It seems that today in America socialism and socialist ideas are extremely popular. The popularity seems to be increasingly popular among millennials. The idea of everyone being economically equal sounds great and wonderful, but only in theory. It is my belief that the majority of those who support socialist ideas and socialist politicians are either naïve or just haven’t researched the implications of their views and ideas. Dr. David Noebel, founder of Summit Ministries says that “Ideas have consequences”. He is correct. Every idea has consequences, either bad or good consequences. Sometimes it’s pretty simple where good ideas have good consequences and bad ideas have bad consequences. Although, it can also be the reverse of that where bad ideas have good consequences and good ideas have bad consequences. I believe that the latter is true of those in today’s society that support socialism. They have good intentions and want the world to be better, but they just haven’t followed out the ideas to their logical conclusions. In my research, I have come to believe that socialism is incompatible with a biblical worldview.
Capitalism: An economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution (land, factories, railroads, etc.) are privately owned and operated for profit.
Socialism: An economic system in which the ownership and operation of the means of production and distribution are controlled by the government. In Marxist thinking, socialism (i.e., abolition of private property) is the transitional phase between capitalism and communism (1).
Winston Churchill once said, “Capitalism is the unequal distribution of wealth. Socialism is the equal distribution of poverty.”
Theologian and economist Ronald Nash outlines the distinctions between free market capitalism and socialism: “One dominant feature of capitalism is economic freedom, the right of people to exchange things voluntarily, free from force, fraud, and theft. Capitalism is more than this, of course, but its concern with with free exchange is obvious. Socialism, on the other hand, seeks to replace the freedom of the market with a group of central planners who exercise control over essential market functions.” (2)
Christians who believe socialism (or communism) is a more desirable system than capitalism do so trusting that centralized control or command economy will create a more just means of sharing scares resources. Many of those who call for a socialist economic system do so on the basis of Acts 2:44-45 that describes Christians in the early church sharing all things in common. They fail to consider, however, the implications of Acts 2:46-47 that describes Christians eating with others in their homes and Acts 5:1-4 that tells of their freedom to own and sell private property. (1)
The Bible as a whole supports an economic system that respects private property and the whole work ethic. (See especially Proverbs 31, Isaiah 65:21- 22, Jeremiah 32:43-44, Acts 5:1-4 and Ephesians 4:28). Both the Old and New Testament teach about private property and good stewardship of property (Genesis 23:13-20; Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 8; Ruth 2; Isaiah 65:21-22; Jeremiah 32:42-44; Psalms 112; Proverbs 31; Micah 4:1-4; Luke 12:13-15; Acts 5:1-4; Ephesians 4:28). Ownership of property is a God-given right; and stewardship is a God-given responsibility. Our right to own property stems from our duty to work. The very existence of private property encourages our diligence and fruitfulness; “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4) (1).
The Bible teaches that workers deserve their pay, and those that work hard are rewarded, while those who are lazy remain poor (Proverbs 10:4, 14:23; Luke 10:7). These teachings imply that competition in the workplace leads to fruitfulness. However, Christians who believe a socialist economic system is more biblical than a capitalist systems contend that competition is evil in that it leads to greed, envy, and competition for for limited resources is counterproductive. Competition encourages cooperation in a capitalist society when we act in accordance with the principle of comparative advantage. This principle states that individuals in a free market economy can produce valuable goods or services by specializing in an area where there is the least absolute disadvantage. In other words, focusing on producing goods or services through cooperation benefits society as a whole. This in turn creates more goods and services that can benefit the poor. Competition through comparative advantage also reinforces our worth and dignity in the sense that our work and diligence contribute to the welfare of society as a whole. Comparative advantage allows us the opportunity to become the best producer of a service or product. Thus, competition that leads to cooperation and the recognition of individual worth harmonizes with the Christian worldview, which sees human beings as image-bearers of God (1).
Many Christian socialists believe that social justice to the poor demands that everyone share limited resources equally and that this principle takes precedence over all other considerations. Reconciling this principle with biblical teachings, however, is problematic. Paul teaches the relationship between work and property when he says, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule; ‘if a man will not work, he shall not eat’” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). God teaches us that fairness consists of not showing special favor to the rich or to the poor (Leviticus 19:15). Theologian Calvin Beisner counters the socialist interpretation of social justice when he says, “God is not ‘on the side of the poor,’ despite protests to the contrary. Any law, therefore, that gives an advantage in the economic sphere to anyone, rich or poor, violates Biblical justice.” Justice requires equality before the law rather than equality of income or ability. Justice will in fact lead to economic inequality. Beisner continues, “The Bible demands impartiality, which because people differ in interests, gifts, capacities, and stations in life, must in variability result in conditional inequality” (3) (1).
