Socialism in Jesus’ Name?
“Jesus wants us to care for the poor. Socialism cares for the poor. Therefore Jesus wants socialism.” It’s a pretty simple syllogism. It is, nevertheless, a terribly flawed one. The first premise, Jesus wants us to care for the poor, is true enough. If we are given to rejecting the conclusion, that doesn’t call us to deny the truth of the first premise. The mistreatment of the poor was regular fodder for the Old Testament prophets, and the right care of the poor a key theme in the establishment of the law for God’s people, Israel. Jesus spoke to the issue as well, as did many of the New Testament epistle writers.
The second premise is not true enough. It’s not true at all. I will soon address its lack of truth, but for now, I’m willing to grant that it is true, in order to demonstrate that the syllogism is still flawed. All we need to do is substitute two different true premises and find that the conclusion is false. Consider this syllogism—It is good for my lawn to be watered. A flood of Noahic proportions waters my lawn. Therefore a flood of Noahic proportions is good for my lawn. Or this—Jesus wants criminals to be punished. Vigilantism punishes criminals. Therefore, Jesus wants vigilantism.
The essence of all three arguments reduces down to this—any means that achieves a desired end must be good, something we should seek. In short, the ends justify the means. The trouble is, they don’t. One of the baleful influences of pragmatism on the broader culture and on the church is that we choose our ends, rightly or wrongly, and then ignore the law of God in deciding how to pursue those ends. God’s law, however, shows us not only what we ought to be pursuing, but the right and biblical path for pursuing it. Doing God’s things our ways in the end is doing our things, not God’s things.
Socialism operates under the premise that the state not only has the authority to take what rightfully belongs to one man to give it to another, but has a duty to do so. Whether it is socialized education, or socialized health care, or socialized medication, or socialized retirement, or simply the taking of cash from one man to give to another, it is of a piece. That we might be in favor of education or medicine or retirement, that we might want to see others receive these blessings, however, should not lead us to support programs that take the wealth God has entrusted to the care of one man to give to another. When one man takes from another by force we rightly call this stealing, something forbidden by God in the Ten Commandments. When ten men or ten million men elect civil leaders to take the wealth of others by force, this too is something forbidden by God in the Ten Commandments. It no more makes a difference if this stealing benefits us or those we would like to see benefited.
Which brings us back to the second premise of the original argument, “Socialism cares for the poor.” It doesn’t. It hurts the poor. How do we know this? Because it is precisely the opposite of the pattern God established for caring for the poor. Socialism is built on taking from our neighbor. God’s pattern, in establishing gleaning laws in ancient Israel is built on our neighbor freely sharing with the poor. Socialism takes a man’s dignity, and his reason for being, by taking away the incentive to work. Gleaning maintains a man’s calling to be productive, and maintains his dignity. Gleaning was difficult, back-breaking labor. Going to your mailbox to collect a check is far worse, demeaning, soul crushing non-labor.
Jesus wants us to care for the poor. But the “us” is me, and you. It is not me and you voting for a candidate who promises to take from them. We cannot feed the hungry in Jesus name if we have just taken the food from our neighbor. Instead we are baptizing what we are really doing, giving what we have taken in Caesar’s name. We have to give freely, from our own blessing. The growing zeal among younger evangelicals for what they call “social justice” is sadly too often a zeal for social injustice. The passion among millennial Christians for caring for the downtrodden is laudable. Their willingness to tread down their neighbor, however, is not.
All of us are called to receive freely, to give freely. None of us, however, are called to take. And when we do we take Jesus’ name in vain.