accumulation of worldly profits, and yet, Christ makes the exact opposite central to his doctrine of salvation:
A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” – Luke 18:18–25
Under capitalism we are told of the great value of self-interest, individualism, and competition, and yet, central to the New Testament’s message is again precisely the opposite. This is shown in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, as well:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” – John 13:34
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28
“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” – James 3:16
“Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” – 1 Corinthians 10:24
Further, how did the early Christians live? Did they seek out wealth and compete in enlightened self interest?
“And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” – Acts 2:44–45
“And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the Apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the Apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the Apostles, which translated means Son of Encouragement, and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the Apostles’ feet.” — Acts 4:32–37
That right there is what modern communists would refer to as primitive communism!
I’m sorry, but at this point, I’m just going to say if you preach Jesus Christ “Capitalist,” you are a false prophet.
Of course, all this anti-rich, pro-poor, and communal living rhetoric goes nicely with socialism, but I can hear the objections, “Socialism is about big government and a welfare state!” Well no, that is not necessarily what socialism is about; socialism, in the broadest sense, is about communal control of the means of production in society, which may or may not include big government and social programs.
“But socialism is about revolution and violence, Jesus was a pacifist!” Jesus did have pacifist tendencies at times if the “turn the other cheek” sort of verses are any indication, but contrary to most liberal narratives, Jesus was not entirely a pacifist and was no postmodernist looking to respect everyone’s beliefs:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – Matthew 10:34
“He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.” – Luke 11:23
Virtually the most important, and directly the main cause for his execution, was an act of violence, the Cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13–16). Christ literally made a whip out of chords, charged through the temple, flipped tables over, and whipped moneychangers, driving them off the temple grounds. In modern terms, this is at least disorderly conduct and destruction of private property, if not inciting a riot.
There is also the fact that if one is truly serious about helping the poor and establishing a society in accordance with Christian principles, they need to realize that a socialist revolution may be precisely what is needed to make sure that these things are taken care of. They will also need to get it into their minds that such a revolution would result in a much lower death count than the grind of Capitalism that is still taking thousands of lives every day.
If you are truly serious about helping the poor, can you truly afford not to address the causes of their poverty? To tackle their oppressors? To drive the moneychangers out not merely from the temple but from the Kingdom of God that is in your midst?
“But the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence, the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.” – Gustavo Gutiérrez
This article was originally posted in Refuse to Cooperate.