Was Jesus a {Market} Fundamentalist?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/26/2011 12:02:00 AM
Praize the Lawwwhd! Having been in Texas for no small amount of time, I have had some interest in the announcement that its governor, Rick Perry, would make a presidential bid. While there are certainly lingering resentments between him and another whose political career path he certainly wishes to emulate, George W. Bush, the essentials of his bid are old. Contemporary American conservatism is an interesting (if often repugnant) brew of discordant tendencies. An especially interesting combination is that of strong professed Christian faith with libertarian overtones. For, as far as I can recall, Jesus was very much a hippie before there were any that roamed the earth with his sandals, long hair, and collectivist rhetoric. Gregory Paul over at WaPo's On Faith explores this weird brew:
Here is what is peculiar. Many conservative Christians, mostly Protestant but also a number of Catholics, have come to believe and proudly proclaim that the creator of the universe favors free wheeling, deregulated, union busting, minimal taxes especially for wealthy investors, plutocrat-boosting capitalism as the ideal earthly scheme for his human creations. And many of these Christian capitalists are ardent followers of Ayn Rand, who was one of - and many of whose followers are - the most hard-line anti-Christian atheist/s you can get. Meanwhile many Christians who support the capitalist policies associated with social Darwinistic strenuously denounce Darwin’s evolutionary science because it supposedly leads to, well, social Darwinism!

Meanwhile atheists, secularists and evolutionists are denounced as inventing the egalitarian evils of anti-socially Darwinistic socialism and communism. It’s such a weird stew of incongruities that it sets one’s head spinning. Social researchers like myself ask, how did these internal conflict come about? And why are not liberals and progressives doing the logical thing and taking full advantage of the inconsistencies of right wing libertarianism by loudly exposing the contradictions?
And here we get to the crux of his argument, once again pointing out that Jesus Christ may have outMarxed Karl Marx with several centuries to spare. In brief, the Son of Man was no market fundamentalist:
Jesus is no free marketeer. Improving one’s earthly financial circumstances is not nearly as critical as preparing for the end times that will arrive at any minute. He does offer substantial encouragement for the poor, and warns the wealthy that they are in grave danger of blowing their prospects of reaching paradise, as per the metaphor of a rich person entering heaven being as difficult as a camel passing through the eye of the needle (a narrow passageway designed to hinder intruders). This caution makes sense: sociological research is confirming that the more securely prosperous individuals and societies are, the more likely they are to lose the faith. A basic point of core Christian doctrine is that the wealthy have no more access to heaven than anyone else (and in fact may have less), offering hope to the impoverished rejected by cults that court the elites. This remains true in Catholicism, in which being poor does not constitute evidence of a personal deficiency, and church authorities decry the excesses of unrestrained capital at the expense of social justice.

But to understand just how non-capitalistic Christianity is supposed to be we turn to the first chapter after the gospels, Acts, which describes the events of the early church. Chapters 2 and 4 state that all “the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need… No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…. There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”

Now folks, that’s outright socialism of the type described millennia later by Marx - who likely got the general idea from the gospels.
It's certainly food for thought. Say what you will about Catholicism, but we at least have guidance on matters of religious political economy [1, 2] that attempt to reconcile faith with modern material existence.

PS: Please don't ask me either how being a climate change denier or governing the state which metes out the most death penalties in the USA enable stewardship of the earth and turning the other cheek.