If You Can’t Beat ’em, Have ’em Join You

“For us in Russia, communism is a dead dog, while, for many people in the West, it is still a living lion” -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Back during the cold war, Christians and Christianity were, for the most part, ardently opposed to communism. The Christians understood the atheistic and violently oppressive nature of communism could never be squared with Christian morals (not that it wasn’t tried – more in a moment).

Inside the Soviet Union, being a Christian was tantamount to forfeiture of life. Christians were routinely murdered by the KGB. They dared to believe in a God that was above communism, in a higher power. In the west, Christians worked to undo the oppression, including rather impressive efforts by Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Church in Poland.

Ultimately, the communists lost that fight … or at least the first round.

The early life of the Christian church was marked by oppression and savagery. The Romans were brutal in their murder of Christ-followers. But, somehow, the more Christians they killed, the more popped up. I suppose communists have run into the same problem from time to time.

So how do you proceed? “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein. The communists surely understood this, so they had to change tactics.

Even during the cold war there were attempts to co-opt Christianity. “Liberation theology” was introduced as a way to convince the faithful Christians that communist ideals were consistent with Biblical teachings. (The communists, of course, cared not one bit about lying to advance their cause – they were quite proud of it.)

While much of liberation theology is easily shunned by Christians who actually own Bibles and can read, the push to co-opt religious themes continues. Yesterday I caught an article by Nicholas Kristof describing how “equality is good for the soul.” The article is essentially a book review of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.

The themes are standard common sense considerations of financial inequality, with some weak mathematics thrown in to give the right air. First, fiscal inequality leads to other types of inequality; for instance, poor people die younger. I doubt that anybody would dispute this – it makes sense actually that wealthy people can afford better health care. They then add a litany of statistics correlating financial inequality to a great number of social ills. (This is the “weak mathematics” portion – correlation does not imply causality.  It may well be that the inequality is a result of those social ills and not the other way around. Not that I’m making the argument, I simply want to point out the logical fallacy of the statistical portion of their discourse.)

We then get to the main proposition. Inequality is bad because it generates envy, mistrust, and greatly increased stress. This is a nice turn. Here we have authors taking a communist theme of equalizing the financial playing field and freeing the workers from the oppressive rich, and casting it as a sin issue. Very nice indeed.

Several thoughts …

First, Christians do not need a social motivation to understand sin. Inequality does not cause envy – pride causes envy. We, as sinful people, have difficulty dealing with the prospect of “I’m not the best, most capable, most talented person in the world.” The love of self is profound in fallen mankind. This is the source of envy. Eliminating all inequality will not eliminate pride, and will therefore not eliminate envy. (People are envious for more than money.)

Next, there is a consistent “sleight of hand” in these progressive arguments for moralistic financial equality. Or, for that matter, anything they hope to accomplish that takes on a moral tone.

  1. This or that social or personal ill is bad (inequality, lack of opportunity, drug use, etc.)
  2. We therefore need the government to step in an remove the bad things so we can make progress
  3. If you oppose the government solution you are a cold, heartless, selfish individual who doesn’t want to help people

(“Lies, all LIES!” – Frau Farbissina)

Even if we were to agree on point number one, which sometimes we do, the proposition that a statist solution is the only way forward is incredulous. That somehow, by removing freedom, free will, and yes, individual incentive, we can improve the state of man in aggregate … we are not cattle.

For that matter, how have these statist solutions worked in the past? Did communism in the Soviet Union result in anything more than equality of misery? Even then, didn’t the privileged party insiders enjoy prosperity while the rest suffered?

Did European socialism remove envy and strife by “eliminating” inequality and self-interest? Haven’t the riots of 2010 taught us just the opposite? When various groups were going to have to surrender some benefits, some of their special receipts from the hand of government, did they not riot? Is this your solution to envy and strife?

Even in America, have state interventions to reduce inequality profited us anything? Was it not the new homeowners, many of them minorities and underprivileged, who were wiped out in the housing bubble crash? Did the wealthy suffer the same fate? No, they were bailed out by hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. Have welfare entitlements solved crime and poverty? Has medicare done anything but increase health care costs? Have college education funding programs done anything but make college education more expensive? Have any of these state solutions worked at all?

And yet, the discussion continues. Attempts by communist/socialist/fascist groups to cast their ideologies in the form of Christian morals will continue. I’m sure the true believers in these domineering, freedom-crushing ideologies actually buy what they’re selling. So be it. There’s no reason the rest of us need to be confused.

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