As a Christian libertarian, few things worry me more than the rise of socialism in America.
A March 2020 Gallup poll found that four out of ten Americans have a positive view of socialism. Among Democrats, 65 percent surveyed said they hold a favorable view of the doctrine.
What’s particularly alarming is that this embrace of socialism is making its way into America’s churches. In recent years, among my Christian friends, family members, and fellow church members, I’ve seen sympathy for socialism expressed in various ways. Sometimes it’s outright support for socialistic policies like the Green New Deal. Other times it’s support for thinly veiled Marxist concepts or anti-capitalist rhetoric.
I’ve had long discussions with people who’ve tried to convince me that Jesus of Nazareth, whom I recognize as God in flesh, was a socialist. Almost universally, I find these individuals don’t misunderstand Jesus. They misunderstand socialism.
Reciting the evils of socialism—which are legion—is easy enough, but I’ve found relating these lessons to the Gospel is somewhat more difficult.
Did Jesus not say money is the root of all evil? Did Jesus not say it would be exceedingly difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Didn’t Jesus tell a rich man to sell all his possessions and then give it to the poor? Did Jesus not tell a parable about a landowner paying workers the same wage to all workers, even though some worked less than others?
Pointing out that socialism has killed tens of millions of people doesn’t address these questions. But there are simple and persuasive answers to each of them, which I know now after reading Lawrence Reed’s new book Was Jesus a Socialist?
As a full disclosure, Reed is FEE’s president emeritus and a man I can consider a personal friend and mentor. My personal feelings aside, in his new book—which was officially released on Monday—he’s provided a timely and meticulously well-researched work that deserves attention, especially from those who see America’s churches as the way forward for a loving and peaceful society.
Like it or not, Christian Socialism is on the rise. How we confront it will be one of the greatest challenges Christians face during turbulent times. To be clear, I don’t believe Jesus was a capitalist. Or a libertarian. Or a Democrat or Republican.
As Daniel Hannan observed in a wonderful foreword to Reed’s book, Jesus transcended such descriptions and showed little interest in the political or social structures of His own time, let alone of today’s.
“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus told Pontius Pilate, according to John 18:36. “If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place."
Unfortunately, this simple truth will not dissuade people from claiming Jesus was a socialist. For Christians seeking intellectual ammunition to rebut such claims, you’ll not find a better place to start than Reed’s new book.
Here’s a brief list of observations, facts, and musings about socialism, wealth, and Jesus from the book.
- Socialism is surprisingly hard to define.
- Oxford Dictionaries describe socialism as “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”
- Scandanavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway aren’t really socialist.
- They are predominantly market economies and roughly as economically free as the United States, according to the Index of Economic Freedom.
- Cuba (#178), Venezuela (#179), and North Korea (#180) rank last on the index.
- Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea are also among the poorest nations in the world.
- Jesus is referred to as the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9 (an Old Testament book written some 700 years before the birth of Christ).
- Every shade of socialism has a common link: force.
- Socialism is no longer regarded as “real” socialism once it fails.
- The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) saw two members win congressional elections for the first time in 2018.
- One of them was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
- A 2019 report from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found that 70 percent of millennials surveyed said they’d vote for a socialist.
- In modern practice, socialism is never voluntary.
- An astonishing number of people say Jesus of Nazareth was a socialist.
- He wasn’t.
- This PragerU clip explaining why Jesus wasn’t a Marxist got 1.3 million views on YouTube alone (and more than 4 million on all platforms).
- The pilgrims who started Plymouth Colony tried a sort of socialism.
- It didn’t go well.
- Ditto with Rober Owen’s socialist communes in New Harmony, Indiana.
- Same with dozens of other failed socialist experiments.
- MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell once said Jesus was “the first recorded advocate of a progressive income tax.”
- At least three of Jesus’s parables touch on economics.
- None of them suggest Jesus disapproved of private property or voluntary exchange.
- None advocate forceable redistribution of wealth or progressive taxation.
- In Jesus’s Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the landowner asks an important question when he begins paying workers: “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?”
- The Parable of the Talents will make socialists’ heads explode.
- The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a tale of private initiative and compassion.
- The “rich man” who Jesus instructs to “sell your possessions and give to the poor” was a government official.
- The Apostle Paul doesn’t claim that “money is the root of all evil.”
- In 1 Timothy, Paul says the love of money “is a root of all kinds of evils.”
- In the New Testament, Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
- In Luke 12, a man asks Jesus to redistribute wealth his way, noting his brother had received an inheritance.
- “Man, who made me judge or divider over you,” Jesus replied.
- Jesus continued: “Take heed and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things he possesseth.”
- Covetnousness is also noted as a sin in the 10 Commandments: ”thou shall not covet.”
- Envy, the cousin of coveting, is part of the three-legged stool of socialism.
- Winston Churchill once called socialism “the gospel of envy.”
- In 2019, Bill de Blasio said if elected president he’d “tax the hell out of the wealthy.”
- The New York City mayor even created a fundraising page for it: taxthehell.com.
- Immanuel Kant defined envy as “a propensity to view the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one's own.”
- In September 2019, Beto O’Rourke said “Rich people are going to have to allow, or be forced to allow, lower-income people to live near them.”
- In 2019, a student asked O’Rourke "why, as someone who earns seven times the amount" as her sister, a recent college graduate, he "gives less in charitable donations than she does?"
- O’Rourke, who has a net worth of approximately $10 million according to most estimates, gave $1,166 to charity in 2017, less than one-third of 1 percent of his income.
- In his response to the student, O’Rourke implied his public service was a form of charity.
- Helmut Schoeck, in his book Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, wrote, “To claim humanitarian ‘motives’ when the motive is envy and its supposed appeasement is a favorite rhetorical trick of politicians.”
- In the New Testament, James 3:16 warns of the price of envy: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there will you find disorder and every evil practice.”
- One of the first stories in the Bible shows envy driving one brother (Cain) to kill another (Abel).
- Although you will not find envy endorsed anywhere in the Scriptures, you will find ample endorsement of its opposite emotion: gratitude.
- The idea of gratitude can be found in more than 40 Biblical passages.
- Jesus didn’t despise money.
- In a 2013 speech, the scholar Yuval Levin noted that conservatives and libertarians “tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in society and then strive to build on it.”
- Progressives, Levin said, “tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.”
- The English philosopher G.K. Chesterton said, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
- Jesus’s injunction to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” is a tacit endorsement of property rights.
- The Holy Scriptures are filled with stories of individuals who bravely resisted government overreach.
- The flight of Mary and Joseph from Bethlehem into Egypt was itself a refusal to submit to an evil government dictate: an order from King Herod to submit to the killing of infants.
- Karl Marx was a pretty bad person.
- The intellectual fruit of Marx, socialism, has been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people and mass poverty.
- This includes the single biggest event of mass murder in history.
- Jesus warned his followers about people like Karl Marx in Matthew 7:15-17: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”
- Putting the word “democratic” in front of the world “socialism” doesn’t render socialism benign.
This is just a small taste of what you’ll learn from reading Lawrence Reed’s new book Was Jesus a Socialist?