Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Socialist Temptation I: Introduction

Socialism is bad and Christians should oppose it in the name of justice for everyone, including the poor.

That is my thesis, counter intuitive as it might be. I know very well that everywhere you turn these days you hear about how we Christians should be concerned about the poor and how Evangelicals have not had the proper level of concern historically. The assumption, so widespread as to assume the form of a working consensus, is that if anyone is concerned about the poor he should be open to socialism. I propose that anyone who is concerned about the poor must strenuously oppose socialism.

Socialism has for nearly two centuries now loudly proclaimed its concern for the downtrodden, the dispossessed and the poor. Marxism is presented as a humanistic ideology that takes the side of the weak against the entrenched interests, the rich capitalists and the bourgeoise. From Ron Sider to Jim Wallis to Rowan Williams to Liberation Theology to Tommy Douglas to the NDP to Gordon Brown to Hugo Chavez to the Democratic Party to Barack Obama - all of them stand on the left side of the political spectrum and are therefore presumed to be "on the side of the poor."

If you accuse any of these types of people of condoning the crimes of Stalin, Lenin, Mao etc. they indignantly invoke the distinction between democratic socialism and Stalinism - even though they all acknowledge their debt to the ideas of Karl Marx.

One can plot a line with Stalinism on the extreme left, Social Democracy next to it, the Welfare State next and then Liberal Democracy. Where does a conservative politics fit in this scheme? And where does Fascism fit? Well, as much as leftists would like to convince you that Fascism is a right-wing movement, it is really a left-wing movement very similar to Communism except that Fascism is nationalistic, whereas Communism is an internationalist movement. To be conservative, on the other hand, is to be as far from the left side of the spectrum as possible - it is to regard the pre-modern, Western understanding of the state, politics and economics as superior to the two great modern political philosophies (and pseudo-religions): Communism and Liberalism.

In a series of posts, I would like to tilt at a more than a few windmills by challenging four entrenched ideas: (1) that socialism helps the poor, (2) that social democracy and the welfare state are actually real alternatives to socialism, (3) that socialism is supported by the Bible and (4) that socialism is compatible with Christian orthodoxy.

I can give a brief outline of this series of posts as follows.

First, I would like to argue that socialism hurts the poor most of all and its loud claims of helping the poor constitute an ideology that actually masks the self-interests of a class of bureaucrats and party elites. Socialism claims to help the poor but this has not happened, is not happening and will never happen. Socialism destroys the conditions under which societies can become wealthier and improve their standard of living.

Secondly, I want to argue that the welfare state and social democracy are just partially implemented socialist programs that have been impeded by conservative resistance and the only reason countries that have implemented them have not collapsed as most socialist countries have is that the residual and continuing liberalism, capitalism and conservatism in those countries saves them from the economic fate of Eastern Europe or Cuba. The fact that Sweden has no Gulag and has not collapsed economically is due mainly to the continuing presence of conservative economic and political elements in Sweden that prevent disaster even though they are not often in the majority.

Thirdly, I want to argue that the Bible warns against the collectivism and statism inherent in all socialism (and fascism) and supports the creation of a distributist economic system, the division of powers, limited government, a crucial role for the Church in society and free enterprise. The Old Testament is a textbook study in the dangers of statism with Israel trying to be a free society in contrast to the top-down empires all around her. The institution of kingship in Israel represents centralized power, central planning and the loss of freedom. And it aroused the wrath of the prophets.

Fourthly, I want to suggest that socialism is a Christian heresy built on false doctrines of sin and eschatology. In the New Testament, we discover a doctrine of sin in the doctrine of atonement that gives the lie to all utopianism and all human efforts to build the kingdom of God on earth. We also find an eschatology that gives us hope for justice and peace - but not until Christ returns in judgment. In the meantime, we are called to journey through this world as aliens and to seek the peace of the city in which we live. But we are never to confuse this earthly city with the heavenly one. We are to seek relative justice, relative peace and relative equality all the while being realistic enough to understand that absolute justice, peace and equality lie beyond the grasp of fallen man.

In this series of posts, I want to reinforce one simple truth as of central importance. Socialism is statist and the worship of the state has been throughout history the biggest and most important form of idolatry. In this lies its danger to the spiritual life of the Christian. Socialism is a Christian heresy that leads to idolatry. And the sooner this fact is grasped the better for anyone wishing to avoid heresy and idolatry and serve God faithfully.

This is a series of blog posts and is not intended to be as nuanced and documented as a scholarly article or book. The purpose is to sketch out a Christian worldview in which the socialist temptation is exposed to the light of day. The purpose is not to deny the necessity of charity, the need for Christians to help the poor and the downtrodden or to justify middle class indifference to widows, orphans and the disabled. Far from it. The goal is to prevent us from adopting an ideology that loudly proclaims its concern for the poor as an ideological mask for a different agenda and to let support for that ideology become a substitute for genuine Christian charity. The greatest threat to Christian faithfulness in social ethics today is muddy thinking about socialism.

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