For all of my reading, I don’t think I ever spent time looking in depth as to how it is that Christians (primarily in the United States, because CAPITALISM! MURICA!) manage to talk their way out of agreeing that Socialism is a core tenet of the ministry of Jesus. While I was researching my religio-political post last week, I found the answers, but I just passed over them without too much thought.
I argued pro-Socialism, of course, as you may remember if you read the post. While arguing pro-Socialism, however, I barely touched on the counter-argument, and I think that was a little unfair of me. To that end, I thought I would give the other side some time, and (as you should expect of me) I will propose some counter-arguments.
The primary source of the Christian counterpoints will be drawn from http://tifwe.org/resources/does-acts-2-5-teach-socialism/ which is a masterpiece of fallacious argument and outright denial, at least from my own personal reading of it. If you read the article and find you agree with what it has to say, please let me know in the comments section what causes you to agree.
Helpfully, the author has subtitled his article, so I can give an unusually clear response (I tend to meander, a little, and I do not regret it–but some have used this as a criticism, and I can say with honesty that I completely understand their point). On we march!
Section one of the article is as follows:
I think we are getting off on the wrong foot, here. I do not think there has ever been, in all of the history of the world, any government who has called for Socialism that has also called for the entire revocation of personal ownership rights. Even me, a rather staunch proponent of Socialism would never call for such an overstepping of personal bounds. Okay, so early Christians did not practice 100% communal ownership; that sounds like a (weak) counter-argument to Communism, but says nothing against Socialism. In fact, that they would sell any of their possessions to support each other sounds very Socialist by any working, practical definition.
Now let’s move on to a very aggressively worded sentence by our new friend;
I think this goes more to the core of the issue. The core of the issue here is that the Bible doesn’t support Socialism, in the author’s view, as he or she does not want to donate, and it is unfair for anyone to force him or her to do so. Well, I am glad we cleared that up, then. As my counter point, though, let’s say you want to abolish all taxation (as I’ve heard some propose) or reduce taxation (as I’ve heard many propose). In this ideal, Christian world, who pays for the roads? The schools? What happens if you cannot afford to send little Timmy out? What happens if you cannot afford lunches for little Timmy? Do you propose we all resort to a kind of charity-bartering system, where we go and ask our neighbors for help, instead of the Government? And what difference is there, then, between coerced sharing implemented by the Government and your requesting assistance from your neighbors or community? If they give money to you, what if there was someone who had greater need, but lived off of your block? What if none of his neighbors had a charitable spirit? What if he never found you, great giver that you are, and thus was left without help? These are the cases where the Government, with a wider scope and reach of charity, saves lives.
The second point made is that the early Christians’ sharing was totally voluntary. I think I covered this satisfactorily above, but he takes it up a notch by citing Marx’s Communist Manifesto (no matter who is citing this, it is likely to be in a negative light, and this is certainly no exception). He cites no specific quotation, but does summarize it (albeit with a political slant) fairly well; Marx found the idea of private ownership at least part of the overall problem. He then goes on to say, though, “The Bible does not mention the state at all,” therefore no Socialism, duh!
His third point is thus; the form of Socialism was not a permanent practice, but a temporary measure. It was a measure that requested charity for as long as it was needed. Well! I can see how you make that point, it makes perfect sense! Why, we don’t need charity today at all, so I guess you are right; let’s not give. Here, again, he mentions the words “state coercion”, as though they are some sort of talisman that will keep the pinkos at bay! The author goes on to state that we don’t see any recurrence of this type of giving (specifically citing Acts, chapters 2-4) anywhere else in the New Testament, so we don’t need to keep following it. Again, Q.E.D., we don’t need to Socialism (yes, I made it a verb. Fight me.).
Again, he states that socialism requires the complete abolition of private property, as though throwing around a fear-bomb (Socialism is a dirty word!). He goes on “There was a concern for equitable distribution of goods to the poor,” which is why I generally am happy to pay my share to the Government and ask them to deal with the distribution of these funds. I care about my socialistically (I made up a word. Deal with it.) provided services more than you can know. I care about the roads, the educational subsidies, the universal health care; I know I have had to lean on unemployment, and it wasn’t because I was lazy, it was because I was having major difficulty finding a job in my field. I give to these things, because I know that thanks to them I will likely never have to go without food or medical care, and this knowledge, this safety, it is important to me.
Point four is merely stating “The Bible doesn’t say ‘You have to be a socialist,’ and I don’t want to be a socialist, therefore I am not a socialist and the Bible supports me.
I think I’ve covered that point well enough, and I think my paraphrasing of point four covers how I feel, if you have any questions.
Point five, I think, was just thrown in there to remind you that the author holds a PhD. I am afraid that while my grasp of English is generally considered fairly strong, I would never have crafted the following sentence, and that is why this guy is a PhD.
Point five reads thus; Interpreting narrative by didactic passages is a wise principle of hermeneutics. Well there you go, if you weren’t convinced Socialism is wrong so far, I’ll bet your mind just did a total 180, am I right?! He does have the decency to clarify, thankfully, with the following sentences. Basically, it comes down to his idea that you can’t make a universal command out of a limited first century practice. I would tend to agree, but I am afraid that Socialism, while not made a command in the Bible, is a recurring theme of Jesus’ ministry. He does not command it (Jesus made stunningly few statements that would be considered Commandments), though he does in many places make clear that he definitely likes the idea of shared wealth and supporting the poor.
That covers the bases. I think I have made my point, but I would like to level a challenge to the modern believer.
If you are standing before God on Judgment day, and He asks the following: “Why did you preach the rendering unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and universal charity, but stand against those very same ideals when they were practiced by the government of your nation?”
Would you feel comfortable answering with the following?
“Jesus didn’t say I HAD to practice charity, and I didn’t want to give that money, even though it was used to feed the poor, heal the sick and the lame, even though it provided education those who could not learn otherwise, and housing for the homeless, even though these are the exact things Jesus said we should support, he didn’t say we HAD to support them. So I stood against it.”