Dale is a religious studies and philosophy student at Appalachian State University, and hopes to enter seminary at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Dale is also a member of a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dale blogs here.
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.
Let us establish what Socialism is: Socialism is the government control of the market, whereas 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 had his wealth taken from by 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’s 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 must pay higher rates than others merely because some have earned lots of money and others have not. At its root, the socialist believes that it is an injustice for some to have more than others.
3.) The idea of “giving 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, judge’s 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.
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:
“32 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.
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. 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.
This is by no means an exhaustive critique; my intent is simply to reveal the obvious shortcomings of socialism and hopefully promote a just and fair society. Christians must realize that advocating for a socialist economy does not make one generous or compassionate, it’s simply naive. 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. Economic liberty is the reason why the United States is the wealthiest country in the history of the world.
Since it’s inception, the Christian church has led the way in providing hospitals for the sick, public housing for the poor, food for the hungry, education for the disadvantaged, and medicine for the ill. The church has led the way in defending the rights of the slave and the unborn. Why have Christians for ages done so? Because Christians believe that it is Christ that renews the man. Only God can change the heart, because our hearts are the issue. The Christian preaches the gospel so that changed hearts become changed lives and changed lives change communities. No Government can reproduce that, especially by force. Socialism is not the answer to economic injustice, the gospel is.