Christian Socialism Is a Sinful Mix of Greed and Envy

Christians have a responsibility it would seem, to discourage public policy that compulsively increases human suffering.

I recently read a thought-provoking, though ultimately misguided, article by Daniel Jose Camacho from the faith-oriented left-wing commentary website Sojourners. In it, Camacho argued against the preoccupation many American Christians have with capitalism, suggesting that,

“Capitalism is so deeply ingrained in our Christianity that it is the default. Yet, this arrangement is neither natural nor inevitable.”

Such a perspective was anything but surprising coming from a Sojourners publication. After all, the online magazine is the modern iteration of socialist Jim Wallis’s anti-capitalist magazine “The Post American.” Wallis, who himself championed communism throughout the 1970s, changed the name to Sojourners as part of a strategy to wrap socialist ideas in Christian terminology.

Camacho has joined that movement, speaking favorably in this particular article of the many “Christian socialists” of the New Deal era, while denigrating free-market Christians. He goes so far in that effort that while talking about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos owning 10 yachts, he asks and answers:

“Can someone who owns 10 yachts enter the kingdom of God? I’m not sure.”

If Camacho is truly “not sure,” than Camacho is leaning on his own understanding rather than trusting the word of God Himself. Many times throughout Scripture God uses material prosperity as a method through which He blesses people – Abraham, Solomon, even Zacchaeus come to mind. In modern parlance, Solomon owned a heck of a lot more than 10 yachts. What prevents one from entering the kingdom of God isn’t wealth, it is making that wealth their idol, or first love. That was the problem with the Rich Young Ruler that Jesus encountered. If Betsy DeVos loves her yachts more than God, that will be her problem. If she doesn’t, yachts don’t keep you out of heaven.

That glaring confusion over a fairly elementary Biblical concept should send red flags up for any discerning Christian reading Camacho’s article. As is so often the case with Sojourners commentaries, this article appears to originate in political dogma, with words of faith merely sprinkled on top for flavor.

If Camacho’s thesis had been that free market capitalism too often leads to greed and exploitation, I would find little to disagree with. All Christians should be cognizant of the moral considerations accompanying any economic policy. But that’s where Sojourners in general, and this piece specifically, goes utterly tone deaf.

Free market capitalism’s propensity towards sliding into greed and excess pales in comparison to the economic system Camacho is tempting his readers to entertain. The heart of socialism is greed. If feeling entitled to the fruits of someone else’s labor is not greed, after all, what is it? Yet that (along with a side of envy) is the backbone, the foundation, of socialist economic policy.

Socialism robs an individual of their creativity, their ingenuity, their resourcefulness – in many ways it robs them of their resemblance to their Creator. Unsurprisingly this has devastating effects not only on a human’s soul, but upon the community or culture that is so ordered. Remarkably Camacho even illustrates that, albeit inadvertently. He writes,

“Factor in the increasing unaffordability of basic needs like housing and health care, and ballooning student debt, and it’s not hard to see why more and more Americans are struggling to get by. According to a study released this week, 47 percent of working Californians are now struggling with poverty.”

Has Camacho paused to consider the origins of many of the very problems he laments? Though this is admittedly an oversimplification of two complex concepts, housing and healthcare costs have gone up not as a result of free markets, but the distortion of both through third parties and government regulation.

Student loan debt is almost exclusively a government-manufactured problem. By refusing to allow a market correction (the bursting of the college loan bubble) to take place, government has perpetuated the escalating costs.

And there is no state in the union more closely aligned with far-left socialist economic policy, including heavy taxation and massive social programs, than California – the very state Camacho notes is experiencing a poverty crisis.

Christianity transcends economic policy. Jesus brought a spiritual kingdom, not a political one. But for Christians we have a responsibility it would seem to discourage public policy that increases human suffering. That’s why it’s confusing to see Camacho and all those at Sojourners who wear the name of Christ advocating for it.

Comments
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Onlylivingboy
Onlylivingboy

Seems to me both Capitalism and socialism are tools - systems -- which can be used for good or ill. If humans acted benevolently most of the time, you wouldn't need capitalism (hence we see early Church communities living communally), but because we are greedy and selfish, Capitalism is a better system. It's not inherently good any more than a hammer or the New York subway system is inherently good. It does what it's supposed to do, in a less than perfect manner. Socialism would be the preferred system if we could count on humans not being as*holes. Throughout history we've had Christian feudalists, anarchists, Christian socialists, and Christian capitalists. God transcends economic systems and all human inventions.

JamesJWilson
JamesJWilson

Christianity has nothing to do with any particular economic/political system, but it is absolutely one of the the roots of the modern welfare state socialism that all of the world's democracies have today.

"The Democrats want to take your Medicare so they can pay for their Socialism"

-- Donald Trump (R)

In California they have money coming out of their ears, between the tech, biotech, entertainment, and agro business there. It's a fine example of capitalism. The reason why tiny run-down apartments rent for a half year's wage for people elsewhere is because of demand--people there make a lot of money, so they can afford expensive real estate.

California is also a fine example of the modern Republican muddling of the word, "socialism". In this article, California is called "socialist" in the sense of throwing it in with the Soviet Union or Cuba. Republicans think this is funny, and this will somehow make people afraid of the slightly different policies they have in California from say Texas.

Except that's not what happens. When Republicans equate somewhat higher taxes on the rich and fully-funded social programs (like Social Security and Medicare), and then repeat, over and over, the accusation of "socialism!", people don't react the way they want them to.

If you say funding Social Security and Medicare properly with higher taxes for rich people is "socialism", guess what: people are going to be in favor of "socialism".

Just ask Donald Trump.

Constitutionrules
Constitutionrules

The early Christian Church in Jerusalem had all things in common. Check the New Testament. The difference between their economic system and socialism is "agency" or the freedom of choice. The early saints could choose to enter the economic sharing or not. Once they were in it, they had "agency" to decide what they needed to live on and to contribute their excess to the economic system. Socialism is evil because it takes away an individual's agency. The basic premise of socialism is correct only if individuals are righteous enough to live it freely.

DiningWithTheChef
DiningWithTheChef

Tell it to Capitalist Jesus. Oh, wait...

bnemati
bnemati

Excellent article. I would agree that whereas greed is incidental to capitalism, it is the core of socialism. Or perhaps more technically correct - it is covetousness that is the heart of Marxism. Going back to capitalism, the fact that greed can corrupt capitalism can no more be an indictment of capitalism than the corruption of sex through fornication is an indictment of sex (a God-given gift).