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Monday, December 05, 2016

The Commentariat Speaks (6)

“Socialism is basically Christianity without the divine power. Socialism is man’s attempt to bring utopia to reality.”

Uh ... not really. I mean, yes on the utopian bit, no on the comparison to Christianity.

It’s not just the absence of divine power, though that’s certainly one reason socialism reliably fails. As Margaret Thatcher noted, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

Leaving aside the origins of and motivations for socialism, there is a fundamental mechanistic distinction between any socialist government to date and the Christian faith: coercion.

Socialism is necessarily coercive. It can’t help itself.

Socialist Democracies

Some socialist states are democratic in name. But the fact that they may allow their citizens to vote doesn’t alter their essentially coercive nature. As Infogalactic puts it:
“Socialist economics starts from the premise that ‘individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another. Furthermore, everything that people produce is in some sense a social product, and everyone who contributes to the production of a good is entitled to a share in it. Society as a whole, therefore, should own or at least control property for the benefit of all its members.’ ”
To say that “society owns” anything is to speak of taxation in some form or another. The moment we speak of taxes, we are by definition introducing coercion. Ask a Libertarian: it is irrelevant whether the tax rate is 0.001% or 100%, and whether we speak of sales taxes, income taxes or tax in any other form; the moment there exists a mechanism to enforce collection, along with whatever penalties may attach for failure to comply with the dictates of the state, we have a form of coercion.

Sure, nobody points a gun at you to get you to mail in your tax return. But even in a non-socialist republic, resist the tax regime long enough, and you’ll encounter guns eventually.

Not Under Compulsion

Now of course different denominations and churches have their own policies about giving. I’ve heard some of these practices called coercive by reluctant churchgoers, but the word is clearly not being employed in the same sense. No church I know of has its own armed Department of Offering Enforcement.

At least in its New Testament form, Christianity is about voluntary charity, not forced income redistribution:
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

“Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace [the relief effort for believers in Macedonia]. But as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also.

I say this not as a command ...”

“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.”
Nothing about New Testament teaching perpetuates Israel’s obligatory system of tithing. God is looking for willing participants to share with him in accomplishing his purposes, not a long string of wallets to tap.

A Giving People

Now it may (and probably should) be argued that Christians are to be a giving people, a quality we derive from the Lord Jesus himself, who “for your sake ... became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich”. Giving is nothing special, nothing for which we should seek applause or credit in this life: it is normal Christian behaviour.

But the joy of Christian giving is that it is NOT squeezed out of us like toothpaste from the tube. The amount of our income we give is entirely up to us. The particular needs we choose to address are at our own discretion, according to the dictates of a conscience and the promptings of a heart accurately informed by scripture and the Spirit of God. Nobody in the world needs to know what we give or how we give it. We have no obligation to pour money mindlessly into the coffers of the institutional church: we may slip a gift anonymously into an offering plate or into the pockets of a needy individual if we care to — and today, often directly into their bank account via e-transfer or other electronic methods. Each act may equally be a gift to the Lord and a participation with him in his work.

Forced Redistributionism

Contrast this with the redistribution policies that characterize either a socialist regime or a welfare state. While it’s remotely possible a few of the same needs might be met through government programs, the fact is that transferred funds quickly come to be considered the rightful property of the receiving party, who has no reason to be grateful to productive fellow citizens who exist at many removes. While in reality it is the fruit of other people’s labour that has accrued to the recipient’s benefit, in the minds of the receivers, government — which produces nothing whatsoever — is both the source of their income and the inevitable object of righteous wrath when the money train grinds to a halt. If that regular deposit doesn’t show up in the bank account, the very opposite of appreciation will quickly be voiced.

Likewise, the person “giving” has no real joy in his gift, no control of the amount he gives, and no say in where those funds are directed. Chances are he never saw the money in the first place. It was either deducted from his pay at source, or in the more extreme scenario he himself receives only some tiny fraction of the value of his labour. No love or concern prompts his giving: his own attitude to the needs of others is entirely irrelevant to the process. Whether he loves or hates the poor, the same amount will be regularly siphoned from his pay. In fact, if he sees a particular need and desires to meet it, he may or may not have sufficient resources left to do so. Further, his money is dispensed entirely at the discretion of others, even if he absolutely detests the social causes and purposes to which it is put.

The Christian willingly participates with his God in an act of love. The socialist citizen involuntarily facilitates the operative machinery of the State.

From that angle, the two things could not be more different.

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