A condensed version of this essay appears in the Spring 2014 issue of the Ichthus.

Christianity is, as none would seriously doubt, centered on the figure of Jesus.  He is the root and seed of the entire religion, and without him, there is no Christianity.  In order, therefore, to have but the slightest comprehension of Christianity, one must have some comprehension of who Jesus was.  Of this much, virtually all Christians agree.  But beyond this point, disagreement rather than agreement seems the more prevalent tendency.  For a concise and more or less objective account of what Jesus was like, one could do worse than the description by the literary critic Terry Eagleton, who suggests that “Jesus, unlike most respectable American citizens, appears to do no work, and is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. He is presented as homeless, propertyless, celibate, peripatetic, socially marginal, disdainful of kinsfolk, without a trade, a friend of outcasts and pariahs, averse to material possessions, without fear for his own safety, careless about purity regulations, critical of traditional authority, a thorn in the side of the Establishment, and a scourge of the rich and powerful.”[1]  But Christians continue to disagree on everything from who the historical Jesus was to whether the historical Jesus is even important.  The renowned modern theologian Albert Schweitzer, in his book The Quest for the Historical Jesus, astutely observed that Christians have a rather consistent tendency to make Jesus in their own image.  Despite their own solemn confessions of impartiality and disinterestedness in their quest for the historical Jesus, Jesus’s biographers, and most Christians, simply turn Jesus into repository for their own social, political and metaphysical prejudices.  “Each successive epoch of theology,” Schweitzer writes, “found its own ideas in Jesus and in this way alone would they give him life,” and he goes on to say: “Not only were the epochs reflected in him; each one in particular created him in the image of its own personality.  There is no historical enterprise more personal than writing a life of Jesus.”[2]  The suggestion is certainly not indefensible.  Liberal Christians tend to believe in a liberal Jesus, and conservatives think Jesus was a kind of proto-Burkean steward of Order, sublimely American, sanguinely suburban, more abhorred by the sight of the female breast than by poverty and injustice. 

The greatest theologian of the twentieth century, Walter Rauschenbusch, once wrote, “It is a great tribute to his power over men and to the many-sidedness of his thought that all seek shelter in his great shadow.”[3]  Even those great minds which were deeply averse to Christians, Christianity, and Christendom, find in Jesus a figure so compelling that they cannot but heap praises upon him.  The great Romantic poet John Keats once suggested that Jesus was “so great a man that though he transmitted no writing of his own to posterity, we have his Mind and his sayings and his greatness handed to us by others,” but goes on to say that it is “to be lamented that the history of the latter was written and revised by Men interested in the pious frauds of religion.”[4]  The towering American sage and transcendentalist poet Ralph Waldo Emerson echoed Keats’s sentiment, waxing eloquent over this figure:

Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets.  He alone saw with one eye the mystery of the soul.  Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man.  One man was true to what is in you and me.  He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world.  He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, ‘I am divine.  Through me, God acts; through me, speaks.  Would you see God, see me; or, see thee then thou also thinkest as I now think.’[5]

But the good churchmen at Harvard Divinity School, where he delivered these words, were not amused when he immediately went on to say: “But what a distortion did his doctrine and memory suffer in the same, in the next, and the following ages! … The idioms of his language, and the figures of his rhetoric, have usurped the place of his truth; and churches are not built on his principles, but on his tropes”[6] — for which the good churchmen thanked Emerson, by banning him from Harvard for thirty years.  Even the self-appointed apostle of Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, despite having been a great hater of Christianity, reserved a deep reverence for the figure of Jesus, “the noblest human being,”[7] whom he, in his characteristically humble way, considered to be his only worthy opponent in history, and he maintained a special subterranean animus for Paul, whom he blamed above all for distorting Jesus’ legacy.[8]  For Schweitzer as for a host of others, as we have seen, the quest for the historical Jesus is deeply problematic, if only because those who quest after Jesus are all too often questing after themselves, distorting the legacy of Jesus in the process.

The theologian Rudolf Bultmann’s solution to this problem was simply to abandon the whole attempt to discover the historical Jesus, focusing instead on the Christ of faith. But immediately it should be evident to any thinking Christian that such a proposition makes very little sense.   It is rather as if a scientist were to say, “well, we’ll never quite understand the laws of the physical universe, so we’ll just revert back to the Aristotelian model.”  We do not opt for tyranny just because a perfect democracy is impossible, and neither should the quest for the historical Jesus cease simply because a perfect understanding is impossible.

But Bultmann’s case, even if it is not convincing, nevertheless provokes an interesting inquiry: why ought we study the historical Jesus at all?  Is there any theological case to be made for such an enterprise?  I believe there is, and it is to be found in the doctrine of the incarnation which, it is worth bearing in mind, was an absolute scandal to the learned philosophers of the day.[9]  In the doctrine of incarnation, we may read Christianity’s honoring and elevation of history.  God could easily have chosen to hover above the world or inhere quietly in the hearts and minds of men and women as a kind of spectral concept.  God could easily have opted to be an abstract form, in which case he would have been little different from the Platonic eidos (form) or the god of the philosophers.  God could easily have shunned the slaughter-bench of history and the gruesome spectacle of the world, abiding in his own perfection above this vale of tears full of the worry, toil and strife of human beings.  But he did not.  He entered into history in all of its awesome discord and horror.  The word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), and if Christians are to take seriously God’s own intentions, then they must render this fact into their account — the fact that God incarnated into the Kantian universal forms of time and space, into a particular cultural and historical setting.  His name was Jesus, and he lived and taught and died in a particular historical setting.  The question of the historical Jesus is therefore one of immense importance for Christians.

The elevation of history in the doctrine of the incarnation would not be so important, were it not for the fact that most Christians tend to miss its point too.  As the eminent biblical scholar N.T. Wright has suggested, when most Christians talk about Jesus, they go from his birth straight to his death and skip over everything in between, curiously eliding everything he taught, lived and died for, as well as the those inconvenient texts which contain of all this known as the Gospels.[10]  While someone like the philosopher Jacques Derrida may have been fascinated by what he calls an “eccentric center,” Wright suggests that we recover this sort of lost middle.  What this lost middle generally consists in is not contested by any Christian.  It is the Kingdom of God, which Jesus lived, taught, and eventually died for.  Anyone who reads the Gospels is hard-pressed to disagree that the Kingdom of God is the center of Jesus’s ministry, as he himself makes exceedingly clear in the instruction to his followers: “seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33, KJV).  And if we are concerned with an inquiry into the figure of the historical Jesus, we could do worse than to begin with that which is inextricably bound up with who he is, that for which he lived and died.

