In Part I of this series, we began analyzing the incompatibility between Socialism and Orthodox Christianity. This has become something worthy of study, especially recently in the United States as the rise of Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders has drawn more and more public and voter attention. Statistics show that a great number of “millenials”, those twenty-something young Americans, see no problem with taking the US into a new existence as a socialist state. Christian author Julie Roys gave us five basic reasons why Socialism and Christianity are incompatible.
- Socialism is Based on a Materialistic Worldview
- Socialism Punishes Virtue
- Socialism Endorses Stealing
- Socialism Encourages Envy and Class Warfare
- Socialism Seeks to Destroy Marriage & Family
In Part I we examined the first point. Now we are going to look at the next one. While Julie Roys’ piece is must-read material, we still need to examine these points from an Orthodox Christian framework rather than a Protestant one, as there are significant differences in both doctrine and perception of the faith.
There are at least two reasons for doing this.
One is that Russia (presently a very capitalist nation), also is developing a “millennial” generation, often amazingly ignorant of what happened in their own nation under Communism. For some of them, socialism itself wasn’t the reason for the gulags and the famines and the massive destruction that befell Russia, but that it was ‘not carried out correctly.’ They do not have a sense of their own history, nor the terrific destruction wrought on their own nation by its 70 year experience with socialism and communism.
In addition, while some of these people are now members of the Orthodox Church, they fail to connect the Church’s present state of freedom to the disintegration of socialism. They therefore do not (or will not) realize that the two systems are in opposition to one another.
In the United States the problem has different roots. The American Orthodox communities are full of converts, entering the Church usually in flight towards a more traditional world view, contrasted with the ‘anything goes’ movement running like wildfire from the Protestant groups and even the Roman Catholic communities in some cases. Additionally, in the United States, one joke is that the Orthodox Church is where all the hippies go when they realize it is time to become Christian. After all, Orthodox clergy have long hair, beards, they swing censers, they are often very laid back, the people on the whole spend about half the year being essentially vegan, you have otherworldly singing and the churches are flat-out-beautiful in a way that reminds some hippie churchgoers of those groovy spiritual confabs they used to attend. Even Bob Marley the rastafarian, eventually joined an Orthodox Christian community with his family. So, therefore, Orthodoxy is extremely cool to many of these people. The Orthodox Christian mindset is radically different than that of the orderly American Protestant Christian.
This is exacerbated by what might be called the hangover of radical individualism. Many Americans are attracted to the mystical nature of Orthodox Christianity, but the notion of obedience and trust in a spiritual director or even their parish priest is the point where many American Orthodox people hold the Protestant-style view that “I can do it my way”, rendering them very difficult to teach.
Many of these people spend many years in the Church still carrying their old “hippie mentality” with them. That mentality is often very sympathetic to socialism.
Unlike Protestans, most people in an Orthodox parish, especially an ethnic one, could not care less about one’s personal politics, so they will usually not engage the new member in political debate at the outset. Orthodox Christians do not win religious arguments by arguing, they usually withdraw from argument, preferring silence, prayer and personal repentance rather than trying to fix someone other than themselves.
For example, when I started attending Orthodox services, no one told me they were fasting from meat, fish, and dairy products (it was Great Lent). No one told me I should fast. They just did it themselves, and I eventually discovered that they fasted and decided to undertake it on my own. No coercion. Not even a suggestion. This is radically different for many Americans, and it allows us to enter the Church voluntarily, but it also (thankfully) allows us to enter the Church as we are, with the understanding that eventually what is not God-pleasing is going to be exposed by simply trying to live life as a Christian. When it does, we will stop it, and the community will support us in doing so.
As before, we start with Julie’s thoughts on these (in italics) and then we add our own.
Socialism Punishes Virtue
Socialists want to distribute wealth to individuals according to their need, regardless of virtue.
As Karl Marx, famously said, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
This seems to sound Christian, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it sound like charity to talk about “giving to each according to his needs?” The nasty little truth is that this is not charity at all, at least not the way Karl Marx said it. One has to give Marx some credit for verbal sophistry, for he says, in a rather elegant way, this: “If you work, you will give the results of your work to someone else who is deemed to be in need. You have no choice.”
Have you ever known any company who refuses to pay its employees for the work they themselves do, but rather, directs that salary to unemployed people who are doing nothing, perhaps the derelicts who are sleeping on the streets, half-stoned? This is the fullest expression of Marx’s saying.
Mrs. Roys goes on to make a solid point about this:
However, whenever any institution provides aid, it runs the risk of removing God-designed rewards and consequences. It can punish those who are industrious by making them pay for those who are not. And, it can reward those who aren’t industrious by giving them the fruits of another man’s labor.This is precisely what socialism does.
