This part two of a series. If you have any doubts about the premise accepted here, that Obamacare represents an implementation of socialist principles, please read Part I. I should not that I have borrowed passages from the first chapter of a book in progress, tentatively titled Cities of Man. In Part III, I'll get down to the business of why socialism is as inconsistent with Christianity as classical liberalism and capitalism.
Granted that Obamacare is socialized medicine, it does not necessarily follow that it is incompatible with Christianity. After all, most of the larger Christian denominations employ socialist argumentation, and among Catholics some form of "Christian" socialism seems almost a given. Before determining whether or not socialism is compatible with Christianity, we first have to deal with the more radical challenge: Is international socialism the political, social, and economic realization of the Christian message? Rightwing neopagans and atheists would like us to believe this, though none of them knows enough about Christianity to have a right to express an opinion on this subject.
In the formulation of "Christian" socialism, many passages in the New Testament have been invoked, but none so often or so relentlessly as the Sermon on the Mount:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". [Matthew 5]
In his first recorded sermon, Jesus' moral message is far more alarming than Marxist Catholic bishops seem to have realized. Their message is at best a collective appeal to check-writing philanthropy and at worst a systematized hypocrisy. In essence Christian socialists tell us to go about our business as mankind has always done, lying, cheating, stealing, so long as we pay the state to redistributes some portion of our wealth to the poor—a small price to pay for a "Get Out of Hell Free" card. Christ, by contrast, turns our most highly cherished values—pride, ambition, greed, rugged individualism--upside down.
Failure and poverty, which were regarded as unmitigated miseries in the ancient world, are celebrated. Good fortune, wealth, and power, which had been regarded as signs of divine favor, now counted for nothing. How are we to take these and other terrifying pronouncements? Some Christians (the Amish, for example), ignoring the rest of the Scriptures and the traditions of the Church, have concluded that Christians are required to be communistic pacifists. Others, particularly Catholic socialists, convert Jesus' injunctions to practice charity into a government-imposed program for redistributing wealth.
It is certainly true that Jesus' answer remains a powerful rebuke to those who would confound the gospel with one or another form of state-imposed socialism. The poor, whom we always have with us, will be taken care of properly only when we freely behave as Christians and not when Caesar, at the point of a bayonet, requires us to render doubly unto him so that he can purchase political power with our tribute.
Jesus has not made it easy for the socialists, however, and he affirms the binding authority of the old law, particularly the Decalogue:
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
Then, if our first impression was that this Messiah had come to destroy all law and custom, we were mistaken. “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” What becomes clear from His examples is that Jesus is telling his followers that they can no longer be content to conform outwardly to the law but must have an inner conviction that includes love of neighbor.
Later in the course or his ministry, He will condemn the legalistic conformists--"scribes, pharisees--actors"--as whited sepulchers: They are painted prettily enough on the outside, but within there is nothing but death and putrefaction. But any attempt to create or impose a semblance of the Christian moral order on non-Christians must suffer the same condemnation. A socialist experiment on unwilling subjects turns entire nations into whited sepulchers.
The first Christian to convert Christ's moral and spiritual message into a program for political revolution may have been Judas, who complained when Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anointed Jesus with oil, a task she and other Christian women would soon have to perform on His body. When Judas asked why the oil was not sold and the price given to the poor, Jesus' reply was an incisive rejection of the Social Gospel: "The poor you have with you always, but me you do not have always." The Christian, both as individual and as member of a corporate body (such as a family or church), will practice charity out of his love of God and of his fellows made in God's image, but he will not set up a system to redistribute other people's wealth.
According to one interpretation of the scene, Judas went away from this encounter disgruntled with Jesus' failure to lead a social revolution. This argument has been popularized by Peter Hitchens, but it is a commonplace in earlier writers like Bishop Fulton J. Sheen In the early 20th century, a priest turned socialist, Fr. Thomas McGrady, told a Boston audience, "If Jesus Christ were on the Democratic ticket and Judas Iscariot on the Socialist ticket, I would vote for Judas Iscariot." Even for a bog-trotting Irish priest, McGrady betrayed a remarkable ignorance not simply of the divine nature of the Christ but of the everyday human reality of the character who told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world and explained that if it were, he would be rescued by his supporters.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.