While there is, as with many questions of biblical scholarship, a good deal of debate as to the precise meaning of the Kingdom of God, some more or less general determinations can be made from the plain meaning of the text.  From this, we can distill the principal categories ethical principles which shall form the premise of our judgement and action.  The more technical questions aside, the general premise of the Kingdom of God is relatively simple, if only because Jesus very clearly describes what the Kingdom of God consists in.  In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).  Notice what Jesus does not say. He does not say: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done in heaven.”  The Kingdom of God is something to be realized on earth.  He does not say: “Thy Kingdom come, they will be contemplated on earth, as it is in heaven.”  The Kingdom of God is not something passively contemplated, but active done.  It is the realization of the will of God in the life of the ethical individual and the life of the individual in the ethical life of the community.  And if the will of God is but the expression of his identity, then the Kingdom of God is the expression of love, because “God is love” (1 John 4:8) according to the author of this passage, who also explicitly defines what this “love” consists in and how it is expressed: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17).  Inasmuch as the Kingdom of God is but the outward expression of God’s identity, then, we might say it consists in compassion for those in need.  In this sense, the basic ethical principle of the Kingdom of God was expressed by the author of the Book of Acts when he writes that “the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea” (Acts 11:29), which is eerily similar to the ethical ideal of a philosopher named Karl Marx, whose ideal, “From each according to his ability to each according to his needs,” many Americans, quite understandably, attribute to the bible anyway.  The ethical ideal of the Kingdom of God was also expressed by that incorrigible radical John the Baptist, who long before Marx enunciated the principle of a just and equitable allocation of resources: “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11).  We know that John expresses the ideals of the Kingdom of God because Jesus explicitly says so: “The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16).

And the Kingdom which John preached and Jesus inaugurated scared the rich and powerful.  As the biblical scholar Marcus Borg has suggested, Christianity is the only major world religion whose formative figures were put to death by the Roman state.  Even John the Baptist was feared by the Roman authorities. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, John was put to death because the authorities feared a revolutionary uprising.  In his Antiquities of the Jews he suggests that “Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause.”[11]  And we can assume the reasons for Jesus’s execution by state terrorism are borne out of the same motivations, as we shall see.

If for Jesus the ethical ideal of the Kingdom of God is the realization of the love of God in the social life of human beings, then there are further ethical principles which are the enabling conditions of this Kingdom.  In the first place, the Kingdom of God is will of God realized in the world, from which follows its radical monotheism, which Jesus makes exceedingly clear: “No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money” (Matthew 6:24).  In the Kingdom of God, the worship of false gods, especially money, is prohibited, and it is worth pointing out that in the single instance in which Jesus talks about false gods, he singles out money for special mention.  Part of the reason for this is that these idols are graven images of the one true God, whose only legitimate image (imago dei) is human beings, as the scriptures make plain: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him”(Genesis 1:27)  In this assertion, the entire scriptural tradition remains unremittingly and radically anthropocentric, as the theologian Karl Barth recognized when he suggested that “Man is the measure of all things, since God became man.”[12]  It was on this basis that Jesus defended breaking the sacred Sabbath law: “The Sabbath was made for man,” he said, “not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  And it is on this basis that we may understand the rest of the ethical principles which animate Jesus’ ministry.

Rather unlike Christians who have a tendency to over-spiritualize the content of his messages, passing over their plain meaning in the process, the God of the bible is concerned with human beings in the flesh, who starve and bleed and suffer the woes of poverty and oppression — he became one of them.So when Jesus, for instance, says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matt 11:28), there is no reason to suppose it means anything other than the belief that in the Kingdom which he is inaugurating, people will not be oppressed by work, or at least not so much as they are under their present circumstances.  In this, the socialists of the world are of the same mind.  In his essay, ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism,’ (1891) Oscar Wilde elaborated on this Christian ideal, suggesting that “man is made for something better than distributing dirt,”[13] a simple enough idea which still, somehow, manages to perplex learned modern economists.  Before Wilde, the International Workingmen’s Association resolved that “the limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvement and emancipation must prove abortive.”[14]  Indeed, as Terry Eagleton has pointed out, one of the best reasons for being a socialist (or a Christian, we might add) “is that you detest having to work,” an ideal the enactment of which is easy enough to point out, with the Jewish creation of the weekend, or the socialist’s struggle to actualize it.[15]  In fact, Jesus’s ideal — leisure rather than labor — is hardly so lofty or quixotic as we might think.  A recent article in The Guardian, the leading British newspaper, suggests that we have the technology to realize the ideal “but none of the will.”[16]  In this judgement, socialists and Christians are of accord with the man who is widely considered the greatest economist of the 20th century.  John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by virtue of increases in economic productivity, his grandchildren “would only work 15 hours a week, exploiting their greater productivity not to make more money but to have more leisure time.” Rather uncannily and perhaps unintentionally echoing Marx’s ideal of the human being who is at last free to “to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner,”[17] Keynes believed that by utilizing the economic productivity of society, human beings, having freed themselves from the material shackles of labor, would be able to “cultivate into a fuller perfection the art of life itself.”[18]  As Dylan Matthews of The Washington Post rightly pointed out, Americans today are “more than twice as productive as we were in 1964. That means that we could work less than half as much as we did then and still have 1964-style living standards,” but Matthews fails the point out the rather obvious reasons why we in fact do not work “half as much,” despite “growth actually exceeding Keynes’ forecast” — uncontroversially, because, as leading economist Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out “all the growth in recent decades — and more — has gone to those at the top.”[19] And when Jesus says “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [Pharisees] and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matt 21:43), we need not avoid its plain meaning: the fruits of the Kingdom are to be given to those who produce it.  According to this principle of just remuneration, people will reap the full benefits of their production of society’s fruits.

