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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our previous session we noted that history has proven Marx’s theory to be wrong; capitalism did not cause societies to fail and then convert to socialism. We also looked at the idea of voluntary socialism, where a group of people get together to form a socialist community, and we discovered that these also have all failed. We ended by noting that socialist countries have not done any better than voluntary communities. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to pursue this topic further today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we need a little more background about the failure of Marx’s theory in order to understand how people tried to implement socialism at the level of a country, rather than a small voluntary community. The background we need is to note that by the end of the 1800’s, which was about 50 years after the publication of Marx’s ideas, it was already evident even to one of his key disciples that the theory was wrong.

Marc Roby: Who was that disciple?

Dr. Spencer: Eduard Bernstein. To be accurate, he was more a disciple of Engels than Marx, but that is a distinction without a difference. In fact, to show how close he was it is useful to note that he was one of only four people, including Engels, who scattered Marx’s ashes at sea as Marx had specified in his will.[1]

In any event, Bernstein, who was German, was living in exile in England and what he observed happening in England in the latter half of the nineteenth century did not agree with Marx’s theory. So he began to publish a series of articles in 1896 entitled “Problems of Socialism”.[2]

Marc Roby: I’m sure that didn’t endear him to Engels or other followers of Marx.

Dr. Spencer: No, it didn’t. Bernstein pointed out that trade unions had made a large difference and had, along with other means, made capitalism more tolerable. Quoting from Joshua Muravchik’s outstanding book Heaven on Earth, “What Bernstein was suggesting was that it was possible to fight for the well-being of workers … without envisioning a new society.”[3]

Marc Roby: And that suggestion certainly made him an enemy of Engels and many other Marxists who believed in violent revolution as we noted in our last session.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. But Bernstein was reacting intelligently to the evidence he saw in England. To quote Muravchik again, “More than fifty years had passed since Marx and Engels formulated their sociological forecast that the rich would become fewer, the poor poorer and the middle classes negligible. Bernstein observed that something nearly opposite had occurred: the rich were more numerous, as were the middle classes, and the poor were better off.”[4]

Marc Roby: That is certainly an inconvenient truth for Marxists to deal with. Facts can be really annoying when they don’t agree with your theory. And capitalism has produced great progress for the poor in this country as well, even during my lifetime.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it has. Independent of the constant protestations of the progressives that our system only works for the very wealthy, the poor in this country are way better off than they were 50 years ago, and immensely better off than they were 100 or 150 years ago. The comparison is often relative to the steadily increasing standard of living, rather than to any meaningful standard of real poverty. In fact, one study performed in 2011 and based on government surveys, shows that “As a rule of thumb, poor households [as defined by the Census Bureau] tend to obtain modern conveniences [that is, things like computers, cell phones, big-screen TV’s and so on] about a dozen years after the middle class.”[5]

Marc Roby: I suspect that most people think of poor as meaning that a person has a hard time providing food, clothing, transportation, housing and health care for their family, not big-screen TV’s.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure you’re right about that. And 150 years ago it was certainly true that poor people were concerned about the bare necessities of life, not luxuries. But the way the Census Bureau defines poverty, it ignores all government subsidies and focuses purely on income, not on living conditions. And yet, in 2014 it was reported that the average poor family spent $2.40 for every $1.00 of reported income, so the subsidies are very significant[6]. As a result, the same 2011 study I noted before found that “Some 70 percent of poor households report that during the course of the past year, they were able to meet ‘all essential expenses,’ including mortgage, rent, utility bills, and important medical care.”[7]

Marc Roby: In other words, 70 percent of the supposedly poor households were not truly poor in the sense most people understand that term.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a fair statement. And if you read the report, even the other 30% are mostly not wanting for the basic necessities either.  Most of the “poor,” for example, live in reasonable dwellings that are in reasonable condition and the average “poor” family in America has considerably more living space than the average family in Europe – not the average poor family in Europe, the average family.[8]

Marc Roby: That’s eye opening.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But we must, of course, say that this is not universally true. No one is claiming that we don’t have people in this country living in terrible conditions. But that is not true of most of those who are called poor by the Census Bureau, which is, of course, the number always used by politicians and left-leaning news sources pushing when they are pushing for more social programs. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of people in our country who are poor has fluctuated between about 12% and 15% of the population since around 1970. But the number of people struggling to put food on the table is a small fraction of those, over 92% of those listed as poor said that they never had trouble getting enough food in the past year.[9] That means that just over 1% of the population, which is still too many, had at least occasional trouble putting enough food on the table. But the bottom line is that capitalism has been extremely successful in raising the standard of living for almost all Americans.

Marc Roby: And for many other people as well we might add.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true, but now I want to get back to Marx and in light of the fact that capitalism has been immensely successful in helping the poor, as noted by Bernstein and the data we just quickly reviewed, I want to look at what has happened when Marx’s ideas were implemented at the level of a country, rather than a small voluntary community.

The truth is that, because, as Bernstein noted, the problems with capitalism can be fixed without a complete change in society, the only way socialism can be implemented on a grand scale is either by agreement, or by revolution.

Marc Roby: And, of course, socialism, or at least partial socialism if I can use that phrase, has been tried voluntarily at the country level. For example, in England after world war two.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the English experiment is very important. It wasn’t full-blown socialism, but they did nationalize a number of industries and services and it was, by all accounts, a massive failure. The system was in place from 1945, when Clement Attlee became Prime Minister, until 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Thatcher said that “No theory of government was ever given a fairer test or a more prolonged experiment in a democratic country than democratic socialism received in Britain. Far from reversing the … decline of Britain … it accelerated it.”[10]

I don’t think it is worth our while to discuss the British experiment further, Muravchik discusses it in his book for those who are interested. The important thing is that it failed badly enough that the country voluntarily went back to capitalism.

Marc Roby: Alright, but there are other examples of democratic socialism that are frequently cited, most commonly Sweden.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Sweden is often cited, but there are two problems with that example. First, Sweden is not really socialist, their economy is market-based capitalism. And, I might add, has a much lower corporate tax rate, 20.6%, than we had in the United States prior to 2017 when President Trump lowered the rate from 35% to 21%.[11]

Sweden is a welfare state. They have huge taxes on everyone, including the middle class and lower income, and then they offer a wide range of generous government-funded social programs. But their taxes on middle- and lower-income people are much higher than here in the US. For example, there is a value-added tax of 25% on most products in Sweden, that’s like having a 25% national sales tax! In order to compare taxes, we must remember that gross-domestic-product, or GDP, is a measure of a countries total production. The overall tax-to-GDP ratio in Sweden is 43.9%, compared to 24.3% in the United States.[12] And the other Scandinavian countries are all similar.

