Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Socialism versus Christianity

A socialist is a man who implores the Government to take money from people richer than he is and give it to people poorer than he is and who thinks he is virtuous because he asks for nothing for himself. This fact is allowed to overshadow the inconvenient truth that he also demands nothing of himself. All his virtue is external; all he must do is write a few letters, vote for the right party and receive the congratulations of his enlightened friends for having fulfilled his Christian duty to society. Such a man, of course, deceives himself and does not understand the meaning of Christianity at all.

The Bible talks a lot about the poor and the needy and commands believers (Israel in the OT and the Church in the NT) to give alms and work to improve the conditions in which poor people live. The Bible says nothing about the Christian demanding that the Government do it for us. The role of Government in passages like Rom. 13 is to enforce justice. The Government must prevent or punish crime, establish a level playing field and eliminate oppression of the weak by the strong (insofar as that is possible in a fallen world). Of course, any Government which does these things will help poor people immensely, primarily by giving all poor people a chance to escape poverty, or at least to see their children do so. But none of this, take note, has anything to do with socialism.

The Church is called to take care of widows, orphans, the weak, the poor, and the disabled and Acts 2 gives us a snapshot of the early Church doing exactly that. Christians are to give sacrificially of their time and money to help those in need. Socialism is a political doctrine designed to eliminate the need to do that. Moreover, socialism today is opposed to caring for the weakest among us and in fact sanctions their murder if they are inconvenient.

Yet, for most Christians who have obtained higher education the idea that of course a Christian must be a socialist in politics is so obvious and self-evident that anyone who questions it must be ignorant, selfish or mad. Yet, millions of Eastern Europeans and Russians rejoiced to be set free from the chains of the most thoroughly-implemented, large-scale socialist experiment so far in history. Perhaps, instead of the USSR crumbling, it would have been better if the oppressed masses of the Soviet Empire could have simply changed places with the Western intelligentsia that so openly admired socialism. Then everyone would be happy.

Since it is primarily university-educated Christians who accept socialism as self-evident and others who do not, many observers of culture come to the conclusion that all smart people understand that socialism is good and that stupid or ignorant people fail to get it. This theory is premised on the assumption that people who attend universities are smarter than those who don't, which I think is a rather dubious assumption, as one who grades papers in university. Could there be another theory? Could it be that the liberal culture of universities, which is in the air one breathes and the water one drinks in those social settings, is the source of the socialist ideas that liberals love to flaunt as "daring violations of the conventions of liberalism?" In other words, is socialism simply the "group think" of a certain class, part of the radical image that (particularly young) social conformists so love to cultivate? Could it actually be a character flaw? Is not a character that asks others to implement justice and asks nothing of himself a flawed character? Be that as it may, it certainly is not Christianity applied to social life.


Amy said...

Never thought of that before... that the difference between early Christian "socialism" and the world's socialism is the difference between practicing vs. avoiding virtue. Thanks for the thoughts!

Wes said...

I agree, somewhat. From Matthew 25:14-30, however, we may discern that each of us MUST multiply the talent He has given us, not merely bury it in the ground (the socialist experiment gone bad) - - it involves risk, faith, perseverence, and therefore courage, which is antithetical to socialism. Should we go through this 200-year learning curve all over again, just in case we missed the lesson the first time around? I hope not.

theotherright said...

Doesn't the socialist you straw-man in your first paragraph have to pay higher taxes? And doesn't that, by conservative reasoning, constitute a real, concrete sacrifice on his part? (Particularly if he's not actually being benefited by socialist policies, as you imply?)

Craig Carter said...

theotherright (whoever you are),
I admit that in some cases the person could be honestly be expecting to pay higher taxes himself and receive no benefit; but in other (most) cases this would not be true.

Given that politicans, when trying to get elected, usually do everything in their power to pretend that they do not intend to raise taxes (even when they do) and, in fact, often consider being labelled a "tax-raiser" to be a killer label, I think it is safe to assume that reliable polling shows that most people don't want higher taxes. So I would argue that the kind of person I describe is not a straw man, but is in fact one of the majority. The noble willing-to-be-taxed to fix the problem of unequal income person you put forward is surely a a member of a small minority. So your point is valid, but only for a small minority of people. I think most people who call for expanding the welfare state are assuming that the government can raise the necessary money by taxing "rich people" (meaning people richer than me.)

theotherright said...

1.) If you're going to make blanket statements about the psychology of socialists, then you should include caveats, because they do matter, particularly where taxation is concerned. But if you're willing to concede the point, then I'll drop it.

2.) Socialism requires more than just taxation of the rich: it requires taxation on everybody. I don't know where you're getting this idea that a socialist doesn't believe in middle class taxation, since that's just a given for all economies with any measure of government whatsoever.

3.) I'd also take issue with your conflation of communism and socialism here. There are worlds of difference between Soviet (or non-Soviet) Russia and Denmark, especially on the abortion front.

Craig Carter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig Carter said...

I'm curious. How are Communism and Socialism different on abortion?