Biblical justice is based on equal opportunity rather than on equal distribution of wealth. Michael Novak explains, “Given the diversity and liberty of human life, no fair and free system can possibly guarantee equal outcomes. A democratic system depends for its legitimacy, therefore, not upon equal results but upon a sense of equal opportunity.” Equal opportunity does not mean that everyone possesses the same skills, interests, or social contacts, but the law should prohibit no one from competing equally in the marketplace (Proverbs 31) (4) (1).
Though we have seen the Soviet Union come to a disastrous end, socialism is still alive and well in America. We use other names for it like the “Welfare State” and “a benevolent government” but it’s the same thing. The names sound so compassionate, even Christian. We are trying to help people. It is always good intentions that bureaucrats play to that lead us into such disasters. But what we need to understand is that the federal government is inefficient and creates far more problems than it solves. One of America’s leading economists, Professor Thomas Sowell of Stanford University, observed, “The amount of money necessary to lift every man, woman, and child in America above the poverty line is one third of what, in fact, is being spent on poverty programs. Clearly, much of the transfer ends up in the pockets of highly paid administrators,consultants,and staff.”.7 That is why two “bedroom counties” of Washington D.C. (one in Virginia and one in Maryland) have the highest per capita income in America today (5).
According to one estimate, the federal government spends twice as much money to create a job as does the private sector. Sometimes it spends far more. For example, the government gave Stanford University $15 million to use to create jobs. With that $15 million, the university created a total of thirty-nine jobs. That averages out to $384,615 per job. The private sector, meanwhile, produces jobs at a cost of $20,000 per job. Thus, the more money we pour into such government jobs projects, that much less money is available to the private sector, and the fewer jobs are created. The more taxes the government takes from the private sector; the fewer jobs are created (5).
The government is extraordinarily wasteful. I, for one, saw the results of this wastefulness when I went to our local middle school to help my friends who are teachers there clean up the school before school started. We must have thrown several hundreds of perfectly usable textbooks into a shed underneath the football stadium. Many of the people helping also had done work with a school system less than 30 miles away that had no textbooks, no art supplies, moldy walls, and the roof collapsing. Another school district’s superintendent stated in a local newspaper that their school had no text books. In order to buy the students textbooks, they would have to fire teachers. There was no money given to them from the state or federal government for that. Whereas the school I volunteered at was throwing these textbooks out to rot. When asked about giving the textbooks to the other schools, the administration said that it was government mandated that whenever they got newer text books, the previous ones had to be put in storage for five years before they were given to anyone else or any other school system. So, here we have the government taking tax money from its citizens and distributing it, causing some schools to be very well off, while other schools are suffering. K-12 education is essential for everyone, especially states like mine, where the poverty levels are extremely high and 35% of the state’s children are in poverty. My state spent less money per student than all other states in 2012.
In response to all this waste, people say, “Well, yes, but that’s what the bible says we ought to be doing: helping others.” Absolutely. But we are not helping them in the right way that we should. Instead, we are hurting people: putting them out of work, destroying their families, destroying their children. The Soviet Union found this out to its great regret. And today we are moving happily down that same road (5).
The government does not have any money that it does not take from us, and that’s a subject many people seem not to understand (5). Journalist Rus Walton commented, “Government is not a producer; it is a taker, a taxer, and a spender. Every dollar spent by the public sector is a dollar the government must take from the private sector, from the workers and earners and investors. The dollar taken by government cannot be spent or invested by that productive private sector” (6).
When you listen to politicians’ campaign rhetoric, it becomes clear they are offering the American people specific promises. “Vote for me, and I’ll make sure the government gives you XYZ.” Of course, XYZ is not free, money does not grow on trees. Sure it is free to some of the people getting it, but someone had to pay for it. So essentially the politicians are promising some sort of redistribution of wealth. When politicians say that we need to tax the very rich, that the rich are not paying their fair share, that tax cuts only help the rich, many Americans buy it. They cannot see the unbiblical assumptions being promoted. It behooves the discerning Christian voter to think in these terms. Do not take political promises at face value. Evaluate them. Remember, when a politician promises you a benefit, by definition it is at someone else’s expense (5).
Capitalism encourages people to work hard for their pay. It encourages people to start companies and grow out of poverty. The classic “rags to riches” stories would not be possible if it weren’t for capitalism. Also, Capitalism fits right in line with what the Apostle Paul teaches the early church, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat,” (2 Thess. 3:10). The apostle knew that we were inclined toward evil, and so we will avoid all opportunities to work if we can. Of course, this does not refer to a person who is unable to work. Scripture has a great deal to say about caring for the lame, the blind, the sick, infirmed, the aged, the young, but if anyone refuses to work, then neither let him eat (6).
