As the debate over the government's debt and its role in assisting the poor intensifies, some on the far left have begun to claim that Jesus Christ and the Holy Bible advocate socialism and preach against capitalism.
While this notion gives many conservative Christians angst, it is an ideal that is quickly gaining steam among atheists (and some left-leaning believers) who find themselves more on the fiscally-liberal side of the political spectrum.
Last week, atheist Gregory Paul, a freelance researcher, author and illustrator, penned a piece for the Washington Post in which he claims that socialism has its roots in the Christian Bible. In his article, Paul questions why Christians have abandoned the socialistic inclinations espoused by Jesus Christ to embrace capitalistic beliefs that contradict, in his view, Biblical principles.
Paul contends that "a set of profound contradictions have developed within modern conservative Christianity." These contradictions are so perplexing, he says, that they "set one's head spinning." In Paul's eyes, Christians who denounce Darwin's evolutionary science, yet espouse social Darwinism (i.e. capitalism) are doing so without examining the antithetical nature of their thinking. He writes:
Many conservative Christians, mostly Protestant but also a number of Catholics, have come to believe and proudly proclaim that the creator of the universe favors free wheeling, deregulated, union busting, minimal taxes especially for wealthy investors, plutocrat-boosting capitalism as the ideal earthly scheme for his human creations.
In citing examples straight from the Bible that he calls "outright socialism of the type described millennia later by Marx," Paul pleads his case. The first example he gives is focused upon Jesus' warning to the wealthy that they may not inherit the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24, which reads, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."). Then, Paul seizes upon the book of Acts. Acts 2:42-47 reads:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
And then Acts 4:32-35 reads:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
To Paul, these Biblical accounts, teamed with a story in chapter five in which a man and wife were stricken dead for failing "to turn over all...property to the church," constitute "the first description of socialism in history." Over time, Paul believes that Christianity has separated itself from the socialistic nature of its Holy Book. He writes:
The intellectual foundations for the alliance between capital and God were laid after the second world war by Catholic William Buckley, who, like some others contrived to maneuver around their churches’ skepticism about mercantile interests, worked to convert frugal church goers into materialistic consumers who spend their Sundays watching spectator sports and charging up interest loaded debt at the mall.
After reading this account of Christianity's origins and the Bible's alleged economic contents, David French and Jordan Sekulow, attorneys for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), took serious issue with Paul's assessment. Arguing that socialism is a relatively new construct, French and Sekulow dismiss the notion that Jesus was "pro-Socialist."
Furthermore, the two legal minds do not see socialism as a "biblical mandate" and they write that the true question should not be, "Does the Bible mandate socialism?" Instead, they say critics and adherents, alike, should be asking, "Is socialism compatible with the Bible?" They write:
Mr. Paul interprets Jesus’s “substantial encouragement for the poor” and warnings against the moral pitfalls of wealth as support for socialism. Yet one has to travel quite the intellectual and theological distance to equate admonitions towards charity and warnings against greed with divine sanction for the destruction of private property rights and the forcible redistribution of wealth.
According to French and Sekulow, the man and wife who were stricken dead in Acts perished because of their deceit, not because, as Paul believes, they hadn't turned all of their possessions over to the church. Also, they point out that in Luke, Chapter 10, Jesus says that "the worker deserves his wages" (clearly, this statement meshes more with capitalism). Expounding upon these ideas, French and Sekulow explain that there are other themes and statements in the Bible that contradict socialism's tenets:
While the Bible calls us to help the poor, it is also clear that the poor must help themselves to the extent they are able. In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul warns against idleness and says, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” In 1 Timothy 5, Paul also declares, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Even inclusion on the widows’ “list” (which entitled widows to receive aid from the church) was conditioned upon age and good conduct.
They allege that socialism creates poverty, writing that the few remaining socialistic nations are stricken with economic deficiency and intense interdependence as a result of the economic system. Then, they tie the recent issues seen in Europe -- London's riots and Greece, Spain, Italy and Ireland's economic woes -- to failed experiments with socialism. Concerning these nations, they write:
Their idle but well-fed youth, demanding ever-more from a state they give nothing, are either in the streets or threatening chaos.
In the end, French and Sekulow believe that Christians have overwhelming rejected socialism because the Bible is contradictory to its underpinnings.
Jay W. Richards joins these writers in opposing Paul's views. Richards' commentary is a welcome addition, considering the fact that Paul cites one of his books in making his arguments against Christian capitalists. But rather than spending the entire piece defending himself, Richards focuses on the majority of the personalities Paul uses to make his point, writing:
Mr. Paul’s attempt to paint Christian defenders of the free market as “ardent followers of Ayn Rand” might be more successful if he had bothered to give examples. Instead, he mentions Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, the skeptic-comedians Penn and Teller, and atheist Michael Shermer. All of these gentlemen are libertarians, but none is a Christian.
Pointing out the fact that Paul didn't use Christians to back up his claims doesn't necessarily contradict his theories. That said, one does wonder why believers weren't explored in an article that was critiquing both the faith and its adherents. Richards concludes with the following words:
The Bible isn’t an economics textbook, but I and many other Christians believe its underlying principles are most consistent with the free economy. There are reasonable critiques of that opinion, but Gregory Paul’s is not one of them.
This debate is far from over, as both sides of the political spectrum seize upon the Bible as the basis for their economic beliefs. Do you think Jesus was a socialist? Take our poll, below: