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News Link • Religion: Believers

Was Jesus a Socialist?

• By David Gornoski

Was Jesus a socialist? Was he revolting against wealth and money itself? Or was he actually challenging people who use the violence of the state to prosper?

I have my own working framework for how to apply Jesus's role model in politics and economics. Nevertheless, I recently spoke with fellow-travelers theologian David Bentley Hart (view our discussion here) and economist Jerry Bowyer (watch the interview here) to invite critical dialog for our society.

Dr. Hart and Bowyer share my interest in the late René Girard's sweeping anthropological account for the origins of collective violence. Girard posits that humans ape their neighbors' desires which leads to contagious rivalry and ultimately violent expulsion of misfits to restore social unity. In his account of history, Jesus's performance of nonviolent unveiling of his collective murder created a counter-cultural virus which undermines the civic logic of might-makes-right wherever it spreads. Girard provides a Christocentric historical backdrop in which Hart, Bowyer, and I can assess how one should imitate Jesus in the context of the modern state's collective violence.

As such, while Hart holds private property as rather baleful and Bowyer suggests markets are sacred human action, both largely agree with my applications of Jesus's ethics to the state.

I argue that Jesus's life story exemplifies his call to "not oppose the wicked man by force," as Dr. Hart's recently released translation of the New Testament renders Matthew 5:38. I believe that means, in part, if I want to imitate Jesus and I see my neighbor doing some wicked, nonviolent act—whether it is drug abuse, bigoted speech, discriminatory commerce, unfair wages, or resisting some economic regulation—I cannot use physical force to oppose them.

In following Jesus, it is unethical to enter my neighbor's house with deadly force to force them to pay their employees better wages, use healthcare insurance plans I want funded, stop using a drug, or stop consensual sex work. These actions may be wicked but physical force will not correct the desires driving them. Neither will physical force abate the negative cultural effects of these behaviors.

Initiating force only creates more violence. Drug prohibition creates violent black markets. Prostitution laws prevent consenting adult workers from legal protection and forces them into the arms of gangs. Minimum wage laws only push greed underground as miserly employers harden their rapacity while entry level workers lose job opportunities. A person forced to bake a gay couple's wedding cake through threat of fines and imprisonment only intensifies their stance while the patrons have no way of financially rewarding bakers that would serve the product without compulsion.

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