Jesus Christ ~ In Today’s World, Would He be a Capitalist or a Socialist?

Let the rich get richer, conservatives say. The benefits will “trickle down” to all the rest of us. It’s a neat, simple concept, except, it doesn’t always work as advertised.

October 14, 2010 (based on A Biblical Basis for Liberal Politics by David Chandler)

I find it interesting that the “Religious Right” in the U.S., the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, etc., is so active in politics. By all appearances, one might think that conser- vatism somehow equates to Christianity. But all who claim Jesus as Savior are not Republicans. So, where is the Religious Left? If it even exists, why don’t we hear about it in the media? Could it be that liberals are more inclined to accept the concept of separation of church and state? Yes, I think so.

As I dialogue through this blog with those who share the con- servative persuasion, I’m often assailed with the argument that America’s greatness is the result of an economic system whose driving force is the profit motive — capitalism. True, at least in part; our economy rewards self-interest, aka greed.

In classic economic theory, greed is good. A person motivated by greed will create unintentional byproducts that benefit everyone. These benefits include goods and services, employment, and advances in technology. The wonders of the modern world, jet airliners, TV, computers, the Internet and cell phones are just a few examples. So, let the rich get richer, conservatives say. The benefits will “trickle down” to all the rest of us. It’s a neat, simple concept, except, it doesn’t always work as advertised.

John Kenneth Galbraith, famous 20th Century Canadian-American economist, criticized trickle-down economic theory, calling it the “Horse and Sparrow” theory. “If you feed enough oats to the horse, some will pass through to feed the sparrows.” George Herbert Walker Bush, called it “Voodoo” Economics.

The truth is that a rising tide does not raise all boats. Under a purely capitalistic system wherein the government keeps its hands off things and allows the market to decide for itself what is needed, what is fair and proper, wealth does not flow down from the top. It flows up from the bottom. So, rising tides tend to swamp smaller boats.

One would think that, after decades of deregulation, tax cuts favoring the most wealthy, downsizing by America’s corporations and the “off-shoring” of good-paying American jobs, all of this resulting the shrinking of the middle class and growing disparity in the distribution of wealth, that American’s would understand this. But no, most Americans still think that tampering with the market system to promote fairness and equal opportunity, and a progressive tax code to redistribute the wealth and assure that the unemployed, the poor and disabled are helped and protected, is tantamount to socialism. And most Americans think that socialism is bad. But what does Jesus think?

By now, I think you know where I’m going with this.

Jesus spoke most about the Kingdom of God. But He also talked a lot about wealth and poverty. To the poor He said, “Blessed are you, for yours is the kingdom of God,” (Luke’s version). To the rich he said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,” and “go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.” When the rich turned away from Him because they had so much wealth, He observed, “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.”

According to Jesus, helping the poor and the outcast is not an option. It is the essence of what it means to love God. In the parable of the last judgment, He welcomes the righteous into heaven saying, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” When the righteous answered that they didn’t recall doing any of these things for Him, He said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

We are to “forgive our debtors” and “give to everyone who begs from us.” But don’t handouts contribute to moral decay? Jesus, I think, was more concerned about the moral decay in those of us who are so attached to our wealth that we would hoard it for ourselves and our issue rather than share it with others who are less fortunate.

Our better angels tell us that giving does not corrupt. We sacrifice to give good things to our children and do our best to provide them with every opportunity as they grow up. We do this to give them a sense of security and a foundation for growth because we love them. Many of us will reach out to help friends in hard times even though we know that we will never be repaid. We do this because we love them. But how many of us contribute regularly to charity? How many of us give a full and righteous tithe? How many of us divert our eyes and pass by the beggar on the street? No, we do we not love the stranger. So, it is in dealing with need in the abstract that we fall back on the “moral decay” argument.

What does Jesus have to say in Scripture about trickle-down economics? Well, recall the story Jesus told about a rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, who desired only to be fed by what fell from the rich man’s table. Needless to say, the story ends with Lazarus going to a better place than the rich man.

Trickle-down theory is about crumbs falling off the tables of the rich, it’s about oats passing undigested through horses. Therefore, those of us who say that we should settle for crumbs or a few oats, those of us who advocate free-trade, laissez-faire economics would also have most of us become beggars or sparrows.

