Socialism is one of the most popular political words of our time. It also seems to be one of the most misunderstood and misused.
In a thoughtful piece by Benjamin L. Corey over on the Patheos blog Formerly Fundie. Corey discusses why America is not a socialist country and the moral failure of the church to take care of the vulnerable, calling it the churches job to do so.
Corey’s argument basically hovers around the idea that we have government programs such as The Affordable Care Act and food stamps because the church is not providing these services as they should be and that we would see a change or shift away from such programs.
Corey’s argument is flawed for two major reasons and I will tackle one at a time. First, why these programs should exist regardless of the church providing similar services or not, and secondly that though he keeps repeating that America is not a socialist country, that much of America’s ideals are in fact rooted in its deep history of socialism.
Corey writes that those who support the ACA or other government programs are not socialist and are simply realists who recognize the failings of the church, and references the Bible as evidence that this is how Christians should be living:
I think the vast majority of folks in my camp would love to see folks taken care of by way of private charity instead of government bureaucracy. The early Christians accomplished this within their own communities- they rejected personal ownership, pooled their money together, and redistributed their wealth to the point of eradicating poverty in those communities (Acts 2:44-45, 4:34).
This is all fine, except that it is fantasy and the work of fiction. Christians who wrote the Bible may have advocated for this (which in fact is communism they are describing), this isn’t based in reality.
Ignoring that however, we must look at the governments role in a country and the churches. In the US, we are a secular nation, we keep the church and state separate, and while individuals are free to seek help from their church, the church actually has no role and should have no role in helping the public if those people do not seek their help.
If I need medical care, I should not be forced to look for a church who can offer me assistance, in fact I believe the government should be offering universal healthcare to care for those needs. One should not need to seek charity from a religious organization they may not belong to.
The church also has too long of a history of discrimination. Imagine a scenario were we must rely on church charity to pay off medical bills or find food. Can you imagine if I, a vocal anti-theist asked church goers for money? I cannot think of too many scenarios where that goes well (maybe some Unitarian congregation).
Even if every single church offered charity to those who needed it, the government should never stop offering the same.
The church would be better off as advocates for universal programs and supporting “socialism” because it would ensure the health of all people, equally and would not need to rely on begging for more and more donations. The church could be left to do its job, which is to offer religious guidance and comfort to those who seek it and allow the federal government to do its job and take care of the people in its country.
Now let’s look at the claim repeated time and time again by Corey that we are not socialists.
Yes, it is true, American is a capitalist country, but we are not a free-market economy. Our capitalism is regulated (though recent years this regulation has been dismantled). Why is our capitalist economy regulated? Because of early communist and socialist movements inside the US. They fought and unionized, demanding minimum wage, the 8-hour workday, vacation time, sick time, workman’s comp, weekends, unemployment insurance, and the list continues. They fought to ensure workers rights were recognized and removed power from the capitalist class to exploit the worker.
Social Security, food stamps, and the Postal Service are all examples of socialism in the US. Yes, they are not socialism in its pure form, but they are programs inspired by and created with the help of and ideals of the socialist movement and early socialist parties.
Corey implies a few times that the ACA is socialist, and rejects that by endorsing it he is a socialist. The truth is, even if he accepted he was a socialist, the ACA is not a socialist piece of legislation. The ACA provides health insurance, socialism advocates for healthcare, universally without the need for insurance. The ACA is run by insurance companies, they compete for your business and you pay them for specific services in which you can afford. Universal healthcare eliminates competition and ensures everyone gets the treatment and care they need, regardless of what they are paying in.
Simply put, the US is more socialist than most people are comfortable admitting, and most Americans lack a proper history of just how crucial a role socialism and even communism played in shaping our country. Most Americans are even unaware the crucial role Karl Marx himself played in convincing Abraham Lincoln that slavery in the US needed to ended.
The US does not need the churches to step in and take programs back from the government, it needs to allow the government to do its job and stop interfering and accusing the government of being socialist (usually the Christian right) and claiming that these programs should be church controlled.
I have argued in the past that Jesus was a Marxist, and it is a position I still hold (regardless of his existence or not). His character fits into what we would call a Marxist today, and the church should jump on board and realize how beneficial a more socialist government could be to the people it claims to care so much about.
(Image: “Socialists in Union Square, N.Y.C.” by The Library of Congress / Public Domain)