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. Morrie says:

    Hey all you uninformed Catholics. Read Rerum Novarum written in the late 1800′s. It addresses churc’s teaching on socialisism. Man has a right to his private property. A wealthy man not consumed by his wealth and has it all invested in businesses and enterprises that give people the dignity and income that a job provides does a lot more good than an unfeeling, distant incompetent (thinkObamacare website) government agency that takes our money (often through deception and extortion) and then wastes it and gives it to undeserving people.

    1. Cornice says:

      You See What You Believe

  2. Bill Monteith says:

    I can only wonder what she teaches her students about the New Testament if she believes Jesus was a socialist. And by the way Professor, it’s “blessed are the poor in spirit, not blessed are the poor(Matt5:3)

    1. Annonymouse says:

      Luke 6:20:
      Then He looked up at His disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.”

  3. Randy says:

    God Bless our Holy Father and Candida Moss for speaking out and for being the moral compass for Catholics today! Thank you for bringing us back to basics and the truth and thus closer to Christ’s true message! God Bless these modern day prophets!

  4. Mike says:

    unfortunately, the part of the video that stood out to me was that Mr. O’Reilly was unfamiliar with the word “anachronistic.” The one good point that Ms. Moss made was that applying the term “socialist” to Jesus is essentially anachronistic, and O’Reilly couldn’t even repeat the word correctly. How embarrassing…

  5. Carol says:

    Notre Dame should be embarrassed to have her as a professor.

  6. Jeff says:

    She’s from NOTRE DAME (or NOTRE SHAME) As I call it. THAT SAYS IT ALL….just like the Pope being a Jesuit SAYS IT ALL!!

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