Despite the facts we are outlining in this Christianity versus Socialism series, we are faced with the fact that there are a great many people – even Orthodox Christians – who ascribe to a philosophical point of view that is not Christianity at all, but socialism. Telltale signs of this include the belief in the notion that rich people should not be so rich, that their ‘excessive wealth’ is sinful and that money ought to be distributed among the people who are not wealthy. Usually the concept manages to avoid the believer’s own personal participation in such activity, despite the fact that the people who often talk about redistribution of wealth only mean to redistribute other people’s wealth, whose monetary value always exceeds their own. Many of these socialist supporters are often very well off, too, certainly not living hand-to-mouth, or from paycheck to paycheck. But at the same time, they are not making “that much” so they are always exempt from having to do this amazing act of “Christian generosity.”
Most pro-socialist arguments go like this, and it ought to be noted that socialist thinking does not have to come from a book. In fact, usually, it doesn’t spring from the educated at all, but from the simple cry of children who didn’t have what they themselves wanted, though their friends seemed to. For all the great efforts spent by men and women far more educated than I, the basis of their ideology is that of a four-year-old crying “it’s not fair!!” when someone else has two pieces of candy and they have only one. All the book learning just amplified the sense of personal victimhood and set it in stone for many of these people. Christianity never makes the claim that life should be fair, but this is easy to ignore.
This attitude often persists even if the person becomes a Christian believer. “Christ was the first communist!” some people in the new Communist Party of the Russian Federation say. They limit Christ, and Christianity itself, to very narrow aspects of his teachings to people like the rich young ruler, to whom the Lord instructed to sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor and then to follow Him personally. The socialist-minded see the first instruction, blur over the second and completely miss the point of the third and therefore misunderstand the entire process.
Christ was not advocating for the poor here. He was prescribing the precise means of treatment for this young man’s soul, one who had found the external practice of all the commandments to be a relatively simple matter. This happens sometimes. Here, Christ was offering the rich young man the needed step he, and he alone, needed to take. We know that he went away sorrowful because of his own enslavement to his possessions, but that again is not about who gets the money. Christianity does not care who gets the money.
That instruction was not given as a directive to all believers, they ignore vigorously. Yet this is absolutely evident in the Gospels, because Christ never gave such a directive to anyone else. He commented on the fact that his Twelve disciples gave up everything they had to follow him, but he never directed them to do this. Neither, as we noted much earlier, is the common ownership of everything a requirement to being a Christian, though this practice is often helpful for people trying to remove possessions as a distraction to their personal efforts at salvation. Such groups exist to this day. In the Orthodox Christian world; they are largely called ‘monasteries.’
We have written much about this already but a new piece, written by an Orthodox priest in the United States, does so much to show the differences inherent in the socialist / secularist and the Orthodox Christian that we thought it should be presented here. The clergy often have a knack for making the complex understandable, so we hope this helps elucidate our point of view.
This is largely a piece written by Father Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox Christian priest serving in the state of Tennessee in the United States. The piece was originally found on Pravmir, the Russian Orthodox Church website. We are very grateful to Father Stephen because his analysis of the opposing worldviews of secularism (a.k.a. socialism) and traditional (Orthodox) Christianity are made very clear in his writing. We will offer further comment after the body of his text, which follows, with slight emphasis and reformatting added:
The Secular Man has been the great threat to the Christian faith over the past two or more centuries. Disguised as the person who is only doing the “normal thing,” he lives in a godless world, where others can be tempted to live as though there were no God.
Earlier I quoted Berdyaev, “If God does not exist, then man does not exist.” I would add to that that the God Who Exists must be everywhere present and filling all things, or He is no God and a false god. Let us renounce the “soft atheism” of the secular man and live always and everywhere for God.
Many Orthodox writers have spoken about the nature of the secular world, the defining form of modernity. I take here an opportunity to make a small comparison between the secular man and the Christian.
The secular man may believe that there is a God, but he also believes that the situation and outcome of the world are dependent upon the actions of human beings.
The Christian man believes that there is a God, and that all things are in His hands.
The secular man believes in Progress. Life changes, and with good human direction, it changes for the better. Every new discovery stands on the shoulders of every previous discovery. In this way, life improves and always improves for the better.
