It's profoundly ironic that Communism denies God's existence since both Jesus and the eponymous founder of Marxism shared many political and moral values. Like politics, theology and economics make strange bedfellows.
Unlike the four Gospels, whose name derives from the Medieval English "Godspell" and translates as the "Good News," the argument about similarities between Communism and Christianity is very old news.
Before Karl Marx, "Marxism" existed under different names, such as the French Revolution coinage, socialism, and Platonism, named after the Greek philosopher who believed that all property should be held in common.
Socialism and Communism are (mis)used interchangeably. Marx wrote that socialism was the penultimate stage in economic development before the creation of the workers' paradise he named Communism.
In an age of crumbling faith, revisiting the controversy about a proto-Communist Jesus ironically buttresses religion by redirecting debate to the more, well, Christ-like ideology of the early Church. Today, when conspicuous consumption has turned into a secular religion that venerates $6,000 shower curtains and $15,000 umbrella stands as sacraments, the alleged Communism in Christ's teachings has special resonance and relevance.
Scholarly Consensus Says the Bible is Pious Mythology, not History
Unlike priests and fundamentalist ministers who swallow whole the physical impossibility of Jonah as whale-bait, university theologians believe that most events in the Old and New Testaments never happened.
Since the early 20th century, New Testament scholars have questioned a literal interpretation of the Bible. "We know somewhere between very little and virtually nothing about the historical Jesus," E.P. Saunders wrote in The Historical Figure of Jesus. (Penguin, 1996) To academics, as opposed to unquestioning fundamentalists, the Bible is a Judaeo-Christian parable as credible as Greek mythology.
Thomas Jefferson, a closet atheist who realized that broadcasting his belief or lack of it would mean career death and possibly murder by a devout assassin, predicted that someday the Virgin Birth would be considered as mythical as Athena emerging full-grown from the head of her father Zeus, who had swallowed his daughter while she was a fetus.
Is it any wonder that a sex-obsessed Freud loved Greek mythology and named many of his theories after specific myths with subtextual sexuality like the Oedipus Complex, which refers to a fictional king who married his mother after killing his father? Fearing anti-Semitic Christian backlash, Freud never used Biblical myths to provide names for his theories.
A century and a half after Jefferson, what he had predicted would eventually be considered myth became Catholic dogma instead. In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception infallible dogma. The Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception are related but not identical. The difference between the two belongs in another blog or at Sunday school.
Jesus Did Say "Our Father," But Others Wrote the Rest of the Lord's Prayer
Time magazine published an amusing or heretical article depending on the reader's beliefs that polled theologians for their opinion of a literal interpretation of the Bible.
The news magazine printed the Lord's Prayer after asking scholars to indicate the portion of the prayer that Jesus actually said and the text that represented pious fiction concocted by the authors of the four Gospels who never witnessed the events they described or even met Jesus, according to Raymond E. Brown's
An Introduction to the New Testament. (Doubleday, 1997)
Time failed to mention the reasons for the theologians' consensus that while Jesus may have uttered "Our Father," the rest of prayer is holy hokum. Most academics believe the Old and New Testaments contain myths, most obviously miracles, from Moses' talking bush to the main tenet of Christianity, the Resurrection of Christ.
One example of hundreds of myths masquerading as fact that theologians cite: The Israelites fleeing Egypt in the Book of Exodus waded through a shallow swamp with a more impressive name, the Reed Sea; Moses didn't part the much deeper Red Sea nearby to provide his followers a damp route of escape from Pharaoh's chariots.
The Oddest Couple: Karl Marx and Jesus Christ
Jesus preached about ideas that have prompted historians to call Him the first communist or socialist because He promoted communal living and favored the poor over the rich. In sermons He never delivered, His publicists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, quote Jesus declaring that the meek shall inherit the earth and the "last" on the socio-economic ladder will stand first in the queue outside the pearly gated community of heaven.
