October 22, 2017

Stanley and Screwtape

By Guest Blogger, Andy Zehner
Andy is Damaris Zehner’s (very talented) husband.

The notion that Socialism is the greatest threat facing Christianity was rightly shouted down on iMonk.(1) But why was that particular claim put forward in the first place? Why are Charles Stanley and the people who follow him especially concerned about a policy that hasn’t been espoused by anyone?(2)

One very good answer comes from C.S. Lewis, in the upside-down logic of the demon Screwtape:

“We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running around with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”

If, as usual, Lewis is a reliable guide, the current fuss about the imagined danger of Socialism alerts us that Stanley’s (and perhaps all Christianity’s) real problem is a lack of sociability. If the fashionable outcry is against Socialism, then perhaps the vice we are least in danger of is sending our spirit out too far and among too many diverse people. The word for the malady is Homophily. (It has nothing to do with sexual orientation. That is homophilia.) Homophily refers to love of people and things that are very much like oneself. Opposites, it turns out, don’t attract as often or as strongly as similarities do.(3)

Evidence for homophily is overwhelming almost anywhere you look. Most neighborhoods are uniform in housing quality, population demographics and other factors, both because similar people choose similar houses and because neighborhood covenants prevent variation. The field I understand best, economic and social development, is cluttered with literature asserting that progress depends on the well-being of one narrow special interest. And it’s always the interest of the group that produced the report. Small businesses will tell you they are the linchpin. The financial sector says the same thing. So do schools, government bureaucracies and farmers. The writer Richard Florida enjoyed a brief celebrity by asserting that cities become successful by pandering to smart hipsters, including gays like himself.(4) Homophily is confusing and self-contradictory until you understand that most people believe in and care about themselves and people who are very much like them.

That’s homophily in the larger society. Does it apply to Christian behavior and practice, too? Yes, it does.

I have wandered the post-evangelical wilderness pretty extensively.  I have visited dozens of rural, small-town and big city churches of sundry denominations in the past few years. I’ve been with the Hal’looing Pentacostals. I’ve attended the stuffed-shirt businessman’s networking churches. I’ve been in the tiny rural enclaves that survive because someone donated a stained glass window back in the ‘40s and their grandchildren can’t bear to see the family monument closed. I’ve been to all manner of contemporary evangelical services, from the glitziest Elton John concert to the pitiable small churches where none-too-talented praise bands perform what they call, but which isn’t, “the kind of music people like.”

There was a lot of diversity in the services my family and I visited. And there was a lot of diversity in the way we as visitors were treated. We were sometimes latched onto and steered firmly. Other times we were ignored. But that seemingly disparate treatment worked out to the same thing in all cases. Whether they left us alone or micromanaged us, each of the churches we visited was interested in us insofar as we fit into their mold.

The Ford Taurus we drove up in was enough to disqualify us at the affluent church before we even stepped in the door. (Don’t think me uncharitable for saying that church only wants members who are also in the Chamber of Commerce. The pastor told me as much.)  We didn’t betray ourselves at some churches until, over the post-service coffee and cookie, one of us would comment that we like hymns, or that we respect Catholicism or even that we aren’t “from around here.” But one way or another we failed the test of homophily. And the chill set in.

I am not saying there’s anything wrong with close fellowship or that loving the members of your congregation isn’t enough. But Jesus did: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32)

Homophily is evident in missions, too. Few churches would do overseas missions at all, I suspect, if not for their love for their missionaries. My family and I worked seven years in Central Asia. Our supporting churches were generous and kind to us. But it was a fight to keep the focus on the Kyrgyz churches we were there to initiate and the Kyrgyz believers we were there to assist. Our supporters would say, “Well, be sure and make time for yourselves and your own needs.” We often wished they’d say, “Pursue the task with renewed vigor.” That would have signaled that someone else thought what we were doing was important, instead of just that we were fine people for doing it.

