THE EYE OF A NEEDLE, THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL: JESUS, MONEY, SOCIALISM, AND COMMUNISM

Let me explain how I came to post this, because for one thing, a comment by an author of one of the posts I'll mention has written about the large response to his post.

I use the Entrecard system. Blog owners sign up for Entrecard membership so they may leave Entrecards (think business or calling cards) on Entrecard widgets (designated space on other people's Entrecard blogs). Entrecard members earn credits for leaving cards and for cards received. They may use those credits for a number of things including trading them for advertising on those said Entrecard widgets. It's a capitalistic thing I use to reach out to that type of person.

Anyway, in visiting Entrecard sites, I came upon "Exploring Our Matrix," which covers "Sci-fi, spirituality and so much more" in the "Religion and Spirituality" category and is self-described as the "Blog of Dr. James F. McGrath, Associate Professor of Religion, Butler University, Indianapolis. Covers topics like religion, science fiction, the Bible, Jesus, history, creationism, evolution, theology and much more."

Well, James F. McGrath follows the site, "Antiquitopia." That site is authored by Jared Calaway, who describes himself as follows:

I am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, a Preceptor for Literature of the Humanities at the aforementioned institution, and I talk to dead people on a daily basis!

On that site, Jared posted a series (5 parts so far) entitled "Is the Bible Socialist? Luke-Acts as an Example." I read the series and posted a comment on Part 1:

Hello All,

It has never occurred to me that the message of Jesus is passé. To think that anyone has caught up with and surpassed Jesus is unsupportable. Point me to any such person in the past or present.

As for the post, there is voluntary socialism and then there is coercive socialism. When discussing Jesus and his original disciples, it is necessary to make the distinction. Jesus is a voluntary socialist/communist.

UTOPIAN, LAISSEZ-FAIRE CAPITALISM (FAITH IN MAMMON), COERCIVE SOCIALISM, OR THE VISION OF JESUS CHRIST

It has become my life's work to bring forth in accordance with Jesus's communist vision. Am I behind the times or ahead of my time or am I taking the exact position that needs to be taken right now? I say the last of the three.

I will continue reading this series.

God bless all,

Tom Usher
November 3, 2008 9:01 AM

Jared replied:

Interesting comments, Tom. Most people who take the voluntary versus coerciveness line tend to never really plan to put a voluntary system into effect. This makes you different.

I would tend to agree, but I think the text is ambivalent on this account:

I am not so sure the Annanias and Sapphira episode supports the idea of non-coercive communalism.

Once they joined the Christian community, at least, they were supposed to give up everything they owned and give it to the community. The non-coercive aspect, then, is limited to the choice to join the Christians, then called the Way, or not.

I do wonder about the story Jesus tells about th[e] rich man and Lazarus. Sure, the rich man CHOSE not to sell everything he owned and redistribute it to the poor, but the consequence? He has no place in the kingdom of God. So, if you want a place in the kingdom of God, you follow this economic vision. Is this voluntary or coercive? Perhaps voluntary, but the consequences of not doing it are huge (a bad afterlife in Jesus' story and death in Acts).
November 3, 2008 10:53 AM

I responded:

Hi Jared,

The most visible and vocal people in the most numbers who take the voluntary-versus-coercion line do not plan to put a voluntary system into effect. There are many people though who are not visible or vocal who have not only planned to put a voluntary system into effect but have already carried it out. I often point to the Hutterites as such. This is not to say that I agree with all things Hutterite. If I did, I'd be one of them. They are close though in many respects, and many are trying to move closer right now. Perhaps you've studied them to some extent. I don't hold myself out as some expert in their history, but I have attempted to garner information by spending many hours on the Internet looking into the Hutterites and other Radical Reformationists and other communalists who are at least claiming Christianity and many who are not.

As for your impression that the text is ambivalent, it isn't. In fact, you've been given to understand exactly what it says at least pertaining to your reply immediately above.

The coercive versus non-coercive line is drawn at the straight [strait] gate. It is the threshold of the door. Crossing the line, going through the gate, entering through the door upon which we knock, is not coerced in that Jesus doesn't stand behind anyone pushing anyone in. He doesn't open the door and drag anyone in either. This is figurative language but works in literal terms as well.

What he did do though was clean the Temple. Those inside are to be there voluntarily. Once in, they are to conform themselves with righteousness, which righteousness is properly understood only by taking the whole message of Jesus (nothing without the fullest context we are able to grasp). Money-changing for personal, private gain is certainly not allowed within. It is anathema to perfection. There is not that mammon in Heaven.

You are close concerning Lazarus. Can it be reconciled? Yes, it can be. This is dangerous ground for the faint-hearted, because of traditionalists. I am casting pearls, not that I'm saying you in particular are swine and will turn and rend me. In fact, I suspect just the opposite. You don't seem to be disingenuous in your search for truth. Of course, God alone knows your heart through-and-through. I only know what God allows me to see, which is growing by the moment.

