Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Christian case for socialism

I remember my New Testament professor in seminary thought that you couldn't make much of a case for socialism based on the practices of the Jerusalem Church, but he did think that 2 Cor 8:14 established material equality as a legitimate goal.  (He was theologically conservative, but was a member of the British Labour party).

2 Corinthians 8:14 – “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality” (NIV)


In any event, just don't see "this is socialism" as grounds for condemning something. I think keeping some things on the free market, and some things within the government sphere of influence, is reasonable. 

29 comments:

Jim S. said...

I think I have an obligation to share my material goods with others. I don't think I have an obligation to share other people's material goods with others. In fact I think I'm morally prohibited from sharing other people's material goods with others unless they freely give it to me for that purpose.

Hans said...

According to the extremely neutral Michael Moore, us Norwegians live in paradise. You should just all do whatever we do.

Ilíon said...

Exactly, Jim S ... and VR studiously refuses to see the point.

Moreover, he also studiously refuses to see the point that imposed socialism can only "work", and only for a short time, at the business end of a gun. Socialism *must* result in bloodshed and ruin.

Ilíon said...

There is a further point, Jim S -- NO ONE stands in the position to tell you, or anyone else, what, when, where, how much, how much is "enough", or anything else in regard to your decision to share or not share your wealth with "the poor". This is between you and God ... and anyone trying to take God's place on the matter has declared himself to be just another 'Lucifer'.

==
The early Church tried (voluntary mass) socialism for a short time. So far as I know, they left no record of when and why they abandoned the silly and foolish idea.

Ananias and Saphira are dead indirectly because of the foolish decision of the Apostles to ignore human nature in this regard. To be sure, the proximate cause of their deaths was in lying in the very presence of God; their deaths are on their own heads. Yet, at the same time, had the Apostles not supplied them the "occasion of sin", they might not have committed the grievous sin, and they might not have died.

Crude said...

In any event, just don't see "this is socialism" as grounds for condemning something.

I think "this is socialism" tends to be used, not purely because "this is socialism", but usually with unspoken assumptions attached: that the people hearing it reject socialism anyway, or consider it flawed and undesirable.

2 Corinthians 8 is striking to me, because it stresses voluntary donations, and ones part of a tight community. I think there is a dramatic difference between considering whatever kinds of financial assistance or sacrifice as being something that should be morally pursued, and 'socialism'. Rather like how just about any religious conservative is all in favor of charitable giving, but they're still typically anti-socialist.

What do you think of charitable giving, Victor? I ask this honestly. Do you think it should be encouraged? Or do you think it should be rendered entirely superfluous by government action? Ie, if it's good enough a cause to merit donations, it's good enough to justify government intervention to handle the entire problem?

Crude said...

The early Church tried (voluntary mass) socialism for a short time. So far as I know, they left no record of when and why they abandoned the silly and foolish idea.

What, monasteries? I think they're still around.

Victor Reppert said...

No, I don't think charity should be rendered superfluous by government action. Nor do I think this possible in many cases.

Nor, importantly, should government action replace work. I do think it tragic when people willing and able to work are prevented by misfortune or by corporate greed from making a living and supporting their families.

By the way Communists used to give lip service to material equality as a worthwhile goal, but when they distributed in accordance with "need" they decided that members of the Party "needed" more, and so they skimmed the cream off the top. Socialism can get twisted so as to benefit those who already control wealth and power.

Capitalism depends upon healthy competition in order for us to get from it the advantages we believe in. Corporate failure is to capitalist economics what natural selection is to evolutionary biology. Corporations, on the other hand, if they achieve their goals completely, are aimed at becoming monopolies. But monopolies are socially harmful, and I don't see any alternative to government intervention at least to prevent the existence of monopolies.

In short, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" has manifestations in socialist and capitalist systems, and we have to guard against each, sometimes by curtailing government power, and sometimes by curtailing corporate power through the use of government.

Crude said...

I do think it tragic when people willing and able to work are prevented by misfortune or by corporate greed from making a living and supporting their families.

Misfortune is one thing. But what corporate greed is preventing the willing and able to make a living? I can imagine one example, but I'll bet it's an example where you'd side with the corporations. (Allowing/encouraging illegal immigration, resulting in overcompetition in various job markets.)

In short, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" has manifestations in socialist and capitalist systems, and we have to guard against each, sometimes by curtailing government power, and sometimes by curtailing corporate power through the use of government.

