I was brought up to see communism as the brain child of Satan and the economic system practiced in hell. I was also told socialism was its slippery slope. Socialism was a high tower, with high ideals, and if one climbed to the top, there was a slippery slide that took one, ass over tea kettle, pell-mell, into the smoldering ruins of Hades itself. Looking back, that seems a bit extreme now.
Growing up, I read books and heard sermons extolling the virtues of capitalism and the “free” market. We were told that this one economic system, was “clearly” the one the Bible favored and even prescribed. Putting aside the anachronism, isn’t it amazing how our economic system was God breathed, while the one of our enemy, at the time, the other, was surely of the devil.
We seem to be unable to consider socialism apart from the atheistic communism of history, of the old Soviet Union, especially if we are of a certain age. I don’t think many younger people have this problem, but I know for many of us who grew up during the Cold War, they seem to be of one piece. The taint is very strong. We can hardly think of one, without the other. One was “godless” and led to economic disaster and is associated with all the other horrors of that now dead regime. Why trust anything associated with it?
To continue to link them however, is hardly reasonable or wise. Communism and socialism are not the same. One is not necessarily a slippery slope to the other. Any accidents of history or links to atheism, and drawing hard and fast conclusions, is probably not wise in arguing sole cause or key factor. While it bothers us greatly, because we so want the Bible to justify our political and economic systems, we should make our peace with the fact the Bible is hardly prescriptive when it comes to modern, western ideas in either sphere.
If one were so inclined, he could use the Bible to make a case for probably every major political and economic school of thought out there. The Bible’s protean nature (or, I should say, our nature really) makes it all too easy for us to read it as justifying and giving credence to, the economic system we already believed, and were brought up to believe, was superior to all others. It is very easy to read the Bible as justifying what we have always been taught, or already believed to be the case.My suggestion would be, not that we search the Scripture for prescriptions specific to economics per se, as if some verses could establish a pure, certain, and concrete view, but that we bring our economic theories under the wider umbrella of the Christian narrative understood comprehensively. Simply throwing some verses together (proof texting), or taking some random Old or New Testament examples, is probably not the best way to assert the Bible supports one modern (again, putting aside the anachronism) economic system over another.
While I haven’t made a comprehensive, serious study of economic philosophies, I’ve been influenced in my thinking by people like David Bentley Hart, John Milbank (the Radical Orthodox people in general), Stephen D. Long, and William Cavanaugh. I have found their critiques of capitalism very compelling. At the same time, I have found their openness to socialism and other types of economic and political understandings very thought provoking. Socialism is hardly the bogeyman it has been made out to be by the fundamentalist/evangelical world, which seem to be parroting a 1950s’ American cultural view of economics more than anything Biblical or anything linked to an ancient, historical, or world-wide Christian understanding.
Only someone blinded by ideology would not think it rational and wise to consider other forms of economic understandings at this point in history. Christians should sit loosely when it comes to modern political and economic arrangements. We should be willing to consider, charitably, other forms of economic exchange, ideas of the “market,” labor, capital, etc., and such should include socialism.
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