It is bad enough that socialists continue to advocate for a system that has killed, imprisoned, and starved hundreds of millions of people throughout the last century. If they wish to take sides with some of the wickedest and most oppressive regimes in human history, they are free to do so. But they have certainly crossed a line when they drag Jesus into it.
A leader of the Democratic Socialists of America recently claimed that Jesus is a socialist. Political activist Stephen Colbert advanced this same idea on his show last week. Together they are echoing a line that Democrats and socialists (but I repeat myself) have been shouting for decades. It is an interesting line, too, when you consider that these very same people recoil in horror whenever the Bible is used to justify social policy.
If you have the audacity to suggest that unborn humans should not have their skulls crushed, you will be accused of trying to establish a theocracy. And then if you have the audacity to suggest that your property belongs to you and not the government, you will be accused of defying the commands of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In fact, I have very rarely heard a pro-lifer use the Bible as the primary basis for his legal argument. I have much more often heard a Leftist use the Bible as the primary basis for his economic argument. The fact that he does so hypocritically is somewhat beside the point. The real point is that he does so falsely.
We know that Jesus is not a socialist because, first of all, he is not any sort of -ist and He did not promote any sort of -ism. He did not enter into our realm in order to offer a celestial endorsement for any particular ideological cause or economic system. He was not a political revolutionary — a fact that people in our time apparently find as surprising and scandalous as the people in Christ’s time. His contemporaries were constantly trying to goad Him into taking a political stand. Modern people seem to be playing a similar game, and to the same fruitless end.
More importantly, we know that Jesus is not a socialist because socialism and Christianity stand on opposite ends of the spectrum. The socialist views poverty, and all human suffering, as a cultural disease that must be cured by the generosity of the State. It takes responsibility out of the hands of the individual and places it into the hands of the collective, which is really a collection of bureaucrats. It allows you to look at a poor man and say, “He’s not my problem because he’s our problem.” And by “our” you really means “their.”
Notice that most of our modern American socialists are college students who want to solve all of our societal problems with taxes that they themselves do not pay. It is easy to pawn things off onto the collective when you are not a part of the collective. And that is why our version of socialism — and every other version — cannot be taken seriously. It is nothing more than selfishness and cowardice cloaked under a thin veil of phony benevolence.
Jesus does not let us off the hook so easily. Read any passage where He talks about helping the poor (Matthew 25:40, Matthew 5:42, Luke 12:33, etc) and you will find no mention of laws or policies or systems. Instead you will find exhortations and instructions directed at you as an individual. He is telling you to go by your own volition, of your own free will, with your own money, and minister to the less fortunate. If you are depending on the government to do your Christian duty, you are neglecting your Christian duty.
It is true that Jesus condemns greed and warns against the amassing of wealth. He repeatedly makes clear that helping the poor is one of the most fundamental obligations of a Christian. But socialism is a way to avoid this obligation, not fulfill it. In asking the government to be charitable in our place — with other people’s money, no less — we have missed the whole point of the exercise.
We are supposed to serve our fellow man because we are supposed to love our fellow man. When we give money, food, or clothing to the poor, we are giving them much more than money, food, or clothing. We are giving them love. Love cannot be something vague and impersonal and distributed by a government agency. Government has never loved anyone and never can. Government cannot even give to anyone without first taking from another. Every act of charity must first be an act of confiscation. So, a man who receives an EBT card from the government will have his physical needs satiated, at least for a time, but the deeper human need for love and dignity will not be met. This may be an easy way of doing things, but it is not the loving way or the Christian way.
The Christian way is to personally and directly serve the less fortunate, thereby affirming their humanity and recognizing their dignity as persons. This is not mere sentimentalism; there is a practical benefit here as well. People are much more likely to emerge from the depths of poverty if they are treated with dignity and respect. A system that meets the needs of the poor but deprives them of dignity is not a system that can effectively lift the poor out of poverty. It is much more likely to keep them there, fed and clothed but in despair. The welfare system proves this fact plainly enough. Socialist policies everywhere have further proved it. Though, in most cases throughout history, the poor get the despair without even the food and clothing to go with it. I really don’t think that’s what Jesus has in mind.