Socialism, Social Justice, and the Churches
Christians can have some quite muddled thinking on things like “social justice”:
Having just been chided by a ‘Christian socialist’ on another page on this site (she seemed quite perturbed that Corbyn and Labour were soundly rejected in the UK), it is worth again looking at some of the issues that arise here. That socialism is an utterly failed ideology – both in theory and in practice – should by now be obvious to all.
And that biblical Christians should want nothing to do with it should also be obvious. I have written often on such matters. See a few pieces here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/11/12/socialism-social-justice-church/
And here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/08/14/actually-no-jesus-was-not-a-socialist/
I will not revisit what is found in those articles, but will instead draw upon some new – and not so new – works that further address these themes. One very recent article examines “Socialism’s Unbroken Trail of Failure”. John Eidson writes:
Having left an unbroken trail of failure in its wake, socialism is doomed to fail wherever it’s tried, because it is in eternal mortal conflict with the basic human instinct that those who work hard, pursue advanced education, employ their ingenuity, or risk their capital have an inborn expectation to do significantly better than those who don’t. As 18th century Scottish economist Adam Smith put it, “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.” Stated differently, every socialist who works for a living does so not out of altruistic instincts, but to feather his own financial nest. That, too, will never change.
He looks at various myths, including the idea that socialism is simply about fairness and equality:
One of the most chilling commands in The Communist Manifesto is this: “The theory of communism can be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.” In socialist countries, the only people who own high-value assets are the socialist rulers and their loyal cronies. Because there is little upward mobility under socialism, socialist societies are characterized by two economic levels: a small, immensely wealthy ruling elite at the top, and at the bottom, the low-income masses forced to obey the dictates of their socialist masters. A large and prosperous middle class like what we have in America does not exist in countries with single-party socialist rule. Those who doubt that need only ask people who have lived in such places. https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2019/12/socialisms_unbroken_trail_of_failure.html
A year ago Julie Roys offered “Five Reasons Socialism Is Not Christian”. Here is one of her points:
3. Socialism Endorses Stealing
Barack Obama once defended his socialist policies to a little girl by saying, “We’ve got to make sure that people who have more money help the people who have less money. If you had a whole pizza, and your friend had no pizza, would you give him a slice?”
That sounds pretty Christian, right? What Christian wouldn’t endorse sharing your abundance with someone who has nothing? However, Obama wasn’t endorsing people voluntarily sharing their wealth with others; he was endorsing the government forcibly taking a piece of the pie from one person and giving it to someone else. Put another way, that’s saying that if you have three cars and your neighbor has none, the government has a right to take your car and give it to your neighbor. That’s not Christian; that’s stealing!
But, socialists don’t believe in private property. And, some Christian socialists actually assert that the Bible doesn’t either. That’s preposterous.
Both the Old Testament and New Testament unequivocally affirm private property. We can’t even obey the eighth commandment to not steal, unless we accept the notion of private ownership. Nor, can we steward our money as the Bible commands if the state owns our money, not us. So, for an economic and political system to be Christian, it must protect private ownership and allow individuals freedom to allocate their resources according to their conscience. https://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2018/12/five-reasons-socialism-is-not-christian/
The social justice crowd is keen to run with such government confiscation of wealth, pretending it is somehow compassionate and Christian. Not really. In his very significant 1983 volume, Idols for Destruction, Herbert Schlossberg speaks about a society that has
institutionalized envy and uses the term social justice to describe a system of legalized theft. That should alert us to the cant in the old fraud that property rights can somehow be separated from human rights and are inferior to them. There are no societies that are cavalier toward property rights but which safeguard human rights. The state that lays its hand on your purse will lay it on your person. Both are the acts of a government that despises transcendent law. Those who think they will replace the competition of capitalism with the cooperation of socialism know nothing of either.
