Who’s Afraid of Socialism?

Who’s Afraid of Socialism? December 1, 2018

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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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • CroneEver

    The high point of the church was Acts 2:44, And all who believed were together and had all things in common, and 4:32-35: Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

    It lasted for quite a while. Tertullian wrote somewhere around 160 AD, about how the pagan world saw the love Christians had for one another: “Look . . . how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).”

    But Christianity got a Christian emperor in Constantine, and money and power began their rot; and when Theodosius I made Nicene Christianity the religion of the empire in 380 AD, Christians became quite ready to kill each other in the name of orthodoxy.

  • It is also noteworthy that “socialism” is used as an attack to discredit views of those disliked. (For example, how the Right attacked Obama and “European socialism”.)

    It certainly seems that socialism is taboo in USA, and heresy in fundagelicalism.

  • andrewlohr

    Jesus gave his life. Pilate took it for the public good: to prevent a riot, to get along better with Caiaphas & co, to reduce unemployment (keep his job, not letting Jews complain to Tiberius about Pilate tolerating other kings). Caiaphas & co took it for the public good: to prevent genocide, such as’d be provoked if this Messiah got too popular, since Romans don’t like Messiahs. And to keep bureaucratic order, since the Temple, not this Galilean, is in the business of forgiving sins. Jesus let them take it for His own purposes. His giving is true, Christian generosity. Their taking is not. So at the heart of the Gospel, the takers, the governments claiming the public good as they put their feet down, are shown to be evil. The Lords of the Gentiles lord it over them, but he that is greatest among you shall be your slave (well, servant.) Their big shots call themselves benefactors (hinting that He might be able to find another term?)

    Jesus is libertarian: a free man in a not very free world, paying for his own program, and rising from the dead against the verdict of the only superpower du jour. The Bible is libertarian: is your God big enough to say eminent domain, national service, and 10% tax rates are reasons to reject a form of government (I Sam 8)? Are your lists of jobs for government to do as short as His (Romans 13, I Tim 2)?

  • andrewlohr

    Jesus had said Jerusalem would come down, as happened in A.D. 70. The Christians were selling Jerusalem real estate. I could call this insider trading, except that they were (I assume) proclaiming His prophecy. It contrasts with Jeremiah buying Jerusalem real estate when the only superpower du jour (Babylon) was knocking on the gates with battering rams. The point is not just money or prediction, but that Jesus outranks the Temple; selling Jerusalem short made this point. (Enjoy reading Chilton’s “Paradise Restored” on A.D. 70 in the Bible.)

  • onlein

    Labels are unhelpful. The form of government closest to how Jesus and his disciples lived is socialism: pooling their resources, selling their homes if need be, to meet the needs of the poor before satisfying their wants. And the love of money, the accumulation of it for narrow selfish reasons rather than helping the poor, was seen as the root of all evil.
    In a country of over 300,000 million people not only do many people get left out, there is no way to meet the needs of the poor without some central organization. 95% of food for the poor, including the unborn who desperately need almost continual nourishment, comes from government programs.

    And the vast majority of all people have no way to save and invest enough for later-life medical or nursing home care. More and more on their own, at the mercy of Wall street, as government and union group savings and health programs are rapidly disappearing. What a inhumane system. Not one Jesus would approve of.

  • AWRM

    I don’t think socialism is any better or worse than capitalism. Socialism can only work if people will continually devote themselves to diligently act in the best interests of the community. capitalism works if people don’t allow their advantages to continually increase their advantages in an orgy of selfishness. Needless to say, I don’t have much hope that either will ever work.

    But it seems to me that the Bible gives the nod to socialism with it’s positive spin on the communal living of the early church. This writer seems to think there is some passages that lends equal support for capitalism. I’ve thought, in the past, that capitalism was more consistent with the scripture since it admitted that we would all act selfishly and so it built it’s foundations on that truth but, as it turns out, this seems to underestimate just how selfish we can be and how powerless we are to contain it as it washes over our policies, laws, culture and our society. Is there a different narrative in the Bible that would seem to support capitalism? There’s some stuff in Proverbs about working hard and not being lazy to avoid poverty but… nothing seems quite as direct as the supportive references in Acts.

  • Mark Jeffrey

    Few Americans know how to use the word Socialism correctly. The term (as described by Marx) explicitly refers to the “means of production” (i.e. factories and other businesses) being owned and run by the workers, or by the state on behalf of the workers. The term says nothing whatsoever about welfare, universal healthcare, or any of the other things that the Right object to when they look at Europe. As such, there are very few examples of actual socialism visible in the world today. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when governments in Britain and elsewhere owned coal mines, railways, steel works, and suchlike those were socialist example, but those were all swept away in the 1980s with privatisation. A better term for the real world today is “social democracy”, but I guess that doesn’t sound scary enough to frighten the voters.

  • jantx

    Attention older people! If you like your Social Security and Medicare then you might be a “liker” of socialism. Everyone else! If you like national parks, public libraries and public universities, then you also might be a “liker” of socialism. Oh, and, for what it’s worth–I’m also an evangelical.

  • John

    I also think you could make a good case for each economic approach, but that neither will truly succeed as greed, selfishness and power can thrive in both. My question when considering a defense of either system is why are we trying to make one more biblical, specifically as it has to do with national governments? Is the bible intending to say one is right and that it should be enforced or that it is the desired structure? When the bible talks of sharing with those in need, taking care of widows, and the passages in Acts regarding the first church, are these intended for government functions and economic systems? Or are they directed towards the church and God’s followers? You can probably tell that I do not see that a biblically based economic system needs to be found in scripture nor that it must then be implemented as if that is God’s purpose or intentions for us. I don’t see God building a theocracy here. Still, living out kingdom values will, at times, bring us into conflict with the government as we seek justice and fairness for people. And it may be this lifestyle that leads people to seek office and implement change, while justifying their actions biblically. So, I think this is where many people are politically – getting involved in politics to implement their beliefs with each side justifying them biblically. So to be on the other side is to be biblically wrong, and no one likes that.

  • Cynthia Brown Christ

    You are one of those “good” evangelicals. ha ha. Those who can see past black and white.

    The solution is Democratic socialism,or socialized democracy, a blending of the two.

    We must have elements of socialism in our democracy in order to be a caring community, whether christian is included in that or not.

  • Cynthia Brown Christ

    You are spot on Mark Jeffrey.

    Social democracy – not scary enough to frighten the voters.

    I am so sick of people using Venezuela as the poster child for “Perfect” socialism, in order to scare us.

    We all know where they get that talking point from, like a stupid bobble head.

    Grow up people! Do some research and understand the nuances of Social Democracy or STFU! with your brilliant stupidness.

  • cynthiabrownchrist wrote

  • John Logan

    Where did Jesus say the government should redivide wealth or replace charity? You are confusing charity with Socialism which are actually opposed. Read Rerum Novarum. Check out Our Lady of Fatima, she warned of the errors of Russia.

  • jantx

    Agree–Thanks!