The Kingdom of God is also radically egalitarian, which Jesus makes clear in his advocacy of equal wages.  As Jesus himself says, the Kingdom of God is like the man who says: “I choose to pay the last man the same as you.  Surely I am free to so what I like with my own money.  Why be jealous because I am kind?”  (Matt 20:14-16), which is, incidentally, far more radical than anything Marx ever proposed.  This ideal of radical equality grows out of the palpable concern for the least of these, especially the poor, the hungry and the hopeless, as Jesus makes clear in the beatitudes: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21-22).  These concerns naturally stem out of their oppressed condition.  The audience Jesus addresses are under a situation of colonial oppression by the Roman Empire.  As the biblical scholar Richard Horsley suggests, Roman imperialism “determined the conditions of life in Galilee where Jesus lived and carried out his mission,” writes Horsley.[20]  The Roman Empire was a brutally exploitative regime which expropriated goods and resources from its colonies to keep its own population comfortable.  Roman conquest entailed “devastation of the countryside, burning of villages, pillage of towns, and slaughter and enslavement of the populace.”[21]  Against this system of imperial exploitation, Jesus and the Kingdom of God maintained a deeply anti-imperialist posture.  The name, for example, of the spirit Jesus exorcises, ‘Legion,’ would doubtless have recalled to Jesus’ contemporaries the Roman ‘legions’ which had recently pillaged the region.  Even the verb used to describe the exorcism in this passage is the same verb found in the Old Testament when Yahweh vanquishes imperial regimes.[22]  The exorcisms are symbolic purgations of Roman occupation.  Even the terminology in which early generations of Christians describe Jesus are patently and polemically anti-imperialistic.  One of the titles given to Jesus, the “Son of God” was, not incidentally, one of the titles of the Roman Emperor, which, if proof need be adduced, could be found by looking at any Roman coin from the period, inscribed upon which would be the words, next to the figure of the emperor, divi filius, son of the divine.[23]  Horsley writes,

In the Roman imperial world, the ‘gospel’ was the good news of Caesar’s having established peace and security for the world.  Caesar was the ‘savior’ who had brought ‘salvation’ to the whole world.  The peoples of the empire were therefore to have ‘faith’ (pistes/fides) in their ‘lord’ the emperor.  Moreover, Caesar the lord and savior was to be honored and celebrated by the ‘assemblies.’[24]

Against the tide of Roman imperialism, Jesus proclaimed the anti-authorianism principles of the Kingdom of God: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them,” he said, but continued, “It shall not be so among you” (Matt 20:25-26).  All of these basic ethical principles — egalitarianism, concern for the poor, anti-imperialism, and anti-authoritarianism — are rooted in a tradition which stretches at least as far back as the Hebrew prophets, those mouthpieces of God who called for obedience to the Law, which Jesus summarized in one line: “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12).  For Jesus as for the prophets, the irreducible and indispensable core of the Law was justice, especially for the poor and the vulnerable.  It was not about individualistic ritual piety.  Jesus in fact said very little about it, and the prophet he quoted most, Isaiah, not only found ruch pieties vain and empty, but positively abominable when Jehovah’s absolute demand for justice went unheeded:

Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.  New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:13-15)

In order to ensure the absolute demand of justice put upon the Hebrew people and enshrined in the Law, the Prophets like Jesus understood there must necessarily be some enabling conditions to accompany this ethical principle.  Therefore, in the prophetic conception, there was to be no abiding inequality in the wealth and capital, which, in the days of the Hebrew prophets, took the form of land.  As Rauschenbusch writes, “The land belonged to Jehovah, the national god.  That is only another way of saying that it belonged to the community.  It was not the individual property, but clan and family property.”[25]  He continues: “In an agricultural community and before the introduction of machinery in farming, the land is by far the most important means of production …  All the provisions of the Hebrew Law were meant to counteract the separation of the people from the land.”[26]  The means of production, as Marx recognized, exist in any productive society, but they differ in form from one historical society to another.  If land was the historical form of the principal “means of production,” then the principal means of production in a capitalist society is capital, and if we are to take seriously the prophetic intention, then we would apply their radically egalitarian conception of land ownership to the contemporary ownership of capital, which is at present highly concentrated.  In the United States, the richest 1% own 50% of all investment assets, while the top 10% own 80%.[27]  Our application of the principles of the prophetic law would everywhere amount to a revolution.  The prophetic conception enshrined some of the most radical pieces of economic legislation perhaps ever enacted.  As the leading biblical scholar Marcus Borg suggests:

Especially striking are the regulations for the sabbath year and jubilee year.  Every sabbath (seventh) year, all debts owed by Israelites to other Israelites to be forgiven and all Hebrew slaves released.  Every jubilee (fiftieth) year, all agricultural land is to be returned at no cost to the original family of ownership.  These laws reflect Israel’s origin in Egypt as a radically oppressed and marginalized people.  Their purpose was to prevent the emergence of a permanently impoverished class within Israel.[28]

As I have said, the prophets cared little for ritual piety, which was the more common conception of religion in the time of the prophets.  “Against this current conception of religion, the prophets insisted on a right life as the true worship of God,” Rauschenbusch writes.[29]  In the prophetic conception, knowledge of God consisted in actively doing justice, as Jeremiah renders abundantly clear: “He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: is not this to know me? saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 22:16).  The biblical scholar and theologian Jose Porfirio Miranda comments: “Here we have the explicit definition of what it is to know Yahweh.  To know Yahweh is to achieve justice for the poor.  Nothing authorizes us to introduce a cause-effect relationship between ‘to know yahweh’ and ‘to practice justice.’ Nor are we authorized to introduce categories like ‘sign’ or ‘manifestation of.’  The Bible is well acquainted with these categories, and when it means them, it says so.” And he continues, “The God of the Bible does not ‘be’ first and later reveal himself.  He is only in the word which commands.”[30]

But Christians perpetually miss this point entirely, insisting on and practicing nearly the exact opposite of what the prophets demanded.  Rather than practice justice, they insist on ritual piety.  As Rauschenbusch writes, “The Christian ceremonial system does not differ essentially from that against which the prophets protested; with a few verbal changes their invectives would still apply.”[31]  As would Jesus’ invectives, especially when he says, “We to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23).  It is nevertheless revealing to understand why Christians exchange the weightier matters of the law for the relatively inconsequential ones, to understand what conception underlies their recalcitrant resistance to the voice of the prophets.  It is, to put it simply, because modern Christians have wholeheartedly swallowed the individualistic conceit of modern liberalism, while they vehemently protest against both modernity and liberalism.

