May 29, 2017

Down on Animal Farm

Who rules the roost?

"Animal Farm" by George Orwell is a dark fable about how farm animals on an Engiish farm are convinced that their lives would be so much better if they got rid of the drunkard farmer and ran the farm themselves. In the end, the animals are worse off than before, enslaved to a master crueler and more unjust than the poor old farmer ever thought of being. The story is a thinly disguised caricature of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, but the same drama has played itself out since then in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba and, now, Venezuela.

Why does it happen again and again? It is not the result of people betraying their ideals, but of staying faithful to false, corrupting beliefs.

“Socialism” is a political philosophy that insists there must be an economic system superior even to one driven by the acquisition of private capital. Karl Marx defined socialism as an intermediate state between capitalism and communism, the true classless society in which there would be perfect equality and no distinctions between persons based on education, wealth or sex (Marx left it to his latter-day disciples to elaborate on total sexual equality would mean). Of course, the word communism has gained unfortunate connotations, involving gulags, secret police and killing fields, so many of Marx´s latter-day disciples prefer to talk about socialism, rather than communism. The end in view is the same: A more equitable distribution of wealth, so that no one would be homeless or hungry, while at the other end of the scale, there would be no idle rich.

There are even those who argue that the socialist vision would be an application of the ethical teachings of Jesus. Throughout Latin America, in fact, there is a school of thought called “liberation theology”, which draws upon some European theologians and Marxism to justify the establishment of a new social order, by violent means if necessary. This requires a radical reinterpretation of the Scriptures. But why doe people think this way?

Marx appropriated this description of the early Christians in Jerusalem for his vision of “communism” or “the classless society” from Acts 2:44-45, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” However, what is described here is the voluntary sharing between believers, not the expropriation of private property by the state. It was not even a law laid down by the apostles, but a free manifestation of true charity. The well-to-do Christians were willing and eager to make these sacrifices when it was evident that this was the only way in which the needs of their brethren could be supplied. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 was not that they withheld part of their assets from the common fund, but that they lied and led everyone to believe that they had given all.

 The Bible affirms the need to work for one's living (Genesis 3:19) and the right to enjoy the fruits of honest labor as God's blessing (i.e., property). This is implied in the commandment, “You shall not steal”. Martin Luther comments on this commandment in the Large Catechism: “After your person and spouse temporal property comes next. That also God wishes to have protected, and He has commanded that no one shall subtract from, or curtail, his neighbor's possessions. For to steal is nothing else than to get possession of another's property wrongfully, which briefly comprehends all kinds of advantage in all sorts of trade to the disadvantage of our neighbor.” Luther goes on to denounce a variety of dishonest business practices, but does not condemn private enterprise per se. When Jesus chased the vendors and money-changers from the Temple (John 2:13-22), it was not because he did not think, in principle, that they did not have a right to make a living, but that they had appropriated a portion of the Temple grounds dedicated to prayer and worship, and, with the approval of the chief priests, were charging the people exorbitant prices. The rich young man was told to sell all that he had and give the proceeds to the poor to test his love of God, not because he did not have a legal right to his riches.

St. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” A man that is persistently idle, that refuses to work, should indeed also be excluded from the legitimate fruit of labor, the food necessary to sustain the body. Instead of becoming objects of charity and depending upon the liberality of others, Christians will at all times conduct themselves in their work so as to have enough for their own needs and to spare for those of others. Likewise, the apostle writes in Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” It is not only thieving that is here condemned, but every form of appropriating one’s neighbor’s money or goods by methods that do not conform to the law of love, all cheating and profiteering. Every person will be able to obtain an honest return for his work.

Socialism legitimitizes covetousness and greed in the name of the collective. The divine law reads: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.” Luther says, “For above, in the Seventh Commandment, the vice is forbidden where one wrests to himself the possessions of others, or withholds them from his neighbor, which he cannot do by right. But here it is also forbidden to alienate anything from your neighbor, even though you could do so with honor in the eyes of the world, so that no one could accuse or blame you as though you had obtained it wrongfully.” But socialism justifies exactly this, because one can say that someone else has “too much”, regardless of how they acquired their riches, and should be despoiled. Not because you envy them their good fortune on your own account, of course. You simply want “justice” for all who have less. This is all a great lie, and it leads to more lies and more mischief. Once there is no respect for the property rights of “the very rich” or “the one percent”, soon there will be no respect for the property rights of the not so rich.

On an even deeper level, one fundamental theological error of socialism is assuming that sinful human beings can regain paradise. The root causes of poverty and injustice are the rebellious human will and the failure of each and every one of us to love God and our fellow human beings as we should. The use of force by the civil government can, as we say, restrain the exterior actions of evil mean (up to a point), but cannot move us to love God and others. Attempts to force people to live lives of sacrificial love always fail. Without the recognition of the sinfulness of human nature, the only answer to this failure is more force, ultimately resulting in a society where there is neither freedom or justice, but worse corruption and inequality than there was before. Checks and balances on government power are not seen as essential, because power in the right hands is not seen as corrupting.

 Because socialism fundamentally denies original sin, liberation theologians do no see Jesus' death on the cross as vicarious atonement for our sin: rather, Jesus died because He upset the religious/political situation of His time. The significance of His death is found in His example of defiance of the privileged classes. There is no Scriptural promise of equality of outcome in the struggles of this life, but rather “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (2 Corinthians 4:17), that is, in the life to come. To love earthly riches more than God is to risk eternal damnation, not temporal judgment (Luke 16:19-31; Matthew 6:24; James 5:1-6).

The Scriptures speak of equality in three ways. First, all human life is of value in God's eyes, because God created us all. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:13-14). All human life is precious in God's eyes at every stage or condition, especially those who are unable to speak or act for themselves, such as the unborn, the disabled and the elderly. Secondly, all human beings stand equally condemned by God's law. “ For there is no distinction:all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). However, thirdly, all equally receive salvation through the blood of Christ (Romans 3:24). This is the true meaning of Galatias 3:26-29, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” Social distinctions are not abrogated in the world, just as all the other differences will continue to exist (1 Corinthians 7:17-22). But within the Church, before God, we are all alike, poor sinners in need of salvation, children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, and therefore all one in Him. The kingdom of God's grace (the Gospel) should not be confused with the kingdom of God's power (the Law).

In addition to moral arguments against socialsim from God's Word, a study of history shows there is less of a gap between how things are supposed to work in a free.maket economy than there is in a centrally planned, socialist economy. This is because market economies, while not promising heaven on earth, are more consistent with “natural law”, or how God designed the world to work.

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