Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What is more Christian?

Socialism or Capitalism?
Is it reasonable to suggest that any particular political/economic system can align itself any more closely with Christianity? Does socialism allow Christian principles to be more closely honoured? Or capitalism?
It is clear that the human nature of greed can destroy any system under which humanity places itself. I watched the docu-drama on CBC on the late Pope John Paul II. Moved as I was by his arduous work for humanity, I noticed how clearly he fought the communist regimes and spoke out against capitalist choke holds on the world.
We have seen socialist ideas much maligned in popular dialogue among Christians. Too often the spectre of communism has reduced the much broader scope of socialist principles to thoughts of corruption – wasteful social programs that do more to curb honest hard work than solve problems. Why bother working if you don’t get to share in the profits of your labour? Doesn’t the Bible even indicate that we will receive rewards according to our actions? And of course there is always the cryptic reference to ‘the poor you will always have among you.'
As most of you know I have most often fancied myself largely left of center in this arena of thought. I know that socialist values especially as expressed in our country and our fair neighbours to the south have also included moral values that seem to go against the grain of common Christian morality. However, for me there is such a great chasm between the world that doesn’t blink an eye at a hair color commercial on television that spouts, “because you’re worth it!” and the world that Stephen Lewis describes where coffin makers are sad profit takers who, “cannot keep up with the demand.”
Perhaps I too am victim of associating capitalism with greed and avarice.
Here are some of the words of Deuteronomy 15 - - ironically the same place that cryptic little phrase shows up…
“At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.
However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.
If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

"I would like to throttle . . . those who've waited so unendurably long to act, those who can find infinite resources for war but never sufficient resources to ameliorate the human condition."
-- Stephen Lewis

19 comments:

Paul Morgun said...

I'm a socialist so i should probably not say more...If i do i can just see Gil's eye's rolling as I continue my propaganda to all...Although I like bling...so does that make me Chinease socialist...you know enjoy wealth under the ideal of common man...

mark said...

Interesting that you've posted this one, I've been out here in Victoria for the week and witnessed the poor people asking for money. It has been a confusing situtation for me to grasp and I keep asking myself "should I give them money?"

Incoming... said...

Paul, I know the eye rolling...
Do you ever wonder if there might just be some some hidden aspect of capitalism that we might have missed along the way? I mean to me there seems to be so little that bears out authentic virtue in that system.

Incoming... said...

mark should you give money?
I think about Peter in the Bible - he was asked for money and instead he told the guy to walk. It was a miracle they said. Maybe we need to start doing those kind of miracles...
I mean helping people get onto thier own two feet again...

Paul Morgun said...

I know that this seems like such a cliche and lame saying, but can any human system be with out corruption? Separation of church and state allows the church to be a blessing to the people...not government enforced religion...

Incoming... said...

i absolutely agree that human corruption with tarnish any system and far from advocating some form of religiocracy I am simply wondering if one form gives a more advantageous or harmonious framework within which the church can be a blessing.
Paul side question: would you say that one of communism's failings was the utter exlcution of any religious connection in their governmental ideology?

Freezer said...

Excess socialism makes churches lazy. we don't help the poor because there is welfare. We don't help families cope because there is universal day care, we don't care for our elders because there is old age pension, we don't help people who are unemployed because of EI, we don't lead the way in education, research, and development because we have a public education system, and so on and so on. I am a strong socialist, just not a political one.

Clinton said...

It looks as though Patrick addressed a lot of my thinking. I too am a socialist, just not a political one. It's easy to be a political socialist, it lets us off the hook personally and corporately as believers. Our taxes are taking care of our obligations as believers rather than us being obliged to sacrificially care for the needs of the world. Capitalism, as flawed a political system as it is, best allows for the equipping of the individual to be a philosophical socialist. I think one of the reasons that political socialism is often seen as attractive to many believers is because they finally see someone doing a lot of the things scripture calls us to do and want to endorse this....

Incoming... said...

I'm not entirely sure how the idea of a 'political socialist' is being used here.
Pat would you say that our country is a more socialist or capitalist country?
Clinton are you saying Christians need the greed of capitalism in order to be socialist? That would see like a very interesting conundrum indeed...

Paul Morgun said...

I would say Dale the greatest failing was not allowing any person to have religious freedom...the governement could be athiest or what ever for that matter, the failing was not allowing any religious freedom for people to choose.

Freezer said...

It all depends on which countries you are comparing. Compared to Cuba we are very capitalistic, compared to the Us we are socialistic, even between provinces there is a great divide, provinces like Quebec, Sask, and Manitoba are very socialist, but Ontario, and Alberta are much more capitalistic. A political socialist is someone who votes for a socialist party. Isn't it interesting that the greatest support for socialism comes from the greedy unions. Political socialism seems to be born from a "what can I get out of it" mentality.

charlie brown said...

Pat explain how unions support socialism. I see that they love the capitalist ideology. I'm bound by their contract to only ask for money and can't negotiate for my working conditions. I don't see them advocating for socialistic type values in the mainstream.

Freezer said...