To give just a characteristic example of this, consider an article in the Yale Logos entitled “Christianity and Capitalism: Counterparts of Freedom,” which I critique here not in the spirit of pettiness or meanness but in the earnest desire for a deeper appreciation of the biblical conception.  The author of the article suggests, “When Jesus speaks to us through the Gospel, he speaks to us as individual members of his church. He guides us on our own path toward Salvation,”[32] but no substantiation is given — surely because none exists.  Nothing in the Gospels authorizes us to endorse this view.  In fact, quite the opposite. Jesus addresses himself not to atomized individuals, but to groups of people.  He speaks in the collective.  Notice, for example, that he does not say “My father, who art in Heaven … Give him this day his daily bread and forgive her of her sins,” but always “our”: our father, our daily bread, our sins.  Jesus’ “you” is almost always the collective “you,” when, for instance, he echoes the Baptist’s command, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matt 4:17), he means collective repentance.  The author of the article continues this line of thought: “The Christian emphasis on individual agen­cy and autonomy,” which does not exist “is more compatible with some economic systems than others,” he suggests, and in this age, it is capitalism: “This is how I believe we will be judged: not by the dollar amount we give, but by the amount of inten­tion and sacrifice behind our donations. Capitalism is the most conducive to this framework because it plac­es the burden of charity on individuals, who alone have the will to be charitable,” in which assertion the author contravenes, along with many others, the man widely held to be the greatest theologian of the twentieth century, Karl Barth, who suggested that capitalism is “almost unequivocally demonic”[33] and called for Christians to dismantle it.  I should note that the author is quite right in suggesting that capitalism is fully compatible with charity, but he is quite wrong in associating either of these with Christianity, if only because Jesus does not talk about charity, he talks about justice.  The “weightier matters of the Law” are not “charity and mercy and faithfulness” but “justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23).  To do charity is to treat the symptoms of a social illness; to do justice is to treat its causes, which is precisely why an inherently unjust system like capitalism is compatible with charity (which today takes the form of Keynesian social spending) but not justice — as I will argue later.  To be fair to the author, the article does not conflate Christianity with capitalism, and does recognize at least one minor difference in the motivations behind Christianity’s “respect of individual choice and autonomy” which does not exist, and capitalism’s, which does: “the motivation for this respect is differ­ent—one is for salvation, the other for profit,” the article suggests, “but the profit motive can be sought at the same time as salva­tion if enough is given back to one’s community,” as is evident, for example, in the Book of Acts, when Peter accuses a member of the church of lying to God and the Holy Spirit (an unforgivable sin) for having withheld a part of his profits, at the sound of which words, “he fell down and breathed his last” (Acts 5:1-5), we are told.  While I can understand why the author of the article would harbor such views, they are very clearly anathema to the whole spirit of Christian conception, and I must kindly rebuke its mammonistic conception.

As this characteristic article demonstrates, the modern individualistic mind is very different from that of the bible.  “The prophets were not religious individualists,” Rauschenbusch writes, “During the classical times of the prophetism they always dealt with Israel and Judah as organic totalities.  They conceived of their people as a gigantic personality which sinned as one and ought to repent as one.”[34]  But, Rauschenbusch continues, “Our philosophical and economic individualism has affected our religious thought so deeply that we hardly comprehend the prophetic views of an organic national life and of national sin and salvation.”[35]  For modern Christians, sin, repentance, atonement, and salvation are conceived of in narrowly, selfishly individualistic terms.  We speak of  my sin, his repentance, her atonement, your salvation, etc., but of our collective sins and our collective repentance we hear nothing.  Such an narrow, liberal, selfish conception of religious life would not only have been anathema to the prophets and their whole way of life.  I have earlier suggested, it would also have been deeply foreign and profoundly inimical to Jesus and all of his earliest followers, who possessed much nobler conceptions of communal and collective life.

This conception of communal life, very foreign to the modern, consumerist mind, is most clearly expressed in that recalcitrantly communistic text known as the Book of Acts, in which Jesus’ teachings find their plainest demonstration in the life of the early church, in which “all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belonging and distributing the proceeds to all as had need” (Acts 2:44-45).  To be sure, this passage is hardly anecdotal.  Indeed, the Book of Acts is quite insistent on this point: “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common  Perhaps to drive this point home to those whose hearts are too hardened to receive the plain meaning of the text, the author of the text immediately goes on to record what may well be one of my favorite moments in the bible, already mentioned, when one member of the church, Ananias, “kept back for himself some of the proceeds” from his sale of land and brought “only a part of it” to lay at the apostles’ feet.  Peter harshly rebukes him: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? … You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:1-4).  If Peter seems to be overreacting a bit, we may recall that Jesus enumerates exactly one unforgivable sin, and it is just what Ananias did, lied to the Holy Spirit: “Therefore, I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt 12:31-32).  This alone, if nothing else, should suffice to demonstrate how seriously Jesus and the early Christians took communal life to be.

While we may be surprised to discover it, the communal conception of life, which finds its expression in the communal ownership of property, is not just to be found in the annals of the early church, but in annals of the vast majority of the historical church.  As Rauschenbusch suggests, communal ownership was the only “the earliest basis of civilization for the immense majority of mankind” but also “the moral ideal of Christendom for the greater part of its history … For fifteen centuries and more it was the common consent of Christendom that private property was due to sin, and that the ideal life involved fraternal sharing.”[36]  Even the greatest early Christian philosopher, St. Augustine thought that God had ordained the communal ownership of land: “God willed that this earth should be the common possession of all and he offered its fruits to all,” he suggested, “But avarice distributes the rights of possession.”[37]  Perhaps because it is so part of the grain and texture of everyday life, we are accustomed to think that private property is a kind of natural condition instituted by God himself, as if the Book of Genesis simply forgot to add, “And God said, let there be private property.”  But private property is very simply a modern invention, indeed protested by Christians, as it was violently imposed on the feudal peasantry through land enclosures and the like.[38]

We have only very briefly touched upon the ethical principles of the Kingdom of God, but we may more or less delineate some of its incontrovertible characteristics which follow from the basic notion that it is the realization of the will of God on earth.  The Kingdom of God is radically iconoclastic, demanding the breaking of graven images and the termination of the worship of false gods, especially the worst of them, money.  It is profoundly anti-authoritarian and deeply rooted in the ideal of justice, including economic justice, especially as it concerns care for the poor and most vulnerable in society, and seeks a world in which humans are free of both unnecessary labor and illegitimate forms of authority, including imperialism, which is anathema to it.  The Kingdom of God is unapologetically egalitarian, stressing not only the communal life, but also its expression the communal ownership of property, as well as a just and equitable allocation of resources to meet the basic material needs of the society.  It is the opposite of worldly kingdoms and empires.  As Marcus Borg suggests,