He goes on to discuss Christian socialists and their various theological and economic shortcomings. He notes how these folks undermine key theological principles as they push pragmatic concerns. In this discussion he has a quote in a footnote from the Austrian-British philosopher and economist Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992).
That short quote sparked my interest, so I ran to one of my bookshelves, found the volumes in question, blew off the dust, and reread the relevant portions. I refer to his hugely important 3-volume work, Law, Legislation and Liberty (University of Chicago press, 1973, 1976, 1979). In vol. 2 he has a helpful chapter on social or distributive justice. He is worth quoting from at length:
The appeal to ‘social justice’ has nevertheless by now become the most widely used and most effective argument in political discussion. Almost every claim for government action on behalf of particular groups is advanced in its name…
The expression of course described from the beginning the aspirations which were at the heart of socialism. Although classical socialism has usually been defined by its demand for the socialization of the means of production, this was for it chiefly a means thought to be essential in order to bring about a ‘just’ distribution of wealth; and since socialists have later discovered that this redistribution could in a great measure, and against less resistance, be brought about by taxation (and government services financed by it), and have in practice often shelved their earlier demands, the realization of ‘social justice’ has become their chief promise. It might indeed be said that the main difference between the order of society at which classical liberalism aimed and the sort of society into which it is now being transformed is that the former was governed by principles of just individual conduct while the new society is to satisfy the demands for ‘social justice’ – or, in other words, that the former demanded just action by the individuals while the latter more and more places the duty of justice on authorities with power to command people what to do.
The phrase social justice could exercise this effect because it has gradually been taken over from the socialist not only by all the other political movements but also by most teachers and preachers of morality. It seems in particular to have been embraced by a large section of the clergy of all Christian denominations, who, while increasingly losing their faith in a supernatural revelation, appear to have sought a refuge and consolation in a new ‘social’ religion which substitutes a temporal for a celestial promise of justice, and who hope that they can thus continue their striving to do good. The Roman Catholic church especially has made the aim of ‘social justice’ part of its official doctrine; but the ministers of most Christian denominations appear to vie with each other with such offers of more mundane aims – which also seem to provide the chief foundation for renewed ecumenical efforts….
What we have to deal with in the case of ‘social justice’ is simply a quasi-religious superstition of the kind which we should respectfully leave in peace so long as it merely makes those happy who hold it, but which we must fight when it becomes the pretext of coercing other men. And the prevailing belief in ‘social justice’ is at present probably the gravest threat to most other values of a free civilization.
Obviously much more needs to be said about all this. And even people like Hayek have acknowledged that there certainly is a place for a safety net in society. As he said a bit later in the chapter: “There is no reason why in a free society government should not assure to all protection against severe deprivation in the form of assured minimum income, or a floor below which nobody need to descend.”
And since I mentioned Catholicism, one could also offer much more discussion on that. Let me point out just one very useful resource to take this further. In 2015 noted Catholic social thinker and free market proponent Michael Novak penned a key volume, Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is. Those so inclined might consider getting a hold of that book.
But suffice it to say that there is far too much moral and mental sloppiness when it comes to things like social justice and socialism. And those calling themselves Christians can often be the most guilty of doing this. But I close with two further quotes.
In 1979 Hayek said this to a Sydney audience: “To discover the meaning of what is called ‘social justice’ has been one of my chief preoccupations for more than 10 years. I have failed in this endeavour — or rather, have reached the conclusion that, with reference to society of free men, the phrase has no meaning whatever.”
And in 2011 Thomas Sowell wrote in Intellectuals and Society:
Among the many arguments without arguments, none is more persuasive or more powerful than that of what is called “social justice.” Yet it is a term with no real definition, even though it is a term that has been in use for more than a century. All justice is inherently social, since someone on a desert island cannot be either just or unjust. What seems to be implied by adding the word ‘social’ to the concept of justice is that justice is to be established among groups, rather than just individuals. But this collectivizing of justice does little to make the concept of social justice any clearer.
