From time to time, well-meaning people review the teachings of Jesus Christ and decide that to “mourn with those that mourn, yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” or to “bear one another’s burdens that they might be light,” require supporting public policies to redistribute resources from one person to another. The argument goes that legislators and legislation are considered more “Christlike” if they promote the expansion of the government safety net by taking from some and giving to others. But before we get enticed by that logic, we should answer a basic question — is Jesus socialist?
Socialism is a belief that while an individual may own the means of production, the community as a whole, through the political process known as government, controls those means of production. When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Sinai, they specifically forbade coveting, or yearning to possess another’s property, which is best illustrated biblically by the well-known story of Cain murdering Abel. Theft, adultery and murder were also forbidden and are likewise rooted in the basic human flaw of selfishness. The desire to take that which belonged to another has always been a problem. Hence, our own law adopted the approach of safeguarding individual property rights from those who would see their needs as a pretext to take property away.
One of the poignant moments of “Les Miserables” is when a desperate man is arrested for stealing silverware from a priest. The priest refuses to press charges and gives the man even further gifts to help him. This illustrates that we are individual moral agents whom Jesus would urge to be charitable like the priest — but by our own choice, not under duress of state authority. This is when true charity comes into play, and the growth of character from serving one another shows its true splendor.
When I graduated from college, the commencement speaker wisely mentioned that he hoped we would all render unto Caesar the things that belonged to Caesar and unto God the things that belonged to God. Both are important duties. We need to be the best citizens of our earthly communities we can be, while also striving to follow Jesus’ commandments as we understand them. Jesus made it very clear that they are separate and distinct duties. We pay our fair share of taxes for the benefit of police, roads and organized national defense and many other legitimate purposes while, at the same time, we personally should love our neighbors as ourselves.
I thought about this as our neighborhood mobilized to help a family move a few weeks ago. All volunteers mustered by a text from someone who saw a need, and a family in need is on its way, all for free. Everyone felt good and warm feelings helping someone out, and no government oversight or money was needed.
If we allow ourselves to decide “Caesar has taken the role of helping the poor,” it robs us of the opportunity to grow as Jesus advocated. Socialism is exactly the opposite of what Christ taught; it shifts our individual free will and moral responsibility to the heavy hand of government.