Written by Malachi Brown
Spring of my freshman year, the College of Business invited Lawrence W. Reed to speak, the author of a book called “Was Jesus a Socialist?” Poor marketing and book cover would lead an audience to believe it was just capitalist propaganda, but the result was a pretty nuanced view. Since then, at least on Harding’s campus, and 2020 on a national level, the question of Jesus’ stance on modern economics has been a widely debated topic. For people who value an individual mindset, thoughts that Jesus would give the government the right to make the rich spread their wealth is labeled “Socialism,” “communism” or “Marxism,” as a boogeyman term without really knowing what it means. Likewise, people with a collectivist (community-focused) mindset label types of merit-based society as “feudal,” “oppressive” and generally outdated. As emerging Western culture vaguely trends into that more collectivist mindset, the question “how much do the theories of Karl Marx resemble that of Christ?” becomes key to Christian circles in knowing how to navigate going forward.
Now whether or not Marx and Christ are connected, Marx brings up serious and legitimate concerns with capitalism. One of these is that capitalism separates the worker from the fruits of their labor, detaching them from the rewards, the consumer, their manager and their own humanity. Trying to work out of one’s merit strips them of individuality and turns them into statistics on a spreadsheet. Even in attempting to work out of people’s merit, there are people from all demographics who have no upward mobility because of their limited access to education, welfare and other resources they would need to do so. Jesus does see individuals who are often lost to larger undesirable crowds. In Luke 12, Jesus talks about how foolish someone is who hoards riches, keeping them from other people and God. It seems here that Marxism isn’t a bad answer to this.
While Marx seems to provide an alternative to this really problematic view that is capitalism, he too doesn’t quite hit Jesus’ ideal. At the end of “The Communist Manifesto,” Marx writes about how the Communist Party’s “ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions” idea, and this sentiment does not belong to the meek ethic of the one who walks the extra mile and turns the other cheek. Marx’s primary fault is diminishing all economic relationships to a power struggle, which is dangerous. It’s unhealthy to reduce a romantic relationship to power dynamics, or a sibling relationship, both of which we know more intimately; what dangers are there in reducing an economic relationship which we might not know as intimately to mere power dynamics?
There is also some beauty surrounding a system where one gets out of it what they put in; for instance, education, marriage and life in general are all natural things that exhibit this phenomenon.
This topic deserves so much more time and space than what I can give it here. But when people ask me “Was Jesus a socialist?” or “Is Marxism opposed to Christianity?” I have to say “It’s complicated.” Of course, I believe that wealthier people should give to the poor, but to do that forcibly feels wrong. What I can say, though, is that compared to the rest of the world, I am wealthy, and I should not expect those wealthier than I to commit their effort and money when I’m stingy with mine. Though, that speaks less about what I think people should do with their money than it does how I can be a better person.