There was a reason that Karl Marx advocated for such a system: He used his own life experience as fuel for his revolutionary thought and rage.
Karl was an angry, hate-filled man—quarrelsome, neglectful of his family, lazy, and violent. He suffered from hideous carbuncles in part because he almost never bathed. Some of the most memorable phrases from his two books were lifted from others without appropriate credit. He spent almost all his time at home or in libraries, and almost none where the workers he fumed about actually worked. He mooched off of others all his life, prompting his mother to say that she wished Karl would “accumulate capital instead of just writing about it.”
He was married; but he had an adulterous affair with the housekeeper, and she bore him a son, Freddy, who later he did not allow in the house with his wife and his other seven legitimate children, of which only three lived to full adulthood.
Marx would not allow his illegitimate child to visit their mother in his London house whenever he was at home, and the boy could only enter the house through the kitchen door in the back of the house. In addition, he had his friend, longtime financial benefactor, and intellectual collaborator, Fredrick Engels, claim parentage of the child so to avoid any social embarrassment falling upon himself due to his infidelity. (Taken from ‘Karl Marx Was a Pretty Bad Person‘.)
But the worst thing about Karl Marx was not his personality or his hygiene. It was the evil web he spun with deceitful bait that snared and doomed millions. He called the workers of the world to revolution, but, as the Italian writer Ignazio Silone put it, “Revolutions, like trees, must be judged by their fruit.” Without exception, wherever Marxist ideology found root, it grew into monstrous depravity.
Absolutely true. Just take a trip around the Communist (and former Communist) countries and see for yourself. I live in Russia, and despite the massive changes for the better in this land since the collapse of Communism in 1991, the country and its people still carry massive scars. It will probably take centuries to heal the spiritual and emotional scars left on this people from seventy years of utter materialism. Mrs. Roys continues:
As Aristotle once noted, “Men start revolutionary changes for reasons connected with their private lives.”
Christianity teaches that aid should be tied to responsibility. First, anyone who refuses to work should be refused aid.
As 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
Next, no one should be given aid whose family can provide for him. In fact, the Apostle Paul said that a man who fails to provide for his family is “worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim. 5:8) The church also required widows receiving aid to have “a reputation of good works.” (1 Tim. 5:10) So, even in dispensing aid, the church rewarded virtue and discouraged vice. Unfortunately, socialism does just the opposite.
We would agree here that socialism, by attempting to equalize wealth across all people, simultaneously punishes the hard work of those that did it by stripping away from them the fruit of their own labors. It also punishes virtue in the opposite sense, by rewarding those who did no work.
Anyone who has spent time taking unemployment knows the temptation this brings. Sure, unemployment pays very little compared to a real salary. But the money comes for only a token effort – looking for three jobs per week for example – something anyone can do very half-heartedly. While such benefits can and are helpful for many who get forced to change work very suddenly, the temptation to be lazy as possible and just mooch off the free-money-supply from the State can be daunting. Without motivation to continue, it usually takes the prospect of the benefits coming to an end to spur constructive action and to get another job.
Socialism in this sense panders to fallen human nature. By punishing those who work hard by taking their reward away, it is only a short time before those who were working hard simply stop doing so. After all, why should one work hard if their outcome is no different than if they work half-heartedly? And why should the one not working at all, or being exceptionally lazy, receive benefits similar to someone who works hard? The virtue of being hardworking and industrious and responsible for oneself is undercut and destroyed by socialist redistribution of wealth.
This is further complicated by another error, this time one made by Protestant believers. It appears Julie herself got caught up in this error:
Sometimes mainline Protestantism makes a false connection, claiming that a “good Christian” will become materially prosperous, assigning a surprisingly socialist worldview to the term “abundant life.” In this view, good Christians do financially well and bad people or bad Christians meet with hardship.
The Eastern Orthodox view of this is very different. We are shown that one’s financial status is not connected to how good a Christian they are. In fact, in ancient Christianity there is absolutely no connection made whatsoever with one’s personal wealth and the quality of their relationship with Christ.
This is a fact that many Protestants might probably be relieved to learn. Many of their groups are somewhat taken with the “prosperity gospel” teaching (God wants you to be rich, so if you follow him, you will ‘live abundantly’ – a.k.a. have lots of earthly wealth and luxury). This teaching is utterly false, and it is very damaging, but it also reflects a worldview that is material-centered (materialistic) rather than God-centered, and as such, actually provides a philosophical gateway to socialist thinking!
We could even go farther than this and rightly state that socialism occurs when capitalism becomes the ONLY thing that matters. In this we go back to what we discussed in the first piece: “It’s all about stuff.” Such a worldview is not Christian at all, and it provides no defining information about virtue, other than that the only virtue for the socialist is all the stuff he or she wants to have.
Part III will continue to explore this theme in depth.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.