Marc Roby: That’s a lot of tax. You noted two problems with using Sweden as an example, what is the other one?

Dr. Spencer: That they are demographically very different than the United States. There is a much greater degree of homogeneity in Sweden and in the other Scandinavian countries than we have.  Gert Tinggaard, a professor of political science at Denmark’s Aarhus University explained that “The Nordic welfare state works due to trust. You have to trust that people work and pay taxes when they are able to do so. The second condition is that you also have to trust the politicians. You get a bang for your buck.”[13] Now I don’t think that kind of trust exists in this country, and I don’t see it happening anytime soon. And even Sweden is having a lot of trouble with it now since they have more immigrants than before.

Therefore, this kind of welfare state simply won’t work here. Not to mention the fact that the politicians in this country who promote the Scandinavian model ignore the incredible price tag. They pretend it can be paid by just taxing the rich, which is, first, simply not possible and, secondly, I would argue, not moral either. But we’ll get to that in a later podcast.

Marc Roby: Well, I certainly agree that the trust this professor spoke of does not exist in this country. There is too much diversity and, at this point in time, too much animosity.

Dr. Spencer: And that animosity, as we will also see in a later podcast, is made dramatically worse by neo-Marxist ideologies. But let’s get back to socialist countries. For true socialism, in other words, not including the welfare state, or partial solutions like England tried, the only way to achieve it is by violent revolution.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because there will always to be a sizable number of people who are not willing to voluntarily give up all of their property to the government. And to have true socialism, the government must own everything.

Marc Roby: I certainly can’t imagine that happening here in the United States without a massive use of force.

Dr. Spencer: Nor can I. I don’t think it can happen anywhere peacefully. That is why it has been brought about by force in the countries that have tried some form of full-blown socialism. Muravchik goes through a number of examples in his book. For today, I just want to discuss the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, or often just called the Soviet Union. It was the first truly Socialist country.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, no longer exists.

Dr. Spencer: And the reason it doesn’t is that socialism was a massive failure. The history is long and sordid and we aren’t going to go through it in any detail, that would take way too long. But let’s take a quick look at it and let’s begin by looking at a man named Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin. He was born to a reasonably well-to-do Russian family in 1870. When he was 17, his beloved older brother, Alexander, was hanged for his involvement in a plot to kill the tsar.

Alexander had been strongly influenced by a novel called What is to be Done? And after his death, Lenin also read the novel and said that it “completely transformed my outlook.”[14]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a strong statement. What was this novel about?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the author of the novel had been influenced by Owen, whose utopian experiment we discussed in our session last week, and the novel presented a utopian vision. Let me quote from Muravchik, he says that “The heroes of What Is to Be Done? Were a class of ‘New Men.’ This was an unmistakable euphemism for ‘revolutionaries,’ coined, as were many code words of the time, to dodge the censor. The New Men are ‘courageous, unwavering, unyielding’ and utterly devoted to the ‘common cause.’ Their destiny is to rescue society.”[15]

Marc Roby: You can see how such a grand idea – to rescue society – might capture the imagination of a young man, especially one whose older brother had been hanged for attempting to murder the leader of the government.

Dr. Spencer: It is understandable to a degree, but I don’t want to get into speculating about motives. Let’s just say that many of the things Lenin went on to do are completely indefensible in terms of any reasonable code of moral conduct. His revolution was far different from the American revolution.  But let me get back to the story.

Marc Roby: OK. Please do.

Dr. Spencer: Lenin got involved in some insurrectionist activities and was jailed and then exiled to southern Siberia. The conditions of his exile were not harsh however, he was even allowed to live with his girlfriend, although the authorities made them get married, which they were opposed to, but they agreed so they could be together.

During his exile, Lenin became aware of the work of Bernstein and the effect it was having on some Russian socialists who were turning away from the idea of revolution and were thinking that the workers could peacefully push for better wages and conditions.[16]

Marc Roby: There goes that fickle proletariat again. As we saw with Marx last time, they simply don’t always appreciate what these revolutionaries want to do for them.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, Lenin said that “not a single Marxist has understood Marx!”[17] He was speaking about Marx’s single-minded devotion to revolution. Muravchik wrote, “For neither Lenin nor Marx was the revolution the answer to the question: what can be done for the proletariat? Rather the proletariat was the answer to the question: what can be done for the revolution?”[18]

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting observation. And it certainly tempts one to speculate about the motives of these men, and others like them.

Dr. Spencer: But we will resist that temptation and move on. This idea that the proletariat is prone to be satisfied with reforms that make their lives comfortable is a consistent theme. Lenin wrote, “The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness.”[19] Which he clearly meant in a derogatory way. Lenin went on to say, thinking of Marx and Engels, that “The theory of socialism … grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals.”[20]

Marc Roby: OK, Lenin obviously held the proletariat in utter contempt. It is hypocritical for someone who claimed to want a classless society to so obviously think that a higher class of people are needed to tell the working class what they need.

Dr. Spencer: It is hypocritical, and it is also common among Marxists. They often think they are superior to the people they claim to want to help. And they are almost never working-class people themselves.

Marc Roby: Yes, an interesting observation, but one that I have found to be true in my reading as well.

Dr. Spencer: And it’s because it is almost universally true. Marx, for example, never supported himself or his family. He mooched off of his parents and, when they stopped providing for him, he was supported by friends, mostly Engels. But, getting back to Lenin, who also never worked for a living in a normal sense, the revolution he masterminded in Russia is notable for its absolute brutality and criminality.

Marc Roby: Can you give us some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Starting around 1906 Lenin’s organization used armed robbery, sometimes including murder, to fund their operations. Stalin was good at this type of criminal activity, which is how he first came to Lenin’s attention.[21]

The second example I would give is how Lenin seized power in the first place. World War I broke out in 1914 and Lenin welcomed it because he thought, correctly as it turns out, that it would help his cause. Then during the war, in 1917, there was a revolution in Russia, which led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. This led to the creation of a provisional government, which then subsequently fell to the Bolsheviks, which was Lenin’s party, in the October revolution in 1917. There was then a period of civil war prior to the formation of the USSR in 1922.

Marc Roby: It is certainly a very messy period in Russian history.

Dr. Spencer: Messy in more ways than one. Lenin was absolutely ruthless. He killed virtually anyone who stood in his way. He self-consciously modeled his efforts after the reign of terror in the French Revolution.[22] He used force of arms to overrule election results[23] and he violently oppressed even the peasants he claimed to want to help. The ones who were at all successful and who didn’t want to voluntarily give up all of their possessions he called kulaks. They were treated mercilessly as enemies of the state both under Lenin and, later, under Stalin. They were murdered and their property taken.