See, there's one big difference between businesses and government. Governments can legally imprison and/or kill people who don't do as they say. They can flat out take your assets. Businesses simply can't, and insofar as they can do anything along those lines, they do so by manipulating power granted to government. Which you'd think would mean that it's in everyone's interest to dramatically limit the power of government, and yet...

So I don't buy even the moderate sounding line that 'we have to guard against the excesses of government and the excesses of corporations equally', because it's like suggesting our national defense concerns should be equally split between worrying about China and worrying about Chile.

Victor Reppert said...

But, if corporations can make or break politicians by bankrolling campaigns, then corporations can in fact control governments, and the distinction between government and the private sector breaks down.

Ilíon said...

Those who do not bother to read and attempt to understand (*) what they wish to dispute would do well to avoid clicking the 'Publish' button.

Ilíon: "The early Church tried (voluntary mass) socialism for a short time."

Monastaries:
1) were not an experiment of the early Church; monasticism didn't get doing until some hundreds of years after the generation of the Apostles;
2) are not mass communities.

I specifically said "tried (voluntary mass) socialism" (and in contrast to my earlier comment about "imposed socialism") because I already had in mind monasteries as one of the very few sorts of societies in which socialistic living does not inevitably lead to ruin and/or bloodshed.


(*) alternately, those who ought to grasp and understand by now that I am always right

unkleE said...

Jim S said: "I don't think I have an obligation to share other people's material goods with others."

G'day Jim. I thought we all lived under an implicit social contract, where we agree to band together as a nation for protection, economic and social advantage, etc. So no-one's sharing other people's goods for them in a forced way, we all agree to pay taxes, obey the law, etc, because society works better that way. If we don't like the amount going to taxes in a democracy, we vote for lesser taxes and lesser services (police, roads, military, etc). Part of the social contract is that the majority choices are followed. Of course it's all imperfect, but I think your characterisation of it is a slight misrepresentation.

Crude said...

Victor,

But, if corporations can make or break politicians by bankrolling campaigns, then corporations can in fact control governments, and the distinction between government and the private sector breaks down.

I don't agree. This distinction remains: only the government has the power to enforce their laws by use or threat of death, imprisonment and outright asset seizure. Notice that the 'distinction breaks down' only by way of influencing power that someone decided to grant to the government to begin with.

But instead of demanding that government power be limited, all I'm really seeing is a demand that corporations be allowed less access to it. The attitude seems to be "giving the government tremendous power is non-negotiable, but I don't want these guys to influence it". And if that's the case - if granting the government excessive power and reach is here to stay - then why should I muzzle the corporations? Maybe I like what they say more than the alternatives. Hell, maybe they're the least of the assorted evils.

Regardless, I think the 'Christian case for socialism' based on that OP doesn't fly. It may be a christian case for a certain way to live your life, even a way to encourage others to live. But I think it breaks down the moment you realize the sort of force and threat of force legislated socialism actually entails.

Ilion,

Those who do not bother to read and attempt to understand (*) what they wish to dispute would do well to avoid clicking the 'Publish' button.

Blah, blah, blah. I thought monasteries fit the bill. You clarified. Wonderful. Drop the butthurt behavior. Or at least try to be less of a fop about it.

B. Prokop said...

Private charity and corporate social action (read: government) are like the right and left wings of a bird. Try flying with just one. A healthy society needs both to function well.

By the way, neither is intrinsically good or bad. Nothing in this world is, except as it advances or impairs our standing with God. If being indescribably wealthy happened to bring us closer to Him, then I'm all for it. If we were to love Him more by being dirt poor, then that's the way to go!

Ilíon said...

If people feel like their butt has been paddled, might they not avoid being asses in the first place?

B. Prokop said...

Insightful article on this very subject in today's Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/conservatives-used-to-care-about-community-what-happened/2012/05/24/gJQAsR8inU_story.html

Crude said...

Bob,

Private charity and corporate social action (read: government) are like the right and left wings of a bird. Try flying with just one. A healthy society needs both to function well.

The difference is that there can never be too much private charity. There can be too much 'corporate social action'. It can, and often does, harm the very people it's supposed to help.

Corporate social action should be far more limited than it already is, and private charity should be increased. The difficulty is this isn't a problem anyone can solve through legislating, and nowadays, that's the only solution many can ever see.

Ilion,

If people feel like their butt has been paddled,

That would be you, oh butthurt one. Seriously, I disagree with you strongly on a topic once, and you're suddenly in 'snark over the pettiest thing, unprovoked' mode - what, months after the fact?

