Obama, Socialism, and Christianity
Lately there has been quite a stir on the Internet, and even a bit on the national news media as well, regarding accusations that President Obama is trying to advance a radical political and economic agenda fueled by what used to be called, many years ago, “the social gospel”.
Perhaps there is some truth
to this, inasmuch as in his days as a community organizer in
Of course, there are some
Christians, particularly in the
However, the history of Christianity down through the ages reveals that this has seldom been the understanding of the majority of believers. Just the opposite. From the end of the age of persecution (when Constantine became emperor in 312) right on down through the Middle Ages and Reformation times, the Christian ideal has generally been that while civil society, although distinct in its own right as “the City of Man,” nevertheless should reflect “the City of God” – which latter phrase was the title of the most-read book (written by St. Augustine towards the end of the fourth century) in Christendom next to the Holy Bible. It was only after Christian unity broke down into warring factions in the Sixteenth century that the idea of a secular, religiously neutral state gained popular support, largely in hope that in this way, after a century of war, peace could finally be restored to society.
Today, as heirs of this long
history, we tend to be suspicious of religious attempts to reform society along
religious ideals. In the
As for accusation of Obama having a “socialist agenda,” it might be instructive to recall that C. S. Lewis, a convert to Christianity whose writings are much esteemed by American evangelical Christians in particular, once wrote, when asked what a truly Christian society might look like, admitted that it might look a lot like “socialism.” Or perhaps it also should be remembered that when Pope Leo XIII came out, in 1891, with the first of a long line of papal encyclicals on the subject of Catholic social teachings, he was denounced as having become a “Communist” by a few outraged European industrialists – a reaction very similar to more recent wealthy South American right-wing critics of “liberation theology.”
None of this is to say that the Catholic Church or the modern Protestant “social gospel” advocates are pushing for a full-blown top-down government-run economic system. But what they are saying is that governments should have a role in making sure that theirs is a just society where basic human needs, like food and shelter, health care, a just “living wage” for work, and basic education are available to all. Not only that: they are also saying that in a world where the poor are lacking much of this and have been, in the process, getting even poorer, Christians, if they truly wish to save their souls, must assume the responsibility of correcting this situation.