One is free within a certain narrow context to ignore consequences. It is a matter of comprehension as to whether or not one will be able to see this context and the many other contexts that pertain to the subject matter. To fully comprehend is to complete the language and the logic, arriving at perfection, which is God, by Christian definition.

The rich man who denied Lazarus was offered words (Old Testament) that called upon him to see to his brethren's needs. Now, if you apply the line of coercion someplace other than at the gate I described, you will view the consequences as coercive: Punishment to illicit a change in behavior – operant conditioning using torture to force conformity with righteousness. That's not though how Jesus approaches it. That's how the proverbial Satan approaches it. Jesus uses parables that make the connection with his profound understanding, but he was limited to the level of comprehension and willingness of the various people (hardness of heart).

Therefore, wrath features prominently, but we must understand that Satan is a lord who thinks he's right. He does punish. He does coerce. He is quick to anger. He is quick to judge. He is careless about distinguishing the innocent from the knowingly guilty. In the end though, souls are turned over to this and left there with it do to what is generally understood and meant by freewill choice (semantically understood).

How may one enter and live in Heaven when Heaven is populated with souls being iniquitous?

From Jesus's perspective, righteousness is a yoke one puts on willingly for its own sake. He does make allowances for those who respond at lower levels of calling though. He's very forgiving. He's very merciful. Souls receive different stripes according to what they knew and how they acted. God won't allow Satan a free hand indefinitely with those who turn to righteousness. Does that sound like God being coercive? If so, you're looking at it that way to the exclusion of the fuller and fullest context. There is no Satan in the New Heaven.

The spectrum from God to Satan is infinitely long and wide. However, at the same time, God is absolute and perfect. The difference between them is at once tiny and immense depending upon perspective and closeness to the root that is God.

Above all other humans I've ever heard of, I'm convinced that Jesus sees this best.

It is Satan who kills and tortures the soul. God doesn't do that. Satan will die out of humans and humanity when we each and all stop being Satanic or Satanlike.

This appears to be the single most sticking point I've come up against for people. It is so difficult for people that I have yet to have anyone even be up to discussing the matter.

The rich man was free to be a slave [to] (to serve) selfishness. This is not oxymoronic. It's using connotations in a way that presents a riddle for those who are too hard-hearted to grasp it and to hold onto it for good.

May God bless us all with the truth,

Tom Usher

Well, another commentator, Levi, posted the following:

have fun with this topic. I posted briefly on "The fear of Socialism and the book of Amos" on my blog and have had way more responses and views than I expected.

Feel free to check my similar posts out if you get free time.

[Hyperlinking added]
(blog)

(fear of socialism and the book of amos)
fear-of-socialism-and-book-of-amos.html [Hyperlinking added]

(an unsatisfactory response to socialism and the book of amos)
unsatisfactory-response-to-socialism.html
October 30, 2008 6:40 PM

I visited Levi's blog where he speaks in terms hating the discussion. He called people to it but came to hate it. I understand that he was inundated and taxed by the process of replying.

On Levi's post is the following comment:

All respect intended, but I fell as if you are reading this slightly out of context. God says he will not revoke their punishment because:

1. "...because they sell the righteous for silver..." He is not punishing them because they are not sharing the wealth. He is punishing them because they put wealth before God. This alludes to several other passages.

1 Timothy 6:10a which states "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." Closer inspection shows that it says "the LOVE of money is the root of all kinds of evil," not that money is the root of all evil, only when money is more important than God and family. And Mark 10:25 (as well as Matthew and Luke) which states "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," This is not referring to a literal needle, it is referring to the entrance to the city know as the Needle's Eye. For a camel to get through the owner would have to take everything the camel was carrying off its back to get through. Thus, I feel Jesus was saying that you should not be attached to worldly possessions. Finally, look a Job. If God were against wealth would he restore a man to have more wealth than he had before? Job was faithful to God with and without his wealth, so God blessed him and gave him more. The problem lies not with being rich but being corrupt and greedy.

2. "they sell...the needy for a pair of sandals..." This is very similar to the first one in that it refers to those who have become corrupt. Mark 14:7a tells us "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want." It tells us we should help the poor, not that we have to. I'm not saying you shouldn't help the poor, on the contrary you should help all you can, but is forced help really done out of love for God and others?

3 and 4. "they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way" This might be getting a little redundant, but corruption was as bad back then as it is today. Ezekiel 16:49-50 explains "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." Sodom wasn't destroyed because it was rich; it was destroyed because they forgot the poor. As a Christian you should help the poor willingly with love, not because the government or other body says to.

There is my 1 ½ cents. A few notes though.

1. I use the word "you" in a general sense, I'm not accusing you of anything Levi. ;)

2. These are just my opinions; take them as that and nothing more.

3. If you read all of it, congratulations, I'm impressed. I got a little wordy there.

-me-
October 21, 2008 7:36 PM

I replied as follows:

Hi All,

Interesting conversation this.

I would like to specifically address the commentator calling himself or herself "ArcAngel."

First of all, 1 Timothy 6:10 is attributed to Paul and not to Jesus. If you believe Christianity is necessarily Pauline, then 1 Timothy 6:10 carries full weight. Even still, there is the matter of interpretation. I do not hold that to be Christian is to be a disciple of Paul. Even if I did though, 1 Timothy 6:10's use of the term "love" doesn't also preclude that money itself and the entire system of money isn't evil. Is there money in Heaven? Does God charge in that way, or is mutual love the currency of the realm? I say it is love. I don't say Paul would disagree.

As for the term "needle" in Mark 10:25, Jesus doesn't say that it is harder for a loaded camel to go through a needle gate. Even if he were to say that, the conclusion would remain the same. The rich are attached to their material possessions. That's prima facie isn't it? Isn't that why they have so much while others have nothing in many cases?

Regardless, Mark 10:25 cannot rightly be taken in isolation. In Matthew, right before he says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God," he says, "a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Hardly" is often taken as nearly impossible, not entirely impossible. Luke 6:24 quotes Jesus saying, "But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation." That sounds like the connotation of "hardly" above really means highly unlikely and extremely rarely, if at all. So what consolation do you find in "needle gates" or the "love" of money? To me, those things sound like selective interpretations to the exclusion of Jesus's other clear and plain words. It sounds like excuses.

Finally, let's look a Job. Job is Old Testament. If the Old Testament were sufficient, we wouldn't have Jesus and the New Testament. Jesus shed more and new light. He raised the standard. In addition, what did Job do with his riches? Was anyone under him starving or homeless or without any of the other necessities? Is Job the rare exception? Besides, Job didn't have Jesus's words. (Jesus makes allowances for such things.)

Show me the superrich capitalist who might be that rare, even Old Testament, exception under whom none go wanting.

I agree that coerced socialism is not Heaven. Capitalism though is also coercive. Let's not be hypocritical about that. Jesus was not coercive with the exception that all who enter his voluntary house must conform or be cleaned out, just as he cleaned the temple of the money-changers (capitalists). He forces none to enter.

Thank you, Levi, for providing the venue.

God bless everyone,

Tom Usher
Real Liberal Christian Church
November 3, 2008 9:21 AM

Also in this session of mine, I ran into the James K.A. Smith, "Fors Clavigera," blog which prompted me to post the following yesterday:

JAMES K.A. SMITH DISCERNS THE LIBERTARIAN CAPITALIST RUSE
Posted:
Monday, November 3, 2008
@ 8:25:38 AM (Pacific Time)
By Tom Usher

Here's a terrific clip from the very end of the post entitled, "Just Charity: A Follow-up to some Questions," by James K.A. Smith. Fors Clavigera:

Finally, I'd be very curious to know whether those who offer such a "baptized" libertarianism would really be willing to sign up for an ecclesial socialism. In my experience, they are also libertarians about the church (which is why many of them are also Protestants). I'd be much more willing to hear this line of critique if I thought the "Christians" offering it were living out economic redistribution within their ecclesial communities. But I don't think that is happening. I think the supposed "theological" arguments for libertarianism are a bit of a ruse—a cover for what, at the end of the day, is a political ideology that is drastically modern, individualist, and selfish.

Unfortunately, James doesn't allow comments. Neither does he set his posts off as single posts. You'll have to scroll down in his archive to find the post.

James, if you come here on account of the link in some search engine results, let me say that you are exactly right about the Calvinists especially. I've been writing along the same vein for years now. I'm glad to have run into your blog. It is nice to see someone else who can see right through them.

If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? (Luke 16:11)

Look carefully at that. See "unrighteous mammon." Mammon is money, material wealth, worldly gain. Money, material wealth, and worldly gain are unrighteous, period. The love of what is unrighteous is the root of all evil. Unrighteousness is the root of all evil also.

Why are they unrighteous? They are unrighteous, because they are selfish devices where self is understood as being apart from God who is whole or one, even the only one – only real one, true one (not false-hearted). Where there is complete unselfishness, there is no money made necessary. Also, the terms "material" and "worldly" must be taken within the whole context of the language of Jesus. If all are sharing all as each can contribute by his or her gifts from God and as each has need, then this is no longer of "this world" as it (the world) has been under Satan's rule. It becomes the New Earth to that extent.

What do you think?

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  • Tom Usher

    About Tom Usher

    Employment: 2008 - present, website developer and writer. 2015 - present, insurance broker. Education: Arizona State University, Bachelor of Science in Political Science. City University of Seattle, graduate studies in Public Administration. Volunteerism: 2007 - present, president of the Real Liberal Christian Church and Christian Commons Project.
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