A recent headline in Foreign Policy magazine raised some eyebrows, claiming that Bernie Sanders is a “socialist Moses” and “left the stage just as much of the U.S. government—and the world—was turning to his socialist ideas in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Supporters of the socialist Senator from Vermont have even warned on social media that individual charity can’t replace “government action” — I would agree, but for an entirely different reason.
Associating socialist ideas with quarantines, closings, toilet paper shortages, fear, and economic collapse probably isn’t the best PR strategy if you’re a proponent of such political philosophies. That said, a great number of people — especially among younger generations — are becoming more and more enamored with socialist ideas.
The intention may be good, but socialism has an atrocious and bloody track record. One has to look no further than Venezuela for evidence, even if the rank and file socialist in America balks at that comparison. They’ll claim they are for democratic socialism like in Denmark or Sweden.
The problem with this comparison is that while those nations have generous government assistance, those programs are funded by a capitalist economy. It is not socialism or even democratic socialism.
I was particularly alarmed at the repulsion of individual charity expressed by one Sanders staffer. She claimed “charity cannot replace government action” in a tweet.
This was in response to someone who was helping connect people to ways of helping others during the coronavirus pandemic. The tweet struck an odd note, recoiling at the idea of people helping one another instead of channeling assistance through the federal bureaucracy.
The problem with this line of thinking, particularly from the Christian perspective, is the reliance on government for acts of generosity and charity that we ourselves are supposed to do. As the old cliché goes, no one feels charitable on tax day.
It’s a good cliché because it’s true. Who likes paying taxes? If we actually felt that money was being channeled effectively for the greater good, we’d feel all warm and fuzzy inside on April 15th each year (extended this year).
But we don’t, because we know the truth. Virtually no one gives extra money to the government at tax time. It’s simply not a thing that happens, ever. If people really felt they were helping others they’d donate more at tax time.
Aside from the obvious problems of bureaucracy, the real problem with depending on the government to re-distribute out our generosity is it removes us from the equation. We miss the human to human interaction we gain from instead spending that money on a neighbor in need, hiring an extra employee, or buying groceries for the person behind us in line.
It’s an absolute blessing to help others, but the more we shirk that responsibility and pawn it off to the federal government, the more we miss out on spiritually.
The claim that Jesus was a socialist has always been highly dubious at best. First of all, it’s incredibly insulting to boil the God of the universe down to a political party in America. Aside from that obvious slight, nowhere does Jesus ever say we must funnel charity through the government.
What he actually does is command us to be charitable, to help the poor, the widows and the orphans, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and so forth. This is something we must do and when we pawn that task off on someone else, we do it less often, and over time we become less connected with one another.
That’s not to say there’s no role for government, but assuming the government is the best and most efficient way of handling charity will lead to a population that doesn’t prioritize helping others in need as it should.
Proponents of Socialism underestimate the power of personal charity. America already gives an astounding amount to charity — nearly half a trillion dollars annually. Imagine what that number would be if personal charity was the primary way we thought of as a culture to help one another?
Charity always works better the more local it is. Federal bureaucracies simply cannot match the efficiency and the connectedness of giving on a local level.
As Christians, we should always prioritize charity no matter what the government policies are in our nation. Nothing beats human to human interaction — something we are sorely lacking today, for reasons out of our control. Nothing beats showing the love of Christ to another person. That’s how God has chosen to bring many people to himself — using us as an instrument.
What a great and immeasurable gift! It would be a complete and total shame if an impersonal, giant one-size-fits-all bureaucracy ever took the place of that gift.