There is economic inequality in the world, the haves and the have-nots. There always has been. In response to this reality, Jesus admonishes us to share our wealth.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy, who had been shocked by the hunger he saw in West Virginia, made the fight against hunger a theme of his presidential campaign. After his election he created the modern food stamp program, which today helps millions of Americans get enough to eat. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, thought the issue of hunger in this, the world’s richest nation, was something to joke about. In his famous speech in 1964, A Time for Choosing, he said, “We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.” Later he clarified saying that hunger in America was simply a problem of distribution.

Distribution? What does that mean? In a business/economics sense it means moving products from factory or farm to wholesaler to retailer to consumer. But this involves the exchange of dollars, money flowing upstream from consumers to the entrepreneurs and corporate owners. To Jesus, however, distribution means something else.

Recall the story in John 6 (1-14) wherein Jesus fed the 5000 with five barley loaves and a couple of fish that were offered up by a boy who had come to hear Him speak. Did you ever think on hearing or reading this story why Jesus used the proffered loaves and fish? Why didn’t he just turn rocks into bread and grass into fish? Would that not have been an even more impressive miracle? Well, I think the story has more to do with distribution (sharing) than it does with miracles. I think that there was plenty of food among those who followed Jesus that day. I suspect too that, by telling his disciples to take the loaves and the fish and distribute them freely to the crowd, He compelled those with food to join him in giving it away. It was an object lesson for the disciples, for the people who there that day. It was an object lesson for us. But some hear and do not listen; some look and do not see.

Ok, you say, as a Christian I agree that I should be concerned about the poor. But shouldn’t this concern be simply a private matter to be handled through donations to churches and other charities, George H. W. Bush’s Thousand Points of Light. Why should government have anything to do with it? Hold that thought.

Americans are a generous people. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, charitable giving for 2010 will total 2.2 percent of our GDP. By comparison, according to the Congressional Budget Office, federal social program spending alone, not counting Social Security, Medicare, CHIP and unemployment, will total 12.5 percent of GDP this year. Now, if Washington were to suspend all this social program spending and reduce income taxes by a corresponding amount, Americans would surely increase their charitable giving by that same amount, right?

Surely, you get the point. Left to the private sector alone to care for the less-fortunate, Hoovervilles would return to open spaces in and around our cities.

Our economy is currently in the worst condition it’s been in since before the beginning of the Second World War. It’s based on a system that has the potential to produce tremendous wealth, but it has failed to maintain its lead over foreign competition. Consider the possibility that this could be, at least in part, because the system fails to distribute wealth equitably. It neglects the poor and it corrupts the rich. On both counts, it destroys community. It divides us against one another. It pushes more and more of us toward the margins. It warehouses more and more of us in prisons, and it creates an increased burden for government to provide services without having to borrow from the rest of the world. But why would those who profit from the system want to change it? They wouldn’t.

The Bible calls upon rulers to create just societies, and, in our democratic form of government, in theory at least, we are the rulers. The choices our representatives make, or should make, are extensions of our own choices, our own actions. And by our participation in government, or passive consent, we share responsibility for what our nation does or doesn’t do.

A decent life for all in a land of plenty is a matter of simple justice, not charity! There are remedies that will make the system work better in the interests of all of the people without resorting to Soviet-style socialism, which we all know doesn’t work. But mixed economies do quite well. Consider how well-off the average Dane is, or the average Swede, or the average Norwegian compared to the average American. But it will take active political involvement by an informed, compassionate electorate to implement these remedies.

So, would Jesus be more of a capitalist or more of a socialist in today’s world? What do you think?

I invite your comments.

Published in: on October 14, 2010 at 11:47 am  Comments (24)  

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  1. Kent,

    I know you weren’t aware of this but I am giving the Laity Sunday message this Sunday and it focuses on the very subject of your blog. I am in the process of finalizing my “sermon” and it turns out to have some of the very quotes you have used. If it is alright with you I would like to borrow some of what you have said (with due credit given.) I hope you will be able to attend this Sunday. Thanks for your continuing efforts to shed light on truth; it needs all the help it can get. – Gordon

  2. You most certainly may use whatever part or parts of this post you wish to use, Gordon. Recognize too that I borrowed heavily from another source, David Chandler. I don’t think he would have any problem with your use of these idea’s and quotes either.