Missionaries are also guilty of homophily. They boost their particular region or people group or strategy to the forefront and turn support-raising into such an unseemly catfight that many churches are repelled by it. My old pastor – an older man with a gentle soul – grew so tired of the aggressive salesmanship that he stopped meeting or talking to missionaries altogether.

Like my pastor, Feodor Dostoevsky didn’t understand homophily either. He embraced an entirely different set of values:

“Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it.
Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light.
Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.
If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.
Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day.
And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.”

The political/economic system called Socialism is a bad deal and most Americans know that as well as Charles Stanley does. But we shouldn’t worry about social and economic systems nearly as much as we should strive for universal benevolence. A love of all creation is fundamental to Christianity. And most of us aren’t good at it. We mustn’t let the “fashionable outcry” of our generation turn us even further away.

References:
(1) http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/and-the-great-danger-to-the-faith-is-huh

(2) http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100703/influential-pastor-warns-americans-of-socialism-departure-from-god/index.html

(3) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050213191438.htm

(4) http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Creative-Class-Transforming-Community/dp/0465024769

Comments

  1. ISTM that Orthodoxy and Catholicism, with their ideas of an infused righteousness and synergistic salvation, as well as a centuries-old mystical tradition, tend to be more accomodating to embracing a love of all creation vis-a-vis the suspicion and rejection of the fallen and sinful created order that seems to be inherent in much of Evangelical Protestantism. Yes? No?

    • Plus, Orthodoxy also has a sacramentalism that embraces matter and the world in ways that would seem almost shamanistic (totemistic?), I suspect, to some EvangeProts. E.g., the blessing of the waters, etc. Dostoevsky’s spiritual world is not Charles Stanley’s world, even though Stanley might sing “This Is My Father’s World.” (I don’t know the words of the hymn, so I may be misapplying it.)

      • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

        Actually … if you look at Dostoevsky’s sentiments over time about the West and it’s almost exactly the same thing in practice. Dostoevsky was fretting about radicalist/socialist tendencies sweeping Russia more than a century before people like Stanley were saying anything and, in fact, those who fear socialism in the United States are very apt to cite Dostoevsky as a precedent of warnings not heeded. Much as I admire Dostoevsky’s work he was as susceptible to homophily as anyone else and in some ways much more. I admire him for aspiring to that through his work than for living it out effectively in his day-to-day life. At least he aspired to it, which is something I hope fellow Christians will strive to do.

        • I believe Wenatchee is right. I wouldn’t offer Dostoevsky as a model of rectitude all around. He is more of a, “Do as he says, not as he does” kind of guy, as many writers are. I think the quote cited above is an excellent antidote to homophily, though.

          One footnote to Dostoevsky is how thoroughly he has been written out of Russian history. The Soviets hated him for his God-centered ideas. Even today, in Russia (I believe) and in its former satellites (I know), you won’t hear his name in school. They teach Pushkin, Chekov and other lesser lights and leave Dostoevsky and Tolstoy out of the lesson.

  2. I think homphily helps explain our ability to lump people into groups and give them labels like “Illegal.” Us v. Them.

    But it doesn’t explain things like the health care reform fiasco, where the people with health insurance are basically a lot like the people who don’t have it except for the luck of the job draw. However, it would tend to get at why seniors with socialized health care opposed the same health care for everyone else, including children. That always puzzled me.

  3. An excellent entry Andy. Just last night I was engaged in a conversation about xenophobia on another blog, and I posed the question, “What’s the opposite of xenophobia?” and the answer I got was xenophilia (which I am), but I like your term better since that’s really where I was going with my question. People who are the most xenophobic necessarily are going to be people who are also extremely homophilic.

    I grew up in a deeply racist neighborhood in NYC in the 70’s, but was fortunate enough to be forced by my family’s economics to have to go to the doctor at the clinic in the “bad” neighborhood. It was there that I was forced (quite gladly actually) to meet and interact with people who were different than me. I’m still grateful for that experience, because otherwise I stood a good chance of ending up like my friends in my neighborhood who, even though some of them had not yet met a person of color, nonetheless already had a prejudice built in, inherited from their parents.