Muravchick notes that “Russia’s autocracy had long been notorious in Europe for its cruelty, but no tsar had ever shed blood so freely. Then again, no tsar ever had such lofty aims. ‘How could they … act otherwise,’ asked former Yugoslav Communist leader Milovan Djilas of the Bolsheviks, ‘when they ha[d] been named by … history to establish the Kingdom of Heaven in this sinful world?’”[24]

Marc Roby: That’s incredible. In other words, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, actually believed that the end justified the means.

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And notice the end, this is nothing less than their view of heaven on earth. This was Marx’s vision as well, although he didn’t use that language. Remember from Session 163 that he thought the final state of society was communism, where each person would contribute according to his ability and consume only according to his needs.

Marc Roby: If we’re not careful in our thinking, we could imagine that this is what the Bible teaches.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but the problem is that a true state of bliss requires a change in human nature. It requires the eradication of sin. And only God can do that. In Isaiah 45:22 God tells us, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” [25] The failure of socialism is, fundamentally, that it is trying to play God. It is using the state to try and create, by force, a situation that men have decided is best. I’d rather wait for heaven.

Marc Roby: And so would I. And I very much look forward to continuing this discussion, but we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

[1] J. Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. 95

[2] Ibid, pg. 102

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pg. 106

[5] Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What Is Poverty in the United States Today?, Backgrounder 2575, The Heritage Foundation, July 18, 2011, see footnote 8 for a list of the surveys (available at: http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2011/pdf/bg2575.pdf)

[6] Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, The War on Poverty after 50 Years, Backgrounder 2955, The Heritage Foundation, September 15, 2014, (available at: http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2014/pdf/BG2955.pdf)

[7] Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox, op. cit.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 317

[11] For Sweden see https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2018/06/european-tax-sweden-country-profile.html, for the US see https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/how-does-corporate-income-tax-work

[12] See https://taxfoundation.org/bernie-sanders-scandinavian-countries-taxes/

[13] Alister Doyle and Simon Johnson, Not in my backyard? Mainstream Scandinavia warily eyes record immigration, Reuters, February 15, 2016, available at https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-nordics-insight/not-in-my-backyard-mainstream-scandinavia-warily-eyes-record-immigration-idUKKCN0VP0IX

[14] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 112

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid, pg. 108

[17] Ibid, pg. 115

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid, pg. 117

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid, pg. 129

[22] Ibid, pg. 139

[23] Ibid, pg. 137

[24] Ibid, pg. 136

[25] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our last session we noted that we have had 150 years to prove that Karl Marx’s theory of history was wrong. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to examine today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by looking at what the proper role of government is according to the Bible. That will establish a framework within which we can then look at some specific examples of the failure of Marx’s ideas.

In his book Politics According to the Bible, Wayne Grudem argues that the first and most important role of government is to safeguard human liberty.

Marc Roby: How does he support that contention?

Dr. Spencer: He writes that “The Bible consistently places a high value on individual human freedom and responsibility to choose one’s actions.”[1] For example, at the very beginning, we read in Genesis 2:16-17 that “the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’”[2] Notice that this statement shows both freedom and responsibility. God gave man the freedom to choose, but then he also gave him a prohibition and told him what the penalty would be if he violated that prohibition. Adam was a free moral agent who was accountable to God for the choice he made.

Marc Roby: In other words, while the Bible puts a high value on our freedom, that freedom is never absolute.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We are made in God’s image and make real choices, but we are creatures and so, unlike God, our freedom is not absolute.

Marc Roby: That Creator/creature distinction just keeps cropping up.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. And the fundamental failure of all Marxist ideologies is that they deny this biblical principle. They think man is absolute and not accountable to anyone.

But, returning to the proper role of government, in the famous passage about government in Romans Chapter 13 we read, in Verse 4, that the ruler, “is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” That clearly supports the idea that the government is there to serve the people, it is to do us good, which certainly includes protecting the individual rights enumerated in the Bible, including the right to own private property.

Marc Roby: And in order to do good to its subjects, the government must have the power both to defend its citizens from outside aggression and to punish those in the society who do evil.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that power is necessary because people are sinners. In Federalist Number 51, either Hamilton or Madison famously wrote that “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”[3]

Marc Roby: If men were like angels, we’d be in heaven.

Dr. Spencer: That is only true in heaven, you’re right. On the flip side, the statement in Federalist 51 went on to add that “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”[4]

Marc Roby: But, unfortunately, we don’t have angels to govern us right now.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. And so some controls are necessary as we will discuss in a later session. But now, to cite just one more verse about the main purpose of government, Grudem also uses Deuteronomy Chapter 30, where Moses was speaking to the people on the plains of Moab prior to their entering the Promised Land. For those who don’t know the context, God had delivered his people from bondage in Egypt, but had then consigned them to wandering in the desert for forty years because of their disobedience. Moses was speaking to the children of those who had died in the desert and had just finished telling them the blessings that God promised for obedience and the curses that he threatened for disobedience and he then says to them, in Deuteronomy 30:19, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live”.

Marc Roby: And again we see liberty, but liberty fenced in by responsibility. People can choose whether or not to obey God, but there are blessings and curses set before them, and their choice determines which they will receive.

Dr. Spencer: And that is a reasonable pattern for civil government to follow as well. People have a God-given right to personal liberty, but there must be laws that bring punishment if they do things that are harmful to others in the society. This isn’t the time to talk about what those laws should be, but the key point is that government’s main role is to provide a structure that protects each citizen’s liberties or rights from being infringed by others—whether by individuals or by the government itself.

Marc Roby: That sounds suspiciously like our Declaration of Independence, right after the famous line that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It goes on to say, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.[5]

Dr. Spencer: And we are very privileged to live in a country that was founded on that principle. But there have also been a number of attempts over the years at founding societies on socialist principles.

The first one I want to mention was founded by a man named Robert Owen. He was a Welsh textile manufacturer who became wealthy and decided to start a voluntary community of people who would own everything collectively. It was Owen and his supporters who came up with the name “socialism” to describe such an arrangement.[6] He founded a famous experiment, called New Harmony, on the bank of the Wabash River in Indiana in 1825.

Marc Roby: I remember from Muravchik’s book that Marx’s and Engels’ views of Owen, and others who tried similar experiments, were somewhat disparaging. They called the approaches “utopian”, and meant that in a pejorative sense.[7]

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. Even though Marx believed that communism was inevitable, he had come to the conclusion that the best way to bring it about was by violent revolution. He was afraid, for very good reason as history has shown, that the proletariat might be satisfied by just having good jobs and good lives and might not see their need for a complete revolution.

