The Case for Christian Socialism: Both the Capitalists and the Liberation Theologians Are Wrong
“For I was hungry and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer and say, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee?” Then He will answer them, saying, “Amen I say to you, as long as you did not do it for one of these least ones, you did not do it for me.” And these will go into everlasting punishment, but the just into everlasting life.
What has all this got to do with the case for Christian socialism? Just about everything, for Matthew 25 is the surest foundation for such a case. A wise priest once said, “To feed the hungry is a simple imperative, but it is not a simple undertaking.” It is not even simple these days to find a hungry person to feed, just in the course of your ordinary rounds. But there are millions out there just the same, in this country, and hundreds of millions beyond our national borders. Hungry for food, hungry for a decent home, hungry for a decent job that will make food and home possible for themselves and the families they have (or do not have because they can’t afford to have them), hungry for the self-respect that goes with providing these things for themselves without charity or welfare. How do we go about providing these things to satisfy these different kinds of hunger, for we are not so simple as to imagine that Jesus spoke only of providing a piece of bread or cup of water? How, in this complex world, do we arrange things so that Jesus will not one day say to us, “Depart from me, you who are accursed”?
Malthus taught that anything done to help the poor would only encourage overpopulation, since population increases by geometrical progression whereas the means of subsistence increases only by arithmetical progression. Of course Malthus never had the chance to meet Frances Moore Lappe or other modern experts on food production.
Ricardo’s Iron Law of Wages was almost equally damaging. He concluded from it that “like all other contracts, wages should be left to the fair and free competition of the market, and should never be controlled by the interference of the legislature.” Or trade unions. He did not live to see exactly how unfair and unfree “the competition of the market” could become.
Self-interest can be a powerful motivator, and not all of that motivation is bad. There is a legitimate role for self-interest. And the fortunate folks of the northern hemisphere, with their salubrious climate, natural resources, and the peculiar combination of Christianity and laissez-faire, were able to perform marvels of production that made many people better off than they had been before and few people very, very rich, and a good many very, very poor.