During one of their summits in the 80s, Ronald Reagan pressed Mikhail Gorbachev on the freedom of movement for citizens in the Soviet Bloc. He wanted to see freedom of movement for the Soviet citizenry. Gorbachev protested and claimed that the US faced similar “freedom of movement” issues along its Mexican border. At this point Reagan stopped him and said “Mike” (Reagan’s familiar name for Gorbachev) “there’s a big difference between trying to get in and trying to get out”. The Soviet problem was one were people wanted to leave, but couldn’t; the US problem was (and is) one where people are wanted to enter and couldn’t. While I have plenty to say about immigration reform and freedom of movement, that’s not what this post is about.
For those of you who know me, you know I’m a big proponent of political and economic freedom. I believe that limiting freedom “for the greater good” is usually a bad idea that doesn’t serve the greater good at all. Freedom should be limited by human rights, and not much more. Because of this, I’m opposed to collectivist government philosophies such as socialism (including national socialism) and communism.
At various times my Christian friends with a left-leaning political view will push back, pointing out that the early Christian Church was quite collective and communal in its orchestration. We read in Acts 4:32 that they “were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Amen! And there’s a big difference between trying to get in and trying to get out.
Socialism and communism, as with any good perversion of a biblical principle, take partial aim at a good outcome and then corrupt it for evil purposes. The verse clearly says that they were “of one heart and soul” – which is crucial for effective communal living. Our brothers and sisters had decided, of a free will, to join together as a community, with hearts knit together by the love of Christ. They had chosen to come in. After this, the ability to eschew personal belongings is almost trivial (almost). Where socialism and communism miss the boat is that they try to force the “having everything in common” part and assume that “one heart and soul” will follow. It won’t.
God desires those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. He does not force any of us to follow Him. Instead He calls us and we follow. This is a good model to adopt. People who choose to sacrifice, choose to participate in the group, choose to lay down personal claims, are the only ones who have a hope of successfully making their sacrifice pay off … with a smile. If it is forced upon you, it is no sacrifice at all, but merely oppression.
Jesus also said “you will recognize them by their fruit” (Matt 7:16). As governing philosophies go, where have we seen the greatest atrocities in our time? Here’s a partial. Germany and National Socialism; Hitler killed 6 million Jews and lots of other folks. Stalinist Russia; Stalin outpaced Hitler in atrocities, starving 7-10 million Ukrainians to death in one year. China and “the people’s revolution” under Mao; Mao Tse Tung made the first two look like amateurs when it came to genocide, killing over 60 million of his own people. You will recognize them by their fruits. If people come to you quoting Hitler, Stalin, or Mao, take great care in your willingness to listen.
Of course, we know that it is not only the socialists and communists who have committed atrocities – though they did so brazenly and with no remorse. We can also point to a great number of problems with theocratic governments in our history, whether Christian, Muslim, or otherwise. I think this only serves to strengthen my point.
The bonds that hold us together are only as effective as we choose to make them … as we choose. Theocratic governance doesn’t make people love God any more than socialism makes people love their neighbors. It has to be a choice. The best that government can do is defend human rights and let free people choose the rest.