Marc Roby: That’s awfully ungrateful of those proletarians, not recognizing what wonderful things Marx wanted to do for them and being satisfied with simply achieving a comfortable life.

Dr. Spencer: Marx would certainly have thought so. In his address to the Central Committee of the Communist League in 1850, Marx argued that “the workers must counteract … the bourgeois endeavors to allay the storm, and must compel the democrats to carry out their present terrorist phrases. Their actions must be so aimed as to prevent the direct revolutionary excitement from being suppressed … instances of popular revenge against hated individuals or public buildings … must not only be tolerated but the leadership of them taken in hand.”[8]

Marc Roby: Alright, that’s downright frightening. And it sounds very much like what is going on right now in Portland, Seattle and elsewhere.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Marx and Engels were also clear about their goals in the Communist Manifesto. They wrote that “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite!”[9]

Marc Roby: That is very different from the ideas of Owen.

Dr. Spencer: Very different indeed. Owen thought that socialism would simply be so successful that it would attract people from all over the world to adopt it. But getting back to Marx and Engels, even though they had contempt for the peaceful means used by Owen and others, they acknowledged Owen’s influence. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the New Harmony experiment, it was a complete failure. Interested listeners can look in Muravchik’s book for the details. But I do want to mention three things.

First, Owen believed that no human “is responsible for his will and his own actions” because “his whole character – physical, mental, and moral – is formed independently of himself.”[10]

Marc Roby: Well, we at least have to admire him for being a consistent materialist. As we have noted before in these podcasts[11], if the physical universe is all that exists, then there is no free will. Human beings are reduced to being nothing more than sophisticated biological machines.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And because Owen thought human behavior is entirely controlled by physical nature and external circumstances, he believed that you could create a new man, perfectly suited for the socialist life, by educating him properly.

Marc Roby: It might be more accurate to say indoctrinating him properly.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But, in any event, he envisioned three five-year stages of education, beginning at birth, and he thought that the result, at age fifteen, would be “men and women of a new race, physically intellectually and morally; beings far superior to any yet known to have lived upon the earth.”[12]

Marc Roby: It’s interesting that he lists morals even though he thought we are all basically automatons.

Dr. Spencer: Well, its hard, if not impossible, to be 100% consistent as a materialist. But Muravchik makes a very important point about this, he wrote that “the idea of a new man, dimly foreseen by Babeuf but sketched sharply by Owen, became the enduring centerpiece of the socialist vision.”[13] We will see in a future podcast that education, or indoctrination, plays a large role in what is going on in this country now too.

And, much like the vision Marx and Engels sketched of all conflict somehow miraculously ending, Owen said that with this new man, “There will be no cruelty in man’s nature”[14]. In fact, he even thought that the animal world would somehow completely change in character.

Marc Roby: That’s incredible. To summarize, the first thing you wanted to note about the New Harmony experiment is essentially that Owen thought he could create a new race of people through education. What else did you want to point out?

Dr. Spencer: The second thing I want to mention is how completely hostile to God Owen was, which is what you might expect from an ardent materialist. Owen said that “There is no sacrifice … which I … would not have … willingly and joyously made to terminate the existence of religion on earth”.[15]

Marc Roby: Wow. I would say that describing that as hostile is accurate.

Dr. Spencer: And there is a connection with Marx and Engels. Engels attended the so-called “Hall of Science” in Manchester, England in 1843, which was a venue for spreading Owen’s socialist ideas that held Sunday services very much like a church.[16] Engels reported that in the meetings “frequently … Christianity is directly attacked and Christians are called ‘our enemies.’”[17]

Marc Roby: Well, one certainly couldn’t accuse them of trying to hide their hostility toward Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: No, you can’t. And Owen openly espoused a number of ideas that are fundamentally opposed to biblical Christianity. For example, speaking about the New Harmony community again, and quoting from Muravchik, “[Owen’s] critics charged him with advocating free love, and he gave them basis for the charge. Owen argued that the institution of marriage was ‘unnatural’ and ‘rendered prostitution unavoidable.’”[18]

Marc Roby: That is irreconcilably opposed to the biblical view that God created man male and female, established marriage and family in the garden, and said that marriage was for life.

Dr. Spencer: It is absolutely opposed to God’s plan and opposition to the traditional nuclear family is still part of communist beliefs. And Owen’s position went even further. Muravchik notes that “Owen’s design for ‘villages of unity and cooperation’ had been criticized for their proposal that boys and girls share common dormitories in their teen years. … Owen asserted that in the new moral world ‘celibacy, beyond the period plainly indicated for its termination by nature … will be known … to be a great crime.’”[19]

Marc Roby: It sounds like Owen would have been right at home in the 1960’s in this country.

Dr. Spencer: Well, we’ll get to the 1960’s in a later podcast, but they bear a remarkable similarity to these socialist ideas for a very good reason. But let me get to the third and final thing I want to say about New Harmony.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: Why it failed. Owen, of course, had his own view. He said that it failed because people who had not been trained as socialists lacked the proper “characteristics of forbearance and charity necessary”.[20] But that explanation really doesn’t make a lot of sense since the people who joined the experiment were self-selected, they were people who thought it was a good idea. So, I’d like to read how Owen’s son explained the failure of the experiment, he was a bit more objective.

Marc Roby: Very well. What did his son say?

Dr. Spencer: Well, his son, Robert Dale Owen, who went on to become a member of the US House of Representatives and to push through the legislation that created the Smithsonian Institution[21], wrote that the most potent factor in the failure was that “All cooperative schemes which provide equal remuneration to the skilled and industrious and the ignorant and idle, must work their own downfall, for by this unjust plan of remuneration they must of necessity eliminate the valuable members – who find their services reaped by the indigent – and retain only the improvident, unskilled, and vicious members.”[22]

Marc Roby: Ouch! That’s brutal. In other words, socialism doesn’t take into account human nature.

Dr. Spencer: True. But he was speaking particularly about voluntary communities of people. The same problem manifests itself in different ways when people do not have the freedom to quit the cooperative arrangement as we’ll see later.

We don’t have time to go into more examples of voluntary communities in any detail, but if people read Muravchik’s book, they will learn of other similar experiments both before and after Marx. The most recent, and – how shall I put this – least of a failure? Is the Kibbutz movement in Israel. In the 20th century there were hundreds of kibbutzim, but by early in the 21st century they had all voluntarily abandoned communal living. It simply doesn’t work, even with people who are passionate about trying to make it work.

Marc Roby: But, of course, most of the experiments in socialism have not been voluntary groups of individuals.

Dr. Spencer: No, unfortunately, they have not. And the history of socialism among countries is much sadder than the failure of the voluntary communities. There has not been a single solitary example of a socialist or communist nation that has been successful in providing a good standard of living and freedom for its people.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to examining that topic further next time, but we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to answer you.

