Monday, May 17, 2010

Christians and Politics

Have you ever wondered why most conservative Christians subscribe to capitalism, and liberal unbelievers ascribe to socialism?  It seems a bit backwards, when you consider that capitalism is based on selfishness and greed, and socialism is based on looking out for your neighbour.  Shouldn't it be the other way around? Why do we support the systems that we do? 

Most people want to live better than they already do.  That might be hard for some people to understand, especially looking at "rich" people.  Why do they need all that stuff?  Isn't there a point where they can reasonably say "I have enough"?  A $50,000 car serves their purpose, so why do they need one that costs $75,000?  Put the shoe on another foot.  Can't we just as easily say the same for a person who has a $10,000 car that is five years old?  It works, so why does he want a newer vehicle?  There are people who have no car at all.  They get around just fine, but they would still like to have their own wheels.  Ask nearly everyone who is not "rich" how much is enough?  Chances are they will say something that indicates "A little bit more than I have now."   Everyone is, in one sense or another, what we could consider "greedy."  So which system is better?

What does capitalism espouse? It is based on the survival instinct.  At its core, the idea is that a person will look out for himself before anyone else. It is the survival instinct.  Capitalism takes advantage of the impulse to seek a better life.  That impulse might compel someone to start a business.  In doing so, he might need to hire some people.  People who need a job - a better position than they are in at that moment - come to apply for the job.  If they are accepted, they will be able to improve their lot in life.  They could then make an improvement on their house, for example, and so in turn they will have to hire a carpenter.  The carpenter now has more work, and more money at his disposal.  And so it goes.  This is what Reagan meant by his much-maligned "trickle down economics."  By allowing the (undeniably) rich to keep more of their own money, they would feel free to build up their businesses and start others, hiring people who would then spend their money on other things that would have to be supplied by different people.  The system is by no means perfect.  People will use and abuse it to maximize their return-on-investment, often by under-paying their employees or forcing them to work over-time.  The system also lends itself to control by a select few.

What is the basis of socialism?  It seems, at first glance, a decent proposal.  We are all in this together.  To answer Cain's question to God, Yes, we are, in fact, our brother's keeper.  Therefore, we should make sure we look out for one another.  When one is "out of luck," society should make sure he can keep body and soul together long enough to find a job and start up again.  From this comes food stamps, unemployment benefits, health-care, and welfare to make sure that children have the basic necessities.  It surely seems as though this is what God had in mind when He said, "Love thy neighbor," doesn't it?

Is it true, then, that Christianity should espouse socialism, and leave the capitalism to the atheists?  Why isn't it that way?  I believe there are a few reasons why this is not the case.

First, Jesus did tell us to care for one another, as the socialists claim.  However, I think it instructive to note who He was talking to.  In His sermons, when He gave instruction on how to live, He always spoke to the common people, never to the governing class.  He never told the Pharisees and Sadducees, Herod, Pilate or any other governor that it was the responsibility of the government to take care of the underprivileged.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, He made it clear that taking care of one's neighbour was a personal responsibility.

Second, Christians have a better understanding of human nature, because they read and understand the Bible and what God says about His creation.  It IS true that, under normal circumstances, a person will normally look out for himself before others.  This does NOT mean that they will ignore the needs of those around him.  On the contrary, many conservative Christians, rich or poor, are very generous with their time and money, trying to improve the lot of life of their "neighbours."  It is a frustrating process, since in general they can help only one person or a small group at a time.  This is one reason why everyone should participate - to maximize the ability of society to help those in need.

Socialists, by contrast, try to improve the lot of a large group - society in general - by direct fiat.  They believe that people are not generous enough, which is why there are needy people.  Therefore, taxes are levied, to fill the coffers so that help is available.  This, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing.  Curiously, however, it fails to take into consideration the "greed" factor.  There are some people who will take advantage of such a system.  Many times, they will actually have to settle for less money if they get a job, compared to what they receive from the government, with the added benefit of having to get up early and not being able to watch television or play video games all day.  Who could say "No" to such a great system?  Of course, socialists and capitalists decry the abuse of both of these systems, as they should. 

Socialists do not recognize man as he is; they see him as they want him to be, and try to manipulate him to be that way.  Capitalists - not all of whom are Christians, by the way - see man as he is, and use the system to take advantage of his natural tendencies. 

Capitalism is better able to meet the needs of large numbers of people, because it utilizes the innate driving force of the group.  Socialism fails to recognize this basic tendency, and is therefore susceptible to abuse by large numbers of people, often rewarding them for not working, in direct violation of II Thessalonians 3.10, "If any would not work, neither should he eat."

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