    Although my experience is only anecdotal, I do believe that it’s essential for the parents of the next generation to expose their children as early as possible to a diversity of people and environments. And you don’t need to travel across the world to do that. Sometimes it’s only a few miles away that you can experience a very different world. As Christians we are COMMANDED to destroy the dividing walls of hostility and to be united in our diversity under Christ. Obviously this is a work in progress. I hope that there will be more progress in the work.

    • It’s very interesting to see you and I had very similar experiences, but mine was in the state of Mississippi in the late 60’s. MS has earned it’s reputation as backwards racists, but for some reason the racists in the north are rarely discussed. I lived in Philadelphia, MS in 1968, although I was only 4 years old at the time, the first I ever heard of the horrific events of that year was when I saw Mississippi Burning. It wasnt’ something discussed among the adults, at least in the presence of children. It would be interesting to find out how many of my father’s deacons at his church had white robes hanging in their closets at that time.
      I had a perception of the black kids I went to school with that stayed with me for a while, but thankfully my parents moved us from there and exposed us to different cultures where I could begin to view humanity as humans instead of the us vs them mentality that could have grabbed hold for a lifetime. I have grown family members still living in MS that use the N word regularly and without any remorse at all. The hate is deep and wide there still.

  4. For non – United States readers, this may not make much sense but…..

    I came up with a similar theory a few weeks I called the “pants” theory. It started when I went to a church where everyone had on designer denim jeans, and I had on Wal-Mart Wrangler’s. The next week I was in a church where everyone wore Wrangler’s. Other churches could be classified as polyester churches, wool churches, and cotton khaki churches.

    My other theory is to classify churches by where they eat after church or where they stop on the way…Starbucks, Ryan’s, Cracker Barrell, Applebees, Western Sizzlin,……

    When I first moved back to the South U.S. after moving away for a few years, I was welcomed in the parking lot and told the greeter I grew up in the South, and I was told “Good, you know how things are done around here”.

    • David Cornwell says:

      I love your theory Allen.

    • Your posts is much more true than it should be.

    • In the words of Homer Simpson, “It’s funny ’cause it’s true” . . . which only makes it worse.

      I’ve found myself classifying church congregations by their shoes. Flip-flops? Power high heels? Vans and puffy, unlaced sneakers? Leather dress shoes? Comfortable flats for prolonged standing?

      • JoanieD says:

        Interesting, Kate. I will have to look around at shoes next time I attend my local Roman Catholic Church Mass. I think it will be very eclectic: sandals, sneakers, loafers, low heels, a few high heels, men’s tied brown leather shoes. I would guess that during the summer, the majority of the women will be wearing sandals. There is a lot of casual dressing there, including jeans which I often wear myself.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    “We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running around with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.” — Screwtape

    Remember when Harry Potter was being burned while Golden Compass sailed right through?

    While all the escorts are all off depth-charging the decoy, the real torpedoes bore in from the other side of the convoy.

  6. is that why so many hip people are wearing fedora’s now?

    • MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

      They’re not even full sized fedora’s. They’re like mini-fedora’s. I think they look silly, but they are every where.

  7. I think homophily is used to agitate, scare, and upset people. If you want to draw attention to yourself to gain a following, find someone who is a little odd or different, then find something that irritates, upsets or scares the masses, then directly or indirectly associate the phobia with the victim. Viola! You have an angry mob who will follow you anywhere. People try to look like everyone else in order not to become a target of such schemes.

  8. With Orthodoxy it has to do with our strong emphasis on the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, the Son of God sanctified all of Creation. He took on our human nature and restored the connection between divinity and humanity, between divinity and Creation. This is why the Orthodox do not look negatively on either the Creation or upon humanity. It does not have to do with synergy, and, uhm, infused righteousness is a purely Roman Catholic term.