[The Kingdom of God] is what life would be like on earth if God were king … and Caesar were not. What were the kingdoms of this world like in Jesus’ time — the kingdom of Herod, the kingdom of Caesar? They were domination systems in which ruling elites of power and wealth used their power to structure the political and economic systems in their own narrow self-interests. Imperial Rome structured the system in her own self-interest. Under Rome, native monarchies and native aristocracies structured the native systems in their self-interests … In that ancient world, these ruling elite structured the system so that approximately two-thirds of the annual production of wealth flowed to the wealthiest one to two percent of the population.[39]

Having delineated, if only in a cursory fashion, the ethical principles of the Kingdom of God, let us for the sake of argument imagine a society which radically and systematically violates every single one of them.  It would be a society which worships false gods, particularly the worst one, Mammon, and practices imperialism, a society based on illegitimate forms of authority rather than on freedom, and based on injustice rather than on justice.  It would be a deeply unequal society which disregards the poor and the foreigner, a society with a grotesque mis-allocation of resources, based on hyperindividualism rather than on community, in which people labor unnecessarily and the fruits of that labor do not go to those who produce it, a society built on private property rather than on communal property.  If this sounds unnervingly familiar, it is because I have just described the kind of society we live in, the kind of society generated by capitalism, which is in violent contradiction to everything Jesus taught.

I have written at greater length on this elsewhere, so I will not go into details here.[40]  But it should suffice to say that a country like America, for instance, radically violates every single one of the basic ethical principles of the Kingdom of God and is in fact built on every principle to which the Kingdom of God is opposed, those of the kingdoms and empires of this world — not because of homosexuality or because young people are having more casual sex, which, unlike most conservatives, Jesus is not obsessed with, but because America is entrenched with economic injustice.  To give just a cursory economic snapshot of the richest country in the history of the world, in the United States, 15% of Americans live in poverty, 50% live at or near poverty, and while the official unemployment rate is near 7%, the real unemployment rate (which includes discouraged people who have either settled for part-time jobs or given up looking altogether) is closer to 14%.[41]  The richest 1% of Americans owns 43% of the country’s wealth as well as 50% of all investment assets.[42]  The picture is not much better for the rest of the world.  The world’s 85 richest people control as much wealth as half of the total population of the world, according to Oxfam, which also concludes that the annual income of the 100 richest people in the world is “enough to end global poverty four times over.”[43]  The allocation of resources throughout the world was described well enough 250 years ago by the political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who observed that “the privileged few gorge themselves with superfluities, while the starving multitude are in want of the bare necessities of life.”[44]

But it is possible to imagine a world with a more just and equitable allocation of resources.  In order to do so, we must have some conception of how resources are allocated.  Economists like to say that the laws of supply and demand determine the allocation of resources in a society.  But as Adam Smith recognized, demand is only made effectual by wealth:  “effectual demand … is different from the absolute demand.  A very poor man may be said in some sense to have a demand for a coach and six; he might like to have it; but his demand is not an effectual demand, as the commodity can never be brought to the market to satisfy it.”[45]  My desiring something is not enough to create effectual demand; I must have the wealth to effectuate that demand, wealth.  In the allocation of resources, one votes with the dollar.  Therefore, those who have more dollars, more wealth, have a greater say in determining the allocation of society’s resources, regardless of what the “absolute demand” of the vast majority of the population might be.  That is why capitalism works exceedingly well — for a few people.  The allocation of resources is thus determined by the distribution of wealth, but what determines the distribution of wealth?  The distribution of wealth is determined by the ownership of capital.  Consider the individual firm: the worker, owning no capital, no property but his own labor power, must rent out his own mind and body and time to capitalists, who then, because they are fewer in number and thus have a stronger bargaining position, are able to take a disproportionate amount of the profit or “surplus.” This is what is known as the system of “private property,” which might alternately be described as the autocratic and highly concentrated ownership of capital.[46]

But this condition is by no means natural, as Marx well understood. “Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power.”[47]  There is a very plausible alternative.  If the most salient social ills have their roots in the highly concentrated ownership of capital and the present regime of private property, then these social ills can only be substantially eradicated through a democratization of the ownership of capital.  If the ethical basis of what has been called “economic democracy” by some, “socialism” by others was expressed by the Hebrew prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, and the early Christians, then its practical basis was expressed by Adam Smith, who almost certainly did not realize the radical implications of what he was saying when he suggested: “Nothing can be more absurd … than to imagine that men in general should work less when they work for themselves, than when they work for other people.  A poor independent journeyman will generally be more industrious than even a journeyman who works by the piece.  The one enjoys the whole produce of his own industry; the other shares it with his master.”[48]

We need hardly be so abstract.  There are many examples of economic democracy or its partial elements in practice, some small-scale, some large, some successful, some large.  A goal of programmatic socialism should be to take what is best from these existing examples, learn from their flaws, experiment, improve, and expand. This conception of organic growth was in fact expressed most lucidly by Jesus himself who suggested not only that the Kingdom of God is already in our midst (Luke 17:21), but also that “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Mt 13:31-32).  As Rauschenbusch writes, while others were “waiting for the Messianic cataclysm that would bring the Kingdom of God ready-made from heaven, [Jesus] saw it growing up among them.  He took his illustrations of its coming from organic life.  It was like the seed scattered by the peasant, growing slowly and silently, night and day, by its own germinating force and the food furnished by the earth.”[49]

There are many seeds in which the Kingdom of God can be found if only in germinal form.  To take just the most spectacularly successful example, consider the Mondragon Cooperative.  Sixty years ago in the Basque region of Spain, a Roman Catholic priest named Jose Maria Arizmendi inspired a group of students to launch a cooperative which grew to become Mondragon, now one of the largest exporters of durable goods (and one of the largest firms) in Spain.  Mondragon is a worker-owned cooperative called run by over a hundred thousand worker-owners, and runs over 125 subsidiary companies, 75 industrial firms, five schools, a technical college, and a central bank.  Mondragon prefigures in germinal form that which might be hoped for on a grander scale.  It prefigures socialism and economic democracy within the very framework of a capitalist order, within which it thrives, even in the throes of financial crises.  So, for example, when 25 percent of all businesses in Spain failed as a result of the global financial crisis of 2008, less than 1 percent of Mondragon’s 125 businesses failed.[50]  And while the larger Basque region in which it is located suffers from a 12 percent unemployment rate, Mondragon has maintained zero unemployment.[51]  Moreover, the default rate of Mondragon’s central bank is “less than half that of other Spanish banks.”  And the Basque region in which Mondragon operates, which was once the poorest region in Spain, is now, thanks to its cooperatives, one of the wealthiest, boasting both the highest standard of living and lowest unemployment in all of Spain.[52]

