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Why I Tend To Be a 'Socialist' (It has to do with Jesus)

Some thoughts on economic systems and faith, hopefully provoking civil discourse.

Well, let’s define "socialist" first — at least for the purpose of this short essay.  A socialist is someone who believes that the community at large, the community of citizens, should provide via the government for the needs of each and all.

That some needs of fellow citizens should be provided for by the rest of the citizens is a given — at least in our society. No rational person believes their fellow citizen should starve, thirst, freeze or bleed to death when the means to avoid this may be readily given by another without risk of life. In other words, we all believe that each person is morally entitled to life-saving acts and goods from others who can provide these without giving up their own lives.

The debatable point is: What other acts and/or goods — beyond those of saving life — are citizens morally entitled to from their fellow citizens, and by virtue of what data and reasons? And a secondary is: What is government’s proper role in providing these?

The providing of acts and/or goods to which another is entitled to is known as positive rights.  I believe that the ultimate purpose of life — all forms — is to realize to its fullest possibility its unique potential. In other words, each being is created and called “be all it can be.” For human beings, this realization of potential brings joy.

In order to realize this potential, persons need to be as free from fear and desire, worry and greed, as possible.  This happens when they are provided not only with what keeps their body alive but what keeps them healthy, feeling secure, hopeful about their future and significant to others.  Specifically, persons need safety, health care, education and liberty to act in order to fulfill their potential.

Thus, they should be provided with a police/security force and justice system; with health care that provides not only life-saving care but care that, to the degree possible, delivers them of pain and disability and prevents these as well; with education through adolescence and opportunities to learn throughout their lives. And liberty defined and secured as individual (or negative) rights.

History shows that we will not provide these things for one another without either strongly identifying with those in need, e.g. family members, or by the voluntary coercion of the government.  Thus, to the degree  these things are needed and can be provided, government should be given the means and authority to act on behalf of the entire citizenry in ensuring they are available to each citizen to the degree they are unable to provide them for themselves.

(Voluntary coercion may seem at first to be paradoxical, but its the decision by individuals to place power in the hands of another to be used in their own best interest eventually, though it may have some cost in the mean time. It’s like hiring a personal trainer.)

Though some citizens, through effort, accident of birth, talent and/or fortune will be able to provide for those things necessary for the realization of full potential, some citizens will not be so situated.  It is the role of government to provide for these things for three reasons:

  • A) It is their positive right to have them as members of a community that can provide them.
  • B) It is fair and just that every citizen be equally enabled to realize their potential to the degree it does not deny other citizens the same.
  • C) The community as a whole benefits from such an exercise of rights and justice and does so in the most efficient manner.  In other words, such care provides "the greatest good for the greatest number."

In addition to the moral concerns above is this reasoning. As I mentioned above, for those of us who have means the quality of our lives is secured and enhanced by our ability to purchase. For the poor, life is secured and enhanced by what is provided by the public, you and me.  It is an untrue myth that whatever we have we have earned ourselves. 

Truth be told, most of what most of us have we have by virtue of accident — we were born into a certain class, a certain set of values, with certain talents, physical abilities, race, etc. To be more specific, I am an able-bodied, white, middle-class, American male who grew up in a two-parent, fairly sane, religious home where humor was valued, religion was practiced and stories were told and listened to. I grew up in a multi-generational situation, learning to be comfortable with elderly persons. Given all that — and given is exactly the right word — I would succeed as a pastor unless I made some really stupid decisions. In other words, I enjoy a middle-class life that has come to me to a far greater extent than I have attained through my own effort.

There are those among us who are not “gifted and talented”, for whom providing the necessities of life is difficult if not impossible, and through no fault of their own.  These persons should receive what we can provide, not because of rights or justice or utility, but because our lives are enhanced by our giving — yes, even if it is a voluntary coercion.

People of faith, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Moslem are called to live beyond our possessions, to live compassionately.  Jesus — the one I follow — has more to say about the attachment to material goods than any other subject!  It is in being nonattached to our possessions, in our being generous to others, that we find "a peace the world cannot give," and a joy that is complete.

Capitalism does not give us this. Capitalism encourages the acquisition of material wealth, of capital. It encourages competition more than cooperation. And its underlying value is that of material possession. Granted that competition can produce excess value, but this value is irrelevant to the poor if it is not shared. And my observation has been that it is not shared without encouragement and/or compunction.