  3. I believe we have a duty to help the poor and unfortunate, but not to reward the lazy. Unfortunately with the socialist welfare system we have bred a generation of free loaders.

    Genesis 3:19 mentioning that we will earn our bread by the sweat of our brow. Makes me think God is more of a Capitalist.

    Although Jesus told the rich to “give all their money to the poor” I believe it was to be taken in a bit of a different context, than how you put it.

    The main point was that Jesus wanted the rich to give up their “earthly” possessions and follow him, because Jesus, is all they would need. Obviously they would not give their money to a person who is already wealthy.
    To be a servant of Jesus, you could not be Rich because he lived a life of a poor man and he also lived off the good will of others; however, he did not just live for free.
    Jesus gave valuable consideration to everyone in exchange for food, drink, and clothing.
    He literally healed people of dreadful diseases, pulled demons out of people, cured the BLIND (how do you put a price on that!) and preached the word of God. I do not think you can equate this to a free handout but rather an exchange of goodwill—again I think relates to capitalism.

    Also try to remember on Judgment Day God is going to send a very large majority of people to hell. In Capitalism, as in life, bad decisions are paid for with suffering, as it should be.

    Now let us talk about the Devil, he had his place below God, and was very upset about his position. He thought he should be treated Equally with God even though he was dependent on God, as we all are. I think Satan would be a Socialist, a person who envies those wealthier and more powerful than he is.

    I do not believe Jesus would side with Capitalism or Socialism but could point out the bad and good points of each side.

    In Conclusion,God is for Capitalism, Satan is for Socialism, and Jesus is the Bail out Bill for the Soul.

  4. Opa, I am just getting around to leaving a message of this particular subject.
    You know I really loved it and shared it with my pastor. He asked to keep it since I have it on my ‘ole puter so I will have to make another copy. I really want to know what he thought of it but alas, he has been hospitalized and is just getting back to a somewhat normal life.

    The Memory Walk for Alzheimer’s is coming up on November 13 and that has kept me oh so busy and I am still at it. Pray that we can muster a good turnout and raise oodles of monies.

  5. I meant this article to be thought provoking, David. Obviously I succeeded. I left the question open-ended for folks to conclude for themselves from the ‘New Testament’ scriptures what they think. You certainly have a right to your opinion and you may interpret the scriptures however you wish. But I hardly think that a passage from the Creation Story trumps what Jesus said over and over about how His true disciples should behave.

    Your comment about a generation of ‘lazy’ people is so very typical of the conservative mindset — very judgmental. Yes, there are freeloaders. There always have been. But the so-called middle class today is largely comprised of people working harder for much less and the American dream is all but extinct thanks to the excesses of capitalism in recent years. Most who I know today that are un- or under employed would just jump at the chance to work or have better work situations. But the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That’s just the way it is.

    The one thing you have said that I think we have some common ground on is about Jesus being able to see the good and bad in both systems. In reality, pure socialism, the Soviet or Cuban style, has proved to be a failure. But countries that have adopted mixed economies are doing quite well and their citizens, on the whole, are better-off for it. Mixed economies allow for initiative and self-interest to innovate and profit, but excesses are constrained and the rank-and-file are protected from exploitation.

    Recall the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:10-30). While the parable is more about faithful service than it is about the righteousness of reaping where one has not sown, in the telling of this parable Jesus certainly recognized economic realities. I especially like the response of the rich man after learning that his slave had failed to grow the one talent given to him. Verses 26 and 27 read: “But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest!”

    Having called so many less-fortunate in America today lazy, I suspect that you identify with the rich man in this parable.

  6. Jesus Christ is the son of God, not a man so he should not be talked about as if he were a man!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. From my reading of Scripture, Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man, come to earth to share with us about the Kingdom of God and how we might be redeemed from our sinful nature (John 1: 1-14).

  8. Kent,
    Do you know how much I love you and your thoughts? I believe that your interpretation of the bread and fish is right on. I am a Catholic who prefers to give privately so as not to make anyone feel uncomfortable about their need or feel indebted. But if I think that my example will spur the good will of others into acting, I will do so. The other point you make that strikes me is that Jesus was more concerned with the moral decay caused by those so attached to their wealth to rationalize not sharing than those accepting charity. Thank you Kent for taking my mind and heart to this place. Bless you! ❤

  9. Thank you, Alicia. It’s rewarding and affirming to know that I’ve touched a chord with good people.


  10. I’m sorry, but Jesus was indeed a human. Did he eat? Did he drink? Did he have to relieve himself like the rest of us humans have to do? Did he sleep? Did he bleed? Jesus was flesh and blood, and subject to all the afflictions and emotions that all humans beings are subjected to.

