The comments on SHOULD CHRISTIANS PARTICIPATE IN POLITICS? have gone off the rail. Instead of discussing whether Christians should participate in government, commenters want to debate whether Christians should support socialism. Since I generally appreciate comments, even those I don’t agree with, I decided to create a more appropriate post.

Subject Of The Debate

Does Christianity favor or does it oppose Socialism? That’s the question.

When he added this comment, which includes a link to his website, Mo Johnson revived a debate I thought over. In fact, he changed subject of the debate. Here, in a latter comment, he explains his own position.

Hi all, glad to see the discussion.

There’s more to address than i can. For instance, of course, Citizen Tom is quite wrong about no “socialized” country ever succeeding. The truth is that only socialized countries have succeeded. It all depends how you define the term socialized. Obviously, all successful countries in the world today are “socialized” to one degree or another. The ONLY countries that have no “socialized” aspects are failed states like Somalia and Ethiopia. I suppose perhaps those are the kind of countries Citizen Tom yearns for us to be like. They are the best examples we have of what pure capitalism and limited  government will bring us. (continued here)

Terms Of The Debate

To justify their ideology, Socialists often play word games. In particular, they play with the word justice. They call upon government to provide justice. However, government does not always have the responsibility of providing for justice.

Here is how fans of Capitalism define “social justice” and “economic justice”.

Justice, Social. Social justice is the particular virtue whose object is the common good of all human society, rather than, as with individual justice, the individual good of any member or group. It is one of the basic social virtues in the field of social morality. Social justice guides humans as social beings in creating and perfecting organized human interactions, or institutions. It is the principle for restoring moral balance and harmony in the social order.

Social justice imposes on each member of society a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development. To the extent an institution violates the human dignity of any person or group, organized acts of social justice are required to correct the defects in that institution. Actions such as “social justice tithing,” for example, recognize a personal responsibility to devote a certain amount of time toward working with others to improve the organizations and institutions in which we live and work.

Justice, Economic. Economic justice is a subset of social justice. It encompasses the moral principles that guide people in creating, maintaining and perfecting economic institutions. These institutions determine how each person earns a living, enters into contracts, exchanges goods and services with others and otherwise produces an independent material foundation for economic subsistence. The ultimate purpose of economic justice is to free each person economically to develop to the full extent of his or her potential, enabling that person to engage in the unlimited work beyond economics, the work of the mind and the spirit done for its own intrinsic value and satisfaction. (SeeWork, Leisure.) The triad of interdependent principles of economic justice that serve as the moral basis of binary economics are the principle of Participation (or Participative Justice), the principle of Distribution (or Distributive Justice), and the principle of Harmony (sometimes referred to as Social Justice).

Note that both definitions recognize that we have individual responsibilities, not social responsibilities. Society does not have a responsibility to provide social justice. Look at what just plain justice involves.

Justice. Functionally, justice is a set of universal principles that guide people in judging what is right and what is wrong, no matter what culture and society they live in. It is one of the cardinal individual virtues of classical moral philosophy, along with fortitude (courage), temperance (self-control), and prudence (effectiveness). Justice is based on the maxim of suum cuique, “to each his due,” or, “to each his own.” Justice as a moral virtue disposes one person to respect the rights of others and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity and fairness with regard to other persons and to the common good. The basis of justice is the dignity of each human person. Justice reflects the qualities of balance and equivalence. It holds that each person deserves to be rewarded for his virtues/good habits and good actions and penalized for his vices/bad habits and bad actions.

When someone monopolizes a property, if the public good requires it, we will call upon government and divest that someone of that property using eminent domain. Yet even then, justice requires just compensation.

The simple fact of poverty does not just justify theft. If a poor man steals to feed his family, we find his sin easier to forgive — we may even be tempted to applaud, but he is still stealing. Similarly just because Paul is poor, busybodies do not get to rob Peter on behalf of Paul. Busybody Robin Hoods cannot rightly use the simple fact of poverty as an excuse to create some kind of Utopia. Sneaking up on a rich merchant, threatening him with a knife to his throat, and stealing his money is robbery. Peter the Merchant may or may not be a selfish pig, but robbery is still robbery. Even when an officialized mob — government — “redistributes” the wealth, that mob steals.

If we want to help Paul, then we must each reach into our own pockets.

Previous Posts On Christianity Versus Socialism

Some time back I reviewed Nullifying Tyranny: Creating Moral Communities in an Immoral Society. That resulted in a five-part series. Here is the last post, WHAT DO CHRISTIANS HAVE TO DO WITH GOVERNMENT? — PART 5.

