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.


Categories:Catholic Social Teaching Culture Politics

  • Alejandro

    I think you can be a very happy catholic AND also live a nice peaceful social-democratic life,

    If socialism is so horrible then why does it works so well in places like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands..?,
    Yes they are open markets, and social-democracies…

    I have lived in Norway for more than 10 years, I buy what i want, i get free health care, nice car, free education, safety, peace, long holidays, 1 year maternity leave, good work and smiley people everyday, …

    You can see everyday Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, Protestants….. living TOGETHER

    and all that is for at least 90% of the country…

    Things that I can NOT do: I can´t buy a gun at the corner store,….

    • Map

      That’s too bad. I can. And guess what? It will protect me from the muslims who plan on coming to destroy my faith and my livelihood. I hope that your govt will protect you.

    • Alex Leung

      What do you think about Jesus and socialism though? Was he a socialist in your opinion? As a democratic socialist in the US, I can see Bill O’Reilly’s point that there’s a large difference between a wealthy person willfully giving up their wealth and someone being forced to do so. I can imagine there are many wealthy who do not want to give up their wealth in Norway, and I suppose that it then could be argued that they are not being given rights to their private property and therefore they are not really following the teachings of Jesus, but rather avoiding federally-enforced punishment.

  • al

    I sense that many misunderstand the very fundementals of socialism. Above I see ppl saying about taking from some so that it can be given to others.

    I see it as a fair distribution of “wealth” from its creation. Not social engineering redistribution after a few ppl have taken the bulk of the wealth while the masses go hungry.

    Ppl should earn wealth according to their OWN abilities and determination. There are way to many ppl that earn their wealth based on taking a small percentage from a large number of ppl while putting little effort into work themselves.

    The guy from Papa John’s said it best, he feels no obligation to pay his workers more, to share his good fortune, because they created more wealth for him.



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