Some today, particularly non-Christians, want to paint Jesus as a Marxist revolutionary. Of course it is natural for the world to create a false Christ to suit its agenda, but because so many Christians are being caught up in this, it is worth addressing.
The confusion arises because Jesus cares deeply for the poor and marginalized. And so should we – no true Christian would disagree. God tells us in Proverbs 31:9 to “plead the cause of the poor and needy” and in numerous other Bible verses He commands us to treat the poor justly and to give freely to the poor. He also warns us about the pitfalls of being rich.
Among the principal aims of socialism are to increase collective ownership, decrease disparities in income, and abolish social classes. Surely this equality can only be a good thing?
No, it is no good thing at all. Firstly, the blanket accusation that those to the right of the political spectrum do not care about the poor is slanderous and should be avoided. The question is not actually about the poor, but rather about the role of the state.
2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us that we should give “not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver”. The biblical emphasis is on voluntary giving, not compulsion by an external force. When Jesus commanded a man to sell all of his possessions (because they were a stumbling block to his obedience), He was not imploring the government to seize them. While He did command us to pay our taxes, He did at no point endorse the redistribution of wealth by the state. That is not the cheerful giver God has in mind, who has autonomy over his own money and where he spends it. Punitive taxes, i.e. those which are severe on the most successful earners, with the aim of redistributing their wealth to make incomes more equal, are arguably a violation of the eighth commandment insofar as they confiscate rightful property for ends which are beyond what is necessary for the administration of a country. Advocacy for such a system is also arguably a violation of the tenth commandment if we are in fact coveting someone else’s rightful property. Why do they have so much? I have worked hard. Why should I not have a share of what they have? Private ownership, being fundamentally protected by the eighth commandment, is simply a liberty which must be protected by any Christian government, against the socialist principle of collective ownership.
Furthermore, personal responsibility is emphasized in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If any would not work, neither shall he eat.” This principle is often sacrificed by socialists in the name of egalitarianism for its own sake, but the fact is that we alone are responsible for putting a roof over our heads and putting food on the table. We are not owed our livelihood by the state.
Finally, we must understand that wealth creation is not evil. One criticism that has been levelled against Margaret Thatcher is that she created a culture of greed, but I believe this is unfair. Just as money itself is not evil, but rather the love of money, if government policy indirectly leads to greed, the real fault lies with the person who is greedy, not with the government. Wealth created through capitalism is conducive to the wellbeing of all. When Thatcher was confronted by a Liberal Democrat MP about the growing gap between rich and poor, she said, “He would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich. So long as the gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer. You do not create wealth and opportunity that way. You do not create a property-owning democracy that way.”
Having made my case, I feel obliged to clarify that I am personally not a proponent of unbridled right-wing politics wherein those with the most are free to dictate on their terms. The Bible is clear that employers have responsibilities to their workers: Malachi 3:5 condemns “those that oppress the hireling in his wages”. Confessional Presbyterians accept that the state has a paternal role where morality is concerned, which distinguishes us from liberals (having defended Thatcher in this article, I would nevertheless criticize her relaxation of Sunday trading laws, for example, on the basis of the fourth commandment – wherein she was more liberal than conservative). Acknowledging such a paternal role, I am not opposed to the state’s using means to ensure that fair wages are paid and workers’ reasonable demands heard. And, while voluntary charity must be the primary means of providing for the poor and vulnerable (and therefore, the Christian government should support charity with tax relief and similar policies) I am not opposed to supplementing charity with a limited welfare system. Working in a residential care home for adults with learning disabilities, it is plain to see how vital state funding is in this sector. In support of my case, long before the godless socialism of the French revolution, some degree of socialized healthcare was employed in John Calvin’s Geneva which had hospitals (a joint effort between state and church) funded from taxation. In fact, conservatism in various strains – such as “Christian democracy” and “one-nationism” – has had the poor at heart and striven for greater equality of opportunity. I allege that it is libertarians, who deny the paternal role of the state, rather than conservatives, who would remove restraints from the rich and powerful.
Yet traditional conservatism – unlike humanistic socialism – recognizes the place the sovereign Lord holds and the order He has set over our society, upholds the principles of His law embodied in the Ten Commandments, and distrusts sinful human nature. The first canon of conservative thought (according to Russell Kirk in his book The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot) is the “belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.”
In spite of this, I mourn that so many British Conservative MP’s are no longer aligned with their original principles and have turned away from a godly constitution, but I am also convinced that Jeremy Corbyn’s Marxist manifesto would set Britain on a path not only of economic destruction, but even greater moral decline.