 

[1] W. Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, Zondervan, 2010, pg. 91

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 43, pg. 163, also available at https://guides.loc.gov/federalist-papers/text-51-60

[4] Ibid

[5] From a transcript of the Declaration of Independence, available at https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

[6] Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. 28

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid, pg. 75

[9] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 50, pg. 434, also available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Manifesto.pdf

[10] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 33

[11] See Session 1 page 4 and Session 102 page 6

[12] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 34

[13] Ibid, pg. 35

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid, pg. 33

[16] Ibid, pg. 57, and also see https://radicalmanchester.wordpress.com/2009/10/29/the-hall-of-science/

[17] Ibid, pg. 58

[18] Ibid, pg. 45

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid, pg. 47

[21] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Dale_Owen

[22] Muravchik, op. cit., pp 48-49

Play


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are continuing our short break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our last session we started looking at Karl Marx and his ideology, which is behind a number of modern movements. We made the point that since Marx had a materialist worldview, he did not recognize that the real source of all human conflict is sin. And since his diagnosis of the problem was wrong, his cure was also wrong. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to continue that discussion today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I first want to make explicit something about Marx and his ideas that was only implicit in what we said last time.

Marc Roby: And what is that?

Dr. Spencer: That Marx was not thinking about ethics when he did his work. In other words, he didn’t start by thinking that capitalism was bad and then look for what he thought would be a more ethical alternative. Rather, he analyzed history to try and discover some law that would explain what has happened in the past and would predict what will happen in the future. And he thought he had found that law with his theory about conflict between the classes. His lifelong co-worker, benefactor and friend, Friedrich Engels, said essentially that in his eulogy at Marx’s funeral. He said, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history”.[1]

Marc Roby: That’s quite a claim – that Marx discovered the law that describes the development of human history! And did Engels say what that law is?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he did. Let me complete the sentence I quoted from before. Engels said, “Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.”[2]

Marc Roby: OK, that’s quite a mouthful. Let me try and give a simple summary. Engels said that Marx discovered that we should analyze all of human history in terms of how people satisfied their most basic physical needs; food, shelter and clothing. Only then can we understand their ideas about everything else, including religion.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good summary. But it is also important to note that he implicitly assumed that religion is something created by man, rather than being an expression of the fact that man is created by God.

Marx thought that the simple material needs were the most important thing. And we should note that that it is virtually the opposite of what Jesus Christ said.[3] We read in Matthew 6:31-33 that Christ said, “do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”[4]

Marc Roby: Yes, Marx’s theory proves Jesus’ point fairly well. Marx was a pagan, the Greek word translated as pagan here just means a non-Jew, in other words, one who rejects the true and living God. And Marx’s theory is based entirely on people running after these things.

Dr. Spencer: Marx does nicely demonstrate Christ’s teaching, although it is ironic that Marx was a Jew! Just not a practicing Jew. Because he was a materialist, he completely ignores the spiritual dimension. Christ tells us that, as Christians, we are not to be focused primarily on the things of this world, although God knows that we have physical needs. Look at the original creation. God provided for all of Adam and Eve’s needs in the garden. They had to work, but their labor was sweet and productive, not frustrating. We aren’t told about shelter, but we know they didn’t have clothing.

Marc Roby: We probably don’t need to pursue that any further.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. But my point is that the most important thing in the garden was fellowship with God and with one another. He is the Creator, we are his creatures made in his image. We have a spirit as well as a body and our physical needs are not the most important.

We now live in a fallen world. It was as a part of the curse following the fall that God told Adam, as we read in Genesis 3:17-19, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Marc Roby: That paints an accurate picture of the fallen world we live in. Our work is often times frustrating and hard and we labor for so many years and then die.

Dr. Spencer: And yet there is also grace evident in this world. God knows our basic physical needs better than any human being does; after all, he made us. And he has arranged things so that even in this fallen world, if we walk in obedience to him, our labor will produce what we need. But Jesus is telling us here that seeking God’s kingdom is of first importance.

Marc Roby: Which makes perfectly good sense given the fact that we are only on this earth for a short time, but we will spend eternity either in heaven or in hell.

Dr. Spencer: And God is in charge of all that happens during this life, so seeking him first makes sense even for this life. Although your point is the most important; what happens during our 70 or 80 years here doesn’t really matter in comparison with eternity.

In any event, Marx’s materialism caused him to ignore the most important being in reality, God, and to reject what God has told us about human nature. Paul wrote about those who suppress the truth about God. In Romans 1:21-22 we read that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools”. Marx’s thinking was futile because he was, using the Bible’s definition, a fool.

Marc Roby: And we find the Bible’s definition of a fool in Psalm 14:1, where we read that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. So Marx ignored the fact that we are all sinners and that no change in the structure of society is going to change that basic fact. We don’t need a new form of government, we need to be freed from sin. And only God can accomplish that. But we do still live in this world and so the form of government we have is a legitimate concern for Christians.

The most important thing is that Christians be free to glorify God by obeying his commands to share the gospel, to work, to give to the poor, to be honest, to worship him and so on. And so it is important for us to look at Marx’s theory. And we really don’t need to debate whether his theory is right or wrong, we have all of the evidence we need to know for sure that his theory is wrong.

Marc Roby: Now, how would you back that statement up?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Marx believed that capitalism would simply collapse in failure and that socialism and then communism were inevitable outcomes. But he published Das Kapital in 1867, so we now have over 150 years of history to look back on and evaluate whether or not he was correct. And the verdict is in, Marx was wrong. There has not been a single instance of the historical progression that Marx predicted occurring anywhere on earth. We don’t really want to take time to go through all of the reasons why he was wrong, but I’ll mention one because it is so important in some of the discussions going on today.

Marc Roby: What reason is that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Marx essentially assumed a fixed amount of wealth. He assumed that if the bourgeoisie, that is the owners of the factories and so on, get richer, it must be that the workers get poorer. But that is simply false. New and better products and services lead to an increase in the overall wealth in the world. In fact, the worldwide gross domestic product, or GDP, which is a measure of total production, is estimated to have been abut $183 billion at the time of Christ. It increased to about $643 billion by the year 1700, which is a 251% increase over that 1700-year span. The industrial revolution increased the rate of growth so that by 1870 the GDP was $1.92 trillion, or $1,920 billion, which is almost a 200% increase in just 170 years. In 2015 the GDP was $108 trillion, which is more than a 5,500% increase in the last 145 years.[5]

Marc Roby: That’s astonishing.