The Christian man believes that whatever man does may change his circumstances, but does not change man. A modern man is in no way superior to those who came before him. Goodness is not a result of progress.
The secular man believes in the power of human beings. Reason, applied reasonably to any situation, will yield a better outcome.
The Christian man believes in God, but he doubts the goodness of man. Human solutions are always questionable and capable of failure.
The secular man believes, ultimately, in the smooth path of progress. Even though there may be set-backs along the way, he believes that pursuing the path of progress will ultimately yield a better world – even a near perfect world.
Because the Christian man believes in God, he trusts that the outcome of history belongs to God and not to man. Thus, even the good things done by man are judged by a good God whose goal for us is always beyond anything we could ask or think.
The secular man, despite various failures, always believes that the next good is only another plan away. Compromise, negotiation, and a willingness to change will finally solve all problems.
The Christian understands the sinfulness of humanity. He knows that without God things will always fail and dissipate. Only through trust and obedience to God can the human situation improve – and such improvement always comes as a miracle from God.
The secular man does not believe in his own fallibility. He does not learn from history, but yearns repeatedly for a success where none has come before. What success he has known (in medical treatment of disease, etc.) is quickly translated into political terms. What is wrong politically can be eradicated as easily as malaria.
The Christian man knows that problems do not lie so much in the world as within himself. Unless man is changed by a good God, there will be a very limited goodness in the world. The secular man knows how to cure malaria, but he cannot manage to actually share that goodness with the world. The world (the third world) dies as it has always died. The secular man is powerless because he lacks true goodness.
The Christian man is largely marginalized in our modern world. He is considered an artifact of the past. However he is not a religious artifact – the truth he knows is eternal and is as applicable to the ills of the world as any part of the truth of God.
It is for this generation to understand what it means to be a Christian man and not to compromise with the secular man. God is good and wills good for all people. He is not a utilitarian, wishing the greatest good for the greatest number, but willing good for each and every soul.
May Christians be visible everywhere, and everywhere loyal to the Kingdom of God.
It is difficult, indeed, not to emphasize the entire body of Father Stephen’s writing here. However, the points so emphasized are extremely applicable to our efforts to understand that there is indeed a sharp distinction and opposition between Christianity and socialist world views. That being said, as we have noted earlier in our series, there still exist, and will exist, a large body of people who honestly believe that they are believers in God, but who ascribe to secularism when dealing with “the real world.”
This is the kind or marginalization that is quite frankly being challenged at this very moment as the COVID-19 pandemic runs its inevitable course. We cannot possibly know what the outcome of this pandemic is going to be. Despite all the best efforts of people all over the world to halt the progress of the virus, it is moving through our population. We cannot see it, we cannot stop it, we may only be able to slow its progress. This, with Chinese communist centralized control (and this government is ideologically in search of an economic Utopia that was dashed by the virus and the Chinese’ own mishandling of it, and they know it). The United States knows it, despite a remarkably versatile and flexible response on the part of the American President and his team. The American response in the secular sense is arguably the best in the world, but still, the only thing that can be hoped for is a slowing of the advance of the virus.
The rest of the world is also involved. Here, then is a perfect example of something that “progress” cannot stop. It may be able to help deal with some of the effects, but all of humanity’s great progress is being thwarted by something of microscopic size, that cannot be seen at all. Indeed, the only thing capable of helping us with the unseen is Christianity, which itself preaches a God who is also usually unseen, though history has shown Him to be absolutely effective every time He acted.
It is evident that for the time being, socialism is receiving an unexpected comeuppance. The secular man is challenged by something he cannot control, and oftentimes, this is when the secular man comes to realize that maybe it is better to pray for Divine help and to stop relying on oneself. In other words, Christianity and its humble reliance upon God as the true and only Source of all blessings, is a concept that is probably getting dusted off by many of us.
In Russia, this seems to be taking place. Like other nations in the world, the Russian Federation is also progressively shutting down workplaces where people congregate, and advocating for telework and limited exposure to crowds of people. But Christianity is also dominant, so the parish churches are functioning without the restrictions asked for in other places, and people are going to services in steady numbers, perhaps a little more than usual. They are praying without fear, and in fact, with determination, knowing that God will be the one to deliver them from this problem, the earthly facilities and tools only being aids to His purpose.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.