Examination of Christian Socialism as a Political Ideology

/ Guest Column / Monday, 26 April 2021 18:08

By- Dr. Aniruddha Babar,
Dept of Political Science, Tetso College, Dimapur, Nagaland
The garb of religion is the best cloak for power.
— William Hazlitt
As a Thinker and an Academician, I spend maximum of my time challenging my own notions and beliefs that has been developed over the period of time as a result of physical/sensory experiences, personal meditations and contemplations. I am always suspicious about what I see, what I read, what I learn, what I think, what I say and what I teach. My students and apprentices help me in this rigorous endeavor of ‘Self-examination’ and ‘Introspection’. This present work is a final result of a thought provoking classroom debate that started with academic discourse on ‘St. Augustine’s ‘City of God’.
Christian Socialism is a religious and political ideology that helps in integrating Christianity with socialism. Christian Socialism is mainly intended towards promoting socialist economy and left wing politics. Christian Socialism is developed and built on the teaching of the Bible. The proponents of Christian socialism believe that capitalism is the main evil of the society that results in causing inequality and discrimination. According to the proponents, Capitalism is idolatrous, and associated with the sin of greed. Therefore, Christian socialist considered capitalism as the main source of greed and inequality in the society. The first major movement related to Christian Socialism started in the United Kingdom in 19th century which intended towards becoming politically involved and theologically reflective.
However, despite of the significant Social Equality approach in Christian Socialism, it has been criticized by many scholars and researchers. Christian socialism has been significantly criticized for being pacifist and utopian. The pacifist belief informs that all forms of the violent acts are against the Christian belief. However, there have been Christian social pacifists, who have supported war. For example, Henry Scott Holland, John Clifford, R.H. Tawney supported the First World War.
Moreover, dealing with the debate on ‘Christian Socialism’, In Rendering Unto Caesar, Lawrence Reed, president emeritus of the libertarian-leaning Foundation for Economic Education, writes that Jesus was not a socialist in that he promoted voluntary giving and charity rather than the mandatory taking by government (taxes). Conservative evangelical Christian Johnnie Moore, Professor of Religion at Liberty University, a “bastion of the Christian right” in American politics, writing on the homepage of Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes, claimed that Jesus was a capitalist. Traditionalist conservative Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, a Christian fundamentalist organization in the United States, also claimed that Jesus was a capitalist who advocated “voluntary redistribution of wealth”. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was critical of socialist doctrines, and warned that those who seek socialism “may soon have too much of it”. Specifically, he regarded collectivist Christianity as inferior to faith on an individual level. He said that “I would not have you exchange the gold of individual Christianity for the base metal of Christian Socialism”.
Christian socialists and their political ideology is criticized because it is based on utopian thinking and such a belief and thinking is not rooted in reality, rather it remains the vision of entirely just and perfect world merely in a theoretical form. Some of the scholars have also argued that Christian Socialism is a mere political thought, which displays the utopian dream in the worst sense of the present world. It has been further argued that considering the Christian Socialists ideologies are nearly impossible to be translated in practice and in policies of the government, because of lacking reality. Christian Socialism is far from providing any satisfactory answer to how they wish to overcome the problems associated with budget deficits, how they would address mass unemployment, complex tax issues, international relations, strategic affairs, trade & commerce and how they can address other forms of inequalities and discriminations in the society. The opponents of Christian Socialism have also argued that such socialism lack the strong proposal about how they wish society to function. Their utopian vision is considered to be very disengaged with the world around them, and therefore, their socialism is mere a fantasy that would never be able to achieve reality.
Although, Christian socialism is considered as the major critique of the post-modern capitalist’s society, but it is itself filled with many ambiguities. For the Christian Socialists, the new world that they wish to establish is not a society that is more just and safe; rather they consider it to be the ‘Kingdom of God’, and for establishing such kingdom, there would be a need of profound reversal of the entire social order, in which first shall be last and last shall be first (as stated under the New Testament of the Bible). Christian socialists have argued that those who have studied the teaching of the Jesus Christ would have known that he had hardly spoken about the life after death rather he has placed a strong emphasis on establishing the kingdom of God. Kingdom of God, means establishing a right and a communistic society, where every individual would be equal, as every man was made in the image of God. Thus, they shall be equal in his kingdom.