15 Replies to “Socialism, Social Justice, and the Churches”
Exo_20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.
The biggest problem with the term “social justice” is that it makes out that there exists more than one type of justice, which is obviously untrue. So the only real purpose for having such a term is to justify bypassing actual justice and claiming that we need to do this so as to achieve “social justice.” It is, of course, a complete slight-of-hand as there is no justification for bypassing true justice other than for mercy, and you have to pay for mercy yourself.
The provision of mercy means we should forgive people’s debts, if they are unable to pay, but we already have bankruptcy laws which have significant loopholes that are being exploited by unscrupulous people and definitely need to be tightened up.
Outside of this, for there to be true justice, there is the right of every person to be able to make a living and, as the Apostle Paul said, if a man does not work neither should he eat (2 Thes 3:10). Under the twelve tribes of Israel the land was the main means of making a living and so this was divided between the eleven, non-priestly tribes. In modern times we have determined that the best way to fairly and justly allow people to make a good living is through subsidized education. Unfortunately this, too, has been perverted so that the public subsidy of education now often has little to do with advancing society and the provision of a just distribution of the means to provide. Just as we have allowed the subsidizing of public media to promote the formation of a government propaganda bureau, so too we have allowed much of the education system to become propagandist. It is this, apparently inevitable, corruption of government bureaus that is the inevitable basis of socialist injustice and which the democratic system, largely because of the propagandist nature of the public media and education systems themselves, has of late, been apparently unable to correct. Just as we were taught by Jesus about “leaven”, once you remove the effective controls and allow corruption to increase it quickly becomes increasingly difficult to deal with. The trouble is that people have been remarkably slow waking up to the potential problems of giving complete control of the media and education to left-wing ideologues.
The justly administered capitalist system is the one which historically has proven to provide the largest and wealthiest middle class and the greatest amount of freedom, which is exactly as you would expect as this is the system God gave Israel. When the socialists decry this as being “bourgeois” they are simply echoing the covetous tyrannies of the past. Unfortunately we have gone so far off track that I can even recall Boris Johnson repeating the concept of the bourgeoisie and when things like that start to happen the warning bells really should be sounding. When you are only given a false choice within claimed democracy, you are definitely entering Orwellian territory. This is why I am glad the Liberal Party in Australia was smart enough to get rid of the left-wing and ABC propagandist darling; Malcolm Turnbull, but we still have a long way to go to correct matters because the thinking of this generation has definitely been significantly perverted and this generation is definitely not understanding things that should be obvious.
To expand on this, especially with the US election approaching, the Agenda DVDs – Grinding America Down & Masters of Deceit – by Curtis Bowers are riveting and essential viewing for everyone, and especially important for praying people to view and be aware of. Perhaps Bill, you could introduce/review them in one of your columns?
Thanks Suzanna. I already did – at least the first one!
I wholly agree that social justice is a term that’s hard to define but to refer to socialism in terms of the abolition of private property does not reflect the position so recently rejected by UK voters. Whilst both Corbyn himself and his radical but financially unconvincing manifesto were soundly rejected, be in no doubt that poverty will increase under Conservative rule. Food bank use is soaring; the migration of benefits to Universal Credit is incompetent and brutal, whilst workers’ rights dwindle as the gig economy takes hold. What has been absent from Conservatism is mercy; profits do not trickle down but go into offshore accounts. It’s easy for a middle class Christian to agree with the article ; for those condemned to languish at the bottom of the pile, capitalism and conservatism need to discovery the mercy that Jesus demonstrated before the lure of the left is defeated.
Thanks Trevor. But a few replies can be offered. While there are no perfect political or economic systems in a fallen world, we do have several centuries of history to guide us here. So far the historical record is all rather clear: the free market, for all its faults, has raised the masses out of poverty, while socialism moves the masses in the opposite direction.