    Saint Paul says that the Creation eagerly awaits the reveling of the sons of God, because it has been subjected to futility as a result of the sin of Adam. But, in Christ, the futility of our death and the futility of the Creation will be brought to an end. The Creation is still subject to futility, but we love it because God loves it and because God’s mandate to take care of His Creation has never been repealed. So, our Ecumenical Patriarch says, “For our Orthodox Church, the protection of the environment as God’s creation is the supreme responsibility of human beings, quite apart from any material or other financial benefits that it may bring.”

    The same patriarch said, “Everything that lives and breathes is sacred and beautiful in the eyes of God. The whole world is a sacrament. The entire created cosmos is a burning bush of God’s uncreated energies. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator. Such is the true nature of things; or, as an Orthodox hymn describes it, “the truth of things,” if only we have the eyes of faith to see it.”

    Well, I could go on, but you get the idea. To get back to the original posting, however, notice how somehow being ecological has been linked with being a socialist and linked with being a liberal linked with being pro-abortion, linked with . . . . Well, you get the idea. The mode of argumentation used is a bad “send-up” of six degrees of separation.

    • David Cornwell says:

      The church growth movement was full of this at the beginning. To grow your church go out and find people like yourself.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Sorry I didn’t mean this as a comment on Fr. Ernesto’s excellent comments, but got in the wrong slot.

        .

    • Mea Culpa for perhaps blurring some distinctions between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism when contrasting them with Evangelical Protestantism in its most popular forms.

  9. Hi Andy and MIke,

    “The political/economic system we call Socialism is a bad deal…. But we shouldn’t worry about social and economic systems nearly as much as universal benevolence. A love for all creation is fundamental to Christianity…”

    If the Kingdom of God is about his reign in human lives and human relationships as well as over the whole creation, then is not God just as concerned about the impact of social and economic relationships on human behaviour as he is about a personal relationship with himself and a care for all creation? I guess what you are driving at is that no matter what socio-economic and political systems we live under or agree with we should show benevolence to all and not just towards those with whom we agree or who are most like us or who live under the same system as us. With this I concur.

    Shalom,

    John Arthur

    • John Arthur says:

      If the Kingdom of God is about his reign in human lives and human relationships as well as over the whole creation, then is not God just as concerned about the impact of social and economic relationships on human behaviour as he is about a personal relationship with himself and a care for all creation?

      Yes. The key is relationships. Our strategy needs to be to be the best people we can in whatever system we find ourselves living in. John didn’t tell the soldiers who came to him to quit. He told them to be honest soldiers and content with their pay.

  10. The unfortunate side-effect of the the culture wars … and before that the Cold War … and before that the crusade against the mainline ‘Social Gospel’ folks …. is that “godless socialism” has become such a bogeyman. Anything that so much as resembles socialism or a Christian social witness to outsiders, the poor, etc. will arouse at least uncomfortable shifting among a gathered mass of conservative evangelicals.

    An anecdote: I read a letter once in which a mother became deeply suspicious when the youth group leader at her church had the youth out collecting donations for the food bank and learning what it would be like to be poor. Her comment was something like, “I told him that he should teach about Jesus.” I’m thinking: you mean the ‘the son of man has no where to lay his head?’ That Jesus?

    I felt so bad for the youth pastor.

    • But isn’t the reason “socialism” is often combined with “godless” as a pejorative descriptor because the two largest (by far) versions our world has seen of socialism – i.e., Communist China and the Soviet Bloc nations including the U.S.S.R. – included godlessness/hostility to theism as a major part or characteristic of their programs and policies, including officially criminalizing religious belief and practice?

      • That is partially true. It would be much more accurate to say that because our two largest “enemies” espoused Marxism . . .

        But, in order to say that, one has to ignore the decades of peaceful co-existence of churches alongside non-Marxist and much more moderate governments, such as those that are found in several countries in Europe. In essence, what we have done is to deliberately shut our eyes to European socialism so that we do not have to see that godless and socialism do not necessarily go together. What does go together is godless and marxism, which is another thing altogether.