In addition, I have written a six-part series that examines the moral choice between capitalism and socialism. Since that series refutes many of the arguments offered by advocates for Christian Socialism, they may wish to prepare by doing a little opposition research.  Here is the last post in that series, THE MORAL CHOICE BETWEEN CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM– PART 6.



  1. Tom —

    If a poor man steals to feed himself and his family, the greater sin is that the man and his family were hungry at all. This was a core principle of the early Church fathers and early Christianity — something the Romans and every other statist after them condemned.

    The difference between the social justice preached by Marxists and the social justice held by Christianity is that we, unlike the Marxists, hold that social justice requires both solidarity and subsidiarity. The latter principle — subsidiarity — is what is completely abandoned by the Marxist, and what is totally embraced by the Christian.

    When the “mob” steals to provide the hungry man food, and does so without respecting either the principle of solidarity (i.e. defrauding those who have to the benefit of those who do not) and the principle of subsidiarity (i.e. both leaving this responsibility to those appropriately responsible — you and I — as well as cheating the hungry man of his ability to feed himself) this is the pitfall of socialism as well as their misappropriation of Christian social justice.

    This is the problem of idolatry… modern political philosophies that claim salvation or utopia that simply cannot deliver on their empty promises. Only Christ saves… and even at the multiplication of the fishes and loaves in the book of John, the point was not to feed them for a day, but to feed their souls for an eternity.

    I agree that Marxist definitions of social justice have little to share with Christian definitions of social justice in anything but name. However, I strongly disagree with a definition of social justice that attacks the dignity of the human person — and when we throttle “social justice” overboard because the responsibilities to others made in the likeness and image of God, we swing from one hopeless political ideology to another — that of Randian objectivism or utilitarian ethics.



  2. Shaun Kenney – Interesting observation.

    If a poor man steals to feed himself and his family, the greater sin is that the man and his family were hungry at all. This was a core principle of the early Church fathers and early Christianity — something the Romans and every other statist after them condemned.

    Statists often make the argument that without government intervention the poor will starve, and there is a modicum of truth in that argument. Many will ignore the starving. Nonetheless, statism undermines the economic engine most capable of feeding, clothing, and housing everyone, ironically defeating the very purpose it claims to fulfill.


    1. Just keep in mind that the “greater sin” means that it is *our* responsibility to ensure we feed and properly train this man to provide for his family — not to give away this responsibility to the government.

      That’s true social justice. Allowing to government to perform this role is twice the sin, I’m afraid.


  3. I find it quite interesting to think of Ebeneezer Scrooge in discussions of this nature. The man was rightfully vilified for being uncaring about the poor. What is telling in regard to the current discussion is that Scrooge asks, “”Are there no prisons?” “And the Union workhouses?” “Are they still in operation?” “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” These were all government operations I believe.

    Scrooge then says, “I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.” (support presumably through taxes)

    So by giving away our responsibilities so that we don’t have to confront the pain and suffering, are we really any better than Scrooge? My family believes that it is our responsibility to do our individual part to help alleviate the suffering so we help when we can in food pantries, etc.. How many want government doing it so that they don’t have to worry about it?


  4. Why is it that you wish one mroal choice to be the domain of the individual alone (i.e., providing for the poor) yet other moral choices you wish to be the domain of the government (e.g., abortion and drug use)?


  5. PW Rez – Love that comment. Makes me regret that I have not read any of Charles Dickens novels in years. Great books!

    Eric the 1/2 troll – That’s a good question. It brings to mind three observations.

    1. Consider your examples. I don’t know that I have ever posted anything that describes how I think we ought to solve the drug problem. So I think you presume to know something you don’t. Abortion I have talked about. My “solution” is to send the problem back to the states, the laboratories of our little republic.

    2. Think carefully about what Shaun Kenney wrote above. Because he packed a lot in his comment, his words require some effort to comprehend, but we have online dictionaries (Believe me. I use them.). We can rightfully use government to protect our rights (even the unborn have rights), but it serves us poorly when we use government to unload our individual responsibilities on others (PW Rez’s point).

    3. Finally, you have your own explaining to do. Are you suggesting that government should protect our “rights” to get stoned and kill babies? However, government should force us to provide other people charity?

    The following is a response to this comment:
    Tony and Mo Johnson – This blog is not about me. Yes, I do talk about what I believe, but the arguments I make either stand because they make logical sense or fall because they don’t. So if I say redistributing the wealth is stealing, I say so simply because it is stealing. The Bible does not define stealing. Apparently, God thinks we can do that all by ourselves.

