Thursday, 04 April 2019 17:34

COLUMN: The Christian political left’s intellectual bait-and-switch

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Christians on the left side of the political spectrum pull a clever bait-and-switch to support their calls for socialist government policies.

Christians who suppose that the Bible supports “democratic socialism,” or even outright communism, often base their supposition on accounts of Christian communal living found in Acts. As David Bentley Hart wrote in a 2017 op-ed published by the New York Times:

“The New Testament’s Book of Acts tells us that in Jerusalem the first converts to the proclamation of the risen Christ affirmed their new faith by living in a single dwelling, selling their fixed holdings, redistributing their wealth ‘as each needed’ and owning all possessions communally.”

From this truth and other verses in the Bible that command believers to care for the poor, seek social justice and scorn wealth for wealth’s sake, many progressives conclude that Christians should support and advance modern “democratic socialist” or communist political systems.

Their thinking includes a very dangerous bait-and-switch that an anecdote Hart includes in his op-ed illuminates.

“It was in 1983 that I heard the distinguished Greek Orthodox historian Aristeides Papadakis casually remark in a lecture at the University of Maryland that the earliest Christians were ‘communists.’ In those days, the Cold War was still casting its great glacial shadow across the cultural landscape, and so enough of a murmur of consternation rippled through the room that Professor Papadakis — who always spoke with severe precision — felt obliged to explain that he meant this in the barest technical sense: They lived a common life and voluntarily enjoyed a community of possessions. The murmur subsided, though not necessarily the disquiet.” [Emphasis added.]

Note the key, highlighted word — voluntarily.

This short account does accurately describe the society we find in the early church. Christians voluntarily sold their possessions. They voluntarily shared things in common. They voluntarily lived communally.

How easily modern Christians with progressive political leanings slide from a voluntarily communal life together to pointing guns at other people and taking their stuff.

When I read accounts of life in the early church throughout the New Testament, I find no evidence that selling all of your possessions was a requirement. I don’t see evidence that every single believer lived in a communal setting. The account in Acts 4 describes life in one early Christian community in Jerusalem at a particular time. Hart argues that this way of life was prevalent in the early church — and perhaps it was. The description in Acts certainly frames their communal life as desirable and as an example worthy of following. It should challenge modern American Christians to rethink their own attachment to their stuff.

But to extrapolate from this account a political system that forces everybody to “hold everything in common” and abolishes private property turns a beautiful picture of voluntary association and cooperation into an ugly, brutish and violent scene.

As I wrote in a previous article, socialism and communism cannot exist as political systems in the modern world of nation-states without coercion, force and violence. Any person who balks at “sharing” their resources with the collective must be brought into line by force or eliminated from society. And sticking “democratic” in front of the word socialism doesn’t change that ugly truth.

When you boil it all down, democratic socialists believe that if they can convince 50.1 percent of voters to accept their agenda, we must all take it as a mandate authorizing them to pull out the guns and lock people in cages who don’t accept their vision of “social justice” and “communal living.”

Now, most democratic socialists won’t admit they will kill you if you don’t go along with their vision, but if you take their system to its logical conclusion, that is indeed where it ends. Never forget that the state ultimately enforces every law at gunpoint. In other words, with the threat of lethal force.


This is emphatically not a “biblical value.”

You see the bait-and-switch here, right? We take a biblical value of voluntary sharing and cooperation and turn it into a political system that rests solely on violent force.

Modern Christian leftists also miss a subtle reality. The biblical account of communal living rests on a broader system of private property. After all, you can’t sell what you don’t own.

At this point, Christian democratic socialism runs headlong into economic realities. Wealth generation depends on free markets, private property and a legal system that supports both. The welfare-states progressives often point to, particularly in the Nordic countries, actually depend on otherwise strong free-market economic and legal systems to exist. (You can learn more about economics and free markets in episode No. 8 of the GodArchy podcast.)

Imagine if Rome had owned all of the property in the days of the early church. Wealthy new believers would have had nothing to sell and ultimately nothing to give.

Christians need to stop trying to impose their “biblical values” on the rest of the world through political means. Politics always ends with violence, force and coercion.


Michael Maharrey is communications director of the Tenth Amendment Center and founder of Republished from