In this section of our Orthodox Christianity versus Socialism series, we examine the historical nature of the conflict between these two religions – a conflict that is recent, and yet ignored by even some of the people that experienced it directly.
And, yes, I called socialism a religion here. There is good reason to call it such, for as we have already seen, Karl Marx theorized that matter is creative in its own essence, which is a theological sort of perspective, not an economic one. Everything else in Marx’ arguments stems from this idea as irrefutable truth, which is also a fundamental characteristic of any religion.
We are specifically looking at the conflict from an Orthodox Christian worldview because, Orthodox Christianity has a different viewpoint in many ways about economic and governmental structures than that of some groups within Protestantism.
Here it is important to understand that Western Christianity is not one faith. Recent estimates place the present number of Protestant confessions at something over 37,000 distinct groups. Each one has its own different ‘take’ on Christianity, some of those takes being diametrically opposed to what the ancient and original Christians believed and did. Homosexual “marriage” is one tremendously obvious example, for where ancient Christianity and even most Protestant forms until recently held the line that homosexual behavior was unconscionable for Christians, now a growing number of groups perform such “marriages,” somehow finding a way to upend 7,500 years of experience and tradition. Yet, on the opposite side of the Protestant spectrum are people who think that by definition such people will burn in hell, and they picket funerals of US servicemen and women to make their point – also not what was taught in Christian history.
While it is utterly unfair to say that “all Protestants believe xyzzy”, (because it is not true!), it is possible and fair to say what the ancient Church teaches because we know where and who that ancient Christian church actually is. The Eastern Orthodox Christian Church is that ancient group. It has not altered its theological take at all since the time of Christ and the Apostles, and its origin point is literally in Antioch, where “the disciples were first called Christians.” Peter and Paul were both overseers in Antioch, and Peter was the leader of the Twelve original apostles.
Even without any polemic about “what church is better or more right”, the points in this series are at least confined to one confession of Christianity, and that confession happens to be the second largest in the world, with over 300 million people. This is a sizable group, and finally, it is the group that directly experienced the clash with socialism far more than any other Christian confession in existence.
Orthodox Christianity takes a much harder line on socialism than does Protestantism, but many Orthodox Christian believers in the United States and elsewhere in the West might not think so. That is why we started this series; to lay out the truth for examination by whoever wishes to do so.
In part II of this series, we began exploring in depth the notion that Socialism punishes virtue. In particular, we needed to reassess author Julie Roys’ suggestion that people with good character (i.e. Christians) tend to accumulate more; and that those with bad character may lose everything they have.
However, the accumulated history of Orthodox Christianity shows that this is not a reliable axiom at all; there is no connection between financial prosperity and adherence to God’s will.
The term “abundant life” and other similar terms are often misinterpreted to mean “temporal well-being”, so when some people work very hard and live in deep faith and obedience to God, if they believe this teaching, they may start to despair when the financial “abundance” does not happen.
Reality is far different. Christ indeed told his disciples and those who came to hear him teach that one of the gifts of seeking the kingdom of God was literally “all these things will be added unto you” (c.f. Matthew 6:33), and we have other texts throughout Scripture that deal with abundance as a reward for sticking close to God:
- [III Kings 2:1-3 ] And the days of David drew near that he should die: and he addressed his son Solomon, saying, I go the way of all the earth: but be thou strong, and shew thyself a man; and keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep the command-ments and the ordinances and the judgments which are written in the law of Moses; that thou mayest understand what thou shalt do in all things that I command thee:
- [Deuteronomy 28:12] May the Lord open to thee his good treasure, the heaven, to give rain to thy land in season: may he bless all the works of thy hands: so shalt thou lend to many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over thee.
- [Deuteronomy 30:9 – 10] And the Lord thy God shall bless thee in every work of thine hands, in the offspring of thy body, and in the offspring of thy cattle, and in the fruits of thy land, because the Lord thy God will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers: if thou wilt hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments, and his ordinances, and his judgments written in the book of this law, if thou turn to the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.