    Government exists to protect our rights. When it does much more than that, we too easily corrupt it. Thus, limited government primarily involves institutions intended to protect our rights. That includes things like the military, police forces, courts, and various regulatory agencies. What is interesting about most such agencies is that most citizens consider such institutions a burden. Only a few people want any more protection than they need. In spite of what a certain president said about the “military-industrial defense complex”, our military rarely gets any bigger than it needs to be.

    Necessity justifies spending on certain other programs. We want accurate weather forecasts? Our government is the only institution with an incentive to collect the data. A global positioning system? How would a private company profit? Since we need these things for military purposes anyway, we make the information available to the public for “free”. And none of these programs come close to busting our budget. Look it up. What spending takes up most of the budget and threatens to grow and grow and grow….

    Our road and mass transit systems are a mess. Why? We give politicians our money without any strings attach. We want to drive some place? Then for the privilege, we should pay a toll. We should take individual responsibility for paying all our personal expenses.

    Because of all the money our government want to spend to “fix” the healthcare problem, our healthcare system is getting more and more and more costly. Congress has no business spending huge sums on something the Constitution never authorized. If we want decent healthcare, we each have a personal responsibility to pay for it.

    The Social “Security” System threatens to go broke. The money in the Social Security “Trust” Fund has been spent. We were fools to trust politicians with that money, but our foolishness gives us no right to burden our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren with the cost of our retirement. If we want to stop working before we die, then we have an obligation to invest and be prepared to live off our personal savings.

    Our schools are a mess. Why? We give politicians our money without any strings attach. We want our children to receive a decent education? Then we each should pay as much of the bill as we can, and we should choose the school, not some busybody. If a parent wants somebody else to do the job, what qualifies a politician or bureaucrat to educate anybody better than that person the parent chose? The parent is not a Liberal. Only Liberals have the right to make their own choices.

    Notice the pattern. Is it about the Bible? To the extent, I believe God holds us individually accountable, it is. Do I occasionally reference the Bible? Yes, but I don’t need to reference the Bible to condemn stealing, Ponzi schemes, and free loading.

    Who in his right mind trusts politicians with any more money than they absolutely need? We do, but why? We do it because they have educated us to be docile. The hands we freely allow to spend trillions rocked our cradle, rocked the cradles of our children, and now rock the cradles of our great grandchildren.

    You want a Bible quote? You insist I fit your model of the Right Wing Conservative Christian Terrorist Sympathizer? Then read the words of a Deist (ONE OF THE SINS OF THE JEWS). Where did he get it wrong?


  6. “3. Finally, you have your own explaining to do. Are you suggesting that government should protect our “rights” to get stoned and kill babies? However, government should force us to provide other people charity?”

    Really, Tom, you got this wrong. It should read, why would I think the government should stay OUT of our moral decisions to get stoned or get an abortion but should “force” people to provide to charities. It is a valid question. In the end, I do not consider the premise of the second half of your question to be valid. Here is why (I will admit that my philosophy is much simpler and uses smaller words than Shauns – but it is all mine and I consider it to be akin to the “faith of a child” metaphor). I seems to me that we have to agree at some point on what is in our collective best interest and one of the roles of government is to attempt to provide for that goal. We have a general agreement that providing a basic safety net for our elderly and those in abject poverty is in our collective interest (we can debate whether that is really true but roll with me a bit). For that reason, we, as a collective have agreed that it IS a legitimate role of government to ensure that these goals are met (just like it is legitimate role for the government to provide for our COMMON – or COLLECTIVE – defense). Therefore, it is no more stealing or theft or coersion or force for the government to use our tax dollars to provide safety nets for the elderly or the poor than it is for them to use them to provide for our common defense.

    Conversely, we have NOT agreed that there is a need for governemtn to step in on the abortion issue. As I suggested earlier, if we could agree on what defines human life, then the rest of the agreement you seek would fall into place but we have not agreed as a society on this definition, therefore, the government currently has no role in the matter. Drugs are a bit different as the current legal agreement is that drugs are bad for our society collectively so the government has a legitimate role in this aspect of our lives. Just like with abortion, this viewpoint may be changing as our understanding of the issue evolves.

    My philosophy..that and a couple bucks will get you a cup of coffee these days…


  7. Excellent discussion, Tom. “… it serves us poorly when we use government to unload our individual responsibilities on others.”
    That is a golden nugget.
    My opinion is quite simple-Socialisim will never be sucessful because man is egotistical and greedy. Utopia is unattainable. Capitalism not only works with that premise, but it rewards those who work hard.and makes people be responsible for themselves.


