Thursday, May 3, 2012

Socialism, the Bible and the Catholic Church



Q – Could you please discuss what interpretation the church has for Acts 2:44-45 and whether this in any way promotes a socialist economic theory or mindset?


A – First, let me put up the passage you are referring to.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
We can see from this passage, and from others (as well as historical evidence), that many (though not all) Christians lived in a form of society where belongings are shared with others in their group. But, one thing we must be very careful not to do is to translate the Bible into a political statement. Socialism is a form of governmental policy, not a statement on how Christians should support one another. Notice there was no government enforcing this form of society, it was purely voluntary. So, I would be careful to call it “socialism” at all – which is state-ownership of property and means of production.

The Church has never said that one form of government or economic system is the only one we should support. In fact, it warns against the evils that threaten the common good present in all governmental systems. What it does do is proclaim the truths that all governments and economic systems should adhere to. But, any form of government which is compatible with the common good is allowable.
“Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all. . . . Every human community needs an authority to govern it. . . . Its role is to ensure as far as is possible the common good of the society.” (CCC 1897-1898)
The only form of government / economic system the Church has said is incompatible with Christianity is Communism. This is because it does not seek the common good and denies the basic rights of human persons. This is because Communism is an officially atheistic, totalitarian government, and by definition cannot seek what is good for the human person, who has as the greatest good, the search for God. Pope John Paul II wrote:
“the class struggle in the Marxist sense and militarism have the same root, namely, atheism and contempt for the human person, which place the principle of force above that of reason and law.” (Centisimus Annus, 14)
The Catechism states:
“Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.” (CCC 1901)
and
“The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with "communism" or "socialism." She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of "capitalism," individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for "there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market."Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended..” (CCC 2425)
While some forms of socialism, republic, and democracy are valid forms of government, they need to guard against seeing man as a mere means of production or as an end to a means.

One Catholic social justice principle, that is almost unknown by most Catholics, that I think can shed some light on this subject is call subsidiarity. That is, that the lower-level organizations should not have their power usurped by higher-level ones. For instance, the family is the original place of education and that authority of the parents to educate their children should not be taken away by a local school district, state, or federal government. Those higher-level organizations need to support and help the lower-level ones, but not supersede their authority.

In the same way we are to support one another and the federal government needs to allow us (and support our efforts to do so) and then if it has to, be a safety net for those that “fall through the cracks”.

So, I would have to answer your question with a no. We cannot see the Bible passage as promoting a kind of socialism. But, it does promote generosity and helping others in whatever ways we need to accomplish that. One way is what is put forward in the passage – giving all we have to be shared with others.