by Matt Wyers
Earlier this week I began a series that I hope will be helpful to all of you. It is a general rebuttal to the idea that Socialism is a perfectly acceptable form of government. I hope to establish in detail all the reasons why I believe Socialism is a bad thing and why a Capitalist system is the best economic system yet devised by man. If you missed Part 1 then click here to read it.
I promised you last time that I would discuss in greater depth the role of Christian morality in society and how this relates to Socialism. So today I want to delve into the idea that some possess that the principles of Socialism are not only compatible with Christian teaching, but are commanded to one degree or another. I believe that is a complete fallacy.
Many good heart-ed people have fallen into the trap of believing that Socialism is essentially a political philosophy of helping poor people. And helping poor people is good, right? Well, of course it is, but that does not mean that any idea of how to go about helping poor people is an effective one or a moral one for that matter. In order to understand what exactly a Socialist system means to do for the poor you must first understand the definition of Socialism. I covered that definition in Part 1 so please read it if you have not already.
In short, Socialism does not help poor people. It never has and despite what some Leftist Utopians might tell you, it has no potential to ever accomplish that. Socialism is about “leveling the playing field” and in the mind of the Leftist this means ensuring that outcomes, financial or otherwise, are equal for everyone. The theory goes that there is only so much wealth in the world and the most fair system is the one that distributes it evenly. Well, right off the bat there is a fatal flaw in that thinking. There is no zero-sum game in the world of economics.
The idea of a zero-sum game is that in any given situation a participant’s gain or loss of a particular resource is balanced by the gain or loss of all other participants. At the end of the game you add all the gains and subtract all the losses and the sum comes to zero. To use an illustration, a person who slices off a large piece of cake from a newly baked dessert is leaving less cake for anyone else that might come along and want some. Makes perfect sense, right? And Conservatives are known for recognizing the scarcity of resources in the world so this concept should make sense to everyone, right? Wrong.
We covered the idea last time that wealth is not static. In other words, it can grow or it can shrink. Whether it grows or whether it shrinks is dependent upon numerous factors. The world economy is hopelessly complex though and predicting every ebb and flow based on the habits and resources of 7 billion people, hundreds of nations and states, and any other political factors that effect the economy is impossible. We know that the overall amount of wealth has grown though because despite the huge increases in population the poorest of the poor are not any worse off than they have ever been. In contrast, personal wealth for many around the globe is higher than it has ever been and for larger numbers of the population than has ever possessed it. So the idea that the pie is only so big and so that distributing wealth evenly is the only way to make sure everyone has enough is patently false.
Likely though, the Socialist will not stop there. Even if the pie is growing, they might say, then surely we must admit that for some individuals to have so much more than others is unjust, right? And the idea that we should all pool our resources to insure that no one is poor is a Biblical one, right? Did not the 1st century Christians practice Socialism? No, they did not.
This grave misconception typically originates from a serious misinterpretation of Acts 4:32-37. A portion of that passage is below:
Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. Acts 4:32-35
I am surprised by how many people, who say they are Christians, mistake these verses for a 1st century blessing of Socialism. I believe it is a case of reinterpreting the Bible through the lens of modern political thought. Remembering that Socialism is an off-shoot of Communism, we have to look at when this political theory was introduced. Karl Marx did not publish his Communist Manifesto until 1848 and the resulting popularization of his concepts of fairness and economic “equality” did not really enter the mainstream of American thought until the latter half of the 20th century.
Although communes to one degree or another had existed on small scales for hundreds of years before Marx, the idea of pooling resources for both public benefit and to insure equal outcomes was never passed down through the centuries by churches. People nowadays have become accustomed to the idea of pooling resources on a large scale with the power of government behind all this alleged benevolence and so when they read Bible verses that talk about sharing and providing for each others’ needs they naturally connect the two. The problem, of course, is that the passage is taken out of context and is divorced from numerous other Biblical teachings in both the New and Old Testaments. I would prefer to allow the writers of the Bible to interpret what Christian charity means rather than Karl Marx. So with that in mind there are a few other passages I would like to look at.