But if you want fresh meat, here you go: "A successful capitalist who feels no duty to be charitable is as morally offensive to God as a socialist who seeks to make the state an object of worship." There. Something to get your "Gentle Reader" fop-groove to. ;)

Victor Reppert said...

The difference between you and Ilion is that he thinks of everything in left-right, conservative-liberal terms, good-bad terms, and you don't.

Zach said...

Crude once again gets shown up, but manages to make it the other person's problem. Every thread. lol

Crude said...

Victor,

The difference between you and Ilion is that he thinks of everything in left-right, conservative-liberal terms, good-bad terms, and you don't.

There's also the "I don't pitch a major hissy fit just because someone disagrees with me" thing. ;)

Anyway, on this particular point, I'm entirely sympathetic to the sincere Christian who wants to help the poor and downtrodden, and finds themselves starting to think in government terms. That Christian motivation is laudable. I think diving for the welfare state is a very grave mistake, but also an easy one. It's reflex nowadays to respond to just about any public or social problem with a government solution in whole or large part.

Crude said...

Incidentally, I was wrong re: something I said to Bob. There can be too much private charity - you can be excessive in your help, and give it where it's not necessary, and is actually harmful. Just as parents can spoil children by giving them too much, too easily.

Victor Reppert said...

But there are better and worse ways to be helpful to someone, and this is the case whether you are a government or an individual. Giving a homeless person a gift card that can only be used for food is better than giving cash, for example. I'm all in favor of alternatives to traditional welfare.

There is also the need for a public supported common infrastructure that permits enterprise to succeed, and into which everyone can be expected to pay. An educated population is better than an ignorant one, we need roads, bridges, etc. and protection against disease. If my next-door neighbor is in a mortgage he can't pay, maybe it's his fault and he deserves foreclosure. But, then again, I may have to live with an empty house next door.

Crude said...

Victor,

But there are better and worse ways to be helpful to someone, and this is the case whether you are a government or an individual. Giving a homeless person a gift card that can only be used for food is better than giving cash, for example. I'm all in favor of alternatives to traditional welfare.

And I'm fine with that too. As I've said in the past, I'm not against all welfare, period. I just think it should be very minimal, more minimal than most people seem to believe it should be.

I also think there's a duty that should be attached to charity, whether private or public. It's particularly hard to inculcate that the more corporate (government, or even 'large charity') things get.

There is also the need for a public supported common infrastructure that permits enterprise to succeed, and into which everyone can be expected to pay. An educated population is better than an ignorant one, we need roads, bridges, etc. and protection against disease.

I'm all in favor of reasonable infrastructure too. On the other hand, you say "into which everyone can be expected to pay". That's just not true: there are a tremendous number of freeloaders, especially federal freeloaders.

There's other problems here ('education' shouldn't cash out to what it almost always does), but that's important to remember. It's not 'everyone' paying for the roads. It's 'everyone who's getting taxed'. Not everyone else, and yet even the people who don't pay, use the roads. And of the people who do pay, they don't pay the same amounts.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

"True American Liberalism utterly denies the whole creed of socialism." ~ Herbert Hoover, The Challenge to Liberty.

"There is nothing compatible between Christianity and Socialism." ~ Pope Pius XII.

Says it all doesn't it? If you read the definition of socialism, all socialists are idealists. So how can a Christian be a socialist? Socialism is also chialist. Socialism is about immantizing the eschaton, i.e. gnosticism.

So how do you square the circle?

Ilíon said...

VR: "The difference between you and Ilion is that he thinks of everything in left-right, conservative-liberal terms, good-bad terms, and you don't."

Now, that is funny, in more than one way. The only thing I can think that might make it more funny had been if a certain self-aware leftist had said it.

You, yes, you, Victor Reppert, constantly spount all the standard shallow (and false!) leftist tropes about conservatives; you give the indication of almost believing that bullshit; when challenged on it, you try to defend it as being true, somehow, someway, non-specified, and always fall back on the "Yeah, well" defence -- and *now* you want to play the "All the Pretty Shades of Grey" card.

The "everything" to which you refer isn't everything, of couse, but it is specifically the "everything" that makes you, along with all the other "liberals" and harder-code leftists wrong; not just mistaken, but wrong.