  8. Eric and Mo –

    The gates of hell are open night and day;
    Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
    But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
    In this the task and mighty labor lies.
    — Virgil, the Aeneid Book VI

    When we are trying to solve a problem, good intentions only get us halfway to a solution. It is not enough to the right thing. We have to solve the problem the right way. Otherwise, we compound the problem.

    Look at at the Constitution. Take a peak at the budget. We are going broke paying for things the Constitution does not authorize. We are supose to be a republic where the majority rules, but respects and honors the rights of the minority. If we want something done, we do not do as busybodies. We do not conive to force our neighbors to submit and unwillingly labor for our cause. Instead, we seek likeminded souls and work in a collective with those people.

    Whether we are one person or an army, we can do evil. The mere fact we believe ourselves in the majority does not absolve us. A consensus of opinion cannot justify us. Even if our intentions are noble, if we steal from, lie to, or murder our brother just to have our own way, we do evil.

    That expression, “safety net” does not create a safety net. “Entitlements” do not create entitlements. “Earned income” does not create earned income. Words deftly chosen merely cover over deceit, sometimes self deceit. What justifies us before God and man is the love and the charity that comes from our own heart, not anything we take from somebody else.

    Mo Johnson’s comment is here:


  9. Tom,

    I really don’t have a dog in this fight. For all the reasons that I have stated previously, I am not a socialist, communist, theist, or any other kind of “ist” or “ian” when it comes to my political beliefs other than what Posner describes as an “everyday pragmatist” which by definition doesn’t leave me clinging to many dogmas (although, when I read some of these posts, anarchism sometimes has an allure). Aside from that, I would try to point out the actual, living balanced reality of how it all works, but I’m out of big words, and I don’t know how to put it any better than Eric did above.

    It’s all imaginary. Your dream of government is no less a dream, no less “Utopian” than the Socialist one. However, while we are dreaming dreams of American governments that never were and never will be, I can more easily concoct an imaginary Christian Socialist state that defies the Bible as I can concoct any other sort of Christian/State relationship that defies and corrupts both Christianity and the State. Jesus wasn’t a socialist, but he wasn’t a capitalist either.

    I have probably recommended this before, but if you want to read an excellent book on the endless battle for social justice that has been fought throughout modern history between Libertarians and Utilitarians, then I recommend “Justice” by Michael J. Sandel. It’s a fun and informative read and you can put your dictionary away.

    Like it or not, the reality of our democratic society is and has always been a compromise between these two conflicting philosophical belief systems that to some extent, most Americans agree with.


  10. “Look at at the Constitution. Take a peak at the budget. We are going broke paying for things the Constitution does not authorize. ”

    There is a lot to consier in these three little sentences, Tom. First, the constitutionality of entitlements. If these programs are unconstituional, why has not somebody opposed to them challenged them successfully at the SCOTUS level? Given that maybe 30% of the population agrees with this sentiment, it should not be tto hard to mount a legal challenge. If the case has not been made because the case can not be won, well that pretty much confirms that what you contend is not true.

    In terms of not being able to pay for these programs – horse hockey!! We can not sustain the current course which we are on with these programs, that is true. But we can clearly pay for them in one form or another. We are the richest country in the world by far, we have the largest economy by far, we can clearly afford to mainatin a safety net for our elderly and those in abject poverty.

    The programs can be changed so that they truly are safety nets only for those who need the net and they can be sustained with no increase in revenue to them. If the population so wishes, the programs can be applied across the board to everybody who qualifies simply on age (i.e., for SS and Medicare that is). In that case, revenues will need to increase to sustain the programs more or less as they exist.

    The real answer really SHOULD lie in a small adjustment of the outlay side of the equation and a small adjustment to the revenue side.

    None the less, it will be a hard battle if some 1/3 of the population wishes to return to 1930’s living conditions and just do away with the programs in their entirety and are willing to shut down the entire government and our financial system to enforce their will.


  11. An ironic fact about what Eric just wrote is that the states that are the most red whose (mostly pretty well off) constituents are the ones most inclined to complain about “out of control” federal spending on social programs (such as medicade, schools, food stamps, and child welfare programs) are also the states where, by far, the (least well off) citizens receive the most per capita from this specific form of federal largess, and also from other forms of federal pork. For example, Alaska (which to be honest, as in most things Alaska, is its own very unique color of “red” ) where I spend about half my time, actually receives back in federal spending far more than the total that its citizens send to Washington D.C. in the form of federal taxes. I have read studies that show that similar figures are true for much of the deep South, the rural West.

