Whenever one hears of the word “incompatible,” one may think of two people recognizing that they are romantically incompatible for one reason or another. They have different values, different religious commitments, different politics, and so forth. Such is the case with Christianity and Socialism. To embrace socialism as a viable economic theory is, in my layman’s perspective, a recipe for intellectual naïveté. It plays on the emotional impulses of people who, rightly, are outraged that fellow image bearers suffer. Yet, socialism at its core is bought off a materialistic jealousy and unChristian worldview. Below is the reason why.
Let us establish what Socialism is: Socialism is the government control of the market, and where the government controls the means and distribution of wealth accrued from that market. However, romanticizers of socialist theory will often say it is a type of Robinhood economy theory: taking from the rich to give to the poor. While that is hardly accurate, let us entertain that idea for a moment. The idea of “Taking from the rich” demands three separate points:
1.) The idea assumes that “taking” is at all justified. Biblically minded Christians must consider the 8th Commandment which read, “Thou shalt not steal.” If one is to question the socialist, what is the difference between “taking” and “stealing”? Question 142 of the Westminster Larger Catechism lays out quite clearly that things like, “theft,” “robbery,” and “injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust;” are all forbidden under the 8th Commandment. On this ground alone, biblically minded Christians ought to reject Socialism.
2.) The idea assumes that “the rich” are universally guilty of stealing from the poor in the first place. But anyone who thinks with an ounce of nuance in these situations knows this is not so. For example, Bill Gates is one of the richest people alive today. He earned his wealth by creating a product that has been universally utilized, transforming the way human beings communicate, shop, do business, etc. Bill Gates also gives vast swaths of his wealth to a variety of charitable causes. Yet, under socialism Mr. Gates would have a.) never been able to acquire such wealth; b.) would have his wealth taken from him in the form of high taxation. This is not a question of whether taxation is justified, but whether it is justified to punish someone merely for being wealthy. The aforementioned idea assumes the Mr. Gates stole from the poor to get the wealth he has, which is highly untrue. Why punish him with taxation? Why punish future Bill Gates by rigging the system so one may not arise? Is that not itself an injustice? This is not to say that some with wealth have not cheated and stolen from those less fortunate; such persons ought to be punished under the law. But, this is not the case with socialist theories. Socialism would have it that people should “pay their fair share,” even if it means some have to pay at higher rates than others merely because some have earned lots of money and others have not. Under the actual definition of socialism, no one should have more money than another for it would be an injustice otherwise.
3.) The idea of “give to the poor” assumes that the poor are always innocent. This is another failure of socialism in that it always judges in favor of the poor instead of the rich. Biblically, this is itself an injustice. Leviticus 19:15 even teaches as such, concluding, “you are to judge your neighbor fairly.” To judge a neighbor fairly means not judging for him because he is rich, nor judging in favor of him because he is poor, but because fair judgement reflects a righteous government under the rule of a righteous God. A socialist, with a preconceived idea of who the poor are, in turn judges economic distribution unfairly. Under God’s law, such a person would be liable to judgement. To be sure, there are many passages in Scripture that forbid the oppression of the poor, but it also warns against crookedness and corruption which the poor are not immune from; Proverbs is replete with such references. It would be a serious mistake to assume that the poor can do no wrong and the rich can do no right. Being sober-minded and judging fairly is always in order; let it never be said a Christian judges unfairly.
The Issue of Property
Furthermore, in a socialist system property itself is a problematic matter to deal with. For socialists, as well as communists, private property is scorned and looked down upon. In a socialist system, all ownership of property becomes a public matter. Some so-called Christian socialists will point to passages like Acts 4:32-35 as justification for their theory of social or public ownership of property. The passage reads:
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. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 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 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Many socialists will come to a passage like this and say, “Ha! See, the Bible condones social property, not private property.” Again, this is misguided. Whenever property is discussed in the Bible, it always is assumed to be private. Just a simple reading of the 8th and 10th Commandments against stealing and coveting what is one’s neighbors ought to demonstrate Scripture’s endorsement of private property. What Scripture does not endorse is stealing or coveting private property, but also does not endorse greed, selfishness, and the powerful crushing the poor.
The verses from Acts 4 in question merely demonstrates what Christian charity and brotherhood can do: motivate those with means, out of good will and love, to help those fellow Christians who do not have means so that it could be said, “and it was distributed to each as any had need.” A voluntary selling of property and taking the proceeds to be distributed is what is in view here, not the forcible seizure of property to be distributed as would happen under a socialist regime.
I am sure that there would be criticism from some saying, “Well, you are just being harsh.” Or, perhaps, some may say, “You are just defending the rich and the status quo against your own best interest.” To both of those points I would have to retort, no, I am just trying to show the shortcomings of socialism and hopefully promote a more just society and just economy. Being a socialist and advocating for a socialist economy does not automatically mean that one is more compassionate than those who disagree. Indeed, it may mean one is being naive enough to believe socialism is the answer to present woes.
To be sure, however, the whole discussion could easily be seen as misguided. While we ought to hope and pray for better temporal situations for some in the world, and may even try to help in that, seeing as how there is biblical warrant for such, we must never substitute for socialism as an answer to man’s problems. Humanity’s problems are, at the end of the day, spiritual and not economic. Socialism does not alleviate humanity’s temporal needs for long; Venezuela demonstrates that socialist governments do, at some point, run out of other people’s money to spend. When this happens, the problem becomes worse than the first. Socialism does not satisfy one’s longings and produce contentment, it only makes one greedy. There is no real freedom in socialism.
The only way for true freedom and equity to take place is in a righteous society, a society in which the gospel is preached and Christianity is supreme. For ages now gone by, it has been the Christian Church that has been the charities, provided public housing for the poor, been willing to go into disease-ridden areas against their own health and safety, have gotten involved in government to defend the rule of law and execute justice, and so forth. Why have Christians for ages done so? Because Christians have believed that it is Christ that can renew the man, that the renewed man can raise his family under the banner of Christ, and so that he and his children can have a positive influence on society, and all this by a mere preacher preaching of the Gospel of Christ. No, socialism is not the answer, but Jesus Christ most certainly is.
This article is an extract from “Christianity and Socialism: Compatible or Not?” by M. Dale Hagwood at Southern Fried Presbyterian. Used with gracious permission.
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