        Let me put it another way. To accuse socialism for the evils of marxism is like accusing the Anglicans for the mistakes of the Nazarenes. (Anglicans==>Methodists==>Nazarenes)

        • So would it be correct to say that Marxism is a form of socialism, but not all socialism is Marxism?

          Or would it be even more accurate to say that Marxism incorporates some elements of socialism, but is not itself primarily socialist?

          But if Marxism is more socialist than non-socialist, then I think it is right to call it socialism. But if Marxism is not primarily socialism, then it may be incorrect to smear socialism with the colors of its deviant offspring, Marxism.

          I betray my ignorance of these distinctions by writing this. Wikipedia to my rescue, perhaps?

          • Tom Huguenot says:

            Peter,

            Even though Marxism (sometimes in its Leninist form) was very influential in the Left or the Far Left for a long time, there have always been non-Marxist expressions of Socialism. Actually, the word appeared in the 1830s, before Marx even worte anything worth mentioning.

            Marx defines socialism as the transitional phase between Capitalism and Communism. For most contemporary Socialists, the word refers to a system correcting the inevitable negative effects of Capitalism by promoting social justice within a given society. This would typically include, among other things, Social Security and non-prohibitive costs of education.

            I am a fairly orthodox, Bible-believing pastor of a small, rural parish in Western Europe and I know that if it were not for what the Socialist and trade unions movements brought us, my family could never make it.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I think of Marxism as X-TREME Socialism.
            Kind of like al-Qaeda and the Taliban are X-TREME Islam.
            (And I’m sure we can come up with examples of X-TREME Evangelicals.)

            Marxism also has the Millenial Cult fixation of secular political/economic philosophies of the time, fallout from the French Revolution. Including nostalgia for Purity of Revolutionary Zeal and Citizen Robespierre’s Republique of Perfect Virtue. A Millenial Paradise on the other side of an Armageddon.

            No wonder Pope John Paul II regarded Marxism as a Christian Heresy.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Godless Capitalism has been around for a while also and sometimes runs so counter to the gospel of Christ.

  11. Hi Danielle,

    “The unfortunate side-effect of the culture wars… and before that the cold war… and before that the crusade against mainline “Social Gospel” folks is that “godless socialism” has become such a bogeyman.”

    I was once such a conservative evangelical but the Wesleyan social ethicist , Philip Wogaman, pursuaded me through his book on economic ethics that there are several possible positions that a Christian could take, After all, the bible does not have a blueprint for economic systems but many conservatives in the churches cannot see this.

    I think one of the problems in much popular evangelicalism at the grass roots level is that Western individualism is read into the bible and this leads them to support right wing versions of capitalism and a hostility towards social welfare and to championing the economic and social rights of the poor.

    However, if we have a social model of the Trinity and a social relations model of the human person created in the image or likeness of God then we may be better positioned to see sin, not only in the human person, but also in our social, economic and political patterned relationships and see redemption as a process of God reconciling both persons to himself/herself and to each other in the community of God’s people and in our social, economic and political relationships as well as in the way we treat the rest of God’s creation.

    The socialst bogeman is based on fear.

    Shalom
    John Arthur

  12. As a Brit, I never ceased to be amazed at many Americans’ inability to distinguish between socialism and communism. Check out Keir Hardie, a founder member of the British Labour Party. An anti-Marxist Christian who went on to campaign for the vote for women and against racial segregation.

    I have been a socialist all my life and had absolutely no problems with it when I became a Christian at 20. The Jesus I found in the gospels was political and stood up for the poor and needy. Now I’m 60 and I don’t think my “simplistic” outlook has changed at all.