Out here in Ontario ville, the unions are very strong. The NDP (a left wing socialist party) counts heavily on the financial and voter support of CUPE, CAW, and a whole host of other unions. It is fair to say in Ontario that the unions dictate pretty strongly to socialist agenda in Ontario. Buzz Hargrove (sp) was kicked out of the party for merely suggesting that CAW union members vote for the Liberals in this last election. Whether provincial or federal elections are on the unions will actively promote the NDP in their places of work while not giving equal time to the other parties. What I was commenting on is exactly what you are experiencing and that is that the majority of people that tend to support the political socialist agenda love capitalism and are socialist in order to improve their bottom line only.

Clinton said...

"Clinton are you saying Christians need the greed of capitalism in order to be socialist?"

If the greed of any given social/political movement could indeed be quantified, I doubt that you would find capitalism to be more greedy than socialism. The distinctive might be more in how it's greed is fed/rewarded. That said, I am not suggesting that Christians need the greed of capitalism in order to be socialist. I'm suggesting that a capitalist marketplace is more suited to rewarding effort and initiative than a socialist marketplace and as a result is more suited for empowering the individual to assist those in need.

The societies I have visited and/or resided in which bought into socialism have, to my observation, tended to lower standards of performance to accomodate the lowest common denominator. Taken to the extreme, this engenders a 'welfare state'.

Incoming... said...

good point about greed
no human system is without the corruption of greed.
"a capitalist marketplace is more suited to rewarding effort and initiative..."
what is the reward though? In a capitalist construct the reward is personal/corporate profit. Right? Is this a good motivator?
The argument that socialist states tend to devalue personal initiative and effort is fair to a point. I think that when a socialistic state interprets socialism to mean that we have regulate financial status through programs such as welfare. and to be fair we have yet to see a state in comptemporary times that could create policy that empowers individuals and organizations to respond to inequities instead of just giving financial handouts (gimme my prosperity check please). when i look at historical isrealite governance i can't help seeing a primarily socialistic perspective but I am likely missing something...

Clinton said...

"when i look at historical isrealite governance i can't help seeing a primarily socialistic perspective"

Had I known that you where going to add 'theocracy' into the political spectrum we could choose from, I certainly wouldn't have chosen capitalism, shucks I wouldn't even choose democracy. Historical Israel was not a secular society governed by a secular government. These were "God's chosen people'. That's why so many of the dictates/mandates which were given to the nation of Israel now apply to the church. I suspect that one of the reasons God was so loathe to give Israel a secular government construct, ie. king, was because of the human greed factor. Greed for money, power and position are and have always been huge motivational factors for people. They cloud our judgement and affect our decisions.

I've maintained for years that a benevolent dictatorship is the most effective and most efficient form of government. The rub? How many benevolent dictators do you know? God, in historical Israel was the epitomy of a benevolent dictator. Not only did He want what was best for His people, He knew what was best for His people and was capable of providing it.

I think consternation, frustration and dissatisfaction with secular political constructs is a byproduct of being spiritual beings with a longing for all that is righteous and good. No matter how well intentioned the government of the day (or of the nation) may be, they will dissapoint. They are incapable of meeting our needs on the same level that God can.

Incoming... said...

although to be fair - it was a non present (physically) theocracy. God still entrusted much of the governmental work to Moses and the Levites. Sure he dictated a structural format - but would it be fair to say that people acted on behalf of God without direct consultation. Certainly we times of direct intervention from God. But was that direct intervention any more commonplace than it is (or could be) today?
Point well taken on the greed factor the only thing i am asking is about the trump factor of the theocracy. Is there any sense that the principles that God lays down for the children of Israel can in any way be applicable to good governmental behaviour today? Or are we saying that if God is the dictator the systematic structures are largely unapplicable to any other context? I'm not trying to be stupid - i am actually wondering how we are to understand that concept.

Clinton said...

Sorry it's taken so long to respond to your questions, I wasn't ignoring them, only didn't want to answer until I had the time to answer thoughtfully. Thanks for the many challenging questions you throw our way.

"but would it be fair to say that people acted on behalf of God without direct consultation" ... I think that would be more than fair to say. I do think, however that the principles by which they governed and acted were ones which were set out by God.

"Is there any sense that the principles that God lays down for the children of Israel can in any way be applicable to good governmental behaviour today?
Or are we saying that if God is the dictator the systematic structures are largely unapplicable to any other context?" ... Entirely, absolutely and unequivocally (as far as I'm concerned). "God" principles or biblical principles when applied even by secular institutions reap rewards. God implemented principle by which to live, not to extract obedience out of us but because those principles are the best to live by.

I guess the more I look at this issue thoughtfully, the more I am of the opinion that neither capitalism nor socialism reflect a balanced picture of biblical principles. Here, as in so many other areas, humankind has polarized on the issue when in fact neither polar extreme reflects what is preferable. Something somewhere in the middle is probably more Christian than either, while either can be as Christian as the other. think?

Incoming... said...

you make some good points clinton.
I can certainly appreciate that either system allows for significantly deviant behavior. Your posting here has made me think about other questions that might be good topics to blog about as well.
Like:
How does a government who claims to base its principles on Christian principles affect people of faith?
Do the ethical challenges of a pluralistic society within a democratic political system disqualify people of faith from direct involvement in government?
Is it possible that our 'job' as people of faith is to diligently work toward (this third option of government that you speak of) and see it brought about as a fuller expression of The Kingdom? (notice the bias)
anyhooo
thanks for the good interplay