Greg Paul, whose work on dinosaurs I find most interesting, has a blog entry on the Washington Post site on another kind of dinosaur – Christian socialists. He notes that the current American Christian obsession with capitalism is quite contrary to the early church and possibly Jesus’ own social philosophy, but more in line with that ardent atheist, Ayn Rand’s.
All true. But Greg makes the following passing comment:
But to understand just how non-capitalistic Christianity is supposed to be we turn to the first chapter after the gospels, Acts, which describes the events of the early church. Chapters 2 and 4 state that all “the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need… No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…. There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”
Now folks, that’s outright socialism of the type described millennia later by Marx – who likely got the general idea from the gospels.
Actually, no, I doubt Marx got it from the Gospels. More than likely his immediate source was the utopian socialism of the European movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which in all probability came from the Moravian Brethren and the Diggers and Levellers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Tracing these sorts of influences in history is hard (as Marx himself knew), but the Levellers and Diggers in particular have been identified by historian Christopher Hill as proto-Marxists. Both Marx and Engels referred to them in several works, for example The German Ideology Bk II, ch 1.
The influence of the Gospels on modern thought is both protean and procrustean. It is protean in that, as with the entirety of sacred writings, it can be made to support any and all social philosophies, and so it explains almost nothing about them. It is procrustean in that each generation trims the sacred writings to serve the current economic, social and ideological interests. In that respect, Marx was right on. Appealing to the Bible (or any other single source) to explain social movements, as if all we needed was the right intellectual trigger to behave in a certain fashion, is a case of “false consciousness“.
That said, I agree with the main thesis Greg puts out there.