Mikhail Gorbachev once said, “Christ was the first socialist.” While that notion is sure to raise the hackles of America’s conservative Christian (a.k.a. Republican) community, there’s a lot of truth to it.
Led by their false-prophet, President Bush, Christian conservatives denounce and decry such socialist concepts as Social Security, welfare, and universal health care. To them, any social welfare program is un-American and anathema to the national ideals of democracy and self- reliance. While it may or may not be true that programs like Social Security are un-American (whatever that means), such programs are certainly Christian, in the most basic and Biblical sense.
One of the essential teachings of Christ was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Indeed, this commandment was second only to loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Indeed, the notion of loving your neighbor as yourself was of such importance to Christ that he instructed his disciples to sell their possessions and to give to the poor, their neighbors. Those who did not relinquish all of their possessions could not be Christ’s disciple.
Considering Christ as he was before his crucifixion, his command that his disciples cast off their worldly possessions makes perfect sense. The Christ who invited all to join him, who taught all to love their neighbors as themselves, who died for the sins of mankind, was the abased Christ, disheveled and wretched. He was a pariah, rejected by society, homeless and wandering the streets. He kept company with whores and lepers. Despite how he might be portrayed in modern Christendom, Christ was not in his glory when he wandered among men. He was as low as a man could get. That was the point.
Nevertheless, despite the abasement of Christ at the time of his teachings, conservative American Christians hold in utmost contempt those who wander the streets, lacking adequate food and shelter, unable to get the medical care they need. To America’s Christian conservatives, such pariahs choose to be homeless and poor. According to the self-righteous, those who require welfare or food stamps or Social Security simply lack the desire to live any other way. If only they were more responsible and self-reliant, perhaps if they read a few more lovely fables by Horatio Alger, these wretched leeches wouldn’t steal our hard-earned money.
It would seem that America’s Christians who oppose all things socialized have forgotten yet another of Christ’s fundamental teachings. A variant on love your neighbor as yourself, Christ commanded his disciples to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and care for the sick. Christ warned that whatever they failed to do for one of the least of humanity, they failed to do for him, resulting in everlasting punishment. And yet, Christian conservatives rarely display any real compassion for the poor, hungry, or sick. Certainly not if it means a slightly diminished pay check.
Antagonism toward all things socialized is rooted in selfishness. This is mine. I worked for it. Why should I have to share any of it with you? Avarice and self-absorption as character traits are bad enough on their own. When such traits are found in those who profess to be Christian, it is, quite frankly, sinful. Indeed, according to Christ, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Nonetheless, Christian conservatives abhor the very idea of any amount of their money being taken for the benefit of the less-fortunate. Need more thanks? More missiles? Not a problem. Want to feed the hungry or treat the sick? Forget it.
In fact, there are few things less Christian than the institution of capitalism. A fancy way of saying greed, capitalism is nothing more than the accumulation of wealth. Accumulating wealth is both the means and the ends of capitalism. Darwinist in its ruthlessness, capitalism has no room for those less able, less fortunate … less rich. Unbridled greed may be fine if you’re, say, Ken Lay or Bernie Ebbers. But if you’re a self-declared evangelical Christian? Not so much.
Gorbachev was on to something when he described Christ as the first socialist. Unfortunately, most so-called Christians in America have rejected some of Christ’s most essential teachings and are hell-bent on dismantling the programs and institutions that in many ways achieve what Christ commanded. How un-Christ-like.