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Was Jesus a Socialist?

What didn’t register at the first screening was the profound theological message Michael Moore, a devout Catholic, wires into his new film.
Outside a Traverse City, Michigan, theatre. Photo courtesy

Outside a Traverse City, Michigan, theatre. Photo courtesy

According toVariety’s weekend tally of boffo box office receipts, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story took in nearly $4.9-million in its first weekend of national release. While far more people went to see Zombieland than screened what Time magazine’s Mary Corbliss called Moore’s “magnum opus”, enough tickets were sold to land his frequently biting, often hilarious and totally frightening indictment of free markets run amok at number six on Variety’s list of the weekend’s most popular films – rare for a documentary but common for Moore and beating Fame, The Informant, and Love Happens while tying with Whip It in the process.

I went to see Capitalism at a four o’clock show Sunday afternoon, the second time I’d seen the picture. Living in Toronto, I was startled to see the theatre more than half-filled; although I recognised a few familiar faces from Democrats Abroad, the audience was Canadian and I didn’t realize my adopted country would be so interested in Moore’s ripping apart America’s soft but well-paid and stock option-laden underbelly. Apparently so: Last night, CBC NewsWorld aired Sicko uncut, Moore’s searing denunciation of the US health care system, in prime time.

Intriguing Question
I saw Capitalism again because I suspected I missed a lot when I screened it before the Toronto Film Festival. Then, it had me roiling with anger-bordering-rage like many people who watched it on opening night. In a mass e-mail Saturday morning, Moore wrote to friends:

“One manager … said, ‘It's a good thing we carry (candy) at the concession stand instead of pitchforks and torches! These crowds were ready to march over to the local Citibank and do something!’ Another manager said a crowd in the lobby formed around the little Chase ATM machine next to his popcorn stand and started to ‘yell at it.’"

Sunday afternoon I discovered I was right; I missed a lot and watched it more dispassionately.

What didn’t register at the first screening was the profound theological message Moore, a devout Catholic, wires into the film. He doesn’t do it in a way that even remotely resembles what the evangelical right does on a daily basis, treating God and Jesus like the personal Mr. Fix-It of believing evangelicals and, by extension, the world if it only accepted The Word The Way Evangelicals Know It.

Indeed, Moore makes it plain that he has no use for Christians – including Catholics – who use “Jesus” as a banner to argue against everything from eliminating poverty, taxes, science, abortion, immigration, health care reform and illegal wars. But he poses an intriguingly serious question that reviewers – including me – almost entirely overlook:

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Was Jesus a Socialist?
For people of other faiths, it might be more appropriate to ask whether Moses had a progressive agenda? Could it be that Mohammad was a lefty? For non-believers or those who question the whole idea of religion, the question might be put more aptly as, “Can anyone with an ounce of humanity in them think it’s alright to pass laws and enact regulations that allows stealing from the poor to give to the rich?”

Heavy Hitters
Moore trots out some heavy hitting priests – including two Bishops – to answer in the affirmative: Yes, Jesus was a socialist. Although I’m not religious and wasn’t raised in a religious home, let alone a Christian one, I took enough comparative religion classes to remember that stuff about giving to the poor, the fishes and loaves, rich men squeezing through needle eyes and all the rest.

Judaism is on the same page, even if pre-dates Christianity by a few millennia and there aren’t any Holy Ghosts rumbling around in its dark hallways.

The Old Testament legislates laws that are a sort of tax for the benefit of the poor. The institution of the sabbatical year was so "that the poor of the people may eat" as well as to cancel debts about which the warning was given, "If there be among you a needy man, one of your brethren, within thy gates, in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother …”

Even the Quran insists that Moslems have a special duty to take care of the needy, the less fortunate and the downtrodden.

Come to think of it, it’s really only right wingers in the US – which often means Christian fundy’s – who’ve perverted religion to argue for small, ineffective government, tax breaks only for the wealthiest, health care only for the healthiest, food only for the fullest, good schools only for the smartest, and clean air or water only for those who pollute.

I’m not here to start an argument over how to interpret religions but rather to point out that Moore’s real issue isn’t that capitalism needs destroying but that it has lost way. It has wandered too far from its basic, religious roots in helping ensure not just economic and social equality but a leveling of the great breach that’s opened between the rich and everyone else.


Since many on the right keep insisting that “America is a Christian nation,” maybe it is time for them – for the nation – to start acting more like Christians. If Jesus existed – even as a historical figure and forgetting about the fairy tale of him springing from the womb of a virgin as god’s son – I’m convinced, like Michael Moore, that Jesus was a socialist.

Charley James
The Progressive Curmudgeon