And given that Boris has only officially been in office a few days as the duly elected leader, we might give him a bit of time to see how things actually pan out, instead of pronouncing gloom and doom as some sort of fait accompli. I am not a prophet, so I will have to wait and see what in fact will happen in the months ahead. We will also need to assess the economy and related developments once Brexit is finally realised.
And one is tempted to call you bluff here. Are you indeed one of the poorest of the poor? Did you actually have to borrow someone’s computer and internet to make your comment? Or are you just another middle-class commentator?! Be that as it may, there were plenty of non-middle-class voters – indeed, millions of WORKERS, the ones you claim to champion – who decisively rejected Corbyn and socialism and ran with Boris and the Conservatives. Perhaps they know something that you don’t.
Lastly, I certainly must call your bluff if you think that socialism is somehow a reflection of the mercy of Jesus. It is of course nothing of the sort – the exact opposite in fact. But I have already discussed this, as in this piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/08/14/actually-no-jesus-was-not-a-socialist/
Moreover, there are plenty of “compassionate conservatives” out there. Maybe you need to become aware of them. See here for starters: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/08/15/christian-socialism-christian-liberalism/
So if you want to come back in 6 or 12 months’ time, then we can talk about what is actually happening, not just what you think – or hope – will happen!
A question lingers in the back rows of my mind upon reading the article above: “Is “social justice” really to be understood as a thinly veiled synonym for “Socialist justice”?””
Revolutionary Socialist justice as it was practised and developed in the Soviet Union is detailed in the pages of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago: Socialist justice in the days of Lenin and Stalin included purges of allegedly reactionary social groups, show trials of alleged wreckers of the Revolution and the state-sponsored disintegration of families.
May we expect the proponents of Neo-Marxist Critical Social Theory to see social justice in the terms of their dreams of a grand coalition of the marginalised cohorts of society – a coalition set to eventually overthrow the mainstream status quo and to demand the celebration of an ever-expanding spectrum of divergences from what was once held to be “right and proper conduct”?
Thanks John. It is all about the politics of envy. Winston Churchill got it right when he said, “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.” And Thomas Sowell put it this way: “Envy used to be one of the seven deadly sins. But now it is the prime political virtue, under its new name – ‘social justice’.”
My take on this subject, apologies for the length:
The government is usually the largest entity in any country, so the idea of giving it the power to violate the eighth commandment without limit spells death (or at least misery on a grand scale) for the people of that country. As you have pointed out, that failure has an unbroken record and is as certain as night following day. It’s almost as predictable as the laws of physics. What follows implementing socialism (or communism or fascism – the differences between them are cosmetic) is the equivalent of turning the engines off a plane at 30,000ft. You know what happens soon enough afterwards, it’s inevitable.
My mind always goes back to East and West Germany and the contrasts between those two countries during the Cold War. What happened if you wanted a car if you lived on the East side? I have relatives who told me of how they ordered a car in 1972 and ended up getting it only months before the Wall came down – that’s right, a full 17 years later. This was not uncommon – and the cars were heaps of junk! Meanwhile, relatives who were on the West side could go down to the local car dealer and get a Mercedes or BMW that same day. Never mind comparing what was on the shelves of the supermarkets.
You have to be ignorant or evil to advocate for socialism. A recent movie I watched that I highly recommend is a German drama Ballon (Balloon) which tells of the families Strelzyk and Wetzel who were so desperate in the late 1970s to cross to the West they secretly made a hot air balloon to fly across the border. They failed at their first attempt and the ruined material near the border alerted the Stasi (secret police) to their plan and it came perilously close to failing, this time with their arrests. Although watching the movie you know the ending, the terror of the authorities closing in while the families rushed to realise their plans is palpable. Imagine living in such a country where the government recognises no authority above itself!
