This blog is the second part of one I wrote about Christianity and capitalism and has its basis in the same Twitter thread asking if you can be a capitalist and a Christian. One reply was that Christianity is Communism.
I used to be sympathetic towards Communism. So sympathetic that I read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the best book I have ever read because it cured me of Communism. There was a lot I agreed with, but the things I disliked were more fundamental. Further reading brought me to Lenin who extended the idea of a people’s militia, standing down the armies and arming the population, to saying that militia should be in defence of the revolution. Fighting against people because of their political beliefs is there at the heart of Communism.
In Communist China the Church is thriving. The Atheist government has closed down the seminaries and jailed the theologians and also jails church pastors who step out of line. But God is stronger than any political ideology. The jails which are meant to stop the Gospel from spreading have become the seminaries where Christians are trained and non-Christians converted by the Christian leaders in there.
Communism and Capitalism are not opposites, in the political compass both tend towards authoritarianism. What is the Christian view on political authority?
In an extremely authoritarian regime the government restricts the freedom of the people.This is true of both the economic left and right. In an extremely libertarian regime the government does not prevent people being restricted by other people. The Bible has something to say about both these, first the libertarians:
In the book of Judges, in the time while the Israelites were settling Canaan after the Exodus from Egypt there is a refrain, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 17:6 and 21:25. This has always been a difficult verse for me as I love freedom, yet this freedom is seen as a bad thing. The people were too free, free enough to disregard authority, even the authority of God.
Now for the authoritarians:
In 1 Samuel 8, the people ask Samuel to give them a king. Samuel tales the issue to God,and this is his reply:
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.
Gid warns the people against authoritarian government.
In the New Testament some take the verse in Acts 2:44-45 as a statement of communal living. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” But when we look only a short tome after that, about Barnabas, who “sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 4:37. Barnabas sold a field that he owned, it does nor say he sold all his property, nor all his fields, just a field. They still had possessions, but had a light hold on them. Property was not communal.
Socialism and the Gospel
Socialism, that is wider than just Communism, still has a belief in the state owning all business. State ownership is not a bad thing. The NHS in the UK is a great example of a health service that is state owned and free at the point of need. The Capitalist idea that you need competition to drive costs down does not apply here. Neither does the ecological crisis. Global warming needs state legislation to make all businesses comply. The free market os one of the driving forces for climate change.
Outside of the extremes of the economic left and economic right and of the Authoritarian and Libertarian beliefs there is a lot of space for different political opinions within Christianity. I am not advocating in any way that everyone should join me in the centre. I have issues with the traditional Labour position of nationalisation, as I also do with the Conservative desire to privatise amenities, but I can see that a lot of Labour policies have more in common with the teachings of the Methodist Church in the 19th Century than they do with the teachings of Marx.
But socialism does challenge the Church to be more concerned about social justice. That God is on the side of widows,orphans, foreigners and the dispossessed cannot be denied; it is a theme that runs through the Old and New Testaments. This is not a separate social gospel that prevents us from preaching the word of salvation,this is in every way part of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It also challenges us to invite all Christian forces to unite in action. Christianity and Socialism are moral allies on meeting people’s needs. But we need both human conscience and God’s Holy Spirit to lead us.
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn says: “Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive.”