Monday, 19 May 2008

Is This Communist Christianity?

I've been pondering the economic systems of capitalism and socialism recently. I've been taught all my life that capitalism is the only "Christian" system, and that socialism/communism is a nice idea, but one that will never work. Here's what I think that I think (my thoughts on this matter are still up in the air).

I won't argue that a quick peek at world history will show us that regulated socialism doesn't work if you're looking for a productive community. But I do argue that capitalism doesn't work either, in terms of being a productive community. North America may be productive, but it sure doesn't have the same sense of community that a lot of much poorer places do.

Here's why socialism, as we know it, doesn't work. People are naturally selfish. This has several results:

1. The people who do the regulating end up taking much more than they allow anyone else. This corrupt form of government takes away the people's freedom and their ability to dissent, because the government is the only one with the means for control.

2. People who, on a scale from one to ten, ten being the highest, have a work ethic of zero continue to get the same amount of benefits that the hardest of workers get. This gives them no incentive to work hard, because for most people, there is much less internal motivation to work for the good of others as there is to work for one's own good. Therefore, laziness reigns.

3. People who have a much better work ethic will be quickly develop conditioned helplessness. If the fruits of their labours continue being ripped away to be given to the bums who don't deserve it, selfishness again reigns supreme, and they lose their motivation to work hard, and don't even try

Capitalism manages to steer clear of these issues. With the freedom afforded by capitalism, productivity soars, and most people retain the fruits of the labours. Instead, capitalism falls prey to the issues materialism, greed, and factions. Canada is so satiated by materialism, it's suffocating. What can you do when you're constantly worried about getting and keeping things? You work 9 til 5 so that you can pay for your car that you use to drive to and from work, and for the house where you sleep, because heaven forbid you sleep in the car or at the place where you work. It's a pointless cycle, or if it's got a point, it's a tragically selfish one.

Community cannot thrive in this sort of situation. For a community to exist, the focus must be people, and not things. Relationships, not goals.

Now I know that the Bible doesn't say everyone is entitled to equal economic standing. But it does say to look after the widows and the orphans. Contrary to what may appear to be the fact, not everyone is poor is because they have lousy work ethics. Sometimes they just can't quite get ahead, either due to bad luck or bad ideology. Either way, I think we, as followers of Christ, are required to help them. Help the luckless ones overcome the bad luck, love the incorrect or lazy ones and try to point them down the right path. We don't all need to end up with three cars and mansions. In fact, I think it would be better if most of us ended up with only a little more than we need.

Communism and socialism can never work when it's regulated. It can't work if it's forced. Ultimately, I think the best regulated economic system is capitalism. But if people make a conscious decision that they wish to live, sharing freely with whomever needs it, and if these people come together as one unit and turn it into a lifestyle, then what is to say that it won't work?

You retain the right to your things, if you so choose to keep them. You maintain the motivation to work. But you choose to share. And the more you give and share, the less you have, and the less you allow greed and materialism to inhibit you.

Naturally, it would be difficult to maintain this lifestyle if people didn't reciprocate, but if one could get a group started, then you'd have the best of both worlds – the community and the productivity. I like the idea of interdependence.

I want to live in a place where I can leave the door open, and people can pop by whenever they like just to chat, whip up a snack, or take a nap. I want kids to show up asking for popsicles, and where I can hug those kids without having to be worried about being sued for it. Yes, I know things might get stolen if I leave the door open. But I don't want to be worried about things. Yes, I know that some people might not deserve the things they get, but if I choose to give it to them, then it's not unjust.

Matthew 19:21 says “Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

I know this idea requires more development, and it surely wouldn't be a perfect system. But I think it's something to strive for. Yes, I know what you're thinking: this sounds something like Shane Claiborne and Gustavo Gutierrez (who, incidentally, worked in Peru). And yes, it is somewhat similar, though I don't pretend to agree totally with either one. But let me clarify one thing: I believe this would be the best economic system, though it's mostly just that. It certainly doesn't contain the entirety of Christianity.

Well, any thoughts?

People had taught me what Christians believe, but not one had told me how Christians live.” Shane Claiborne


CavDawg said...

Joseph Smith had an idea like this, actually. Unfortunately, I personally am not very well-read on it, but there's a concept most Mormons will know about called the Law of Consecration, in which people would give all of their material goods to the bishop, who would then be in charge of giving out stewardships to individual members. This system broke down, and like I said, I don't know enough of the reasons why, but I would assume the selfishness and the human element were big factors. So if you're interested, you could do some research on The Law of Consecration or The United Order to see how a Christian group attempted this system :)

Also, in my Hebrew class I heard that there are communities in Israel that do exactly this. I believe they're called "kibbutzim", but again I'm not completely sure. Apparently it works pretty well for them, but again that's coming from someone who's woefully undereducated on the subject.

Anyway, one of the big debates Mormons tend to hold with each other is what exactly the similarities are between The Law of Consecration and Communism, so I thought it was interesting to see a member of another Christian faith pick up on the idea.

*Shrug* Those are my thoughts. Good night.

Carla said...

It's not really equality I'm worried about - it's people dying physically because they can't get what they need and other people dying spiritually because they have way more than they need.

I think I'd probably be kicked out of a kibbutz, because I couldn't follow all those rules. And I wouldn't feel good about giving everything I had to some bishops, because I wouldn't like not having a say in what happens to it.

It's interesting, though, that in a culture where so many people are anti-communist, we still see the idea pop up in so many different places.

art said...

Capitalism works because it recognizes that people always want more and provides a way where they can get more. Although people do not have the same drive for wealth, everyone still benefits. The poor in our nation live better than the majority of those in socialist nations. A capitalist country is not necessarily a pure capitalist country. For example, in Canada we have a medicare system where everyone gets "free" access to healthcare. Some people complain that it is unfair because if I am a smoker and abuse my health, I cost the system thousands more than a person who is healthy. This in effect means that the healthy are subsidizing the unhealthy and many of those unhealthy people are unhealthy by their choice of lifestyle.

I am not sure if the "problem" of no community is actually a capitalist problem. There are many other factors to consider that may be more relevant. For example, our criminal system. This has nothing to do with capitalism/communism or democracy/totalitarianism. When "evil" people are not removed from the population, they have a detrimental effect on community. People tend to build bigger security systems and socialize less. In some cities, if you make eye contact with the wrong person, they may beat you up. If you go to a bar, they may slip you a date-rate drug. This behavior harms community. Education is another big factor. Our society teaches that you have
"rights" and then lawyers will encourage you to litigate for every little thing. Society teaches "trust no one". Perhaps if Canada introduced mandatory military service for young people, that would produce community as people would be required to work with others for a common goal and learn that others are human as well.

Also, why are there so many disfunctional families? It would be hard for someone with no experience of family to go out into the world and foster community. I don't think that this has anything to do with capitalism, but rather "religion". I think the deterioration of families is not just a "western/capitalist" phenomenon.

Carla said...

Good points. I wonder how different things were fifty years ago. People probably weren't as paranoid of each other then as they are now. I wonder if that's mostly because of the media reporting all the horrific stories but leaving out a lot of the more inspiring ones. For such a prosperous and safe nation, we sure live in a jaded society.

Bri said...

Interesting... well written! I will have to think more about it.