    We are all the chidren of God.

  11. I just found your blog via Facebook. I read this post with great appreciation and look forward to reading all of them. Well done and will pass on.


  12. Unbridled capitalism and fascist corporatism is inherently evil and all Christian must awake and rise up and disavow and abolish them and establish Christian Democratic Socialism in their place.

  13. The United States is a Capitalistic nation. It is also the richest and most prosperous and free nation in the world. The poor in America are better off economically than 80 percent of the people in the world. Socialism and Communism have failed everywhere it has been tried. The Soviet Union and the Eastern European Socialist nations are in the ash heaps of history. The Western European Socialist democracies are all on the verge of bankruptcy and economic collapse. I do not understand why so many liberals want us to duplicate the failures of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and now the Western European democracies. I agree that we need to help the poor. The question is who should do it and how should it be done? Helping the poor is clearly a responsibility of the church, not government (see Acts Chapter 6). I think many liberal Christians have good intensions. They are however confused on the Biblical roles of the church, the family, and the government. Too many liberal Christians want to cede to the government roles and responsibilities that according to scripture belong to the church or the family. We need to get back to doing things Bibically.

  14. Thank you for your comment, Robert.

    You had me nodding my head in agreement up to the point that you said Western European Socialist nations are “all” on the verge of bankruptcy. There are no purely socialist European nations, Robert. They all do incorporate more controls and socialist practices, i.e., state-owned resources and state-run enterprizes into their market economies, than we do, or ever did. But none are purely socialist. Neither are all on the verge of bankruptcy. The Scandanavian and Benalux countries as well as Germany, Austria and Switzerland are all doing quite well. I suggest that you check your facts.

    As a liberal Christian myself, I can assure you that I do have good intentions for my fellow man and that I do my best to help through charitable giving. But, as a ‘liberal’ Christian, while I believe the Bible provides both guidance and authority on how we should live our lives, I do not believe it is inerrant. Your example from the book of Acts is a good one, but we are not a Christian nation. Neither was that part of the Roman provence of Judea in the times immediately following Christ’s resurection totally Christian. Most ‘widows’ surely went unprovided for even with the best efforts of Saint Stephen and others who were chosen to care for them. Imagine what it would be like in America today if we were to turn all of governments’ social safety net programs over to the senior Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light”.

    While nearly 80 percent of Americans claim Christianity, less than have of those EVER darken the door of a church on any given Sunday to worship. The rest are other than Christian or profess no faith at all. In addition, most Chistians judge members of other denominations/faith persuasions to be unworthy of salvation. So I see little to no prospect of a coordinated effort under Christian Democratic Socialism. And just what authority would the Christian denominations have under our Constitution to compel everyone to do their “fair share?” Or would you have our Constitution abolished in favor of a new form of government, a theocracy?

  15. People who call the poor “lazy” & “irresponsible” are simply looking to excuse themselves from helping them, which Jesus clearly instructed His followers to do. And it is judging them, which the bible says NOT to do. It is also prideful to say “I worked hard for my money, why should I give it away?” (rather than saying “God gave me the ability & opportunities to make my money. So it is really His money”) To say we are a Christian nation & therefore pass laws based on Christian beliefs (I.e.marriage laws) then say our government has no Christian responsibility to help the poor is total hypocrisy.

  16. I loved this particular essay, I’ve not read your others. It fits right into my belief system. I firmly believe if Jesus was on earth today, he would be ashamed of the so-called Christians who rail against social programs. I quite frankly don’t want to live in a society that thinks so little of their fellow human beings as to not want to help feed and clothe those who cannot, for what ever reason. We are not to make judgements about people because we cannot know their heart or mind, so how do we “know” who’s lazy. I prefer to err on the side of giving to the lazy than to fail to give to the one who needs it.