  13. Two points:

    First: “socialism”

    I suspect the worry about “socialism/communism/whatever” is a muddy realization that for those who aren’t religious, the state (in whatever form) tends to become the organizing principle for life. “X” is good and proper not because it is the ancestral custom or because God said so, but because the king/parliament/glorious leader has spoken. If that is what Stanley means, then he is correct, though not very accurate: the pressure to look to the state for moral authority is diabolical, and it seems to be piggy-backing on the pressure to have the state regulate/manage everything handy.

    Second “homophily”

    It is very much easier to organize anything if you have similarly minded people, whether a block party or a church. Imagine planning a buffet for a group instilled with the cultural notion that you serve yourself what you want to eat, but are careful to leave some for the next person. Now imagine planning it for a group who believe you should show enthusiasm for your host’s hospitality by eating everything set before you. You can manage a successful party either way. Now try planning one when both sorts show up.
    And of course it is easier to like people who are similar; they’re easier to understand and appreciate. I don’t think we encourage people to love strangers by suggesting that liking people like themselves is somehow suspect.

    • James says something key here:

      It is very much easier to organize anything if you have similarly minded people,

      This is certainly true, and there are plenty of special-interest groups around to prove it. Unfortunately, those associations are all built around something less than the whole Gospel.

      Let’s visualize an organization build around devotion to truth, holiness, sacrifice and universal magnanimity!

  14. Mike (the other chaplain) says:

    Socialism IS a bad deal, which is why Christians like Charles Stanley pounce on it. They know that while the motives certainly seem Biblical, the end result is long lines for toilet paper and unemployment. Instead of spreading wealth, it spreads poverty. Where’s the justice in that? With all brands of socialism come restrictions in the freedoms we take for granted…..including our religious freedoms.

    I love this site, but its strange to me that so many American Christians are flirting with socialism because it seems more just. I would rather hear how Christians from Cuba, Venezuela, China, and the former Soviet Union feel about it.

    Ok, now about homophilys…

    • Sorry, but you are missing the point entirely. The countries you mention are Marxist, not socialist. Britain and most of Europe have socialist systems, not Marxist ones. I personally benefited enormously from growing up under a socialist system – free health care (I was seriously ill as a child) and a university education that my family could not have afforded. Okay, the richest people have to share some of their wealth but I don’t regard that as a bad thing. I realize that many US evangelicals think it is.

      I’m reading the bio of John Stott and was surprised to learn how he fell out with Billy Graham for preaching a “social gospel”. The Third World lapped it out, US evangelicals didn’t. I wonder why?

      • Mike (the other chaplain) says:

        Peter,

        Socialism and Marxism are kissing cousins.
        Everything is contextual, I’m not talking about exporting it or making it a litmus test for Christian brotherhood (which I think is the point, no?). I do, however, take exception to the notion that somehow American Capitalism is antithetical to the Biblical call for justice. And YES–the rich should share their wealth, but the socialist answer of higher taxes in the name of “spreading the wealth” actually contributes more to impoverishing a population than enriching them, and it demands government oversight, which always creates more corruption, degradation of services, and higher prices. Spreading wealth by use of force actually has the unintended consequence of spreading more poverty.

        Speaking more to your context, it’s my understanding that European socialism is on the brink of utter economic collapse—it can never fulfil what it promises to do.

        Yours in Christ–brother!

        • Tom Huguenot says:

          “Speaking more to your context, it’s my understanding that European socialism is on the brink of utter economic collapse”

          Whereas American Capitalism has been showing the entire world an insolent health for the past two years.

        • I have lived in the Third World for 30 years, so imagine what I think of American capitalism and you will probably be right! I approve of the European social system but am also shocked when I visit London to see the money that is wasted, the food that is thrown away and the general materialism and superficiality of life. About 90% of the people are not Christians, so I guess that is their excuse.

          Where I live, I have a good income by local standards, but don’t own a home and my car is 13 years old. Apart from my own kids, I have raised six others, helping them to escape from the trap of poverty. My wife was raised in poverty and raped as a teenager, like most of the women she knows. This is the real world, where the vast majority of the population lives, and that is how they live.

