...Jesus performed a great miracle for the people which in many ways mirrors the understanding of social justice and welfare we have today. Here was a large crowd of people, who had no food. So Jesus and his apostles found a way to provide everyone what they needed, for free. In addition to feeding, the Gospel tells us Jesus had also been healing the sick.
And the people responded: “this is the Prophet, let us make him our King!” But Jesus ran the other way, withdrawing to the hills! The next day, when the crowd found him on the other side of the lake in Capernaum, he criticized them. You follow me because I give you food, but the next day you are hungry again. Am I supposed to keep performing this miracle over and over, is that what my job as king is?
Jesus tells them to seek the food which satisfies for eternal life. He is the bread come down from heaven, and the Kingdom of his Father is very different from what the people were looking for. As a result, most of the people who wanted to make him king the day before, left him and stopped being his followers.
Our society today is very much like that crowd. Like them, people follow the political leaders who promise to take care of their hardship. Today we look to government to provide everything from foodstamps to housing and social security, free education, bailing out the economy when people have overextended their spending habits, and now a move to provide universal healthcare. Hallelujah! Government becomes the savior and provider.
This is how the people imagined the Kingdom of God to be and the kind of king they viewed Jesus to be. Today many people still make the same mistake when they think it is the government’s role to take care of everyone’s necessities. This is a serious error that has been condemned by the Church, and it is called “Socialism.” Unfortunately, it is an easy road to take.
Socialism means essentially that the government runs society by regulating and controlling and providing all services. In the more extreme form of socialism, known as Communism, the government actually owns everything: all property, all means of production, all wealth. In the moderate forms of socialism, government intervenes in everything.
For instance, when socialists run the education establishment, as they do in our nation, local citizens can’t make local decisions. If the vast majority of a school district is Christian and they vote to allow a time of prayer, it doesn’t matter, their school is regulated by the socialist system with its bureaucratic organizations. In return for handing over this control, the socialist establishment provides money, funding. That is always the hook.
The people in the Gospel were ready to hand over their allegiance to Jesus because he provided them the “goodies”: food, shelter, healthcare, welfare. But Jesus wanted no part of it, this is not the way. It is a great trap.
When the socialists talk, it sounds great at first. The fathers of socialism were people like Karl Marx and Lenin. Everyone owns everything in common, the wealth is shared and distributed justly, you don’t have the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. In some ways it even sounds like the Gospel and the early Church. We will take care of the poor, we will help single-parent households, we will provide free education, and universal healthcare. When there are hurricanes such as Katrina, we will be responsible for rebuilding everyone’s houses and cities.
Hallelujah, you can be my king! It sounds great, it even looks a lot like what Christianity teaches: take care of each other, help those in need. But what did Jesus do? He ran the other way. This attitude is not God’s way at all: the devil always tries to make evil look good, to make the wrong way look like the Gospel.
Socialism doesn’t help people, people help people. Government can’t solve all the needs of fallen human nature, only God can, working through human solidarity and charity.
Here is why socialism doesn’t work, and will only bring greater misery to the people. In the Gospel, how did the apostles get all that food for the people? It came from heaven. It was a miracle. God can do that! Now, in the case of our modern messiah the socialistic government: where does all the free food stamps and free healthcare and free housing and free education come from? Does it fall out of the sky from heaven?
No, it comes from your neighbor, but not through charity, through taxes. What happens in a socialist society is a vicious circle: increased government benefits and subsidies and bailouts and programs to help people require increased taxes. Increased taxes place greater burdens on working families and businesses. What ends up is a situation where instead of supporting its citizens and allowing them to live and take care of each other’s needs, the citizens end up having to work in order to support the government, which presumes to take care of people’s needs.
There are many negative results. The bureaucracy wastes about half the money. Right now the government provides free education. But do you know through taxes we spend more than double the amount per child in a public school than what it costs us to educate a child at our Catholic school? And we do a much better job at our Catholic school. It’s the nature of bureaucracy, it’s inefficient.
The worst negative effect of socialism is the stress it places on families. Both spouses have to work. Which means stress on the marriage and less time for children, also less ability to pay for children, so families become smaller in a socialist society. And as hear in the news, it’s not even the workers of today who are being taxed to provide all these benefits and programs. Our wonderful government this year has already taxed future workers to the tune of 1.5 trillion dollars. Not only are the upcoming workforce going to have to pay their expenses, they are going to be paying back the expenses we are incurring today.
Socialism is dangerous, it is a lie, it is a total disaster for a society. Jesus can provide bread from heaven when necessary, but socialism can’t. Socialism takes away our dignity and our responsibility. The responsibilities and duties which by nature belong to the family and parents, get taken over by government programs and institutions. Providing food; providing a roof over your families’ head; taking care of elderly grandparents; supervising the children’s education—more and more these family responsibilities are being done by government programs.
Socialism doesn’t encourage good citizenship and social virtues, it undermines them. We see that today, because socialism tries to solve all the human problems the easy way. Once the socialist government has become the provider instead of the father, along comes abortion and contraception. Instead of upholding the institution of marriage, it destroys it.
Let me give a concrete example of the difference between socialism and true Christianity. One time a young girl in my youth group became a single mother with a new baby, and she received a full-paid government scholarship to go to college. Also foodstamps. This sounds like a good social program: help that girl get on her feet and get a good job so that she and her baby won’t end up in poverty. But this is socialism: the government has become the father and provider!
In that same youth groups were some other young men and women who didn’t have babies outside of marriage, and they had to pay their own way to college, and of course it is everyone’s taxes which are funding her & the program.
Now here is the Christian approach. We agree that the young unwed mother should have a college scholarship so she can take care of her baby and not end up in poverty. But the baby’s father should pay it, not the government. Put that law in place, and watch how quickly society will become a better place, and how quickly the unwed mother problem would go away. And you won’t need abortion and contraception to accomplish it!
Socialism destroys human dignity because it destroys the natural role of the family and people’s responsibility to take care of people, beginning with their own families. Instead of serving the families by providing a solid infrastructure for people to be in charge, socialist governments put themselves in charge and put people in the role of providing for the government through their taxes. That is not what Jesus would do!
The people were going to make Jesus their king because he took care of their needs! Instead, Jesus withdrew from them. What a mistake they made. That is not the world he came to create. His way is different: it’s the understanding that there will always be hardship in this world; no amount of programs will change that. But socialism is not the answer. We walk the way of the cross: honest hard work, sacrifice and simplicity, faith and trust in God, family commitment, personal responsibility, and charity to our neighbor in need...
Thanks and a tip of the beret to Byron, and especially to Fr Mullen for this article.