Dr. Spencer: It is astonishing, and the biggest reason for the massive increase in capital over the last roughly 150 years is, as Ben Shapiro notes, “the enshrinement of individual rights, and the advent of protection for private property – the roots of capitalism”.[6]

So it is entirely possible for both the workers and the owners of industry to see their wealth increase. It isn’t like you and me sharing a pie by dividing it into two pieces. In that case, the only way for my piece to get larger is for your piece to get smaller, or vice versa. But that isn’t what is going on in terms of wealth. It is not a zero-sum situation. And capitalism has arguably increased the wealth of more people far more than any other development in human history.

Marc Roby: And yet we certainly hear a lot these days about the 1% and the 99%.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. And we may return to that topic in more detail in a later session, it is an example of what might be called a neo-Marxist ideology and is a very destructive one. But for now just consider the following simple illustration. Suppose I own a corporation that is initially worth a million dollars, and you are one of my employees and make $50,000 a year.

Marc Roby: Why can’t I be the owner?

Dr. Spencer: Because I’m telling the story. But now suppose that the corporation does exceptionally well so that a year later it is worth five million dollars and, as a result, I am able to double your salary to $100,000 a year.

There are two very different ways you could look at this. First, you could say it is completely unfair since my wealth increased by 4 million dollars, while your salary only increased by $50,000. But, on the other hand, you could notice, quite correctly, that we are both better off than we were before. And, presumably, so are a number of other people who are your co-workers.

Marc Roby: I see your point. The increased wealth of the company helped both the owner and the workers.

Dr. Spencer: And it must have helped a whole bunch of other people too, the consumers. The products or services the company provided must have been something that others found useful or they wouldn’t have purchased them, and therefore, their lives were improved as well.

But, as I said, we’ll talk about this more later, for now I want to look at the idea of socialism. Marx is the name most people think of if you mention socialism, but the idea is not original to him. It actually came out of the French revolution in the late 1700’s.

Marc Roby: And, as many people know, the French revolution and the American revolution were linked. The French were certainly impressed by the success of the Americans in throwing off a repressive monarch.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. Both revolutions were strongly influenced by enlightenment ideas, especially the ideas of natural rights and equality. Our Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on July 4, 1776, famously said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”[7] And the French revolution had The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was produced in 1789 by the National Assembly of France.[8]

Marc Roby: Which was, coincidentally, the year that our Bill of Rights was approved by Congress.

Dr. Spencer: That is an interesting historical coincidence. But getting back to socialism, Joshua Muravchik noted in his excellent book about socialism called Heaven on Earth, that it was in the dying days of the French revolution that a man named François-Noël Babeuf argued that there was a contradiction in the revolution’s agenda.[9] The last of the so-called “sacred rights of men and of citizens” in The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen stated that “The right to property being inviolable and sacred, no one ought to be deprived of it, except in cases of evident public necessity, legally ascertained, and on condition of a previous just indemnity.”[10]

Marc Roby: That sounds reasonable, and in line with ideas held by the founders of our country as well. Property rights are sacred and government can’t take away my property except for real necessities and it must then compensate me for the property taken.

Dr. Spencer: That idea is also biblical. The eighth commandment, which we read in Exodus 20:15, says that “You shall not steal.” This obviously assumes that other people have private property which is theirs and we are not to take it. We could read verse after verse for hours where the Bible explicitly and implicitly affirms the right to private property.

Marc Roby: I know that people have sometimes claimed that Jesus’ followers lived as communists. They will often cite Acts 2:44-45 where we read about the young church in Jerusalem and are told that “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”

Dr. Spencer: I’ve seen that argument as well, and it is simply and obviously wrong. The verse itself says they were selling their possessions and goods and then gave to those in need. In other words, it assumes the possessions and goods were owned by the individuals who then made free decisions to sell them and then made free decisions to give to others in need.

Even the case of Ananias and Sapphira, which is sometimes brought up in this context, clearly validates the right to private property.

Marc Roby: We should probably briefly relate the story for those who may not remember it. In Acts Chapter 5 we are told that Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and then brought most, but not all, of the money and gave it to the apostles. Peter rebuked them for lying about the amount they had received and God put them to death.

Dr. Spencer: This passage again clearly validates the right to private property as I said. We read in Acts 5:2-4 that “With his wife’s full knowledge [Ananias] kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’”

It is important to notice that Peter rebuked him for lying, not for keeping part of the money. It is clear that Ananias and Sapphira were hypocrites who wanted people to think they were more generous than they were. In the rebuke Peter clearly states the right to private property. He asked two rhetorical questions, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”

Marc Roby: And the answers to both questions are obviously yes; the property was theirs and so was the money they received from the sale. And they were free to do with it as they pleased. So, as you noted, Peter does affirm the right to private property.

Dr. Spencer: The Bible frequently admonishes us to be generous, to care for the poor, for widows and for orphans, in other words, for anyone in real need. But there is a huge difference between my voluntarily giving some of my personal property to someone else and the notion that property is owned collectively.

Marc Roby: I would say the difference between those two views is an unbridgeable chasm.

Dr. Spencer: I would agree. But getting back to the contradiction that Babeuf noticed in the goals of the French revolution, as that revolution proceeded through its terrible course, the Constitution of 1793 added the guarantee of equality. Near the end it declared that “The constitution guarantees to all Frenchmen equality, liberty, security, property”[11] and the list went on. I didn’t read the whole list because what is important for our purposes is that it listed both a guarantee of equality and property.

And, as Babeuf noted, property rights are in contradiction with the notion of equality, at least if that notion refers to equality of outcomes, rather than equality of opportunity. He said, correctly I think, that the equality of outcomes can only be achieved by the abolition of personal property rights.[12] In other words, the government has to control absolutely everything in order to then dole everything out equally to everyone.

Marc Roby: OK, I can see the logic there. But I really don’t like the idea at all, and that is not at all what is meant by the statement that all men are created equal in our Declaration of Independence.

Dr. Spencer: No, that isn’t what the founding fathers of our country meant. It is clear from the historical record that they intended that to refer to equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, which is why it says we are created equal. And it is also referring to our in inherent dignity, honor and rights, not our abilities. It would be patently absurd to claim that all people are created with equal ability. In any event, Babeuf is absolutely correct that if you want to guarantee equal outcomes, the government must own everything. In other words, individual property rights must be abolished.

Marc Roby: And that’s not something most people will support.

Dr. Spencer: Not when it is put that bluntly, no. Although you can get people to support things that move very much in that direction as we will discuss later. Just to provide our listeners with a little food for thought to tease them, let me suggest that a progressive tax system, where people who make more money pay higher taxes, is a move in that direction. But let’s get back to socialism for now.