However, not one of the inner Twelve ended up living “the good life”. All but one died violent deaths by martyrdom, and the one who didn’t died in exile. Similarly, the number of people who have met their death because they stood with Christ is easily in the hundreds of millions, and, ironically, many of those died at the hands of… you guessed it! Socialists.
Even of those who did not meet martyrdom for the faith, many were poor, penniless, despised even when they were miracle workers. A woman named Ksenia who lived in St Petersburg in Orthodox Christian Russia, was largely ridiculed as being crazy, but for those who saw that her “craziness” was really a cover to hide her profound holiness. But she lived as a vagrant, wearing her late husband’s clothes and calling herself by his name. Archbishop John Maximovitch lived practically penniless, and got taken to secular court – an absolute humiliation! – by his own people in a land fight over church property in San Francisco. This, even though the good archbishop was already known as a miracle worker many times over while yet in his life.
The Christian life is full of accounts like this that are anything but living the six- and seven-figure income and all the things Joel Osteen and his ilk promise. Certainly such teachers do often talk about the abundant life of material things, but all too often the ones who live that way the most are these peddlers of inspiration, but not Christian truth.
Jesus was not lying at all, though. For him and for those who followed him most closely (and those who follow him now in the same way), abundance has to do with being well-prepared for eternity, for that life which is beyond this finite one. Abundant living may or may not include monetary wealth, but if it does, the people that have it are stewards of it, and responsible to do good with it in some way. Those who don’t have this kind of wealth are no less wealthy in what really matters to the Christian: love, peace, joy, self-control, faith, and wisdom. Further, for both the monetarily rich and monetarily poor, wealth in that sense becomes rather unimportant.
Again, here we are on a geopolitical site talking about something that is absolutely within the realm of “religious faith”, something which many Westerners cannot accept past the idea that it is simply one of many arbitrary philosophical constructs. But consider this:
Much of what we cover here on The Duran concerns Russia and the former Soviet nations, all of whom used to be Orthodox Christian nations before the Communist Revolution. During Communism, the effort to actively destroy the Church was not without reason. The Communists / Socialists knew the Church was an enemy to their notion of progress. We have to be honest enough to face that.
Further, the renaissance of Russia is directly tied to the restoration and rise of the Russian Orthodox Church. While Western political junkies propose that the Orthodox Church is the vassal of the Russian State, people who really know the situation, like James George Jatras and many of our writers know that if anything, the rise of Russia as a great power now is at the very least parallel with the rise of the Church. But an even more honest view would show Russia’s present rise as the result of the renewal of serious faith and practice of Christianity in Russia.
This is made even more manifest by a development that is taking place This very week. President Vladimir Putin submitted a number of constitutional changes including amendments that specify a belief in God and the definition of marriage as a “union of a man and a woman.” In other words, the move here continues to be in the direction of the Orthodox Christian faith, not away from it, as is the case in the West.
With that in mind, we can proceed to the next reason Socialism is not Christian: Socialism endorses stealing.
See you in part IV.
Socialism endorses stealing.
This one is fairly simple, if you think about it. First of all, of course, it cannot be packaged as directly as what the above subheading says. Here is how Julie Roys unpacked it:
Barack Obama once defended his socialist policies to a little girl by saying, “We’ve got to make sure that people who have more money help the people who have less money. If you had a whole pizza, and your friend had no pizza, would you give him a slice?”
That sounds pretty Christian, right? What Christian wouldn’t endorse sharing your abundance with someone who has nothing?
So far, this above argument is greatly relied upon by socialist-sympathetic Orthodox Christians. You have abundance. Your brother doesn’t. So give him some of yours!
There is a very key element wrong in this sequence which we will return to, shortly. First, back to Julie:
However, Obama wasn’t endorsing people voluntarily sharing their wealth with others; he was endorsing the government forcibly taking a piece of the pie from one person and giving it to someone else. Put another way, that’s saying that if you have three cars and your neighbor has none, the government has a right to take your car and give it to your neighbor. That’s not Christian; that’s stealing!
But, socialists don’t believe in private property. And, some Christian socialists actually assert that the Bible doesn’t either. That’s preposterous.
