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Why Jesus Wasn’t a Socialist

News stories about the stupidity of religion are sometimes just too bizarre to take in - despite the often serious consequences of the events they describe. A woman facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia after being arrested for witchcraft for example (Guardian 19 April). The Catholic Church in India that had a sceptic arrested for blasphemy after he revealed that the cause of its ‘miraculous weeping cross’ was a leaking drain (Richard Dawkins website, 14 April). And again from the Guardian of 21 April, the latest antics of Terry Jones the nutty pastor from Florida who stokes up equally nutty Islamic fundamentalists by burning Korans.

Depressing stuff so lets leave the loonies alone this month and look at another widely repeated but mistaken idea often bandied about by trendy vicars and religious lefties: the idea that Jesus was a socialist.

In short, no, he wasn’t. Nor could he have been. Two thousand years ago the material conditions required for socialism simply didn’t exist.  More important from a Marxist point of view, the conditions that did exist (primitive productive forces, slave labour, widespread illiteracy and superstition) meant that he would not have been able to imagine a socialist society of common ownership and free access – had he existed, of course, which is doubtful.

Ideas don’t spring from nowhere. Before ideas of a new society can be contemplated, material conditions that can give rise to those ideas must be in place. As Marx put it, “mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for it’s solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation” and “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” (quotations from the preface to ‘The Critique of Political Economy’ 1859).

A light-hearted example of this is provided by one of the dialogues of the ancient satirist, Lucian. In his True History (of which he admits not a word is true) he describes an imaginary trip to the moon. Although he was a clever and witty storyteller, he was writing in the 2nd century CE, and the most technically advanced forms of travel familiar to him and which he could have imagined were powered by horse, oar or sail.  Living nearly 1,700 years before Stephenson’s Rocket, therefore, he was unable to imagine or equip his characters with even a steam-driven sky rocket, and so his moon voyage was made in an ordinary sailing ship which was whisked into the air by a powerful whirlwind and blown through the sky for seven days.

An excellent pamphlet dealing with Historical Materialism and a Marxist analysis of religion is John Keracher’s How The Gods Were Made originally published in 1929 (and, if you haven’t read it, now available from The Socialist Party).

Right! That’s quite enough classical culture and Marxian theory from the Halo Halo column. Next month it’s back to ridiculing the ridiculous again.