by Kitty Testa
The political appropriation of Jesus by the progressive left has reached new lows this Christmas. From memes depicting the Holy Family as “Middle Eastern” refugees at Christ’s birth (they weren’t) to The People for Bernie Sanders Facebook fan page comparing their hero to Jesus, the trolling of Christians by people who probably can’t even recite the Our Father is in rare form this year.
Last March, professed atheist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that Jesus would have voted for Bernie Sanders. Peter Drier took the idea even further with an article posted in The Huffington Post on Christmas day, running under the title “Jesus was a Socialist.” The leftist author notes that Jesus lived on earth long before any political theory of socialism was developed, but that doesn’t stop him from making a rather grand inference that Jesus was a socialist. With a few clips from scripture and references to socialist thinkers who also happened to be Christian, Dreier lays the groundwork for his Appeal to Authority argument, which ultimately drops Jesus from the picture and concludes with an Appeal to the Masses fallacy.
Although the word “socialism” has often been demonized, public opinion polls show that a vast majority of Americans agree with these ideas. For example, 74% think corporations have too much influence; 73% favor tougher regulation of Wall Street; 60% believe that “our economic system unfairly favors the wealthy;” 85% want an overhaul of our campaign finance system to reduce the influence of money in politics; 58% support breaking up big banks; 79% think the wealthy don’t pay their fair share of taxes; 85% favor paid family leave; 80% of Democrats and half the public support single-payer Medicare for all; 75% of Americans (including 53% of Republicans) support an increase in the federal minimum wage to $12.50, while 63% favor a $15 minimum wage; well over 70% support workers’ rights to unionize; and 92% want a society with far less income disparity.
Like the refugee memes and the Bernie Sanders deifiers, this article isn’t about Jesus at all. It’s about Peter Dreier being a socialist who is trolling Christians and trying to shame them into being socialists too.
But was Jesus a socialist? No.
During Jesus’s ministry, he never once suggests to his followers that they should rebel against their monarchical government. When asked whether Jews should pay a tax to the Romans, Jesus asked to see the coin that could satisfy the debt. The coin was imprinted with the image of Caesar, and Jesus replied, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
Many have inferred that this means Jesus wants us to pay our taxes. Wouldn’t it also follow then that Jesus believed in monarchy? Jesus here is saying that he’s not interested in human politics; he’s interested in human souls.
Dreier uses a quote from the gospel of Matthew showing Jesus’s disdain for money to support his view that Jesus was a socialist.
“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus says in Matthew 6:24. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Is Jesus saying he hates money? No, and this quote is taken out of context. Jesus is admonishing his followers to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” as opposed to earthly treasures.
If Dreier had bothered to read the rest of Matthew chapter 6, he would have found the strongest argument against the conclusion that Jesus was a socialist.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Socialists and leftists in general are quite secure in their belief that they are morally superior to capitalists because they are purportedly the only ones caring for the needy. Socialists claim they are not the greedy ones. But they are greedy for admiration, an earthly reward. If they weren’t greedy for admiration they wouldn’t trumpet their moral superiority in the first place. And they’re not doing it in secret. Furthermore, they are taking from one person (does “Thou shalt not steal” ring a bell?) to give to another, placing government between the giver and receiver. This was certainly not what Jesus had in mind.
Socialism requires coercion, and it also requires devotion to and reliance upon the state. It is interesting that Deier used European-style democratic socialism as shining examples of the kind of socialism Jesus would ostensibly approve of.
This is why Sanders often said that the U.S. should learn from Sweden, Norway and Denmark — countries with greater equality, a higher standard of living for working families, better schools, free universities, less poverty, a cleaner environment, higher voter turnout, stronger unions, universal health insurance, and a much wider safety net [sic]
According to a 2004 Gallup report, weekly church attendance in the three countries mentioned here were 5%, 3% and 3% respectively. One could argue that democratic socialism undermines religion.
Jesus warned against anything that undermines devotion to God and leads people into sin. C.S. Lewis covered this subject cleverly in The Screwtape Letters.
It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
Would Jesus be in favor of an economic system that leads people away from the Light and out into the Nothing?
For those who actually believe that Jesus is God incarnate and the font of all truth, it follows that this truth is applicable to all people at all times, regardless of what political system rules them. Jesus demands devotion to God, yet offers no earthly punishment as coercion, and offers no earthly reward. On the contrary, he told his disciples, “And you will be hated by everyone because of my name, but whoever will endure until the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)
Jesus’s life on earth illustrates the struggle between the eternal and the temporal. Christ is eternal. Our souls are eternal. Our governments and our economics and our politics are temporal. God incarnate did not undertake His passion and crucifixion for votes. His purpose was to save our souls. No government or politician can do that. Not even Bernie Sanders.