Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Bible and Democratic Socialism

Thanks to Obery M. Hendricks Jr. (a Religion and African American Studies professor at Columbia University) we now know that The Biblical Values of Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic Socialism is better than sliced bread, on the top shelf with the views of Martin Luther King, Jr., and that democratic socialism is “strikingly similar” to the Bible while capitalism is not. I will make no defense of modern capitalism as it operates in the U.S., and will stipulate it often does not look very biblical. However, Hendricks Jr. clearly must cherry-pick both the views of Ocasio-Cortez and the Bible to make them fit into the package he is trying to sell.

Hendricks writes, “Democratic socialism seeks to build a more humane society, not by force or compulsion, but by way of the age-old democratic practice of ‘one person, one vote’.”[i] Democrat Socialists in the United States work within the democratic system we have – because that is the system that we have![ii] Nevertheless, compulsion forced by 50.1% on 49.9% is no less compulsion just because the majority voted to compel. Social control may take milder forms like compelling drivers to wear seat belts, or the state may take ownership of the rain that falls on one’s property.[iii]

Mr. Hendricks highlights several areas where he believes the Bible and democratic socialism “share the same essential concerns.” He is partially correct, but falls short of giving a full picture (whether through ignorance, deceit, or political posturing I cannot tell). Here are a few points from The Biblical Values of Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic Socialism by Hendricks, and we will also notice some of Ocasio-Cortez’s own platform.[iv]

“The Bible and democratic socialism preach that governments should enact policies that address the needs of the poor, provide equal access to opportunity, and legislate policies that curb inequity.” Here the author cites Psalm 72:1-2, 4 – a text that speaks of the perfect government by the eternal one who perfects all justice. However, this text – and any other of which I am aware – falls short of preaching that a government should enact the specific policies of democratic socialists. God is quite capable of enacting perfect political policy. I do not trust others to do so; they have their own interests at heart. So far as I can tell, biblically speaking, for human consumption we have the Old Testament model of Israel and the New Testament statements that government generically exists to suppress evil and punish the evildoer.

“Jesus modeled universal health care by healing everyone who asked, regardless of their gender, nationality or ability to pay.”[v] Definite cherry picking here! The author picks Jesus’s 3-1/2 year ministry out of the entirety of human history. Even then, according to Hendricks’s own testimony, Jesus only healed “everyone who asked” – not everyone in the world who was sick. (Cf. Mark 6:5-7.) On the one hand, Jesus – by his own power, with compassion, borrowing nothing from others – healed those who came to him. On the other hand, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic Socialists wants a single payer health care system but must take from others to bring it to pass.

“Prophets consistently excoriated those exploiting their employees” (Jeremiah 22:13,17). Obviously, the law, the prophets, Jesus, and the New Testament support treating workers fairly – neither exploiting nor abusing them (Leviticus 19:13; Malachi 3:5; Luke 10:7; Colossians 4:1; James 5:4). In the hands of the Democratic Socialists this often morphs into a “minimum income for everyone” (see below) and removing the rights of the laborer to negotiate with his employer what they together can agree is a fair wage. Quite honestly, it seems that both socialists and capitalists struggle to explain Jesus’s parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).

Concerning a “minimum income for everyone” and “fair treatment of workers,” Obery Hendricks Jr. cites the Old Testament books of Leviticus (25:35-36) and Deuteronomy (24:14) to prove his point. True enough, we should show compassion on the poor and treat others fairly, though spinning this into a “minimum income for everyone” is enough to send one into an eisegetical tailspin. It is equally telling that many of the same ones who go to the law to support these points will throw a conniption hissy fit at those who use the same law against the practice of homosexuality. The same book that says take care of the poor also says, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13). The same book that says do not oppress the hired servant also says, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 22:5). Yet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic Socialism favors both homosexuality and transvestism.

Neither Democratic Socialism nor Democratic Capitalism is biblical Christianity, regardless of what places they may intersect – or where advocates draw in an intersection that is not there. Is any politician or political pundit, left or right, looking for the full biblical picture? I suspect not. The goal is to pick out Bible verses that seem to support one’s position, the full biblical context notwithstanding. The socialist who loves to tax and tell people what is best for them will likely overlook biblical texts that speak askance of oppressive taxation and conscription (1 Samuel 8:10-22) or promote private ownership (Acts 5:3-4).[vi] The capitalist who loves money will doubtless overlook texts that condemn such love (1 Timothy 6:10), exhort to godly service (Luke 16:13), and to use money to do good to others (Ephesians 4:28).

Let us as Christians extract biblical Christianity from the political debate – not in the sense of leaving politics devoid of the great influences of the Bible, but in the sense of not trying to make the Bible fit our political philosophies! If one starts committed to the philosophy of socialism and looks in the Bible, the searcher will probably find it there. If one starts committed to the philosophy of capitalism and looks in the Bible, the searcher will probably find it there. Christians may struggle to develop a consistent political philosophy (assuming we need one), but it is not hard to know that individually we should “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and love thy neighbour as thyself.” May God help us to start with the “philosophy” that the Bible is the word of God, the source of all truth, and search to find the truth.

Acts 17:11
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

John 5:39
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

[i] Definitions of socialism, social democracy, and democratic socialism seem to fluctuate and it can be hard to distinguish them. Here are a few:
“Socialism can be defined as ‘a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control.” Business Insider
“At the root of our socialism is a profound commitment to democracy, as means and end. As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people.” Democratic Socialists of America
Socialism is “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” EnOxfordDictionaries
“Social democracy is a political, social, and economic ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and capitalist economy.” Wikipedia
[ii] When the DSA writes, “…we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow…” it is reasonable to believe that they would like to see the end of capitalism.
[iii] When It Rains in Oregon, the State Owns the Raindrops –  “The state graciously allows you to collect water that runs off your roof directly into a rain barrel, but ‘if that water touches the ground, it is the property of the state of Oregon, and you cannot collect it without a permit’.”
[iv] Platform of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s avowed democratic socialism includes housing as a human right (though the Son of man had “not where to lay his head”), would squelch advocacy by require Congress “to take no money from the gun lobby or private equity companies that invest in the firearms industry” (though Jesus said ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free), and would require the government to provide “open access to affordable abortions” (though Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven; and the Bible teaches man is made in the image of God).
[v] Of course, when they’re not trying to make this point about universal health care, the Democratic Socialist types don’t mind accusing “Jesus the racist of heinous crimes against The Syrophenician Woman.
[vi] Here even in the context of the voluntary community aspects of the church at Jerusalem.

No comments: