One of the many issues that so-called progressives try to justify with the Bible is socialism. This article is intended both to assist those who are christians and those lovers of liberty who may not be christians but are trying to persuade christians of why socialism is wrong. It is (mostly) written from a minarchist perspective, but should not be taken to think that The Price of Liberty supports minarchism.
Socialism is the political ideology that government ought to oversee and control all aspects of the economy rather than leaving private businesses and individuals to conduct their business and affairs as they see fit. It is based on the idea that all property and wealth are to be shared and the government (at whatever level) is the entity which determines how they are to be shared. Of necessity, socialism demands a strong centralized government to be able to do this.
Advocates of socialism often claim that it is the “fairest way” for a society to function economically. That it protects poorer people (citizens and non-citizens) from oppression by wealthy people and companies (especially big corporations). Many attempt to use the Bible in order to defend this idea. One alleged example of “socialism” commonly given the early Christians who sold their property to share with those who were in need (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35).
Socialism requires civil (human) government to have a very large role in the economy and society. Among other things, socialism imposes a greater tax and regulatory burden on the people. The “sharing” is mandatory and ultimately rests on a threat of force or actual use of force to control the economy and everyone in it.
Basic Bible Principles
God has ordained a limited role for civil authorities (if indeed He does not (for now) tolerate this evil) – Why is this important? Because people attempt to make Biblical arguments for what “government ought to do.” At very best, the divinely-ordained role for civil authorities is to (a) protect the innocent from evildoers, (b) punish those evildoers (Romans 13:3-4), and (c) maintain a situation where people are free to serve the Lord (1st Timothy 2:2). Do governments do many “good” things that go beyond this limited role (such as operating a postal service)? Perhaps, but God there is no Biblical justification for governments to claim it has those roles. So we ought to be very cautious of expecting, requesting, or demanding anything beyond what God ordained.
The Bible warns us of dangers presented by government – When the children of Israel called for a king, God told Samuel to warn them. He explained what it would be like to have a king – he would “take” from them everything he wanted to fulfill his own purposes (1st Samuel 8:9-17). The wise man warned: “If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them” (Ecclesiastes 5:8). The Bible establishes standards for “good, godly government” but those standards are virtually never (if ever) met. The Bible writers described how large bureaucracies are inefficient and ineffective, regardless of their intention. This type of power and bureaucracy is absolutely essential in socialism, even in a limited socialism.
God gives us the blessings that we enjoy in this life, including the abundance of the wealthy – The wise man described the riches of the wealthy as “the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19). As economists have learned, the wealthy are an essential part of advanced society, even if they are not godly people. In 1st Timothy 6:17, Paul told Timothy to remind the rich (Timothy’s primary audience were christians and those he was teaching to be christians) that God is the One who “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”
Socialism, due to the size and scope of the government needed for it, naturally results in civil authorities usurping the authority of God over the people – This has been a problem throughout history (see Genesis 10:8-10; Ezekiel 28:2; Acts 12:20-23 and any history book). Too often, man wants to (in effect) replace God. Rulers who attempt to portray themselves as a benevolent god-like figure to the people often expect the allegiance, obedience, and praise that ought to be reserved for God alone. Virtually every socialist system – secular or religious – in history has demonstrated that.
Socialism encourages and rewards for sinful behavior to the harm of those who do what is right – Paul wrote, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat either” (2nd Thessalonians 3:10). Yet socialism is built on a system of taking from the productive to give to the unproductive. The wise man said it was “evil” and “a severe affliction” for possessions to be taken from someone who received them as God’s blessings and given to another (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2). Rather than one having his possessions taken by force to help others, he should be encouraged to sell what he has that others need (Proverbs 11:26) – a voluntary free-market interaction rather than a forced confiscation of property to be redistributed in an inefficient and bureaucratically wasteful manner – or give of his own free will to help others (Acts 4:32-35). Stealing is stealing – and wrong – regardless of whether it is done by an individual, a private group, or government.
There may never have been a human government that did NOT go beyond the limited role that God seems to have “ordained for them” (that is, tolerated). However, the political ideology of socialism is built upon a foundation of evil. Not just that government can control and steal from people, but the concept that human rulers can take God’s place over the people, and take the blessings that God gives both the righteous and unrighteous and hand them out to others. Clearly, this provides special challenges for Christians living in that society.