Was Jesus a socialist?

According to Notre Dame Theology professor Candida Moss, yes, he was.

In an appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program on October 2nd, Moss, who had excoriated O’Reilly’s latest book Killing Jesus in a column for The Daily Beast just days before, claimed that if Jesus were around today, he wouldn’t be a “free market capitalist.” Instead, he’d prefer a more socialistic economy.

While I have not read Killing Jesus, I think O’Reilly held his own during the interview, which can be seen in its entirety below:

He’s no theologian, and some of what he says is a bit off the mark, but O’Reilly’s Catholic school upbringing has provided him with a pretty good understanding of the faith. A better understanding, it seems, than the PhD-equipped Moss, who, by the end of the discussion, looked less like a professor at Notre Dame and more like an undergrad who studies at a Jesuit school and blogs for Commonweal.

If you watched the video, you noticed that when Moss argues that all rich folks need to give away all their possessions, O’Reilly rightly reminded her that Jesus himself “hung out” with rich guys – guys like Lazarus and Joseph of Arimathea. It’s not the most theologically-insightful point, but it’s still important. It proves that Jesus didn’t tell every rich person he encountered to sell everything they own.

Moreover, O’Reilly is correct to point out the difference between someone who simply has a lot of wealth – which, as Catholic social teaching reminds us, brings with it certain responsibilities – and someone who is “owned” by their possessions – persons who, like the rich man who sought eternal life, are beholden to earthly goods.

Moss, seemingly, cannot grasp this. Or isn’t humble enough to admit O’Reilly is right.

Was Jesus a socialistFurthermore, after Moss contends that the “the most consistent social teaching of the New Testament [is] that the wealthy [need to] give away their possessions in order to help the poor,” O’Reilly rightly argues that there is a distinction between someone giving away their possessions and someone being forced by the state to hand over their goods so bureaucrats can redistribute them later on.

This distinction is an important one, and, in my estimation, completely debunks Moss’ argument that Jesus was a socialist. How so? When you give away your possessions you typically do so out of an authentic desire to submit to Christ’s commandments. Doing so edifies your soul, if done freely. When the state raises property taxes, assumes ownership of large industries or confiscates your wealth by instituting, for example, a burdensome estate tax, you, as an individual, really have no say in the matter. You are essentially forced into parting with your property. There is no “giving” going on. There is only “taking.”

To be sure, the common good demands that we fulfill our obligations to Caesar, and, as Pope Benedict wrote in Caritas in Veritate, we cannot leave everything up to the free market. But, as Pope Leo taught in 1878, socialism is evil, as, among other things, it robs man of his natural right to private property.

This doesn’t mean the state can’t play a role in making sure basic human needs are met, but it does mean that filling out a 1040 shouldn’t be understood as a corporal work of mercy. No matter how many millions of dollars we might fork over to the state during this lifetime, it won’t increase the likelihood that we will  enter the Kingdom of God.

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Categories:Catholic Social Teaching Culture Politics

36 thoughts on “Was Jesus a socialist?

  1. Joy McCabe says:

    Bill O is simply obnoxious and he can’t give time to a noted scholar

  2. Ron says:

    One thing many forget: Jesus was the messiah, the king of the Jews. His apostles were the god chosen leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel. So when Jesus said that they should give away their money and help the poor it was a statement how the government of the kingdom of god should be. They should help and heal the poor without asking for money he said. He critisized the temple for asking for money and sacrifices to help the poor.

  3. Larick says:

    O’Reilly doesn’t really have *any* points so much as he has sound bytes. Unlike that of a scholar/theologian, the career of a pundit/entertainer doesn’t require thoughtful research or well-supported arguments. What is does require is forceful opinions and the ability to hype them and prevent others from speaking. His attempt to muddy the clarity of Dr. Moss’ textual evidence by saying that Jesus did hang out with a few rich men, is pretty weak. If His association with thieves and prostitutes doesnt imply His approval of those activities, why would association with a few (far fewer) rich men imply His approval of them? Perhaps he thought they were even further from salvation. In fact the textual evidence of the Gospels supports this. Christ preached non-judgement of the adulteress, yet said it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (an impossible feat) than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Even more than being anti-rich, Jesus was anti-*capitalist*. He smashed the tables of the moneylenders. He spoke against charging interest rates. He told the Pharisees, (the conservative religious hypocrites of their day) to pay *taxes* to a *secular* *government*. He was executed by an Imperialist power as a left-wing political prisoner. His radicalization of Jews was what Rome found dangerous, and His (rightful) claim to the authority of God made his radicalization even more of a threat from the state perspective.

  4. Daniel says:

    And yet, I hardly ever hear Billo imploring other Republican Christians to share their wealth or expressing dislike for those that don’t. #CognitiveDissonance

  5. Rik says:

    As in every “discussion” on his show, Bill O’Reilly never gives his guest a chance to talk. During the 5:22 segment, Dr Moss spoke for about 30 seconds.

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