Why I Am a Socialist: Because I Am a Christian
*Note: I do not speak for anyone but myself. Respond only if you have something helpful and constructive to say. This blog is a place for me to express my opinions and engage in dialogue with readers. I moderate this blog and do not approve comments that are hostile or that misrepresent what I wrote.*
The word “socialist” scares people. Often only because people misunderstand it. It does have many meanings. One common one, not mine, is “Public ownership of the means of production.” There are degrees of socialism. If you want to know mine, what I mean by socialism, the socialism I embrace, you MUST watch this Youtube video: “The Time An American City Elected a Socialist Mayor | America’s Socialist Experiment | Timeline.” It is 55 minutes long and well worth the time. It’s much more engaging than the title indicates.
This kind of socialism, not public ownership of the means of production but government that helps society become humane, is part of American history and Christian history. More about that after a few caveats.
No, I do not think a person has to be a socialist to be Christian, but I do think that laissez faire capitalism, especially its Social Darwinist variety, is contrary to the spirit, the ethos, of Jesus Christ which is compassion for the weak, the vulnerable, the “little ones.”
The socialism I embrace is not tied to any political party; I am not a member of any political party. It is not Marxism, although it believes Marx’s critical analysis of capitalism has merit. It is not communism; it is compatible with free enterprise—up to a point. It is not represented by any communist country or society; its best visible representations are in the Scandinavian countries. Much of socialism is actually manifested in many things American society take for granted such as social security and Medicare and Medicaid and public ownership of many of the means of transportation, etc.
Again, if you are interested in what I mean by socialism, what I embrace as a socialist, you need to watch that excellent, informative, (to me) even gripping Youtube video. There’s a lot of American history in it even though it focuses on Milwaukee, Wisconsin—as its case study of American socialism.
One thing that surprised me when I was researching the history of Christian ethics was how many great Christians of the past were, in essence, if not in name, socialists in their views. John Chrysostom, for example, believed and preached that government should guarantee a home, shelter, and basic sustenance for everyone including the poor. Martin Luther believed that an ideal Christian society would have a common purse! Pietist patriarch Philip Spener believed it is the duty of government to provide jobs for all. German revivalist Christoph Blumhardt was openly a socialist and even served in the parliament as a socialist. Karl Barth was a socialist as were Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Niebuhr.
So what do I mean by “socialism?” What KIND of socialism do I embrace?
Again, watch the recommended Youtube video!
But I will dare to provide a few examples here. I believe it is the duty of good government to assure absolute equality of opportunity for all of its citizens. All education should be free. (I deviate from many socialists, however, in preferring a school voucher system rather than only public schools as free.) I believe it is the duty of government to provide free life-saving medical care for all citizens, especially children. I believe it is the duty of government to provide jobs with living wages to all people who are able to work. (Again, I deviate from many socialists in NOT believing in government simply giving money to people insofar as they are able to work.) I believe government should provide free day care for all working mothers and fathers who cannot afford it. I believe it is the duty of government to provide the basic necessities of life to all people and that it should redistribute wealth to do that. I believe no one should be a billionaire and no one should be homeless who wants shelter, including a safe place to sleep indoors, access to water for washing, healthy food and drink, and clean clothes. (However, I deviate from some socialists in believing people given such shelter and amenities for living should be required to work insofar as they are able to work—even if only picking up trash in publish parks.)
Actually, although it is rarely recognized as socialism, many aspects of American life are just that. Public roads and highways, inexpensive public transportation, Medicaid, free inoculations against diseases, free public education, subsidized higher education, publicly owned and operated water supplies, public parks, etc., etc. These things were not always “there.” They came about through the efforts of socialists — even if they did not call themselves socialists as they did in Milwaukee.
One example of my socialism is that I believe government should step in and provide inexpensive groceries in “grocery deserts.” They should have no “frills,” so as not to compete with private grocery stores, but they should fill the gap for people who live in such grocery deserts so that they do not have to travel many miles just to buy basic foods.
I believe the government should regulate the economy to prevent an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor. (But, unlike some socialists, I do not believe in the government simply giving money to people; the government should provide vouchers for life necessities rather than cash and the government should provide work with good pay for those who can work but cannot find work in the private sector—until they do find work there.)
All of what I mean by “socialism” was aimed at by President Franklin Roosevelt in his “New Deal” and in the declaration of basic human rights. Some of it was instantiated in law and some of it was not. I believe at least every child in a society should be guaranteed nutritious food, basic medical care, good education, and safe shelter. I believe every adult in a society should know that he or she can work and earn a living wage insofar as he or she is able to work.
What would Jesus advocate for if he were here, in person, physically, today? I believe he would speak out prophetically, as did the Hebrew prophets, against those who advocate government that allows the weak, the disadvantaged, the sick, the disabled, the poor to fall through the cracks simply to keep in place “economic freedom” for the rich and powerful.