Dan Popp
God, the capitalist
Red letters for red liars
By Dan Popp
June 8, 2010

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. — Jesus (John 10:10)

To call Jesus a socialist is to call the ultimate Giver a thief, and worse. It's blasphemy. Never caught by surprise, Christ pre-refuted these charges 2,000 years ago, as related in the gospels. I propose to look at a few salient passages in a series I'll call Red letters for red liars.

Perhaps the best place to begin a study on Jesus' views of economics and property rights would be the Parable of the Talents. But not too long ago my Renew America colleague Bryan Fischer wrote an excellent article on that parable. So rather than repeating Mr. Fischer's work I'll add another witness — a different parable — this one recorded in Matthew 21, Mark 12 and Luke 20.

Jesus said:

    "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.

    "Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.'

    "So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at harvest time." (Matthew 21:33-41 RSV)

In this parable, Jesus makes God the Father a capitalist.

God is figured as the landowner; or in Marxist terms, the selfish hoarder of the means of production. He grinds down the proletariat for His own benefit, in order to realize a profit!

Contrary to socialist fantasy, however, the tenants in the parable were free to lease the vineyard, or to seek other options. They voluntarily agreed to certain mutually beneficial terms — and then reneged on those terms.

But the Lord isn't the only one that appears to be ever-so-slightly out of sync with Marx when He tells this parable. The Pharisees, the Disciples and the rest of Jesus' audience were no socialists, either. They pronounced sentence not against the profiteer, but against the "oppressed" workers! "He will put those wretches to a miserable death," was the verdict of the crowd.

The Communists in this parable are the contemptible squatters, thieves and murderers — not God.

In Marx' view workers provide all the value, and owners do nothing but rip them off; the capitalist makes no contribution to the final product. But see how much better the lowly carpenter understands business: The owner "planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower." Christ gives the entrepreneur credit for doing quite a bit. The fellow had to know the quality of the land, buy the land, understand the kind of grapes that would grow there and the market for wine made from those grapes, buy the vine stock, and build all the physical plant and equipment to make his dream of a vineyard come alive. He invested a great deal of money, effort and time, with no guarantee that he would ever see a drop of wine.

Jesus gets it. Because of the capitalist there will be wine, plus employment for a number of people. Without the capitalist there would be only a patch of weeds.

The reason this parable so powerfully condemns the Jewish leaders is that every one of His hearers — friend and foe alike — agrees without question the underlying principle: The owner is justified in expecting a profit. Therefore God is within His rights to expect a spiritual return on His investment in the people of Israel.

Now I wouldn't say straight out, "God is a capitalist." God is above economics because His resources are infinite. But God is not above justice, and there's no justice in the state coercion, violence and robbery necessary for socialism to exist. No, I might not go so far as to portray God as a capitalist, but His Son did.

Jesus couldn't have cast God in the role of the owner if being an owner is a sin. Since YHWH is typified as a capitalist in this parable, it must be true that capitalists aren't necessarily greedy scumbags; though some, of course, are. It must be the case that private ownership, and even (gasp!) profit are OK in the Lord's holy eyes.

It's all there in red and white.

© Dan Popp


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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