There were no people going to such great lengths to ‘escape’ from West to East Germany. Many people who tried to cross the Berlin Wall/border to the West did fail and paid the ultimate price. I’ve seen the crosses and memorials near the Brandenburger Tor with my own eyes. This pattern of lopsided border crossing has been repeated many times throughout the history of the world (indeed, North Korea and Venezuela are two current examples) and testify to the utter foolishness of seeing socialism as good. Another quote from Thomas Sowell to add from yours above: “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.” Worth mentioning here is the well over 100 million people murdered by their own governments in the 20th century. Yay for socialism/communism/fascism.
Some Christians seem to forget we live in an imperfect world and that our own deeply corrupted sinful nature contributes directly to the absolute impossibility of utopia before Jesus returns. Government is at best a necessary evil that should occupy the middle ground between anarchy and totalitarianism, and generally stay out of the lives of individuals, but we must never see it as an ultimate solution, only a flawed tool to reduce the scale of evil in the world. The best we can hope for is to reduce and dilute the evil in the heart of man and the economic system that has succeeded best at this is capitalism, which ultimately simply upholds one principle – what you earn you get to keep and no-one, not even the government, has the right to take it from you.
Socialism does the exact opposite – every ‘solution’ proposed when fully analysed can only be implemented by increasing the size and/or power of government (setting itself up as a substitute for God) and therein is the fatal flaw. Socialism concentrates and centralises power, and therefore the evil in the heart of Man with it. Government eventually metastasizes into a monster that cannot be chained and individuals suffer. It can easily take your property, your freedom to worship, your freedom to criticise government, etc. There are good reasons the founders of the USA clearly articulated a Bill of Rights to set clear no-go zones for government to potentially infringe. Even over 200 years ago human history had a vivid testimony they wanted to avoid repeating. (In my view, they didn’t go far enough!)
The Bible has clear lessons from a long time ago – the Tower of Babel (Gen 11) and Samuel trying to dissuade Israel from appointing a king (1 Sam 8) – that speak to this trajectory.
Did the Israelites listen? Ha! No. An entire nation with a history of God rescuing them from slavery through multiple epic miracles had the collective maturity of a three year screaming for sweets in the supermarket. That’s how I see those who claim that socialism is Christian. The good news at least is that God doesn’t abandon these rebellious children, despite their foolishness, after all He gave them King David and blessed Solomon – to a point. It’s important to remember that even at the height of that they were still doing worse than if they hadn’t clamoured for a king.
Paul explains in Romans 13 that the true scope of government authority from God is (obviously) limited within the boundaries of His moral standard – the Ten Commandments (v9). I note how many will attempt to invoke that chapter to support capitulating and funding to any number of immoral ‘laws’ such as the legalisation of murder (eg. abortion) or the dishonouring of parents (eg. redefining marriage.) They promote the abuse of that authority – similar to how they misappropriate Acts 4 to support socialism – but apparently fail to properly consider that Paul himself got arrested many times standing up for God’s truth, as did many of the apostles, as did many of the early church. The eighth commandment is still valid and is unqualified in its application to rich and poor, young and old, and the government and individuals.
Finally, a short answer to Trevor’s assertion that “What has been absent from Conservatism is mercy; profits do not trickle down…” That is utter tosh. It cannot possibly be seriously argued that leveraging the power of government to take from others is “mercy”. Also, virtually everything I own comes from money that did indeed ‘trickle down’ from people richer than I. I am deeply grateful to have found somebody richer than me – so they can pay me! I freely agreed to give them my labour, and they paid me a price I agreed to. We both won.
Now, you can certainly point out that some rich people don’t reward their workers fairly (as will happen in a society of free people who sin), but in a free market, such a business operation usually ends up failing because competition can exist where people are treated better. Workers can leave the bad employer and look for a better one, or they can even become an employer themselves. In the closed market that socialism advocates, the government has no competition and will keep exploiting the poor forever because they have nowhere to run.
