Christianity as a self-proclaimed religion of the poor and hungry has often been connected historically with the development of the socialist ideas. In this unit, we consider the positions of three prominent Christian thinkers of the last fifty years on capitalism, labor, and the proper organization of society.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
- Christianity “has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme.” It provides general direction but not a comprehensive agenda.
- Yet according to general Christianity, a just society will be “very socialistic” in its economic life, and it will emphasize “obedience from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands.” Few Christians, though, obey Christian principles consistently, tending to pick only the parts they like.
- Essential to Christian society is the moral obligation to charity. For each of us, no matter how prosperous, “the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” Therefore, proper Christians should be altruistically sacrificial—sometimes “even to the crippling and endangering of your own position”—since God commands us to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
- Modern capitalism is morally suspect, as it is based on investment and lending money at interest. It thus rejects the moral teachings of the Jews, ancient Greeks, and Christians who agreed “in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life.”
Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercens
- Work is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on Earth. By work, man shares God’s activity, fulfills His mandate, develops himself physically and spiritually, and achieves salvation.
- But in current society, this subjective dimension of work is subordinated to objective economic calculations, as capital is separated from labor and venerated on its own. This economism/materialism, including dialectical materialism, creates unethical social relations, as man becomes merely an instrument and “resultant” of production. The just society should be founded on the primacy of persons over things—“of human labour over capital.”
- Therefore, “rigid” capitalism’s postulation of exclusive rights to private ownership must be revised and the means of production socialized: “the right of private property subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone.”
- This socialization does not mean state centralization, though. The state's role is to coordinate, through “rational planning and proper organization of human labour,” the activities of human beings working “for themselves.”
- The Church’s function is to remind the world of the fundamental social question, and “to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide the above-mentioned changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.”
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium
- The world is currently founded upon “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” It is characterized by ruthless competition, exploitation, marginalization, unemployment, starvation, and general indignity that disenfranchises people.
- The root problem lies in the unjust, immoral system of capitalism based on individualism, secularization, private property, consumption, and the domination of money. We have rejected ethics and God for to pursue power and possessions.
- A new society should make primary the human person as a social, communal being, not an atomized individual. It should be founded on Christian altruism: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”
- The Church will facilitate this transition by evangelizing, reinforcing the moral values in people, and combating relativism. Spreading Christ’s words, it will interpret and generate meanings, bringing people together and acting as a mediator in finding solutions to world problems.
Summary by Andrei Volkov and Stephen Hicks, 2020.