Candida Moss on the Socialist Jesus

The way she’s being treated by conservatives, you’d think she was the Pope Francis of the left.

Here’s what happens: Big person says something big. Media picks out bits and pieces of the things said. Everyone concludes that the person said something that the person didn’t say.

This has been the narrative that conservative writers have been painting of media coverage of Pope Francis. They’re right to express concern. Pope Francis did say: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Pope Francis didn’t say: “The Church is going to change its teachings on gay marriage.” Pope Francis did say that atheists were redeemed. He didn’t say that they were all going to heaven (there’s a big theological difference; also, he didn’t say that they weren’t going to heaven).

After every statement, interview, and speech, Catholic bloggers and writers have picked apart Pope Francis’ words to clarify what he said and what he didn’t say, what he meant and what he didn’t mean, what words he used and what words he didn’t use. Because Pope Francis is pope and because he has a solid record of strict adherence to orthodoxy, Catholic writers have always been careful to point out, through constant exegesis, how his words adhere to their understandings of orthodoxy. These bloggers are right: if you look at the substance of Pope Francis’ words, you’ll find that they do come out of orthodox Church teaching.

Catholic bloggers don’t extend their generous exegesis to people who are not the pope. Consider Notre Dame professor Candida Moss’s recent comments on Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Jesus. In a review of the book, Dr. Moss argues:

The basic argument of the book is that Jesus died because he interfered with the taxation-heavy Roman revenue stream. The reason the Jews eagerly anticipated the Messiah, writes O’Reilly, is, “When that moment arrives, Rome will be defeated and their lives will be free of taxation and want.”

She continues:

The most striking part of O’Reilly’s biography is what is left out… The single most consistent social teaching in the New Testament is that Christians must support the poor, widows, and orphans, but this hardly gets a mention in Killing Jesus.

O’Reilly eventually invited Dr. Moss to discuss his book on The O’Reilly Factor. In it, she admitted to agreeing with a tweet that Jesus was a socialist, although she complicated this statement by also stating that “socialist” is an anachronistic (historically out of context) term.  Applying the “liberal media” interpretation of these comments would lead us to conclude that Dr. Moss thinks that Jesus is, deep down, leading his followers to socialism and would have voted for Barack Obama. If we applied the “Catholic blogger” interpretation, we might conclude with Dr. Moss’s actual words, “Jesus is not a free market capitalist. Jesus is someone who thinks that our primary obligation is to other people.”

Dr. Moss may be a socialist who thinks that Jesus is, deep down, a socialist. However, if we read her actual words, we might find that her ideas are much more nuanced than this anachronistic term. The problem is, Catholic bloggers are treating Dr. Moss like the liberal media is treating Pope Francis. They splice her words, sloppily interpret, and try to frame her as “just another liberal.”

She might be a liberal, but she’s hardly “just another liberal.” Consider a strange fact one of my friends pointed out:

“One aspect of this that is especially sad is that, whatever one thinks of Prof. Moss’s positions on the political implications of Christ’s teaching and the historical veracity of various martyrdom accounts (or the subsequent uses of said accounts), nothing she says (as far as I know) goes against any defined dogmas or doctrines of the Church. [One conservative Catholic blogger, name removed] is mocking her (and affirming at least some of the mockery among his readers in the comment section) over positions that seem to me to be neither heretical nor theologically dissenting, but historical and political.”

Here’s another interview with Dr. Moss in which she talks about conservative and liberal theology professors at Notre Dame.

And here’s the exchange with O’Reilly on Jesus as a socialist:

O’Reilly: “I’m going to tell you that saying Jesus was a socialist, which you did in a twitter thing, is not theologically sound.”

Moss: “I did not say that Jesus was a socialist. I retweeted someone else’s tweet that said“-

O’Reilly: “And you said yes.”

Moss: “I agreed… And I agree that it’s an anachronistic term… but Jesus says very clearly, Bill—and we have to agree on this—that in order to go to heaven you must give away your possessions.”

5 comments on “Candida Moss on the Socialist Jesus

  1. Why did you remove the name of the cited conservative blogger? Are you serious? You think we shouldn’t be reading the discussion? Rather you should just tell us about it? Don’t want to add to the bloggers hit count? Please.


    • Chris Damian

      Thanks for your comment. I had originally included the name of the blogger, but the friend I was quoting asked that I remove it. I certainly don’t mind you reading the blogger’s discussion. If you google search it, the post shouldn’t be hard to find.


  2. Pingback: On No Longer Being a “Conservative” | Ideas of a University

  3. I have no quarrel with Candida Moss, but surely the remark to the rich young man about giving away one’s possessions was not offered as a general statement, even though it has been embedded in Matthew 19 between remarks about giving up various good but worldly things. [slightly less so in Mark 10 and Luke 18]

    Not everyone who forsakes “houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands,” is expected to be sitting on the twelve thrones. And Origen regretted becoming one of the “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.”


  4. I’ve just watched her interview with Stuart Varney, on Fox Business (link above), where she was careful to make lots of qualifying remarks. Perhaps not as many as a historical scholar of the text would have made, in different directions.

    The moneychangers’ tables, for example, might have been set in the context not of Roman taxes but of the position of the Sadducee elite living on the proceeds of Temple donations, in contrast to the scholarly Pharisees. The undercurrent of the conflict between the two groups, and the relative closeness of Jesus to the latter, is easily missed in the Gospel texts.

    I suspect that she was interrupted, when speaking of the Notre Dame faculty, just before she was about to say that ND is home to one of the founders of liberation theology. Given a little more space, she might also have expanded on the social teaching of the Catholic Church.


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