I explain why your leftist-inspired-and-controlled political fantasies are not merely fantistic, but are wrong, indelibly, irrevokably wrong, And you "rebut" me with some ad hominem about "mean-spiritedness" or "selfishness" or some similar pointless twaddle. And *now* you want to play the "All the Pretty Shades of Grey" card.

Do you really want to go there, into that insanity? Do you really want to deny that the world is "binary" (as the Greyists phrase their attempted put-down)? Do you really want to deny that there is 'true' and there is 'false', but there is no 'true-and-false'? Do you really want to deny any possible state-of-affairs that one might specify either does obtain or does not obtain? Do you really want to deny that what is logically impossible is utterly impossible? Do you really want to deny that what is contrary to logic is false, and is immediately seen by that fact to be false?

Ilíon said...

VR: "The difference between you and Ilion is that he ..."

The difference between you and me, and most of those who comment here (including the person you appear (*) to have been directly addressing), is that you (singular and plural) constantly seek to have things both ways, whereas I seek to grasp how things really are and to conform my thought concerning how things really are to such discovery.

The difference between you (singular and plural) and me is that I really do believe the doctrine of 'Original Sin' and really do believe that we cannot save ourselves, whereas you are generally semi-Pelagians and some are flat-out Pelagians, expecially the more "liberal" of you.

The difference between you (singular and plural) and me is that you assert that what is wrong with the world is some external amorphous abstraction called "society", or that it's that "greedy" fellow over there (especially if he's "rich" ... though, oddly enough, not if he's a leftist, no matter how actually rich he is and no matter how he got it) -- and that if only the "right" people are holding the guns, "society" can be made to conform to "How Things Ought To Be" -- whereas I know and assert the truth, which is that what's wrong with the world is you and me.

The difference between you (singular and plural) and me is that you are enchanted by the pretty baubble "How Things Ought To Be", while studiously ignoring the suffering, misery, and industrial-strength bloodshed that always and everywhere follows when those who hold the guns are dangling it about, whereas I seek to identify and avoid the bloody flaw in the baubble.


The difference between you (singular and plural) and me is that I try always to take into account the fact of human fallenness, or human perversity, of human self-destructiveness, of how human beings really are, whereas you try to pretend than mankind can be made into angels ... if only the "right" people are holding the guns.


(*) Perhaps I should use the word 'ostensibly'; for, after all, I was meant to read that silly post.

Ilíon said...

""There is nothing compatible between Christianity and Socialism." ~ Pope Pius XII."

This is true -- socialism is utterly incompatible with Christianity.

At the same time Official Catholicism (and in Catholicism, the man-in-the-pew has no say in the matter, any matter) does constantly promote socialism ... they just don't like to call it socialism.

Crude said...

You, yes, you, Victor Reppert, constantly spount all the standard shallow (and false!) leftist tropes about conservatives;

No, he doesn't. Victor is clearly liberal and leftist, but for whatever liberalism he adheres to, he actually has a tremendous track record of treating conservatives with respect, and making it clear that a good portion of what motivates him towards liberalism is a sincere belief that Christian teaching points in that direction.

I say this as someone who disagrees with him, clearly. Victor has never failed to treat conservatives civilly, and he almost always frames his ("liberal") positions in a cautious 'this seems like the right approach to me' way, rather than some obnoxious, condescending 'this is the right way, and if you disagree then you are an ass' way. That alone sets him apart.

Griffith said...

Ilion,


You are, without a doubt, the worst communicator I have ever seen. Not only does the bulk of your commentary consist largely of snark, sneers, sarcasm, and mockery, all made more turbulent by your horribly asphyxiated prose (blame your awkward overuse of quotes, asterisks, dashes, and italics), and not only do you fancy such clumsy comments to be jewels of rational thought, but you also often utter jarring, insufferable rubbish like this:

"I am always right"

Are you the voice of God? The second coming of Christ? Some divine being that has transcended all distinctively human cognitive limitations? And what exactly are we - who do not know you - to make of you when you spout such silliness? What sort of effect do you expect it to have? Do you expect to be taken more seriously? Do you actually think it adds to your credibility, and that you will instantly garner more respect?

Breaking news: You won't, because you - as your deranged and creepily confident posts demonstrate time and time again - are not a shining example of rationality and goodness, but of stale, boring, juvenile hubris.

Ilíon said...

"You are, without a doubt, the worst communicator I have ever seen. ... "

That just breaks my heart that you would make such an ignorant comment, when you have no idea what you're talking about.