Jesus was not a capitalist, despite what Christian conservatives may argue.
The way I can tell that Jesus was not a capitalist is not only by the fact that it didn’t exist as an economic system during his lifetime, but also the kinds of caring for one another Jesus teaches are opposed to what would later become the ‘dog eat dog’ philosophy of market capitalism.
For example, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a wealthy, educated man inquiring as to who was his neighbor. In the parable, a man is beaten by robbers and in great need, lying half-dead on the side of the road. The wealthy and educated “good-guys,” who are religious leaders and respected community members, pass by without offering compassion. Then an outsider who would be met with mistrust shows up and generously assists the person in need of help. Jesus then instructs the wealthy, educated man to be a neighbor in a manner consistent with the Samaritan who showed compassion. It’s important to note that the Samaritan’s generosity is not only of kindness and caring, but includes freely using his financial resources to do so.
The parable rests on the premise that it is neighborly and loving to offer help when someone is in need. Jesus has a lot to say about loving your enemy, turning the other cheek, and extending hospitality and compassion to those who are beaten down and robbed.
But what are well-intentioned helpers to do when the robbers run the country? American capitalism tells the beat-down that it’s their own fault they’re poor, and to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. American capitalism preaches that your neighbor is one to keep up with and compete with. American capitalism sacrifices souls for the sake of profit. This is as far from Jesus’ economy as you can get.
Some free market devotees argue that folks try to get free hand-outs and take the government’s money because they’re too lazy to work. The “new American way of life” is supposedly one where “welfare queens” and the “undeserving poor” are said to be “working the system.” This is false.
Being poor sucks. People aren’t clamoring for poverty. Yes, there is government assistance available for people meeting certain criteria of need, but rarely is it enough, and it’s no small thing to prove your need. In fact, if you do not have dependents and you are determined to be able-bodied, you have only 90 days to find work before being cut off from certain assistance. While some states have temporarily waived the enforcement of time limits due to economic downturns and lack of jobs, 2016 saw many states choosing to allow those waivers to expire.
As for who might be in need, have you seen this video from CrisisForums.org?
There’s a reason so many of us 99%-ers wake up at 4 in the morning, wondering how we will get by. The system of American capitalism only serves the top 1%, and depends on the rest of us walking by on the other side of the road, choosing not to see the need so obviously before our eyes. And maybe we avert our eyes because we too easily see ourselves as the ones stripped and beaten, seduced by an American dream that has become a nightmare.
Jesus was clear about what financial resources were good for: helping our neighbor. And everyone is our neighbor.