But we need not look far for examples.  Democratic economic prefigurationalism can even be observed here in the United States, where there are upwards of 12,000 worker-owned enterprises.[53]  In an article entitled, “Everyday Socialism, American Style, Is Happening Now,” Gar Alperovitz, a professor of political economy at the University of Maryland, suggests that socialism is not only as “common as grass,” with cooperatives and public utilities and the like, but is also often cheaper and more efficient than capitalist enterprises for the simple reason that co-ops don’t pay ludicrous salaries and dividends to rich CEOs.[54]  From Boston to Austin to San Francisco, these alternate forms of economic organization are becoming more and more attractive to people who are tired of capitalism, of inequality, of a form of socio-economic organization whose only fulfilled promises, of the many it makes, seem to be continual unemployment, permanent war, and rapidly escalating environmental destruction.

Mondragon and American cooperatives are but a few examples of institutions some elements of which provide in germinal form what can be experimented with, improved upon, and augmented in the society of the future.  Socialism is everywhere, if only in germinal form.  Universities, for example, prefigure many of the ideals of historical socialism: community, equality, fairness, cooperation, etc.  At Harvard for instance, inequalities between students, while not abolished, are significantly attenuated by providing all undergraduates access to excellent health plans, universal meal plans, guaranteed housing — funded largely by the tuition fees paid by wealthier students in what amounts to a significant redistribution of resources.

Socialism can be found in germinal form even, perhaps surprisingly, in the military complex, which provides a form of social entitlement to each of its members in health, education, and housing entitlements.  As the former military general Wesley Clark only half-jokingly suggested, the U.S. military is “the purest application of socialism there is.”[55]  Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times, “if we seek another model, one that emphasizes universal health care and educational opportunity, one that seeks to curb income inequality, we don’t have to turn to Sweden. Rather, look to the United States military.”[56]

There is even more we can learn from the U.S. military, namely the powerful effects of an active state sector.  Capitalist enterprises are supported heavily by an active state sector.  Since the Great Depression, it has been understood that the state must play an active role in stimulating the economy, and it has.  Much of this stimulation, however, has come from military spending, which is already greater than the rest of the world’s combined, and takes up half of all discretionary spending in the United States.  But according to the most elementary economics, there is no reason to spend public funds on the military in this way; in terms of its stimulative effect, government spending is as efficient, if not slightly more, when spent on things like schools and hospitals.  As the British socialist Tony Benn suggests, “In the 1930s, we had mass unemployment, but we don’t have unemployment during the war.  If you can have full employment by killing Germans, why can’t you have full employment by building hospitals, building schools, recruiting nurses, recruiting teachers?  If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people.”[57]  Radical socialists are not the only one’s who recognize this.  This is standard economic wisdom.  As Paul Samuelson writes in his standard textbook, Economics, “There is nothing special about [government] spending on jet bombers and intercontinental missiles that leads to a larger multiplier support of the economy than would other kinds of G expenditure” (My emphasis).[58]   After the Cold War ended, with all of the major military enemies vanquished, U.S. military expenditures could have been diverted into social spending on things like education, health, and cooperative businesses.  The awesome power of government spending could have been harnessed toward more democratic and social projects.  But it was not.  Today, despite the lack of any military opponent even nearing the scope of the Soviet Union, military spending is higher than it was during the peak of the Cold War.[59] But we can at least imagine how things would be different if we directed the vast reserves of the U.S. treasury toward social projects.  We can at least imagine what Roberto Unger calls a “war economy without a war.”[60] The state could play a significant role by helping to coordinate cooperatives and to provide the supporting capital.  It already does this for small businesses through the Small Business Administration, and it already does this for big businesses through corporate welfare in the form of subsidies and tax breaks.[61]  Transmuting corporate welfare into social spending would be transformative, not least because corporate welfare is massive.  According to one British study of the 100 biggest corporations on the Fortune 500, every single one of them benefited from the state: “Virtually all of the world’s largest core firms have experienced a decisive influence from government policies and/or trade barriers on their strategy and competitive position…” And the authors estimate assess that “at least twenty corporations in the 1993 Fortune 100 would not have survived at all as independent companies, if they had not been saved by their respective governments.”[62]  According to a report by the CATO institute, corporate welfare costs taxpayers nearly $100 billion per year through subsidies that “distort economic activity and create even larger failures than might have existed in the marketplace.”[63]  And this doesn’t include $200 billion per year in tax breaks to corporations.[64]  This massive welfare can be redirected from the military and from human-corporate-beings to human-actual-beings.

 There is no reason that we cannot create democratic institutions which incorporate and augment the best of these elements, and no reason such institutions cannot grow, develop, and flourish within the very fabric of a deeply anti-democratic, anti-social, anti-human capitalist market economy.  Gone are the days of blueprint socialism.  This rigid, systematic kind of socialism has proven itself to be a failure.  The role of socialists and progressives today is not to provide systematic arguments, but programmatic ones, the aim of which is not to tell people what kind of society to make, but to give them a sense of the kind of society they can make.  Socialism is, above all, about freedom: it is not about telling people what to do, but what they might (or might not) freely choose to do, given their minimal possibilities, which it is the role of socialism to outline.  These minimal possibilities are immense: full employment, the total eradication of poverty, productive and socially-inclusive economic growth, a shortened work schedule (less labor and more leisure), a dimunition of inequality, deepened democracy, a greater say in the major investment decisions of society and in the allocation of resources in that society, and in the final analysis, a bigger, freer, more empowered life for individual as well as the collective, in which, as Marx says, “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”[65]

The conversion of a social system is gradual and requires commitment and work.  Nevertheless, there are certain mechanisms by which the conversion may be facilitated and quickened.  One of these is the Rehn-Meidner plan, an economic plan proposed in Sweden which horrified the capitalists.  According to the plan, a “20 per cent tax on corporate profits would flow into wage earner funds controlled by the unions to be reinvested in the corporations,” writes David Harvey, who suggests the effect of such a plan “would be to steadily reduce the significance of private ownership and to build towards collective ownership managed by the representatives of the workers” and includes the “gradual annihilation” of the capitalist class.[66]  Another institutional mechanism by which the gradual democratization of the market may be facilitated and quickened is the abolition of inherited privilege through steep taxation on inheritance.  Because “hereditary transmittal of economic and educational advantage through the family continues drastically to restrict mobility among generations,” Unger writes, “the simple abolition of the right of inheritance … for everything except a modest family minimum would everywhere amount to a revolution.”[67]  These mechanisms could be supplemented by a strengthened fiscal base through a flat consumption tax, which, while regressive in its intake, is the most efficient money-maker and could be spent progressively.[68]  The relation of finance to the real economy, while at present oblique, must be reconfigured to boost the productive powers of the economy.[69]  Another institutional mechanism to facilitate the democratization of the market is a regime of mandatory saving, which even conservative economists support on the grounds that it is necessary to healthy economic development.

