Is Christianity Socialism?

What would a fully Christian society look like?

 

Video transcript:

MAUREEN
Hi, I’m Maureen, this is Rich, and this video is the second in our series on Christian Socialism.

RICHARD
Last week we asked the question, “Was Jesus a Socialist?” Countless opposing parties have tried to lay claim to Jesus since the days he walked the earth, and it’s easy to cherry–pick his words to fit your world view. But a fully Christian society, from what we can deduce by reading the New Testament, would look nothing like our idea of a nation state, not even a socialist one. C.S. Lewis remarked that if we were to come across such a society, “Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing.”

MAUREEN
Jesus never asked his followers to promote a political agenda. So if Christianity means “doing what Jesus said we should do,” for Christians, advocating for political change should be much lower on the agenda than simply following Jesus. Which will transform all aspects of our personal and social lives, including our relationship with money.

RICHARD
Real simple: Christianity is not Socialism. So why do we put the two terms together, in the title of our series, no less? Because like Christianity, socialism imagines the radical transformation of society through the equitable sharing of resources. The kingdom of God which Jesus points us to is also a kingdom of social justice, but crucially it comes about by the conversion of one human heart at a time and not by political means. Someone who experiences this rebirth through conversion will freely renounce rights and claims over material possessions, and put the welfare of others ahead of him or herself.

MAUREEN
Socialism’s record is decidedly unchristian. Socialist states have uniformly been coercive and violent. Turns out you can’t force people to share.

RICHARD
Also because it doesn’t get to the root of human nature, which so often places self–actualization and personal fulfillment before the needs of others, people can tend to be less inclined to work

MAUREEN
…because there’s no material reward for work well done.

RICHARD
Right. Where’s the validation? Jesus turns this value system upside down. He warns against the acquisition of wealth (Luke 6:24), tells his followers to deny themselves (Luke 9:23) and calls them to works of mercy (Matthew 25:31). And he says even when you’ve done all these things you should say “we have only done our duty”. You shouldn’t look for recognition.

MAUREEN
Early Christian writers and thinkers were all over this. 

RICHARD
And why shouldn’t they? It’s core gospel.

MAUREEN
Pardon. I should have said: later Christian writers and thinkers became mysteriously quiet about this.  Am I generalizing? Maybe. But you don’t hear this message from too many pulpits now, do you? Saint Basil the Great, bishop in Asia Minor in the 4th century:

“When a man strips another of his clothes, he is called a thief. Should not a man who has the power to clothe the naked but does not do so be called the same? The bread in your larder belongs to the hungry. The cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked. The shoes you allow to rot belong to the barefoot. The money in your vaults belongs to the destitute. You do injustice to every man whom you could help but do not. If you are rich, how can you remain so?”

RICHARD
I don’t have a choice. It’s what my parents named me.

MAUREEN
You could be Poor Richard, and if you don’t have an almanac handy, you could still help out and finish this great quote.

RICHARD
I could do that. So Saint Basil: “If you cared for the poor, it would consume your wealth. When each one receives a little for one’s needs, and when all owners distribute their means simultaneously for the care of the needy, no one will possess more than his neighbor. Yet it is plain that you have very many lands. Why? Because you have subordinated the relief and comfort of many to your convenience. And so, the more you abound in your riches, the more you are deficient in love.”

MAUREEN
Doesn’t mince words much, does he?

RICHARD
Couldn’t afford to. Here’s a zinger from St John Chrysostom, also 4th century:

‘Now don’t tell me that you actually work hard. If you call earning money, making business deals, and caring for your possessions “work”, I say, “No, that is not work. But alms, prayers, the protection of the injured and the like – these are genuine work.” You charge the poor with idleness; I charge you with corrupt behavior.

Let us learn that as often as we have not given alms, we shall be punished like those who have plundered. For what we possess is not personal property; it belongs to all.’

MAUREEN
‘God generously gives all things that are much more necessary than money, such as air, water, fire, the sun…. All these things are to be distributed equally to all.

“Mine” and “thine” – these chilling words which introduce innumerable wars into the world – should be eliminated from the church. Then the poor would not envy the rich, because there would be no rich. [sorry] Neither would the poor be despised by the rich, for there would be no poor. All things would be in common.’

RICHARD
Here’s Ambrose Bishop of Milan in the 4th century with some words that the 1% at the top would do well to listen to: “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor. You are handing over to them what is theirs. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.” How do you like that?

Another Early Church father, Augustine of Hippo, preached a lot of sermons on the subject of wealth. For him, material possessions were to be considered dangerous because they lead to avarice which corrupts the heart. And although he may not have promoted it as a practical answer for all believers, the model of the Acts 2 and 4 community was for him the ideal for Christian life.

MAUREEN
Here’s the biggest difference I see between Gospel living and socialism: Socialism stops with the equitable distribution of goods and doesn’t address other value systems that contribute to injustice. Jesus turns everything upside down and he insists on (gasp) obedience which is not a progressive value. So while a Christian society’s economics would be leftist, it’s family life and culture, to quote C.S. Lewis again, would appear “rather old fashioned”. Now what would that kind of life look like?

RICHARD
In our next video we’re going to talk about some of our own experiences trying to put this stuff into practice and the challenges and rewards we’ve experienced along the way.

MAUREEN
Should be interesting. Thanks for watching!