Is that “mercy”? No. Those who advocate socialism need to foster a more complete list of criteria to assess ideas – at the very least they need to prove it can work better for the poor. (But it never does.) A flawed concept of mercy and/or justice is woefully inadequate, you need to tick a few more boxes.
One final quote from Thomas Sowell is appropriate: “Virtually every stupid idea in vogue today was thought of by somebody in the past — and has led to disaster, again and again.”
Good comments from the above except for the deceit of “trickle down” economic policy which ignores the basic economic principle of a demand driven economy.
You don’t boost an economy by subsidizing (buying off) the wealthy. An economy is boosted as ordinary people are given the means to buy the goods and services they need and desire, and this then gives the opportunity and impetus for people to invest and set up systems to provide those things they see a demand for. This only occurs when people are allowed to make a fair return on their own personal productivity and investment. This has always been the way people have overcome tyranny whether it was how we escaped feudalism or how capitalism repeatedly triumphs over socialism or any other oppressive, tyrannical system. This only occurs when the fundamental respect for the individual outweighs other considerations and this can only ever be provided for by a justly-administered, capitalist economy. The fundamental lie of socialism is that it is founded on basic disrespect for the individual and justifies this individual disrespect by a complex web of deceit.
You don’t necessarily work for the rich. Anyone who has been involved in startup companies will tell you that often the owners make less than their employees, especially when the company is just starting, but owners do it because they recognize that there is a principle that if you work hard enough and don’t do too much foolish, the system will allow you to get a return on your effort. Those who run companies have their own bosses – their shareholders, creditors and customers.
What allowed us to escape the feudal system (which deliberately put wealth into the hands of the wealthy i.e. the ultimate trickle down system) which oppressed ordinary people as being less worthy, and so caused the economy to stagnate, was the fact that people developed skills that there was a demand for. Initially much of this demand was from the rich, but as the system progressed, all people started to create a demand for products and services. As this demand increased those providing the goods and services required, were increasingly able to invest in machinery etc. The net result was that an ordinary person today can live much better than even the oppressive tyrants of the past did.
The reason this works is because it creates an environment where people are encouraged to use all the skills, knowledge, intelligence and capabilities they have. When you have this happening, for as many people as possible, the inevitable result is that everyone benefits, including the wealthy. As Jesus tried to tell us – greed doesn’t work. Greed inevitably ends up being counter productive. Respect for the individual, which you only ever get under a moral, justly-administered capitalist society, is what allows society to advance.
This is not the only issue, of course, because the other side of the equation is just how much immorality and decadence tear down and massively cost a society, and thereby create another massive brake on the economy and another major factor in preventing a society from reaching its full potential.
With any of these things there is an economic principle of a multiplier effect. You don’t only get the benefits or detriment of the thing itself but there is an ongoing reach into the rest of society. E.g. it is not just the cost to the individual when people reap the effects of immorality, its the fact that other people then have to pick up the cost and effort in correcting this and this cost then has to be paid for out of the other people’s surplus, which, as the immorality increases, becomes increasingly diminished and harder to come by. The people who are then picking up the pieces of the immoral person’s life then have less to invest plus there is less economic demand in society and so this effect multiplies throughout the economy with increasing numbers of people not able to reach their full potential.
Immorality is essentially a bottomless pit or a cracked jar or a money bag with holes, as the scriptures call it. It costs money but it does not give you any medium to long term benefit. This is the lesson we were supposed to learn from the parable of the prodigal son. It is very easy to waste money and get no ongoing benefit from it through immoral living. What actually works is loving paternalism and respect for what our elders teach us has worked in the past.
A major problem with modern Australian society is we are subsidizing immorality to a massive extent and, as we take that road, this requirement to subsidize immorality will only ever increase with a corresponding reduction in our ability to pay.
What needs to happen is to bring the real cost of immorality out into the open, not to blame the victim, as the left wing of politics claims, but to see and address the real issues. As it stand there are insidious tentacles of immorality that pervade all of society but this is being hidden using our past wealth. As with the prodigal son, this approach can only work short term.