Were such measures as these, or even some modest portion of them, to be adopted, we would certainly have a society which more closely approximated the ethical ideals of the Kingdom of God with freer labor, a more just allocation of resources, a deeper sense of communal life, a more equitable distribution of resources, a more profound commitment to the least of these, a more leisurely life, etc.  I do not equate socialism with the Kingdom of God.  It is merely its enabling condition.  It is of course incorrect to call Jesus a socialist, as conservatives correctly insist, though it is rather curious that those who complain about turning Jesus into a “mere” socialist or “just” a social reformer are themselves not even social reformers, to say nothing of being more than it.  Though deeply hypocritical, they are nevertheless correct.  As Chomsky has suggested, “socialism is an effort to try to solve man’s animal problems, and after having solved the animal problems, then we can face the human problems.”[70]  Socialism deals with our animal problems; the Kingdom of God deals with our human problems.  But solving our animal problems is the enabling condition for solving our human ones.  In this way, socialism provides only the enabling conditions of the Kingdom of God.  Socialism is necessary but not sufficient to the Kingdom of God.

Albert Schwietzer was keen in observing the evil tendency of human beings to distort the meaning of Jesus and to make him in our own image.  And we can at least sympathize with Bultmann’s desperate solution to the seemingly insoluble problem.  But his solution failed to see the very simple reason we close our hearts and minds to the historical Jesus — because his demands were weighty and burdensome, because they were radical, one might even say revolutionary.  It is for this reason that despite the very obvious facts of Jesus’ life and teaching, we are more inclined to view him as a cosmic philosopher than as the Son of God incarnate in the life of a carpenter and peasant and revolutionary.  Wherever the obvious message of the Gospel confronts us with social and political responsibility, we, like cowards, hide behind the tenuous arguments of our middle-class critics; we duck behind the specious, illusory moral stature of our suburban critics.  For those who insist on their selfish, ineffectual pieties, the Son of Man is of little comfort.  As he says very explicitly, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21), for the Kingdom of God, as St. Paul suggests, “does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor 4:20).  As C.S. Lewis once proclaimed without the slightest sense of irony, “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”  Personal piety, which Jesus had precious little regard for, is much easier than the slow and arduous work of the Kingdom which defined Jesus’ entire life.  And it is much easier to spiritualize the Kingdom, to absolve oneself of all ethical responsibility aside from ritualistic pieties, to relegate all the work to God and then to comfort oneself with prayers.  But such “prayer” amounts to little more than finger-crossing or a kind of wishful escapism, and Jesus himself explicitly taught his followers how to pray: thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


[1] Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, p.10

[2] Albert Schweitzer, qtd. in Leonardo Boff, Jesus Christ Liberator: A Critical Christology for Our Time, trans. Patrick Hughes, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1978, p.4

[3] Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century, New York: Harper Collins, 2007, p.41

[4] John Keats, Letter to George and Georgiana Keats, 13 March 1819, in John Keats: Complete Poems and Selected Letters, ed. Clarence DeWitt Thorpe, New York: Odyssey Press, 1935, pp.605-606

[5] Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Divinity School Address,’ in Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. William H. Gilman, New York: New American Library, 1965, pp.251-252

[6] Ibid.

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, Human, All Too Human, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, (1.475)

[8] For more, see Morgan Rempel, “Nietzsche on the Deaths of Socrates and Jesus,” Minerva – An Internet Journal of Philosophy 10 (2006), accessed 19 March 2014, http://www.minerva.mic.ul.ie/vol10/Jesus.html; and Christopher Demuth Rodkey, “Nietzschean Christology,” Saint Vincent College, 1999, accessed 19 March 2014, http://facweb.stvincent.edu/academics/religiousstu/writings/rodkey2.html

[9] For the ancient Greek philosopher Celsus (2nd century), for example, the idea that the Logos would condescend to us was beyond comic.  He writes, “that certain Christians and (all) Jews should maintain … that there will descend, upon the earth a certain God, or Son of a God, who will make the inhabitants of the earth righteous, is a most shameless assertion, and one the refutation of which does not need many words.”

[10] See, for example, N.T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, New York: Harper One, 2012

[11] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 18.

[12] Karl Barth, Against the Stream: Shorter Post-War Writings, 1946-52, New York: Philosophical Library, 1954, quoted in Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, London: SCM Press, 1988 (original 1971), p.51

[13] Oscar Wilde, qtd. in Owen Hatherley, ‘It’s the 21st century – why are we working so much?’ The Guardian, 01 July 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/01/why-are-we-working-so-hard

[14] International Workingmen’s Association, qtd. in Karl Marx, Capital, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, ed. Lewis Feuer, London: Fontana, 1971, pp.199-200

[15] Terry Eagleton, ‘In Praise of Marx,’ The Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 April 2011, http://chronicle.com/article/in-praise-of-marx/127027/

[16] Owen Hatherley, ‘It’s the 21st century – why are we working so much?’ The Guardian, 01 July 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/01/why-are-we-working-so-hard

[17] Karl Marx, The German Ideology, 1845, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm

[18] John Maynard Keynes, qtd. in Dylan Matthews, ‘Why are we all working so much?’ The Washington Post, 23 August 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/08/23/why-are-we-all-working-so-much/

[19] Joseph Stiglitz, ‘Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,’ Vanity Fair, May 2011, http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105.print

[20] Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003, p.15

[21] Ibid., p.27

[22] Ibid., p.100

[23] John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, New York: Harper Collins

[24] Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire, p.134

[25] Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century, New York: Harper Collins, 2007, p.14

[26] Ibid.