Socialism compels us to secure and enhance the lives of others, even beyond their basic necessities, providing the means for their intellectual and spiritual growth as well.

Was Jesus a socialist? No. Jesus’ primary concern was the relationship between persons and God. Economic justice was secondary on his agenda, a social consequence of faithful discipleship. But, I find in this nation, nominally capitalist, that the ways that we are socialist, the ways that we provide for the common good, are ways that bless our neighbor and ourselves most fully.  These are such things as public infrastructure, parks, police, schools, etc.  And that these ways of being fellow citizens are most consistent with Jesus teachings about the will of God for us.  If there is a "Christian" system of economics it is one that encourages, even compels, care for fellow human beings and delivers us from the spiritual burden, even death, of material acquisition.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lyle Ruble April 20, 2012 at 07:10 PM
@Brian Carlson & Don Niederfrank…What amazes me is the lack of understanding of most people concerning our most basic social structures. Our species basic survival strategy is the creation and adaptation of community. The basis for any community is sovereign individuals giving up part of their self interest to create the sovereign community. The rules by which society functions is an adoption of a consensus of beliefs and values manifested into a structure of morality and ethics. In a complex society there isn’t a complete consensus and a tension develops between personally held beliefs and values. That tension is manifested by the values of sovereign individuals and the sovereign community. If the sovereign individual reigns supreme, then in essence we live in libertarian anarchy. If we the sovereign community reigns supreme then we have communism. Successful societies must compromise between the two extremes. Unregulated capitalism pushes society to anarchy and characteristic of capitalism is the core value of greed. Part of regulating capital is assuring that those who become the losers in a capitalistic system are compensated for their loss and others gain based on that loss. Even Adam Smith cautioned against unregulated capitalism and that there would be victims. (continued)
Lyle Ruble April 20, 2012 at 07:11 PM
@Bren Carlson & Don Niederfrank...(continued) Those who are against helping others less fortunate than themselves have been inculcated into the belief of Protestant Christianity and the teachings of Martin Luther and Jon Calvin. These protestant ethics celebrate the sovereignty of individualism and those who have attained a Grace with G-d. It is entirely contrary to the purported teachings of their Christ, who was by all intents and purposes a communist. He advocated giving up all worldly possessions to follow Him and his teachings. To be a capitalist and Christian is an absurdity. Greed and submission to Christ’s teachings are incompatible. People like Tom personify greed, self interest and the idea that G-d supports such behavior and systems.
Brian Carlson April 20, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Tom, you said I had expressed many misunderstandings about you. Actually, I asked a series of questions. Maybe you can help me clarify. Are you white? Did you benefit by a fairly good education? Have you been relatively healthy most of your life…able to work? Were you born in America or did you at least come here with some means to apply to getting a good footing as you began your American life? These are questions, and if the answer is yes to these questions, then you have had advantages many Americans do not. Maybe the next thought…about people of your ilk…was what you found to be a misunderstanding? Did you support the first and second Iraq Wars? If you were in agreement with these, then I have not misspoken. If you were opposed to these then I will say you are an anomaly for a conservative. Tell me then where did I get it wrong? As I said, I am asking questions, not attacking you.
Don Niederfrank April 20, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Lyle, A couple of points--Jesus concern was obedient fidelity to the Divine. He advocated the giving away of possessions because he did not teach a way to possess w/o being attached. Such certainly is not easy, but neither is it limited to the wealthy. The $$ I would love to have is no less burdensome than loving the $$ I already have. It is possible to be greedy w/o being successful at its goals. I think Jesus also cautioned against judging others. :-)
Brian Carlson April 21, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Brian Carlson 6:19 pm on Friday, April 20, 2012 Tom, Magna Cum Laude from Marquette's Law School. In addition to the unique advantages I assume you have, being highly intelligent is a critical addition. When you stand in the soup kitchen requiring that the homeless woman "asks" humbly for her bowl of food, you can think, with much greater range and subtlety, about why that soul is experiencing that life and you, on another end of one spectrum of measurement, have yours. I mean this with all sincerity... One other point, whereas poverty certainly is not the goal of many, the good life, to my mind, is not measured by the trophies typical in a materialistic culture. This country is a land of excess relative to the planet and I believe there is a huge need for a shift to more altruistic goals... Goals which serve the future betterment of the planet. I think that is where these founders of the various religions were vectoring.

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