Marx and Engels were familiar with Babeuf. Muravchik wrote that “in their first collaborative work, The Holy Family, the young Marx and Engels paid this bow to the Equals:”[13], and I must explain that “the Equals” refers to the Conspiracy of Equals of which Babeuf was a part. In any event, the “bow” that Muravchik mentions, is that Marx and Engels wrote the following, “The revolutionary movement which began in 1789 … and which with Babeuf’s conspiracy was temporarily defeated, gave rise to the communist idea”[14].

Marc Roby: So Marx and Engels viewed Babeuf as the beginning of the idea of communism.

Dr. Spencer: That seems clear. They also made a passing reference to him in the Communist Manifesto.[15] There is a great deal more that could be said about the history of this pernicious idea. I highly recommend Muravchik’s book Heaven on Earth, I think all Americans could benefit from reading it.

Marc Roby: I can second that recommendation. It does a great job of chronicling the failures of socialism.

Dr. Spencer:  And that gets us back to what I said earlier. We have had over 150 years of history since Marx wrote Das Kapital and that history shows clearly that socialism is a failure. Not only was Marx wrong in his theory about the development of history – remember that he thought socialism and communism would be the inevitable result of a collapse of capitalism – but he was also wrong in thinking that socialism or communism would be good. There have been many attempts at implementing these ideas and they have all failed miserably.

Marc Roby: And many of them put a heavy emphasis on the misery! Muravchik wrote that “Regimes calling themselves socialist have murdered more than one hundred million people since 1917.”[16] And with that, I think we have already gone overtime for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

[1] See Friedrich Engels’ Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx, available at  https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/death/burial.htm

[2] Ibid

[3] This was pointed out by Bill Flax in an opinion piece published in Forbes magazine: “Do Marxism And Christianity Have Anything In Common?”, May 12, 2011, https://www.forbes.com/sites/billflax/2011/05/12/do-marxism-and-christianity-have-anything-in-common/#708a95d36877

[4] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[5] Data from Our World in Data, https://ourworldindata.org/economic-growth

[6] Ben Shapiro, How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps, Broadside Book, 2020, pg. xxvi

[7] Declaration of Independence: A Transcript, available at https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

[8] E.g. see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution

[9] Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. 4

[10] The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, available at http://constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/declaration_of_the_rights_of_man_1789.pdf

[11] Available at https://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/1793-french-republic-constitution-of-1793 and also noted on Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Constitution_of_1793

[12] Muravchik, op. cit.

[13] Ibid, pg. 25

[14] Ibid

[15] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 50, pg. 432

[16] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 359

Play


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are continuing our short break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our last session we argued that the Bible provides a Christian with his purpose, place and priorities for living. We ended by saying that Christians must use the Bible as their standard even in the public sphere. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to continue that discussion today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I first want to remind our listeners of the verses we cited in part last time. In Matthew 5:13-16, as part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”[1]

Marc Roby: And modern readers need to understand that in addition to being used as a seasoning, salt was the primary means of preserving meat at that time since they didn’t have refrigeration. Therefore, by calling Christians the “salt of the earth”, Jesus was referring to their influence on the culture.

Dr. Spencer: And when he speaks about salt losing its saltiness, he was speaking about salt losing its ability to act as a preservative. Some salty mineral deposits, like those along the Dead Sea, contain a number of minerals in addition to sodium chloride, which is table salt. These salty deposits can lose their usefulness if the sodium chloride is leeched out of them by the rain for example. In other words, they can lose their saltiness.

I would contend that when a Christian accepts the unbiblical notion that his faith is a private matter and therefore refuses to self-consciously use a biblical standard when arguing in public, he has lost his saltiness.

Marc Roby: Now Jesus also used the metaphor of a light. Without light we can’t see the path we are taking.

Dr. Spencer: And, again, I would say that a Christian who fails to self-consciously reason and act biblically in the public sphere is failing to provide light to this dark world. The world is on the broad road to destruction and Christians are to shine the light of the gospel on the narrow path that leads to heaven.

Marc Roby: Which obviously requires that Christians be active in the public sphere.

Dr. Spencer: That is true. And being active isn’t enough, we must be active in bringing a biblical worldview to bear on the issues that confront us. According to the organization My Faith Votes, there are about 25 million professing Christians in the United States who don’t vote in presidential elections.[2]

Marc Roby: That’s an astounding number.

Dr. Spencer: It is astounding. And it is a number that could have a significant impact on who wins the next election. In his excellent book Politics According to the Bible, Wayne Grudem makes the point that many people, even professing Christians, accept the wrong notion that the separation of church and state in this country somehow argues against using biblical values to make public decisions. He wrote that “Using religious reasons to support a secular law is not establishing a religion.”[3]

Marc Roby: And, of course, that phrase “establishing a religion” alludes to the first amendment to the United States Constitution, which says, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.[4]

Dr. Spencer: That is what the phrase refers to, yes. It is interesting to note, however, that there were established churches in some of the states at the time this amendment was ratified. But I am getting off topic. The point is that Christians in this country have every right to use biblical reasoning and arguments in the public sphere and, in fact, I would say that they have an obligation as Christians to do so.

Marc Roby: Paul did say, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, that we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Dr. Spencer: And that certainly includes our thinking about issues being dealt with in the public sphere.

Grudem goes through a number of Old and New Testament examples and then draws a conclusion based on them. He wrote, “Therefore all citizens who are old enough to vote have a responsibility before God to know what God expects of civil government and what kind of moral and legal standards he wants government to follow.”[5] And he goes on to add, “I believe that every Christians citizen who lives in a democracy has at the very least a minimal obligation to be well-informed and to vote for candidates and policies that are most consistent with biblical principles.”[6]

Marc Roby: It is interesting that he says everyone has a responsibility before God, not just a responsibility as a citizen.

Dr. Spencer: And I think he is completely right in saying so. And the theologian John Frame agrees with him as well. He wrote that “Christians have an obligation to vote according to God’s standards. And, as they are gifted and called, they should influence others to vote in the same way.”[7]

Marc Roby: I like the fact that Frame includes our obligation to influence others.

Dr. Spencer: So do I. We are called to be salt and light as we have already noted. Another good reason for pushing for laws that are consistent with the Bible is that we certainly don’t want Christians to be put in the position of disobeying the civil government in order to obey God, which implies that we should influence the civil government to the best of our ability so that the laws which are enacted support biblical standards of conduct.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is certainly an issue in the medical field, in which I worked for many years. There are constant efforts to force doctors, for instance, to approve of abortion and sex-change operations, even though these procedures clearly contradict Christian principles.

Dr. Spencer: It is becoming increasingly important in many areas of life. There are many people who do not simply want to be allowed to do things others find objectionable, they want to force others to approve and participate in these activities as well.

