My son asked: “I don’t understand the term ‘conservative christian’ because Jesus was a socialist.” My reply follows.
Christianity (the religion of the 1st century reform Jews that myth and history have coalesced into the single character of “Jesus Christ”) was founded as an aspiration for personal salvation from earthly slavery, that is to say liberation from Roman Imperial rule and occupation: it is a slave’s religion. Since Rome was omnipotent on Earth, so far as the people of the Mediterranean were concerned at the time, the “liberation” and “salvation” from their earthly enslavement and oppression had to be visualized as on a metaphysical plane: heaven. Christianity borrowed its structure of a “sky god” religion from the Greeks (God the Father, from Zeus) and the Egyptians (Jesus Christ resurrected, from Osiris), its practical morality from Buddhism (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), and its Christian “charity” from Buddhist “compassion.”
The reason Christianity spread so quickly was because so many people were experiencing the same sorts of oppression and had the same sort of aspiration, and the organization of the Roman Empire allowed for the rapid (for the time) transmission of ideas over a vast geographical expanse. Just as today, “middle class” Romans, that is to say people who were not actual slaves and who might have occupations (jobs) within the Roman bureaucracy and economy, could feel insecure in their employment (like in our gig economy) and trapped economically (like our living paycheck-to-paycheck, and afraid to leave a dissatisfying job for fear of being unable to replace its income, hence trapped in specific kinds of work and particular locations). Also, most of Rome’s citizens and subjects had no control over how they would be taxed (and taxes kept increasing, and failure to pay could cause immediate confiscation of a family’s property and material goods, as well as males sold into labor slavery and daughters sold into sex slavery).
So, the aspiration for liberation from the existing system extended up from the chattel slaves through to the ranks of the proletariat (poor landless freemen), on into the plebeian class (commoners with some economic substance – which for some was extensive – but no aristocratic family roots, though some plebes did gain high position and honors, even to the point of becoming Caesars). It all depended on how insecure, oppressed and hopeless a person felt.
Those on top, the patricians (like America’s dismal aristocratic families: the Morgans, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Mellons, Harrimans, and maybe the Kennedys), and the highly successful plebes (like our even more dismal ‘self-made’ successes such as the Kennedys, Heinzs, Kochs, Trumps, Waltons, and on down from the Clintons), would all be most resistant to adopting the slave religion of Christianity (in Roman times, today it would be socialism and communism) in place of their fealty to the state religion they enjoyed being the supreme beneficiaries of (in Roman times the elevation of Caesar to a god, and in our time the Milton Friedman-neocon religion of “free market” corporate-over-people capitalism).
As the integrity of the Roman Empire decayed (more wars to fight off German invasions), and as a result its prosperity diminished and its oppression and taxation of the lower classes and foreign subjects deepened, there was a corresponding increase in the popularity of Christianity, the religion of personal salvation. By the time of the Caesar Constantine, so many of the Romans were Christians that even Constantine converted and the majority Christianized Romans replaced their Greek-derived religion (Jupiter being Zeus, etc.) with Christianity as the state religion, while keeping the hierarchical political and social structure of the empire, that is to say, they didn’t reform the state to be “socialist” and primarily democratic. Instead, Christianity was practiced as a hierarchical religion suitable to a hierarchical and imperialist state.
This Christian “divine right of kings” state religion is what swept through Europe from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains from the 4th century into early medieval times and became the foundation of all European cultures up until at least the 19th century (the Communist Manifesto appeared in 1848). The religion of “Jesus Christ” may have been the religion of the slaves and “socialized” (as opposed to competitive) people of the underclasses of the 1st Century (AD or CE), but it became the state religion of the feudal and very hierarchical European Kingdoms that arose after the 4th Century.
Much of the disconnect between the original “Sermon on the Mount” aspect of Christian “charity,” “compassion” and even “socialism,” and its too often application (since the 4th Century) as exclusionary social, intolerance (even bigoted), and tax-avoidance clubs can be traced to this history. There is a fundamental conflict between a slave religion based on eliminating misery by equalizing wealth (i.e., a popular upwelling of “compassion,” “charity,” and “socialism”), and an imperial state religion based on a hierarchy of rights and privileges, which descend in diminishing proportions from an all-powerful sky-god.
“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” It is impossible to remain a rich man (or woman) and practice 1st Century Christianity. It is so easy to practice imperial state Christianity and be rapaciously capitalist and militarist, and self-righteously claim to be a “good person” because of the original 1st Century “peace,” “love,” and “charity” form of Christianity.