A former associate of mine posted a cartoon the other day that said, “Church: where Republicans go to worship a long-haired socialist hippie who condemned the rich and told people to pay taxes.”
I see this sort of thing a lot from my left-wing friends and others who don’t seem to know much about the Bible but are mightily convinced that it talks about Jesus being a socialist.
Recently, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is as socialist as they come yet calls herself a Catholic, went so far as to say that Catholic archdioceses that have opposed President Obama’s contraceptives mandate — itself part of the biggest piece of socialist legislation to come down the pike in years — don’t represent the church.
There’s no end of left-leaning churchgoers or of entire denominations that have gone over to modern liberalism. So there must be good reason, right?
Actually, the Bible is unabashedly pro-capitalist (although our American form of capitalism doesn’t follow biblical principles, which is part of the reason we’re in our current mess).
From the proclamation “six days shall you work” to the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-28, the Bible promotes the virtue of honest work and the joys of making a profit from that work.
But didn’t Jesus tell rich people to give up all their riches and follow him?
A few times, Jesus did say that, the best known probably being the “eye of the needle” speech.
But was he really saying that rich people couldn’t follow him, or that his followers could never be rich?
No. Take the case of the rich ruler in Luke 18:18-25:
“And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must 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 I have kept from my youth.’ When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, ‘How difficult it is for those who have wealth 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.'”
Follow the conversation closely. Jesus begins by noting the deliberate flattery and stating that no one is good but God, then tells the ruler to follow the commandments. When the ruler says that he has done so, he expects more from Jesus. In other words, the rich ruler assumes there is something special that he can do beyond that which God has commanded of everyone else. The implicit assumption the ruler is making is that he deserves guaranteed entry into heaven before others — in modern terms, he basically wants to reserve the best table for himself.
Jesus apparently picks up on this attitude and tells the man the last thing he wants to hear — that he must give up that which he most prizes, his wealth. It’s the very thing that makes the ruler feel he is special, more deserving than others. In other words, Jesus is really telling the ruler that if he wants to follow, then he needs to bring his ego back down to earth with the “regular” people. This isn’t about money, it’s about pride.
Then Jesus reflects that many wealthy people have the same problem. They’re too attached to their wealth, and it produces exactly the same sort of pride that the ruler had, making it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. (Incidentally, “camel” may be a mistranslation. In Aramaic, the word “gamla” apparently meant both “camel” and “rope” as ropes were made of camel hair.)
But, desperate socialists may point out, didn’t the Apostles of Jesus live in a communal fashion, sharing their wealth and distributing to everyone according to his need?
This is true also.
Liberals point to that and various passages about giving up your riches to share with others as proof that Jesus supported socialism. In the first century, after Christ ascended into heaven, the Apostles did adopt a communal lifestyle where all were equal and anyone in need could count on the community’s help.
The very model of socialism and communism, right? Except for one minor detail.
“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” — Proverbs 3:9-10.
The center of Christian communal life was, and continues to be, Jesus. The entire community organizes itself not around economics but around Jesus’ example. Such communities are in existence today. Members pray a lot, hold the same religious views, tend to wear robes and live a spartan existence.
Most socialists wouldn’t like that sort of thing, as God is usually the first casualty of the liberal lifestyle — or at least any notion of a god who actually expects moral behavior. Socialists generally expect their government gods to pay for a car, cable TV, cell phone, possibly an Xbox, etc.
God can hold a community together; Marx or Alinsky can’t without the threat of violence, as over 100 million people killed under atheistic communism demonstrate.
Socialists who would still attempt to find support in the Bible’s teachings for their political views should start with Ecclesiastes 10:2 — “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.”