    There is a certain Karma if Eric’s 30 percent (actually, I think that is a generous amount) of the population gets their way and these social safety nets are eliminated, it will be the much poorer populations in those red states that will also suffer the most.


    1. yes, alabama leads the way in foodstamps. one in 3 alabamians are on foodstamps. we also see this with global warming. Texas and Oklahoma are as red as red gets. (more reliant on the oil industry than any state). Fox News controls the airwaves and the people there (generally) rail against the liberal elite myth of global warming. Of course they are suffering the most from it and don’t even realize what’s going on. Oh, and Alabama and Arkansas and Tennessee and Georgia (all very red states) got smacked with the strongest tornadoes we’ve ever seen. the heat in oklahoma in july was the highest temp ever recorded in the US. ever. Texas set it’s own record for july.

      That’s the thing — conservatives can rail against whatever they want, but in the end, the truth will actually win. That is happening and will continue to happen with global warming. And, it is happening and will continue to happen with our economy. At some point we’ll reach a tipping point where too much wealth is concentrated in the hands of few and where will the poor and unemployed look for help? Will they look to capitalism? I don’t think so.


      1. you see, the rich have it really good. but, that only continues if we have relative social tranquility. most of their wealth could evaporate very quickly. in fact, trillions has evaporated just since the tea party downgrade which of course happened because the deal that the country needed and needs was blocked because the “tea party” would not tolerate closing any loopholes for the rich. we are closer to the edge than people realize. all because of greed.


    2. The states that would supposedly benefit the least have the greatest concern that we balance our budget. That does not puzzle you? Then why is your first response to look for stupidity and hypocrisy? How about we consider another alternative? How does the system actually work? What are the mechanics?

      You must know that red states tend to be rural, that they have a lower cost of living. Since all things are relative, that means that blue states must be urban with a relatively higher cost of living. Because urban states have lots people, they have more representatives. Because they have higher salaries to go with that higher cost of living, politicians make the urban “rich” pay more in taxes. Nonetheless, the urban “rich” still only have two senators. So what happens when the Federal Government spends lots of money on welfare programs. Because each of the small states have two senators, they get a disproportionate amount of the money and a disproportionate amount of guilt.

      Even if you think spending money on social programs is a good idea, why would you want the Federal Government spending it? In addition to the fact the Constitution gives Congress no such authority, what Congress does with such programs creates more problems than it solves. Congress is too removed from the problems it is trying to solve. Even if the people in congress wanted to do the right thing, they don’t know how to spend our money the right way.

      Instead of spinning off into nonsense intended to redicule, why don’t we focus on what actually matters? Are we do the right thing the right way? You know we are not.


  12. It is late. I am tired. So I don’t have the energy to respond as I would if I could. Besides, there is value in taking one’s time and methodically pulling a subject apart. So here is a rough outline of the posts to come in this series. Hopefully, those who comment here will find the topics responsive to their comments.

    Note that I do not intend this series to interest an exclusively Christian audience. Nor do I intend it to be particularly preachy. We have a Christian heritage. What our forebears believed affects what we think of both government and charity. Therefore, I think we each need to understand what the Bible has to say on this topic. In addition, we need to examine our objectives, methods, and the ethical considerations.

    Part 2 – What The Wise Say About The Connection Between Socialism and Christianity: Much has been said about the nature of government and Christianity. Before digging ourselves too deeply into a hole, we may as well review what has already been said. I hope to post this survey on Sunday. I encourage commenters to post the results of their own research here as well.
    Part 3 – Defining the Kingdom of God: Mo Johnson and others insist we should attempt to create the Kingdom of God. What does the Bible tell us about the Kingdom of God? I expect to post Part 3 by Tuesday and to post the remaining posts in a Sunday/Tuesday pattern.
    Part 4 – Would A Socialist Utopia Be Compatible With The Kingdom Of God? When we accept the notion that government has the right and the obligation to redistribute the wealth, that has consequences. Even we advocate a mixed socialist/capitalist economy,….
    Part 5 – What Is The Role Of Government In The Kingdom Of God?
    Part 6 – What Is The Role Of The Church In The Kingdom Of God?


  13. Hey, now this looks interesting. I look forward to it! By the way, I’m not sure you represent my position exactly as it is. I say we should join with God in building His kingdom in heaven — and YES, indeed on earth as well. That’s what it means to be a christian. This should be really good!


  14. Mo Johnson – I apologize, but please don’t be too critical. I am still trying represent my own position “exactly as it is”.

    Hopefully you will find the upcoming series as interesting as you anticipate and an opportunity to explain your position.


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