          When I see American TV evangelism and the preachers of prosperity, I want to throw up. Where is the concern for the “world”? Who have the financial clout to do something about it if not American Christians?

          Sorry to rant, but you touched a nerve….

          • Peter, this american shares your nausea with the American evangelism and the capitalists running the show. Disgusted and ashamed of them. WWJD? He would turn over their tables and embarrass them with simple parables for their simple minds. They can talk until they turn blue, but they could never convince Him they are living a Jesus shaped spirituality while clutching so tightly to their wallets. Keep on laying up treaures is what I say. Let’s see how that works for them in the end.

      • I think it is excellent to see a difference finally being drawn between Marxism and socialism. I think it is absurd that American Christians think of socialism as un-Christian or godless. However, I think it is mostly innocent ignorance than malevolent smearing.

        I will say that I notice an opposite error on the other side as well. I do not mistake socialism and Marxism as the same thing. Marxism is evil. I do however believe that socialism is for the most part an inferior way of getting things done compared to most modified free market solutions. By many socialist Christians I am simply lumped in with “materialist, greedy, American Chrsitians.” There are very legitimate reasons to disagree with socialism just as there are legitimate reasons to disagree with capitalism. I don’t think either side of the debate needs to claim God as a card carrying member of their party or villify the other side in any way.

        I like discussing ideas to solve problems and forbidding the use of labels such as socialist, capitalist, etc. While those labels are helpful for understanding or describing basic schools of thought they usually just get in the way when it comes to actually discussing a particular issue like healthcare or education. The sad truth is that most political figures do not have these discussions either and most politicians are not out to actually solve problems but to perpetuate their own existance.

    • Just because the US is an extreme when it comes to things like not providing like public health care does not mean the only choice is another extreme. You make it sound like the choice is either A) our current model of dog-eat-dog capitalism or B) China-style communism. There are more humane choices in the middle.

      The real issue is that we have gone so far to the right, thanks in large part to conservative Christians, that moderate looks left to us. Too many Christians are so concerned about “socialism” that protecting insurance companies becomes more important than health care for the poor.

      It is part of our nation’s shame and a great sin that far more secular countries do a far better job of carrying out the commands of Christ toward the least of these.

    • David Cornwell says:

      What is happening in the US is nothing even approaching socialism. The socialism scare thing has been around at least since FDR. We’ve never had, probably never will have socialism.

      Capitalism in the US has always had government assistance of one kind or another. Some are in the form of tax or other kinds of subsidies. Others have been because of big government outlays for certain programs where private companies always benefit. Roads, railroads, huge research projects, and much much more have been funded by the government with benefits to the capitalists and hopefully to the public as well.

      In WWII the government spending was massive and taxes were high. The Chamber of Commerce squealed like a pig, but American businesses made big profits and the depression finally ended.

      Almost all countries with modern economies have universal health care of one kind or another. There are pros and cons of course. One thing is sure, there is no equity in a health care system controlled totally by health care companies and drug companies. The public has an interest in this that goes far beyond profits.

      Preachers spending a lot of time ranting against this kind of thing are walking down the wrong road.

      • Capitalism in the US has always had government assistance of one kind or another.

        Well then strictly speaking what you have is, in economic terms, a corporatist fascist sytem, of the Italian variety – from wikipedia:

        Italian Fascism’s economy was based on corporatism, and a number of other fascist movements similarly promoted corporatism. Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists, describing fascist corporatism, said that “it means a nation organized as the human body, with each organ performing its individual function but working in harmony with the whole”.[246] Fascists were not hostile to the petit-bourgeoisie or to small businesses, and they promised these groups, alongside the proletariat, protection from the upper-class bourgeoisie, big business, and Marxism. The promotion of these groups is the source of the term “extremism of the centre” to describe fascism.

  15. I’ve been reading the internetmonk posts for about a month now and I wanted to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to the writers and commentors for a level of discourse that is often quite difficult to find.