  17. Agree, Teri. Thanks for so clearly stating this for us.

  18. Found your blog via Facebook also, it is thrilling for me to read things I have been mulling around in my head, put together so effortllessly, Thanks so much. Looking forward to reading more and sharing it all!

  19. So the implication is that Jesus might be a socialist because He believes in sharing? The problem with this type of thinking is that there is a profound difference between freely giving to others, and wealth confiscation and redistributed. (Jesus might call that stealing – by the way, He’s against it). The fact that some people don’t give as much as they could, or don’t give at all, points to an individual problem of the heart; the fact that some people think the antidote is to confiscate and redistribute the fruit of other’s labor is an even more disturbing problem of the heart. The real (and only) answer to both situations is a saving relationship with Jesus, the Author and Provider of all good things.

  20. Thank you for your perspective on this, Paul. I understand what you are saying. Our failure to love our neighbors as ourselves and provide for the less fortunate is an individual failure. That’s true enough. But our failure as a society to do the same is a collective failure, which somehow doesn’t reconcile in my mind with what many say they want this country to be: a Christian nation, or at least one operating consistent with Christian values.
    As to your point, whether we should be compelled by law to give, recall from the book of Matthew, Chapter 22, verses 15 thru 22, that when Jesus was asked whether we should pay ‘imperial’ taxes He said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” To my mind this should be much easier for us to do knowing that our Caesar is a much more benevolent Caesar than was the Caesar of Ancient Rome. As a society, we actually derive considerable benefit from the taxes we pay.

  21. My argument isn’t against paying taxes. Taxes are required to sustain a government, and good government is necessary for a civil society. My argument is against the govenment “playing god.” They do this by extending their reach and authority far beyond providing basic services and protection, and dispensing “social justice” by taking far more than is needed to run the government, and then redistributing a portion to those who have less. Other excess tax revenues are used to pay for miscellaneous liberal causes, such as abortion on demand via tax dollars given to organizations like Planned Parenthood, here in the U.S. and abroad.In addition, there is a corruptive aspect to all of this, in that excess tax collections allow self-serving liberal polititians to buy the votes of the less weathy using money confiscated from their wealthier neighbors. In the process, these “compassionate” politicians pit citizen against citizen in class warfare, which benefits no one except those politicians. I pay my taxes, even though I know too much of that money is wasted and misused, and some is used for immoral purposes; and I give regularly to my favorite charities and to my church. I would give considerably more to charity and the church if the government didn’t take so much more than they need. Those on the left can put their hope in government, but my hope is in the Lord. Utopia will never be found this side of heaven, no matter how much of our money the politicians throw at it.

  22. So now, Paul, your argument isn’t whether Jesus would favor a socialist economy today over a purely capitalist one, or whether taxes are tantamount to “stealing,” as you have said. Now you say that taxes are needed to sustain a “good” government and that they are necessary for a “civil” society. Good. It seems like you have conceded those pesky earlier points. Now your argument is that our government is playing God by giving money away for things that you don’t like, things like “abortion on demand,” and foreign aid. You actually believe that social safety-net spending by the federal government, little as it is compared to defense spending (I assume that you’re not including Social Security and Medicare in that to which you object) to help the poor, the elderly and less fortunate is done to persuade these people, more than half of which are children by the way, to vote for liberal politicians? Sheesh! Paul, that sounds exactly like Mitt Romney’s infamous 47 percent rant.

    You seem, sir, to be living in the far-right propaganda bubble. Please, check your facts, which you’re not likely to hear on Faux News. Owing to the Hyde Amendment, funding for women’s health care provided through Planned Parenthood cannot be used for abortions other than in rape and incest cases. Further, only about three percent of Planned Parenthood’s total budget goes to provide abortions to women who cannot otherwise afford to pay for them. You’re pole-vaulting over mouse turds, man!

    As for your concern about giving money away to foreign countries, only about one percent of our tax dollars are annually earmarked for foreign aid, and most of this goes to Israel in the form of military equipment

    To convince me that the government collects too much in taxes for spending on things that we don’t need, unless you’re willing to agree that we spend far more than we need to on defense, you’ll have to do better job, Paul. We do not have a spending problem, as the supply-siders claim, we have a revenue problem

  23. Christian Socialism is the answer!!

  24. You are so right Opa!! I hope this “gentleman” follows your advice and checks out the sites you include in your answer to him. He has much to learn.

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