The Christian worldview embraces a form of democratic capitalism that allows for the peaceful and free exchange of goods and services without fraud, theft, or breach of contract as the biblical view. First, the Bible grants us the right to private property and calls us to be good stewards of our resources. Second, a free enterprise system affords the greatest opportunity to steward our resources responsibility by creating wealth and opportunity. Third, the competition in a free market system works according to the principle of comparative advantage, which affirms our inherent worth as individuals (1).
The thousands of years of experiments with socialist economic systems have resulted in nothing but failure and tragedy – Fascism, Nazism, and Communism relied on the faulty ideas of socialism and Darwinian Evolution. Their catastrophic failings are documented in Igor Shafarecich’s The Socialist Phenomenon, Ludwig von Mises’ Socialism, and Joshua Muravchik’s Heaven On Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (1).
Socialism’s call for economic equality is countered by capitalism’s call for biblical requirement of equality before the law. The biblical view does not cause the rich to get richer and the poor poorer as socialists contend. Rather, the biblical view encourages the rich to create more wealth, thereby aiding all of society. Policies of redistribution of wealth, including welfare systems, only multiply problems for the poor by creating needless bureaucracies and concentrating too much power in the hands of the government. Capitalism, on the other hand, encourages freedom in the political sphere, minimizing the danger of granting sovereignty to the state instead of to God (1).
The biblical Christian worldview supports private property and free enterprise. Christians see work as a virtue, not a vice. The Greeks and Romans, in contrast, grounded their case for slavery in the idea that work is a vice, a view endorsed by both Aristotle and Plato. The Bible does not teach socialism or communism, a truth evident even to Frederick Engels, who writes, “If some few passages of the Bible may be favorable to communism, the general spirit of its doctrines is, nevertheless, totally opposed to it” (8) (1).
A socialist system of economics is consistent with the Secular Humanist worldview. Secular Humanism is based on atheism and naturalism in which ‘man is the measure’ of all things; man, not God, is the ultimate norm by which truth and morals are to be determined. Although some support a free market economy, many who shaped Secular Humanist thought in the last century were socialists (1).
If we deny our fallen nature, some form of socialism becomes the most attractive economic system for creating a heaven on earth. If original sin does not exist, then a community of mutual cooperation and sharing of work and wealth becomes a possibility. Socialism or some degree of interventionism becomes the economic system best suited to promote the ethics of Secular Humanism and rectify the evils of capitalism (1).
Over the past century, socialism has been instituted in the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, and a host of other Latin American, South American, and African countries. In every case, socialism has failed to change human nature for the better. Yet because of a commitment to evolution, Secular Humanists believe that socialism is part of the next step in humanity’s advancement. Many believe the move to socialism in the United States is inevitable. John Dewey predicts, “We are in for some kind of socialism, call it by whatever name we please, and no matter what it will be called when it is realized” (9) (1).
As it can be seen from the observations, socialism is not compatible with the Cristian worldview. Although it looks appealing and helpful on the outside, further research shows that it is extremely harmful to society. It is very dangerous to give all or most of the power to the government. Relying on the government for everything is, in essence, raising the government up as God. God tells us that He will provide for all of our needs. He also tells us that we should work hard and be responsible for what we own. Scripture tells believers to help the poor, the orphans, the widows, etc. Humanity sees these problems and instead of believing in God and following His commands, they turn to a government to take care of everyone and raise the government up as a God. This, of course, makes those in power big-headed. As the old saying goes, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. America was founded on the idea that the citizens held the power. The founding fathers knew what it was like to be ruled over by an all powerful government. They knew that a country couldn’t truly be free while under that sort of reign. They knew that a country could only be free if the people had freedom. Freedom to vote on politicians, freedom to worship, freedom to own property, freedom to work, freedom to start businesses, and freedom to buy and sell goods. If mankind was not inherently sinful, then perhaps, socialism might work. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that mankind is, by nature, sinful. All one needs to do is look back at history, or turn on the news.
- David A. Noebel, Understanding The Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews, 2nd Ed. (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Press, 2006)
- Roland H. Nash, Poverty and Wealth: The Christian Debate Over Capitalism (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1987)
- E. Calvin Beisner, Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988)
- Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1982
- Dennis James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, How Would Jesus Vote?: A Christian Perspective on the Issues. (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2008)
- Rus Walton, One Nation Under God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987)
- Thomas Sowell, quoted in John Jefferson Davis, Your Wealth In God’s World: Does the Bible Support the Free Market? (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1984)
- Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, 40 vols. (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1976)
- John Dewey, Individualism, Old and New (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1999)