    Keep up the good work. Maybe I’ll eventually have something to add that wasn’t already said in a more articulate manner than how I was going to say it.

  16. Dana Ames says:

    Well, we already have some government programs that could be called “socialism”:
    food stamps/WIC
    Head Start program
    unemployment benefits
    Social Security
    Medicare
    Aid for families with dependent children
    Veterans Administration health care

    Everyone pays. Whoever is in need benefits. Most people don’t want to “milk the system”. Could things be more streamlined, less wasteful? Sure; there’s lots we could do that doesn’t cost money to make things better, esp. wrt helping children. I think that it’s a scandal that we haven’t figured out how to provide better health care to our citizens. I think it’s interesting that countries with a very long Christian history – even though governments today are “secular” – are the ones that have had the vision for taking care of their people.

    Dana

  17. Hi Mike (the other chaplin),

    In Australia, the Australian Labor Party has had 4 terms of office since WWII (1946-49, 1972-75, 1983-1996, 2008-present). It is a democratic socialist or social democratic party and the world hasn’t collapsed for us Aussies. The ALP is not communist but believes in the democratic socialisation of the means of production distribution and exchange only insofar as it would remove expolitaion, inefficiencies and injustices of the capitalist system, It has never done much nationalisation and in the 80’s sold off the Commonwalth Bank to the private sector. It also believes in a more equal distribution of wealth, income and power within the framework of capitalism. It has not reduced the standard of living of Australians.Furthermore, it also believes in a vibrant competitive market private enterprise economy.

    Democratic socialism and communism are not kissing cousins if you look at the ALP’s history, though in some cases in the world they might be.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  18. I don’t know about you, but in many of my circles I have actually felt that the “fashionable outcry” of younger, trendy Christians is socialism.

    I found the Brothers Karamazov quote quite ironic, as Dostoevsky makes some very critical critiques of socialism in the same work (comparing it as an institution to Tower of Babel). After just reading Brothers Karamazov I myself became convicted of homophily, in support of socialism. It was interested to hear a strong God centered theological critique of socialism, in contrast to the shallow, often self centered critique of socialism that many Christians use today. The book challenged me to think more about the ends of my faith and God’s plan for creation.

  19. I can only speak from personal experience. I lived and worked in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 8 years after the war there. I witnessed the remnants of socialism slowly giving way to the dream of prosperity and freedom beckoning from the free market. Yes, there were serious structural problems in the prior system and I am not writing to defend it, or even propose it. But I saw how their society had been accustomed to work. Could you get your university hospital’s chief of neurology to make an evening house call? Would you expect to see lawyers and factory workers talking together on the morning tram? Where you could hitch-hike anywhere. Once capitalism took hold, things changed rapidly from one where everyone was relatively poor to one which created huge divides between the haves and the have-nots. Prostitution, drugs, and thievery were unheard of previously but are now prevalent. I could go on, but the point I wish to make is that there were good things in that society for which many have feelings of nostalgia. Especially the solidarity, where people were not simply out for themselves.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Sounds like both Socialism (TM) and the Free Market (TM) were both seriously out-of-balance, just in opposite directions.

      • Tom Huguenot says:

        What happened in former Yugoslavia had nothing to do with the democratic socialism we know in Western Europe.

        Why should I worry about the dangers of communism? it does not exist anymore.
        It is capitalism that is destroying the environement. It is capitalism that is promoting wars. It is capitalism that is destroying the social systems it took decades to build.

  20. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Little development from morning drive-time radio today:

    Newt Gingrich was touring on the radio plugging his latest book, and he’s done Stanley one better by coining a new term: “Secular Socialism” (as in “Taking America Back and Stopping the Secular Socialism of Obama”). He also used some God-talk in the interview/book plug.

    Expect “Secular Socialism” to catch on among the Stanleys behind the pulpit.

    Culture War Without End, Amen.