Michael the left might say ‘it depends on what the meaning of not is’.
Trevor you are right that there are many conservatives who need mercy and compassion for the poor etc but this is to be done through charities, churches and community groups NOT through government. Jesus’ command was to individuals, not to government. Give unto the POOR not give unto CAESAR that he might give unto the poor.
Mark only a genius would advocate for socialism the rest of us are smart enough to dismiss it.
As I was reading this article a thought bubble appeared in front of me and I might be off the planet with this or I am hitting the nail on the head.
There is a line of thought that what we do is more important than what we say. Some paraphrase it as being like Jesus. But the question is this…What is Jesus like?
If we are going to change the world or whatever we want or plan to do, surely we have to know what the plan is and what are the instructions of the leader.
Some will say the Bible gives us all of our instructions. Where is social justice in the Bible and what does it mean? How would Jesus express social justice?
Surely these are the sort of things that needs to be addressed from the leadership of the church so we can go out and talk to people about things that are important to them. Jesus loves you and wants to save you I find totally insufficient.
The other thing is the leadership that is totally opposed to using the expertise of members of their congregation in addressing issues. I taught Economics to VCE students mainly because I knew more than what they did and I had trained to teach them and I knew my subject matter inside out.
Sad to say there is a mentality that if you are not ordained you have nothing to contribute.
Capitalism is something that we need to understand so it needs to be explained by the church, not a pastor who is trying to piece together something relevant on the subject but a member of his congregation who is the head of a major company if he has one or gets one from outside the church.
Instead, in most churches, we are left to survive little homilies that have virtually no relevance to anyone.
A few days ago we had our silver seventies get together. The two main purposes were to eat and talk. We did both and because of the age and experience of everyone there the conversation was alive and compelling.
Sad to say, too many churches are run by 30 y.o. Joe Blow who has little or no experience of real life.
Church wake up to yourself and get onto the subjects that matter and can make everyone effective and compelling.
Margaret Thatcher expressed it eloquently, saying, “Socialism a great idea until you run out of other people’s money”.
The Christian concept of life’s activities as divinely-appointed vocations to be worked at to the honour of God, who calls His people to service, is the “backbone” that made Capitalism what it used to be. The Protestant Work Ethic, as a certain sociologist famously labelled it, is something that has all but died with the rise of a largely Secularist, Consumerist underpinning of what passes for today’s “Capitalism”.
The Epistle of James serves as a good antidote to today’s self-centred Consumer Capitalism: A living faith that issues in a “good life…” and “…deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” – (James 3:13 ) is surely a good place to start in addressing the matters we have been discussing above.
As I am the Christian socialist that Bill referred to at the onset of his article, I will respond to what was a well-argued case for Christians to be active within conservative or centre-right politics.
The main problem that I have with Bill’s argument is that it takes its cues primarily from the United States, which has never had comprehensive welfare states and strong trade union movements, unlike much of the rest of the western world. In the late nineteenth century, in Western Europe, Canada and Australasia, many Catholic and Protestant Christians responded to both papal encyclicals and the ‘social gospel’ movement and became earnestly involved in movements that sought to remedy desperate social inequalities when it came to housing, homelessness, the destitution of the disabled and elderly, family disintegration and workplace exploitation. They regarded these activities as “Christianity in action” or the fulfilment of the gospel imperative to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’. Unfortunately, the United States took a sharp turn rightward after the 1940s and didn’t implement the strengthened welfare state and social reforms that prevailed across much of the rest of the western world. I don’t think that this is necessarily an evangelical-versus-Catholic thing either. There are evangelicals, such as Jim Wallis and the Sojourners community, and the Third Way magazine in the United Kingdom, which uphold the standard of Christian socialism, as well as Catholics and other Christian groups within the Labour Party. Outside the United States, many thoughtful evangelicals argue that we need to be active across many political parties, not just the centre-right.
