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

33 thoughts on “Was Jesus a socialist?

  1. Travis says:

    Jesus also stated, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

  2. John D says:

    Every one as he hath determined in his heart, not with sadness, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

  3. yuri s says:

    i agree with your observations.

  4. Nick says:

    98% of what Jesus did was help the poor. Quoting bruce Springsteen, “Jesus said these money changers in this temple will not stand”, also I think we all can agree that Jesus hated rich people. (goats and the lambs). also hasnt pope francis condemned Socialism?

    1. eric says:

      Just a correction if I could. I don’t believe Jesus hated anyone. In fact, I don’t believe Jesus was capable of hating.

  5. Patrick says:

    I’m not going to say whether I agree or disagree with Jesus’ political party, but I do have some problems with your “journalism.” First of all I watched the video and did not find anywhere Moss saying “that all rich folks need to give away all their possessions.” Also, if you think that O’Reilly’s use of interruptions and buzzwords makes Moss look foolish you are right. O’Reilly only made her look foolish: he did not have constructive conversation with her. Their disagreement, really, is just a misunderstanding of the word ‘socialist’, and, on the part of O’Reilly, a juvenile fear of the word. People like you and O’Reilly are what is in the way of the New Evangelization. Anyone who leans to the left on any issue, you seem to label as simply wrong, and make no attempt to reconcile their view.

    1. JBro says:

      Patrick, she says the quote from the article at 2:02. From what I understand, Moss was the one who argued in her scholarship that Jesus is a socialist.

    2. Ernie Gargaro says:

      Patrick,

      Try listening at about 1:10 of the tape where she criticizes O’Reilly for omitting her erroneous views of the social teachings of Jesus and the most consistent social theme of the New Testament that the wealthy give away their possessions to help the poor. You either couldn’t understand her accent or you are an unmedicated ADHD person who was already distracted. There is no misunderstanding on my part with the word socialist. The only misunderstanding of the word socialist is the understanding that the socialists want you to believe, and it is faulted. There is no New Evangelization, there always has been Evangelization since St. Paul. The New part is only an attempt by current socialists and left wingers to redefine current behavior which is unacceptable to our Faith and Magesterium in order to undermine the same. There is no need to reconcile evils such as gay marriage, abortion and embryonic stem cell research, asthey are intrinsically evil. By stating that O’Reilly has a juvenile fear of the word “socialist”, a position that you have no idea or evidence that this is true, you have resorted to the classic Liberal response, when beaten on the facts, resort to ad hominem attacks and false assumptions.

  6. Ernie Gargaro says:

    As a Notre Dame grad and former Director of the Alumni Association, I am completely embarrassed by this “Catholic” theology professor at my alma mater. She is way off base in her book, Catholics had “fun” carving the catacombs out of rock and hiding in them because their was no persecution to be protected from? Preposterous! But to assert that Jesus was a socialist belies her lack of basic knowledge of Catholic theology and Socialist ideology. Socialism is, by its nature, atheistic. Socialism deifies the state. The state is the source of all good things to people, not God. Jesus would never subscribe to this. It is obvious that Moss never took the “mandatum” required by John Paul II’s rules for Catholic institutions “Ex corde ecclesiae”. Her qualifications as a professor are suspect when she obviously misinterpreted the point of the parable asking the rich man to sell his possessions. It was an obvious lesson that man should not value possessions more than he values God and Eternal Life in Heaven. It was not an instruction to every man to sell his possessions; but knowing what was in the heart of this young ruler, it was a question designed to expose his materialism.

    There are many of us Alumni who are deeply disturbed at the loss of Catholic identity since the current ND President assumed office. We are expressing our dissatisfaction with this by withholding our contributions. Since the University has become so materialistic, we believe this is the only language they will understand. We know that ND is still taking in more money than it ever has, mainly from large secular foundations, but it would be hypocritical for us to support an institution that has drifted so far from our faith.

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