I believe we can find some insight into a more balanced teaching by examining 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. The key verse there is #10 and it is below:
That is strong language there, but it is Biblical language. It is also antithetical to the idea that as Christians we are to set up a bureaucratic system that provides for every conceivable need of every person in the society. Let us contrast these two passages and view them in light of the true definition of Socialism.
The passage from Acts 4 has to be taken for what it is; a description of how early Christians were conducting themselves among each other in Jerusalem shortly after the foundation of the church itself. There are numerous differences between what is depicted here and what is advocated for in Socialist systems.
1. There is no command here from God or even a suggestion from the author that this is the preferred way for Christians to live. The book of Acts is primarily a history book and not a doctrinal book anyway.
2. This is purely a faith-based order that was set up. The apostles were the appointed leaders of the early church. The apostles, however, were not government officials. Rather they were appointed by Christ Himself. They were not elected. They were not paid. They were simply given authority over the church as it existed at that time.
3. It was a purely voluntary social order. You will notice that the “possessors of lands” who were mentioned sold their properties. These properties were not forcefully taken from them by a government, or anyone for that matter, that believed it could better distribute wealth and the means of production for common benefit.
I also feel the need to mention a few verses from Acts 5, the chapter that immediately follows the passage I quoted above. Let us examine those as well:
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostle’s feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. Acts 5:1-4
You will notice here that Peter, the chief among the apostles, rebukes Ananias not for withholding a portion of the proceeds from the land he sold but for lying and saying that he had brought the full price to the apostles. Ananias and his wife were liars trying to obtain personal glory for appearing to be more charitable than they really were. That is a great spiritual lesson in and of itself, but I wanted to bring your attention to Peter’s rebuke. He stated plainly that what Ananias owned belonged to him and that he did not have to sell it. Peter followed that up by saying the money Ananias received for the sale also belonged to him. If he wished to give a portion of it and withhold the rest for himself then it was within his right to do so.
I hope you see the stark contrast between the life that the early church was living in comparison to the Socialist philosophy that seeks to strip away any notion of privately owned property.
4. This difference may be the greatest of them all for the concern of this discussion. The system that the early church lived under was not a political system in the least. There is no call from Jesus or the early church leaders that this sort of system should have been employed for the entire province or for the entire Roman Empire. That concept is completely absent from Scripture in every way.
The early Christians took care of each other. They were not given the task of extrapolating this sort of loving, supporting order out to include anyone and everyone in the society. As we covered in Part 1, the only entity capable of forcing that sort of system upon the populace is the government. Unless you want to advocate for the church(and which church would it be?) to take over preeminence in the society and become the government itself in order to start distributing the wealth then it is obvious that any Socialist system you want is not given any sort of precedence in the Bible.
5. This difference piggybacks off the third and fourth. You will also notice that all giving in this system was of a purely private nature. There was no government enforcement behind it. There was no government bureaucracy to administer it. And while the Bible clearly talks regularly about giving to the poor, it always speaks of it as a personal matter. The Bible commands individuals, not governments, to sacrifice of themselves and help others.
There is very little accountability when a government entity that has to treat everyone equal under the law is tasked with arbitrarily defining qualifications and then arbitrarily dispensing resources. I am not arguing against the idea of all citizens being treated equally under the law. That is a very good thing when it comes to doling out punishments. It is a horrible thing though when it comes to deciding what sort of standard of living a person should have and how to go about insuring that standard becomes reality.
There is no room for merit in that sort of system. There is no incentive within a bureaucracy to refrain from helping what 2nd Thessalonians referred to as those who do not wish to work. In short, there is no discretion.
What individuals or private agencies have as their greatest tool is the ability to discern what is truly necessary giving and what is not. They have the ability to discern what is truly necessary spending and what is not. They are not bound by arbitrary rules and regulations but rather motivated by good will, love, and selflessness. They are not trying to cash a paycheck at the end of the week nor are they trying to garner votes for their next election. They do it because they want to do it and the record bares out that private charities are far more efficient and far more effective at actually helping the poor.
I just realized that everything I wanted to say in this piece cannot be written here. It would be too long so I will save the conclusion of this article’s themes for Part 3. Stay tuned for that in the next few days.