In fact, the Biblical as opposed to the historical Jesus implied that the rich would never make it past St. Peter's triage job at the entrance to heaven when He said, "It's easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Jesus' fabulist biographers in the New Testament present their God as the first communist by injecting a form of proto-socialism into Jesus' alleged sermons He Himself may not have subscribed to.
Regardless of the real auteurs of Biblical Marxism, even before Jesus' execution for espousing rhetoric like the brotherhood of man, which threatened Roman rule and greed based on the enslavement of men, His alleged economic and theological doctrines were considered revolutionary by reactionary Romans who crucified Him because He threatened Rome's monopoly of power and taxation. Only Roman governors not Jews had the power to order capital punishment.
It wasn't until 1965 that the pope finally got around to declaring the Jews innocent and ancient Romans guilty of killing Jesus. "Christ-killer" was a millennial accusation used to justify everything from the massacre of Jewish money lenders in Medieval Europe to the pogroms of the late 19th and early 20th century in Russia, and finally the attempted annihilation of an entire race during the Third Reich. It's a steep, slippery slope from false accusations of deicide to the implementation of genocide.
For the next three centuries after Jesus' death, until the Emperor Constantine recognized Christianity as the state religion, its adherents suffered the same fate as their crucified founder. After Jesus' arrest the night before Good Friday, Peter had declined knowing Jesus because he feared Roman soldiers were rounding up Christ's followers after His arrest in an urban park and olive grove called the Garden of Gethsemane.
Peter felt guilty about betraying the man he had nominated to be the Son of God and possibly embarrassed about what Peter was actually doing with Jesus in the bushes that had nothing to do with camping out in the woods. In Matthew (26:41), the gospel writer had no idea of the implications when he reported that Jesus twice asked Peter, James, and John to stay awake and asked them to pray so they wouldn't fall into some unnamed temptation. They fell asleep, and Jesus ended up a victim of temptation, but not the kind cynics smirk about.
Jesus gave in to temptation and asked God the Father to call off His Son's crucifixion the next day. In the Old Testament, God tested Abraham's faith by ordering him to kill his only son, Isaac, but countermanded the order when it appeared Abe was about to off his kid. An omniscient, omnipotent God never intended to test His Son's obedience, then offer a reprieve as He did Abraham before he could sacrifice Isaac.
God the Father wanted God the Son dead. If Freud hadn't feared anti-Semitic backlash, he would have added a pathology similar to the Oedipus Complex about Freud might have called the "Jesus Conflict." Oedipus killed his father.
Victorians Called Jesus' Equivocal Relationship with His Apostles "Uranianism"
Who knows what murderous thoughts went through Jesus' mind when His Father turned down His plea three times to "have this cup removed from me," i.e., cancel the crucifixion scheduled for the following day?
Really cynical historians claimed Gethsemane was the first century AD equivalent of today's "bushes" -- alfresco rendezvous for gays in search of sex. In the Victorian Era, squeamish theologians referred to Jesus' possible sexual orientation with a euphemism, Uranianism.
Guilt or humility or whatever prompted Peter to embrace martyrdom but asked the executioner to hang him upside down because he didn't deserve to die in the same manner as his God.
Despite plagiarizing many of Jesus' ideas, Karl Marx rejected all religions, not only Christianity, because of the twisted spin later religious leaders put on the Gospels. After an oppressed minority sect became a powerful majority in the Roman world and its successor states, the majority used religion to maintain the status quo that kept them in power.
In the first century A.D., Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John presented Jesus as a defender of the poor and a critic of the rich. Three centuries later, Christian leaders had become the rich, backed by the power of the state subservient to God's vicar on earth, the pope.
The spiritual ruler of God's earthly kingdom outranked the mere rulers of real estate. During a dispute between the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VIII in 1077, they agreed to meet at the fortress of Canossa in Tuscany. Guess which one ended up standing barefoot in the snow and bleeding the fortress for three days after crossing the Alps also unshod?
Martin Luther, Reactionary Revolutionary
Martin Luther ignored or rejected Biblical socialism and replaced it with a reactionary creed that favored the rich, enraged Marx, and transformed him into the ür-godless commie. Five centuries later, the trickle-down cynicism of the Church inspired a fictional Gordon Gekko to boast that greed is good.
