Saturday, May 26, 2012
Early Christian Socialists
Christian fundamentalists declare their faith that their Bible is the holy, inspired word of God and that it is inerrant in every respect.
By and large, Christian fundamentalists in this country do not represent either the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels nor the Jesus of the Gospel of John (there is a large dichotomy between the between the Synoptic Jesus and John's Jesus.) Christian fundamentalists in this country are basically ultra-rightwing members of the Republican Party.
As such, one of the economic philosophies they hate the most is "socialism." Why this is so is an enigma, for the Jesus of either the Synoptics or John would have soundly denounced the Republican vision of the "good life" as it is presented today. For example, Jesus castigated rich people. In fact, he said explicitly that rich people don't have a chance in hell of getting into heaven! Jesus did not care about politics. He said to give to Ceasar what was due Ceasar (in other words, pay your damn taxes and stop complaining!) and get about the tasks he gave his followers - heal the sick, help the poor, visit those in prison, make sure that the children are cared for (universal healthcare, perhaps?), and tell everyone that there is a father-like God who loves them.
Interestingly enough, some early followers of this Jesus figure, tried to do those things. The New Testament book, the "Acts of the Apostles," is purported to have been written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke. Probably not. Acts has all the characteristics of a book written more near the middle of the 2nd century, C.E. One sign is the fact there are many disagreements between Acts and the letters of Paul, the latter being written some 100 years earlier and to particular communities in the Mediterranean area.
Acts describes some of what went on in Jerusalem as the early disciples gathered together and tried to figure out what they hell they were going to do. Jesus had not shown up like he had promised. But they had heard tales that he had been resurrected and had floated off into the heavens and would come back soon and many people saw and knew about these things, but that didn't help them much because he had not returned to earth.
All of these early followers of Jesus were Jews. There was a certain amount of animosity between them and Jews who had neither heard of Jesus nor particularly cared to "follow" him. So Peter and others were said to have preached in the city of Jerusalem and many of the "Jews" were converted to this new faith and accepted the Jesus figure as the Messiah. In fact, one legend says that about 3,000 were "added to their number that day."
But what else did these early Jesus folks do? Here's what the writer of Acts says:
"They met constantly to hear the apostles teach, and to share the common life, to break bread and to pray."
Notice they shared "the common life." Sounds pretty suspicious, doesn't it? Especially to patriotic Americans who hate Communism and Socialism!
"A sense of awe was everywhere, and many marvels and signs were brought about through the apostles." Like most legends, you will note the lack of specifics in that phrase. But now for the best part!
"All whose faith had drawn them together held everything in common: they would sell their property and possessions and make a general distribution as the need of each required. With one mind they kept up their daily attendance at the temple, and, breaking bread in private homes, shared their meals with unaffected joy, as they praised God and enjoyed the favour of the whole people. And day by day the Lord added to their numbers those whom he was saving."
Ok, so the author of Acts went a little overboard. It is not the least likely these early Christians "enjoyed the favour of the whole people," especially when the Gospels report that this "whole people" not long before cried out for the head of Jesus!
But, notice they were COMMUNISTS! The "held everything in common." The sold their stuff and gave the money to everyone as it was needed! My God, if that ain't Communism, it sure is Socialism!
Actually, it is more like socialism. Communism is a political system. Socialism is an economic system. Acts is talking about an economic system in which the people took care of one another. Just think if we had that kind of a system in this country today! Think of all we could do. We wouldn't have One Percent of the people owning most of everything and 99% out of the loop financially! We wouldn't have 45 million people uninsured. We wouldn't have millions of kids go to bed hungry every night. We'd have decent schools and good teachers because we'd all chip in (especially the rich) to make that happen. We'd have good roads and bridges and cops and judges and politicians and doctors.
And so forth.
But who the hell believes the Bible these days? Sure isn't the Christians!
[Biblical quotations are from Acts, Chapter 2. You might also read Acts, chapter 4, beginning at verse 32, which describes further how "everything was held in common," how "they had never a needy person among them, because all who had property in land or houses sold it, brought the proceeds of the sale, and laid the money at the feet of the apostles; it was then distributed to any who stood in need." All Biblical citations are from The New English Bible.]