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

  • Francis

    Stephen Kokx misses a key point. Jesus paid taxes and taught that it is right to do so. (Matthew 17:24-27) (Romans 13:1,). Taxes help everyone (when there’s no corruption). These taxes can in turn provide the needs for The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. Basic needs to help the least fortunate. I’m trying to summarize this as best as I can and if understood, the whole picture is quite simple. Capitalism feeds greed and other self wants. It’s that simple. We can all do God’s work by paying our taxes.

  • Elinor Bowles

    Sustainablity and compassion are the foundation of the teachings of Jesus. God’s children and the folllowers of Jesus must be willing to share with those two principles in mind. Greed is a major sin and source of material and human destruction.

  • Elinor Bowles

    Christianity is about sustainability and compassion. To preserve God’s creation the children must be sensitive to maintaining its abundance and distributing it equitably. Over-consumption by some will deprive the vast majority of life through
    sharing in its benefits.

  • Nathanael Crapo

    Jesus’ meaning behind “Give up all your possessions and come with me.” Was that those people at that time no longer needed what they had and were to be content with what they had if they came with him. Jesus said it to make a point not to say that you should live in a socialist gov. A socialist forces the redistribution of wealth to the poor. Because god wanted free will he would not be inclined to that point of view.

  • Fnord

    Nah, you (and Bill) got it wrong. The good professor has it correct: Jesus DID say what she’s claiming. Bill can whine about heaven being empty all day, but the Bible is pretty clear on that point.
    Just because Jesus “hung out with rich guys” doesn’t mean he endorsed their being rich. Jesus also hung out with lepers and whores- does that mean he thinks getting leprosy or selling your body is a good thing?

    The reality here is that, as John Kenneth Galbraith was right in saying, “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

    If people really followed Jesus, they’d have no problem giving away their possessions to the poor- REGARDLESS of if the government came to collect and redistribute them or not. The point Jesus was making is that one cannot serve “two masters”- and material wealth is one of them. Being attached to it, to the point where you have to be the one deciding where it goes, is counter to the spirit of what “sell all you have and give it to the poor” really means in the first place.

  • Cornice

    Christ waned us to open our hearts up to everyone. You that proclaim you are go



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