I actually feel rather sorry for Christians who are active within the centre-right, though. In New Zealand, the End of Life Choices Act (and the euthanasia movement generally) has almost always been aligned with radical libertarians within the National, New Zealand First and ACT parties. The radical libertarian ACT party and its National Party fellow travellers, especially former National Party PM John Key, bent over backward to attack that beachhead of the sanctity of human life. And refreshingly, a significant proportion of Labour MPs came to vote against it as they realised the destructiveness of the radical libertarian agenda behind that legislation. I acknowledge that Labour is to blame for New Zealand’s Abortion Legislation Bill, but a significant proportion of National MPs voted for that evil proposed attack on the unborn as well. Of course, when it came to New South Wales, it was the Liberal/National Coalition state Premier Gladys Berejikian who was to blame for its introduction and passage. Neither the major centre-left or centre-right blocs provide satisfactory and unobstructed fora for Christians, especially when it comes to the sanctity of life. I fear that centre-right Christians are in an abusive relationship with their political bloc, though. There may well be good and honest Christians within the Liberal and National caucuses and party organisations, but radical libertarians do not share their loyalties or political philosophies. Any more than marxists share those of moderate Christian democratic socialists like those of us who choose to vote for and support the Labour Party or ALP and work within it. And frankly, Bill, the United States has its own share of social problems when it comes to runaway crime, drug abuse, poverty and homelessness, which do not make a particularly attractive model to emulate.
Thanks Rhona, but you may be somewhat amiss on some points here. Actually, with over 100,000 comments sent to this site (75% of them posted), there are many Christian leftists and socialists who come here, not just you! So I of course had many such folks in mind, as well as those I deal with on the social media.
And I am not sure what your remark about America has to go with anything. Given that I have lived in Australia for decades now, and have lived longer in Europe and Australia than America, I do know a bit about how various Western nations operate in these areas. And having lectured in theology and church history for decades, I do know a bit about things like the ‘social gospel” and religious left groups like Sojourners etc. And having been a hardcore leftist myself in my early days, I know a bit about Marxism and socialism.
As to your remark about ‘evangelicals arguing that we need to be active across many political parties, not just the centre-right,’ my article of course was seeking to make the case about the shortcomings of both so-called Christian socialism and Christian libertarianism. I nowhere said that Christians should avoid altogether being involved in some of the major parties, whether Republican and Democrat in America, Liberal and Labor in Australia, and so on. But as these leftist parties move ever further to the hard secular hard, it becomes ever harder for the biblical Christian to remain there and seek to have some sort of influence, without compromising their basic biblical principles, beliefs and values. For example, often politicians must follow the party line on key moral and cultural issues.
As to the various major parties, the leftist parties are overwhelmingly the parties pushing abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and all the other radical leftist causes. That a handful of members in those parties (often Catholics) dare to differ does not minimise the basic secular left agendas and ideologies of leftist political parties. And the presence of libertarians and liberals in the supposedly conservative parties does not negate the fact that most conservative parties do not have official policies like abortion on demand. The problem in much of Australia is that too many decidedly non-conservatives (as well as non-Christians) are in the conservative parties, causing all sorts of damage. Simply think of Malcolm Turnbull, the best Labor leader the Liberals ever had. But practical questions of how the conservative parties deal with such matters is quite a different matter from what I have been trying to argue in my article above.
Your last comment about ‘the United States having its own share of social problems’ also misses the mark, since the problems you mention – and then some – are for the most part the direct result of failed leftist and Democratic policies, whether brought in or exacerbated by presidents such as Roosevelt or Johnson or Clinton or Obama, aided and abetted by activist leftist judges, courts, media, academia, and so on. So our thinking here may need a bit more refining, to actually reflect the historical and ideological realities of the past century of social and political policy found throughout the west. But thanks for your thoughts.