[27] G. William Domhoff, “Wealth, Income, and Power,” Who Rules America?, accessed 15 January 2013, http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

[28] Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, New York: Harper Collins, 2001

[29] Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century, New York: Harper Collins, 2007, p.4

[30] Jose Porfirio Miranda, Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression, London: SCM Press, 1977, p.45

[31]  Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century, New York: Harper Collins, 2007, p.5

[32] Mark Diplacido, “Christianity and Capitalism: Counterparts of Freedom,” Yale Logos, Winter 2012, pp.5-6, accessed 21 March 2014, http://augustinecollective.org/augustine/christianity-and-capitalism-counterparts-of-freedom

[33] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, qtd. in Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith and Revolution, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, p.65

[34] Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century, New York: Harper Collins, 2007, p.6

[35] Ibid., p.7

[36] Ibid., p.314

[37] Augustine, “De trinitate,” PL 15, col. 1303, qtd. in Jose Porfirio Miranda, Marx and the Bible, London: SCM Press, 1977, p.16

[38] See, for example, Robert Heilbroner and Lester C. Thurow, Economics Explained, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982, pp.5-7

[39] Marcus Borg, “Born Again, Part II: The Transformation of Our World,” sermon, 2002, accessed 21 March 2014, http://www.explorefaith.org/LentenHomily02.26.02.html

[40] See, for example, my “For Socialism,” Harvard Ichthus, 11 March 2014, accessed 21 March 2014, http://www.harvardichthus.org/fishtank/2014/03/for-socialism/

[41] Sabrina Tavernise, “Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade,’” New York Times, 13 September 2011, accessed 25 March 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/us/14census.html?pagewanted=all; Paul Buchheit, “”Half of Americans below or near poverty line,” Salon, 30 May 2013, accessed 25 March 2014, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/30/half_of_americans_living_below_or_near_poverty_line_partner/

[42] G. William Domhoff, “Wealth, Income, and Power,” Who Rules America?, accessed 15 January 2013, http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

[43] Graeme Wearden, “Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world,” The Guardian, 21 January 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/20/oxfam-85-richest-people-half-of-the-world; “Annual income of richest 100 people enough to end global poverty four times over,” Oxfam, 19 January 2013, accessed 25 March 2014, http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressrelease/2013-01-19/annual-income-richest-100-people-enough-end-global-poverty-four-times

[44] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On the Origin of the Inequality of Mankind: The Second Part, originally published 1754, http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/rousseau/inequality/ch02.htm

[45] Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Book I, Ch. VII), New York: Prometheus Books, 1991, p.59

[46] This paragraph is adapted from an earlier essay, in which I go into much greater detail about these issues.  See my “For Socialism,” Harvard Ichthus, 11 March 2014, accessed 25 March 2014, http://www.harvardichthus.org/fishtank/2014/03/for-socialism/

[47] Karl Marx, Capital: Volume I, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker, New York: Norton, 1978, p.335

[48] Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Book I, Ch.8), New York: Prometheus Books, 1991, p.88

[49] Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century, New York: Harper Collins, 2007, p.50

[50] Georgia Kelly, ‘The Mondragon Cooperatives: An Inspiring Economic Hybrid,’ Tikkun, Vol.28, No.2, Spring 2013, pp.23-26

[51] It has done this by relocating workers to other cooperatives and by job sharing “where people work fewer hours and take a pay cut.  In one case, 20 percent of the workforce left their jobs for one year.  During that year, they received 80 percent of their pay and could retrain for other types of work (for free) if they wished.” (Ibid., p.25)  Bertrand Russell long ago advocated a similar policy in his economic writings in In Praise of Idleness.

[52] Ibid., pp.23-25

[53] Gary Dorrien, Economy, Difference, and Empire, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010, p.170

[54] Gar Alperovitz, ‘Everyday Socialism, American-Style, Is Happening Now,’ Truthout, 14 May 2013, available online: http://truth-out.org/news/item/16353-everyday-socialism-american-style-is-happening-now.  This brief but informative article, which I highly recommend, is excerpted from one of Alperovitz’s books.

[55] Wesley Clark, qtd. in Nicholas Kristof, “Our Lefty Military,” New York Times, 15 June 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/16/opinion/16kristof.html

[56] Nicholas Kristof, “Our Lefty Military,” New York Times, 15 June 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/16/opinion/16kristof.html

[57] Tony Benn, in Sicko, Dir. Michael Moore, Dog Eat Dog Films, 2007

[58] Paul Samuelson, Economics (Sixth Edition), New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964, p.785

[59] Dylan Matthews, “Defense spending in the U.S., in four charts,” Washington Post, 28 August, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/08/28/defense-spending-in-the-u-s-in-four-charts/

[60] Robert Unger, The Left Alternative, London: Verso, 2009, p.25

[61] Cf. Steven Slivinski, The Corporate Welfare State: How the Federal Government Subsidizes U.S. Businesses (No.592), Washington, D.C.: CATO Institute, 2007; Paul Bucheit, “Add It Up: The Average American Family Pays $6,000 a Year in Subsidies to Big Business,” Common Dreams, 23 September 2013, http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/09/23

[62] Winfried Ruigrock and Rob Van Tulder, The Logic of International Restructuring, New York: Routledge, 1995,p.217, quoted in Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, New York: New Press, 2002, p.256, note 43

[63] Ted De Haven, Corporate Welfare in the Federal Budget, (No.703), Washington, D.C.: CATO Institute, 25 July 2012, accessed 05 March 2014, http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/PA703.pdf

[64] Bill Quigley, “Ten Examples of Welfare for the Rich and Corporations,” Huffington Post, 14 January 2014, accessed 05 March 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-quigley/ten-examples-of-welfare-for-the-rich-and-corporations_b_4589188.html

[65] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker, New York: Norton, 1978, p.476

[66] David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p.112; see also, Gary Dorrien, Economy, Difference, and Empire, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.  Swedish social democracy, in which workers and owners cooperative share the ownership and management of firms may also serve as an intermediate template for a gradualist transition toward more complete worker-ownership.

[67] Roberto Unger, The Left Alternative, London: Verso, 2009, p.43

[68] See, for example, Roberto Unger, Democracy Realized, London: Verso, 1998, pp.50-51

[69] See, for example, Roberto Unger, Democracy Realized, London: Verso, 1998, pp.60-61

[70] Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, New York: New Press, 2002, p.198

(Visited 458 times, 1 visits today)