Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jesus & Marx: On The Purity Of Poverty

A Matter of Faith

In this article, George Jochnowitz examines the similarities between the teachings of Jesus and Karl Marx, notably as it applies to the doctrine of poverty and its agreement with purity of faith. While many Christians today reject this teaching; they are neither poor nor advocate poverty, it remains in the Christian canon as part of the original teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Marxism drew some of its inspiration from Christianity and from the fertile soil of nineteenth century Christian Europe; and today much of liberal Christianity (e.g., liberation theology) is Marxist in nature. It is important to note that Karl Marx's father, a Jew, had converted to Christianity a year or so before Karl was born, doing so for practical economic reasons; even so, Marx had always identified himself as an atheist, and like all unhappy radicals rejected all past traditions. As Prof. Jochnowitz writes: "Marxism failed because it is cruel; it is cruel because it is a Christian sect. Like Christianity, Marxism rejects the needs of this world as selfish. Like Christianity, Marxism predicts an inevitable future when everything will be perfect and disagreement will end."

by George Jochnowitz

"For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25), said Jesus. "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle," says the Communist Manifesto.

Jesus and Marx agree on this question. Poor is pure; the poor will enter the kingdom of heaven; the proletariat will win the class struggle leading to the inevitable arrival of the final stage of history: communism.

Poverty is beautiful. This is the conclusion that must be drawn by those who believe the poor are better than the rich. A Christian who decides to enter a nunnery or a monastery in order to serve God must take a vow of poverty.

Capitalism was considered bad not simply because it oppressed the poor, but because those who lived under capitalism desired to be rich; they were selfish. In a socialist society, on the other hand, nobody should desire to be richer than anyone else. Poverty is a sacrifice that the people should make for the benefit of society as a whole. Somehow there was no understanding of the fact that society was composed of the same people who were called upon to sacrifice for society. If poverty is beautiful, sacrifice then becomes an end in itself.

Marxism failed because it is cruel; it is cruel because it is a Christian sect. Like Christianity, Marxism rejects the needs of this world as selfish. Like Christianity, Marxism predicts an inevitable future when everything will be perfect and disagreement will end. And like Christianity when it had the power to do so, Marxism sentences heretics to death.

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at

Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz.   It is republished here with the author's permission.


  1. I feel there is some element of rational argument to Prof. Jochnowitz's interesting articles.
    However, in this, and in previous contributions I make the observation that he seems to base his implicit assumptions about those affiliated with the Christian religion, and indeed, the religion itself, on stale stereotypes.
    He does this skilfully, usually citing some historical fact, or suitable, out-of context excerpt from a religious text just prior to brandishing a lethal non-sequitur comment maligning anything associated with ‘Christian’ or ‘Christianity’, as though his conclusion were rooted in sound logic, and logically followed his original premise.
    For example, using Professor Jonchowitz's general logic, if I were to say: "Capitalism is cruel. It is cruel because it is a Jewish sect." I would probably inspire outrage at some adherents who, though they'd agree that Capitalism can be cruel, depending on the practitioners, Judaism is neither cruel, nor does it in its true forms spawn cruel sects with cruel adherents as it's progeny.
    When I look at my Jewish neighbours, I see only family-oriented people. Unselfish, kind, compassionate. As are my 'Christian' neighbours. Their minds are not rooted in bitterness or cruel dogma, which is what I feel Professor Jochnowitz likes to imply.
    He usually cites some outrageous, absolutely horrific factually accurate scenario in the long historical mistreatment of Jews, usually perpetrated by ‘Christian’ characters through the ages. Fine. But then he lumps all 'Christians' and all of 'Christianity' into a subtly judgmental authoritative pronouncement, reducing the religion to a despicable caricature of reality - a religion, we must conclude, populated by miscreants and Jew-haters.
    I wonder if my 'Christian' neighbours are Marxist Jew haters. I hear on good authority that their religion is cruel. No wonder they are so nice. Just like the Marxists. (Or the Nazis, by logical extension?)
    Perhaps they want to forcibly convert me with their common guile – me, an easy target. An unbeliever with a 'Christian' heritage.
    Unfortunately, Professor Jochnowitz seems to betray a certain disdain for others who don't share his bitter and explicit anti-'Christian' opinions. I feel he would do well to temper his flippant, illogical and intellectually condescending remarks about ‘Christians/Christianity’.
    Otherwise, he sometimes makes fascinating connections between the rest of the facts.

    1. Mr. O'Brien:

      I will let Prof Jochnowitz respond to your comment, but I add the following note: capitalism is not a religious sect but an economic system that nations choose to adopt. It's also important to note, as I did in the intro to the article, that particular liberal sects of Christianity have unwisely incorporated Marxist doctrine in the form of liberation theology into their practices and beliefs.

  2. People are good. Jews are good. Christians are good. However, faith in dogma can lead people to do evil because they are misled into thinking that doing evil is virtuous. Suicide bombers are a perfect example of this.

  3. Perry,

    You say, in rebuttal to my comments, that Capitalism is not a religious sect. Agreed. Neither is Marxism a Christian sect.
    If I understand correctly, your defense of Professor Jonchnowitz’s logic is that, since an element within Christendom, 'unwisely incorporated Marxist doctrine...into their practices and beliefs,' it follows therefore, that Marxism is a sect – a sub-category - within Christianity?
    Rather than judicious use of Christian scripture coupled with sound logic, Professor Jonchnowitz simply uses a familiar twist of rhetoric, and the invalid assertion that Marxist sacrifice is equivalent to 'Christian' self-sacrifice - and therefore a cruel end in itself, he says - in order to usher in his spurious conclusion that therefore, " cruel because it is a Christian sect."
    According to Jesus’ teaching, all acts of sacrifice or service to others were to be done as acts of worship of God. ‘That God would be glorified’ in words attributed to Jesus, spoken when healing others.
    Putting others first, therefore, was to be done, not as an end in itself as Professor Jochnowitz claims, but rather, in a spirit of love, trusting the promise of Jesus that, in the here and now, it would result in personal blessing, and bring personal joy to the doer. The declaration by Jesus that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ does not disregard or disavow the worth of a present temporal existence and the tangible personal rewards related to personal well being in the present tense.
    "Give and it will be given to you." In other words, ‘What goes around comes around’, or ‘You reap what you sow’ would be the clear New Testament rebuttal of Professor Jonchnowitz’s argument, when he compares Marxism to Christianity, saying that in each case, “Somehow there was no understanding of the fact that society was composed of the same people who were called upon to sacrifice for society. If poverty is beautiful, sacrifice then becomes an end in itself.”
    I might agree with Prof Joncchnowitz's opinions. I may even defend them. But the non-sequitur he commits in concluding that the teachings of Jesus somehow spawned a perverse and peculiar Christian sect called Marxism is both glaring, and suspect. If unprejudiced logic is to prevail, then such a conclusion is indefensible. And such an assertion is unworthy of a man of Jochnowitz’s scholarly stature.


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