Marc Roby: That is, unfortunately, true.

Dr. Spencer: We are also told in the great commission, in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Now, it isn’t just those who come to believe in Christ that we are to teach to obey Christ. God will hold everyone accountable on the Day of Judgment, so it would cruel of us to not tell people what God’s standards are. They may reject those standards, but we should push for them because they are what is right and good and all people will be judged by them in the end. Grudem wrote that “Believers have a responsibility to bear witness to the moral standards of the Bible by which God will hold all people accountable, including those people in public office.”[8]

Marc Roby: That makes sense, although unbelievers will certainly never agree.

Dr. Spencer: No, they won’t. But that shouldn’t stop us from proclaiming the truth. In addition, we have to ask ourselves a serious question; do we really believe that God will continue to bless a nation that despises and ridicules him and openly flaunts his laws?

Marc Roby: No, I think all Christians would have to admit that the Bible is full of examples showing that God will not bless such a nation.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And we can therefore draw a reasonable conclusion. In order to do what is best for our nation, we must do everything in our power to prevent it from opposing God and his moral standards. That is the best thing we can do for our fellow citizens, whether they are Christian or not.

In Session 145 I pointed out that as Christians we should be asking ourselves whether or not the corona virus is, at least in part, God’s judgment on our nation. It is certainly not outside of his sovereign control. And I pointed out that there are good reasons for God judging our nation. For example, I noted that abortion is the leading cause of death in this country and I also noted the existence of gay pride days and gay pride month, where people openly take pride in repudiating the biblical view of sex and marriage.

Marc Roby: And there certainly can be no doubt that God is angry with such things.

Dr. Spencer: I think that Christians need to realize that those who oppose God’s standard are not at all reticent to try and force their view on us through laws and other means. We are in a war whether we like it or not. If we think that we can simply retreat into our churches and not engage with the society at large, or if we let people intimidate us into silence by saying that biblical reasoning is invalid for public debate, then we will be in serious danger of losing the freedom we have to worship God and to share the gospel as we are commanded to do.

Marc Roby: We already see that happening in many ways. The state-mandated sex-education curriculum in California, for example, is absolutely contradictory to biblical standards in many ways.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And some of the people pushing for that program are open about the fact that they view this as an opportunity to indoctrinate our children into their anti-Christian worldview. This is a clear violation of God’s purpose for government.

Civil governments exist for the good of the people. In Romans 13:4 Paul tells us that any secular ruler is “God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” This verse tells us, in a nutshell, the purpose of the state. The Westminster Confession of Faith gives a good summary of the purpose of the state.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree. Let me read from Chapter 23, Paragraph 1 of the Confession; we read “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.”[9]

Dr. Spencer: That statement makes three important points. First, all earthly rulers are under God, whether they acknowledge that fact or not. Second, they are to rule for the public good. And third, they are given the power of the sword, which means both the power to wage war when necessary to protect their citizens and power to punish criminals.

In the third paragraph of that chapter the Confession also makes the point that the civil government has a duty to protect the church so that its officials and members may practice their religion without interference.

Marc Roby: So, to put it all in a nutshell, governments are necessary to provide order in society, which is necessary for the church to carry out its mission of evangelizing society.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And Christians have a clear obligation to do what they can to make government run properly. In a democracy like ours, that certainly means arguing for and voting for measures and people who support Christian positions.

Marc Roby: I must point out that in my experience, we often don’t have any option that is truly Christian.

Dr. Spencer: Well, you are, without a doubt, right about that. In that case I would say that you still have an obligation to vote, even though it may mean holding your nose and choosing the lesser evil. Not voting is simply giving up your right to provide any balance or influence at all.

And we can’t be naïve. Many candidates for public office in this country, if not most of them, in my life have claimed to be Christian. But most of them clearly were not born again. The real issue is not what the person claims, but what the person does. So, for example, if someone claims to be a Christian but supports abortion rights, and another candidate does not claim to be a Christian but says abortion is wrong, you should clearly support the second candidate.

Marc Roby: Although it is obviously over-simplifying things to mention just one issue.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although we should prioritize issues in our minds and abortion would have to come out very near the top because it is such a clear violation of biblical law and because the consequences are so serious.

Marc Roby: Very well, do you have anything else to say about the proper role of Christians with regard to government?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. I think R.C. Sproul made a few interesting points in his discussion of the Westminster Confession of Faith on this topic. He wrote that “The simplest, most basic definition [of government] is this; government is legal force. Governments are agencies that have the power and the legal right to coerce people to obey their dictates.”[10]

Marc Roby: I suspect a number of listeners will be disturbed at that statement, especially in our modern time of speaking about defunding the police and so on.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it will sound objectionable to many, which is part of why I quote it. It should provoke us to think the issue through carefully. If governments were not given the power of the sword by God, what purpose would they serve?

Marc Roby: Well, they could still build roads and other infrastructure, but it does seem that they would have an impossible time regulating commerce or providing any other kind of function that might provoke conflict.

Dr. Spencer: And even if you think about building roads and so forth. How could they do that without collecting taxes? And who would decide where the roads or bridges or whatever should be built? Or what laws would govern the use of the roads? The more you think about it the more you realize that people are not going to agree on these things and there has to be some way of making decisions that are enforceable.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point.

Dr. Spencer: And so, Sproul goes on to write that “Every law that is passed restricts somebody’s freedom and exposes people to the violence of law enforcement if they fail to submit to that law. Governments must have legal force. If they don’t, they are no more than advisory committees. … Government is necessary because of evil. Augustine said that civil government is a necessary evil made necessary because of evil.”

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting statement by Augustine.

Dr. Spencer: And I think it is accurate. The only perfect government is God’s government. He has chosen to have us live for a time in this world corrupted by sin, but there will come a time when there are only two groups of people; those who have been perfected and live in perfect peace and harmony in God’s heaven, which will be filled with joy beyond description, and those who live in hell, which will be miserable beyond description. In the meantime, God’s people are called to represent him to the best of our abilities in the countries in which he has placed us.

Marc Roby: That sounds like we are done with this topic and ready to move on to consider particular social problems facing our world.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think we are.

Marc Roby: Very well, I look forward to starting that next week. For now, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we’ll do our best to answer.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] See https://www.myfaithvotes.org/

[3] W. Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, Zondervan, 2010, pg. 33

[4] See https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript

[5] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 62

[6] Ibid, pg. 74

[7] J. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, P&R Publishing Company, 2008, pg. 617

[8] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 59

[9] Taken from R.C. Sproul, Truths we Confess; A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, P&R Publishing, 2007, Vol. 3, pg. 1 (with ‘hath’ changed to ‘has’)

[10] Ibid, pg. 7

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