Both the Old Testament and New Testament unequivocally affirm private property. We can’t even obey the eighth commandment to not steal, unless we accept the notion of private ownership. Nor, can we steward our money as the Bible commands if the state owns our money, not us. So, for an economic and political system to be Christian, it must protect private ownership and allow individuals freedom to allocate their resources according to their conscience.
Julie hit it out of the park on this one, but we still have the key ingredient to add. Look again at the sequence:
You have abundance. Your brother doesn’t. So give him some of yours!
Who has abundance? Who must give it away?
It is always you, or people, or everybody… everyone but the only one who Christianity focuses on:
In other words, the socialist liberal or communist talks about solving the problem in terms of making society (everybody) do some specific thing.
Christianity does not EVER do this. In fact there is not a single teaching in the Gospels or anywhere else in Orthodox Christianity that proposes any sort of action to be taken on society as a whole.
This is where the Orthodox Christian faith is far more hardline than Protestantism. I will go so far as to say that Protestantism is far more conducive to socialist ideas than Orthodoxy is.
Orthodox Christianity tells the believer basically, first and foremost, “mind your OWN business.” Consider the text of the Great Penitential Canon of St Andrew of Crete. This is a four-day long sequence of services (later repeated all at once, taking around four hours to do in Russia, longer in some other places). These are examples of the texts of the service (with certain emphases added):
Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? How shall I begin, O Christ, to relieve my present tears? But as Thou art deeply compassionate, grant me forgiveness of sins…
Having rivaled the first-formed Adam by my transgressions, I have found myself stripped naked of God, of the everlasting kingdom and all of its delights, because of my sins.
Woe is me, O wretched soul, for thou art become like the first Eve! For thou hast looked in wickedness and wast bitterly wounded; for thou hast touched the tree and rashly tasted the forbidden fruit…
Adam was rightly banished from Eden, O Savior, because he disobeyed one of Thy commandments. What then shall I suffer, for constantly rejecting Thy words of life?
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
O Trinity, Who surpasses all creation and is adored in Unity, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction.
Now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
O Theotokos, the hope and protection of those who praise thee, take from me the heavy yoke of sin and as thou art our Most-pure Lady, accept me in repentance.
On and on this goes, some 255 or more verses focused only on addressing “what is wrong with me?” Not “what is wrong with the world?” or “what is wrong with society?”
In case the reader is beginning to wonder what this has to do with stealing, just think: If I am working on what is wrong with me, then all the changes and alterations I make to my life are to the only person I have the right to do anything like that to – myself.
When we start thinking about changing society, especially in terms of things like “making everything fair by making everyone have the same, or by making the State control means of production…” As soon as there is but one person who opposes these changes, the rest of us are stealing from that person.
Even more, the socialist liberal talks about what everybody else must do, but when is the last time that person decided to freely give of their own wealth to help the State help society? We are all free to do so if we wish, but the idea that I can tell anyone else what they must do with their money, especially when I am unwilling to do the same myself (leading by example)… what is that? It is stealing. It is even worse, rising to the level of extortion, forcing other people to do what I will not do myself.
The socialist has backup for this though. For the socialist, if someone is unwilling to do what the State wants, it can be done to them anyway, because that person has no intrinsic value. Remember the Marxist axiom that all reality springs from the material world? This takes us to the notion that there is nothing intrinsically valuable about any person. Hence, abortion is merely a removal of an insignificant and unimportant growth of flesh (and not a person), euthanasia is simply the removal of unproductive matter (the aged and infirm), marriage is simply an agreement to mutually use someone else (or even multiple someone elses) for pleasurable feelings and even for profit.
All of these things are in direct opposition to Christianity, which upholds each person as a unique, wildly beloved creation of a loving God, each given the gift of life, freedom, thought, movement, insight, intelligence – everything!
All these things are in direct opposition to Christianity, which upholds life itself as something only God can create. Men and women do not create babies. They help God do so, but as we know, God has done it without our help before. To treat any person without the highest level of regard as a unique creation of God is stealing from them – not only their monetary wealth, but their very soul and dignity.
It should be becoming very clear how absolutely incompatible Christianity and Socialism are, and we still have two more reasons left.
Part IV takes us farther down the road.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.