Friday, February 12, 2010

In Response to question " Was Jesus a Socialist?" at Yahoo Questions Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In Response to question " Was Jesus a Socialist?" at Yahoo Questions

Socialism is a political theory which postulates that society functions best when all people have equal access to the wealth of the society. The political parties of Jesus' day were concerned with adherence to Jewish tradition (the Pharisees and Essenes), the resurrection of the body (the Pharisees and Sadducees), and relations with Judea's Roman conquerors (Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes). There were no Social Democratic parties in the first century of the common era, nor would there be any for seventeen hundred years. We must, therefore, evaluate the teachings of Rabbi Yeshua ben-Jospeh, as Jesus would have been known to his contemporaries, in political terms that did not exist while he lived.

Jesus did not live in a vacuum. The Jewish society into which he was born had a great many laws concerning wealth accumulation and duties owed to the poor by the affluent. Everyone engaged in agriculture was enjoined to leave a portion of all fields for the feeding of the needy and the traveler. The keepers of orchards were not permitted to gather fruit that fell to the ground. This also went to the poor and the wayfarer. These were not helpful suggestions;these were laws with serious punishments for transgression. At the end of each seven years, all slaves had to be offered freedom and all land had to be returned to its original owner, regardless of that person or his family's ability to repay the cost. A duty to be charitable was added to all of this within Judaism.

It was on top of these laws and customs that Jesus laid his new commands. In Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31-42, Jesus says that he will judge the nations according to their treatment of the "least of his brethren". Karl Marx didn't care much for the rich, but he never promised them eternal perdition as Jesus did. When Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, He is referring to gates in the Jerusalem city wall. These gates were so constructed that after the main entrances to the city were closed for the night, a traveler might enter on foot. A fully grown camel could not pass through these eye-of-a-needle gates. A young camel, stripped of its burden, including saddle, might be able to crawl on its belly through the opening. It was possible, but highly unlikely. That is how unlikely Jesus saw anyone laden with wealth entering heaven. Jesus never utters a kind word about the wealthy as a group and demands the renunciation of all possessions of his followers to prepare for the"kingdom of God".

There is nothing in the Bible, nor in the early writings of the Church, that suggest that selling all of one's wealth and living communally was optional for Christians. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead by Almighty God for being motivated by greed to lie to the Apostles about what they received for the sale of their property (Acts 5:2-11). The previous chapter of the Acts of the Apostles closes with a statement that all wealth was held in common (Acts 4:31-33). This echoes the statement the second chapter of Acts, verses 44-45: "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need". It was on this passage that Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels based the line in the Communist Manifesto, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need".

It must be seen that the early Church was highly coercive in wresting all property from its members. St John Chrysostom ( lived 347-407 C.E;.Archbishop of Constantinople) said "Property is theft", 12 centuries before French anarchist Pierre Proudhon used the line as title for an essay on socialism in the mid-1800's. Until Christians fell out with each other during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, it was considered a sin to loan money at interest, a very grievous sin indeed. The loaning of money at interest is the very basis of Capitalism, yet for fifteen hundred years Christians were forbidden, by their Church, on pain of death, from engaging in this practice.

Again, relying on St. John Chrysostom, we have an excellent view of the Church's position on lending money at interest: "Nothing is baser, nothing is more cruel than the interest that comes from lending. For such a lender trades on other persons' calamities, draws profit from the distress of others, and demands wages for kindness, as though he were afraid to seem merciful. Under the mask of kindness he digs deeper their grave of poverty; when he stretches forth his hand to help, he pushes them down. . ." Truth never changes, as credit crisis and mortgage scandal show today.

While I believe it is possible to be a socialist and not be a Christian, I believe it impossible for a Christian not to be a socialist. On this scripture, which is God's law laid down for our salvation, is abundantly clear. How Christians work within a democratic society to put the message of our lord and savior into action remains a matter for study and debate. The faithful can reasonably dispute whether Christians should support social democratic parties or reject government entirely, but God's preference for the worker, the poor, and socially and physically disadvantaged is plain throughout His word.

-- Gabriel, acting executive director,
Social Democrats, USA--Socialist Party of America,
moderator, Christian Socialist Party USA ~
  • 1 day ago


Gospel of Matthew
Acts of the Apostles
The Communist Manifesto (a 160 years old this year!)
Traditional Values ~
Wikipedia: Christian Socialism ~
Jesus the Socialist ~ Dennis Hird ~
Various conversations with religious socialists like Rabbi Michael Lerner, Rev. Cornell West, Sister Diane Drufenbrock Tony Benn, Dorothy Day, and Frank Zeidler

No comments:

Post a Comment