Christian Socialism is significantly inclined towards establishing a grand and glorious society, with the passionate aim of making the world like heaven. However, how real is this belief, when there are no strong strategies or policies to establish such society? How this new society would sustain? However, it has also been identified that not all the Christian Socialists have similar perspective, such as R.H. Tawney and William Temple have opposed such Christian view of establishing the kingdom of God or if such kingdom could be established ever on Earth. Tawney had been one of the most influential Christian Socialists, who had believed that humans could not be freed from their sinfulness, nor a perfect human society could be established. Therefore, it is important to consider and acknowledge the realistic view of the human nature, for understanding that how men and women would function within a new society.
Christian socialists have distinct perspective within themselves, for example, some of them believe that sinfulness of the humans would be ended for establishing the new world, while others within them argue that sinfulness of the humans could not be ended, but it would have no impact on establishing a socialist communist world. For example, a Christian Socialist Headlam, have written that sins would not disappear under socialism, but he nowhere suggests that it would have any impact on establishing a righteous society. These evidences informs that Christian Socialism is based on the fluid ideas that do not have any strong bases, rather theological ideas are tried to be included in political ideology of socialism. Christian Socialists seek to establish a society on the basis of mutual cooperation and collaboration. For example, Christian socialists Hardie, Lansbury, Tawney and Temple have positively argued about the collective ownership of the properties and land. Although, they believe that personal property would remain as it is, but it is the private property that is identified under dispute. However, again because of the lack of proper strategies and ideas about how such disputes would be resolved, Christian socialism again leaves a gap. This is the reason that Christian Socialism is denied and opposed as being not only the part of socialism but also the philosophical spectrum of Politics & Statecraft, because the Christian socialist methods are without any solid base, and ideas. Competition, which is an important element of the modern society, is completely against the Christian worldview, as competition is ethically dubious. Christian Socialism lacks the answer towards how the new society would be able to respond towards the extremely competitive, technologically oriented modern complex world. Therefore, Christianity and socialism are incompatible to each other in all forms, as both are dissimilar in forms of origin, aims, methods and principles.
Finally, as I lost deeper in the abyss of my mind in the middle of the silent night; I ask one question to myself. How wise is it to regenerate and crossbreed theological principles with political philosophy? Will Theology be able to withstand the ‘Realist Temptation’ of power’? Being a follower of Jesus Christ, a realist thinker and a student of Philosophy, Christian Theology and Comparative Religions; I can say that the Jesus Christ was a social reformer of his day, advocating the transformation of oppressive systems of power. He gave hopes to those who had been thrown at the bottom of the pit. Naturally, therefore, his first disciples were all from the lowest strata of society who could relate to his ‘teachings’, the ‘path’ and most importantly his ‘suffering’. However, with the passage of time the light of Jesus’ wisdom went through multitude of ‘prisms’; reaching to the kaleidoscopic paradox which not only disturbs me but also makes me want to question the nexus between the Political Power & Religious Faith. The Franciscan friar Richard Rohr (2018) explains this paradox:
“As long as Jesus’ followers were on the bottom and the edge of empire, as long as they shared the rejected and betrayed status of Jesus, they could grasp his teaching more readily. Values like non-participation in war, simple living, inclusivity, and love of enemies could be more easily understood when Christians were gathering secretly in the catacombs, when their faith was untouched by empire, rationalization, and compromise. In 313 A.D., Constantine legalized Christianity. It became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380. After this structural change, Christianity increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order. The church slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point.  Before 313, the church was on the bottom of society. Within the space of a few decades, the church moved from the bottom to the top, literally from the catacombs to the basilicas. When the Christian church became the established religion of the empire, it started reading the Gospel from the position of maintaining power and social order instead of experiencing the profound power of powerlessness that Jesus revealed.”
As night passes, the clouds of thoughts gathers in my mind and my inner eyes starts searching for Jesus who has been in the ‘Prison’ of the conscience of his followers for eternity. Time has come to free ‘Jesus’ from our own selfish interests and political ambitions. Jesus was the first and last Christian who never gave ‘Christianity’, but rather taught how to live like a man which I believe we all have forgotten in our mad rage for the ‘POWER’.

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