The shift from a socialist sect to an established, powerful Church was preserved and validated by another revolutionary who also turned into a reactionary after gaining power, Martin Luther.
The eponymous founder of a new creed that ignited the Protestant Reformation, Luther condemned the venality of the Renaissance Church which traded salvation for cash by selling after-life insurance policies called plenary or papal indulgences.
Sinners who bought indulgences received absolution and the promise they would go straight to heaven without spending time in Purgatory since their sins had been erased.
It is conveniently ignored by Luther's supporters that he did not condemn secular wealth despite his own monastic vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, all of which he broke by marrying a defrocked nun, disobeying the pope, and accepting sanctuary from rich princes in their palatial homes.
Heady company for the son of a peasant who almost ended up in quite different accommodations, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor's dungeons prior to being burned at the stake for heresy.
Luther, Champion of the Rich, No Friend of the Poor
Historians puncture the myth of Luther the Revolutionary. He never condemned secular wealth because it belonged to his well-heeled supporters, mostly German princes. During peasant rebellions, he sided with his princely hosts. In Matthew 6:24 and again in Luke 16:13, Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters: Ye cannot serve God and Mammon," a pagan god of avarice and wealth. It's not an exaggeration to claim Luther tried to serve both but with a preference for Mammon.
Luther told the poor to accept their miserable lot in life without offering the comfort of a guaranteed berth in the After Life, as Catholicism still does, although the Church no longer demands money in return for a cushy eternity.
Lutheranism has survived for half a millennium because it provided an alternate route to the pearly gated community. The Catholic Church still maintains that good works will save the sinner from damnation. Of course, the best good works remain donating money and granting bequests to churches and monasteries as an after-life insurance premium.
Luther and the founders of other Protestant offshoots said that personal wealth was an indication of those who will be saved because God would never enrich bad people condemned to hell, which doesn't explain Bernie Madoff's or Leona Helmsley's inevitable resting place. Instead of wasting money on a church or monastery, Protestants were encouraged to keep their wealth and accumulate more as an increasing sign of divine favor and salvation.
Papal indulgences paid for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Protestant wealth created the Gilded Age of robber barons in the 1890s.
Economist Max Weber Said Protestant Doctrine Explains Why Protestants Are Richer than Catholics - Wrong!
The early 20th century economist Max Weber in his seminal 1904-1905 treatise, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, theorized that Protestant Northern Europe was richer than the Catholic south because Protestant doctrine favored earning and investing money instead of giving it away to nonproductive religious establishments.
Weber's theory evaporates when applied to the United States, where Catholics on average enjoy higher incomes than Protestants, according to a survey in Ethnic America by Stanford economist Thomas Sowell.
Worshipping the almighty dollar may be the ultimate ecumenism, shared by people of different faiths, openly by Protestants and secretly by Catholics, whose real idol exists in multimillion-dollar cathedrals, usually next door to the inner city.
Critics within and outside the Catholic church complain that the $190 million price tag of Los Angeles' Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels would have been better spent on the residents of skid row a few blocks away. Damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, L.A.'s former cathedral, St. Vibiana, now an art complex, cost only $6 million to restore.
The Sistine Chapel and The Last Supper - Two Beautiful Causes of Lost Faith
Religious extravagance, Church defenders point out, gave us Leonardo and Michelangelo. Detractors say that costly structures in the middle of poverty imply that God likes expensive earthly housing He will never occupy - at least not until the Second Coming.
Meanwhile, archbishops and bishops rent God's property and live in adjoining episcopal palaces of equal splendor. Jesus' predictions in the Sermon on the Mount will have to wait until the After Life. Until then, the rich will continue to inherit the earth, while the poor inhabit tenements or the streets of skid row.
Criticism of religious wealth has endured for centuries if not millennia. The lengthy debate proves its staying power and relevance today.
Causes Frank Sanello Supports
ACLU, ASPCA, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders