DAVID PANNELL: Without Christian roots, capitalism and socialism would fail



Here’s a question: Which is better – socialism or free enterprise? Which seems more sensible? That the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned and regulated by the community as a whole, or that a society of free agents should compete for them?

Before I go any further, and before you report me to the authorities as a socialist sympathizer, let me say for the record I am not a socialist, nor am I trying to persuade you to become one.

Like most Americans, I would naturally say free enterprise is better. I personally prefer, on grounds both practical and ideological, the idea of free individuals having control over their own lives.

Yet I think it’s a question that deserves a fresh and fair hearing in the times we live in, from a Christian perspective.

A strong case could be made for free enterprise by pointing out that socialism tends to take away personal initiative and responsibility. Or one could simply point out the obvious historical failures of socialism. Some who have lived long enough to remember the deprivations of socialists regimes of the last century would answer, without hesitation, that for all its problems, free enterprise is better, both ideologically and practically.

Others, looking at the more recent prosperity and well-being of people living in Northern Europe, especially Scandinavia, would say with equal fervor that socialism is better.

They would correctly point out that in a competitive system like free enterprise, there will be winners and losers. Some will have more than they need and others will not have enough.

To be fair, it could be said by many measures, the quality of life for the average person in those countries is better than in a society built on a model of competition.

We Americans rightly argue the free enterprise system is rooted in a Judeo/Christian work ethic based on personal responsibility.

People living in Scandinavian countries with socialist governments would rightly argue their form of government is rooted in the Christian ideals of compassion, sharing, and mutual care.

If both free enterprise and socialism have roots that can be traced, at least in part, to Christianity, then who’s right?

You could only say it would depend on your definition of a good society, and good and reasonable people would disagree on that definition.

I’ve made my peace with the question, and my imperfect answer is I’m a Christian who believes in free enterprise.

But as a Christian, I am troubled by the ever-widening chasm between modern free enterprise and its Judeo/Christian underpinnings. Without its Christian tradition to guide it and place compassionate limits on it, free enterprise will descend into savagery.

As a person of faith, steeped in the tradition of both personal responsibility and care for the weak, I see merits for both systems.

As an observer of modern culture, I shudder to think of the world we will bequeath to the future. Both socialism and capitalism, severed from their ethical taproots in Christianity, will be disastrous.

Neither, I fear, will bear much similarity to the ideal of the good society formed in the wake of Jesus’ exemplary life and described in the book of Acts: local, joyful, organic sharing; intentional simplicity of heart and life; and at its core, a nobler vision of communal life, driven not by fear of scarcity or desire for control, but by love itself, which, in the midst of our frantic striving, I fear we have forgotten to even want.

David Pannell describes himself as a recovering farmer and a retired preacher.

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  • zeusboredom

    I think you are right to point out the tension between a greed-based system like Capitalism and Christianity. Basic concepts of charity and mercy that are built into our churches and government, are increasingly found less in business.

    It might be better for us to find the same balance in society that Christians have in their personal life. Some things require a Capitalist approach where responsibility for self is the priority; other things require a Socialist approach where responsibility for others is the priority. Certainly our churches, as are our police and fire departments, are more Socialist than we have been comfortable to admit. You rightly point out that without a moral foundation, any system will fail.

  • DWarren

    The dumbed down ignorant culture promoted by Atheist antichristian secular Progressives presupposes spiritual redemption apart from repentance and regeneration apart from righteousness. When one begins with the fallacy of amoral relativistic autonomous humans and each assuming falsely and irrationally that he or she is his or her own “god,” one can hardly expect to ever arrive at an objective standard of morality, civility, or social interaction conducive to a civil and well-ordered society; much less a reasoned value judgment about economic systems or anything else for that matter. The biblical schema for caring for the needy begins with personal responsibility, continues to the family unit, moves on to the larger kinship clan, then the local church, and finally looks to the government last of all. Atheist antichristian secular Progressives decry personal responsibility as mean-spirited, seek to obliterate the nuclear family unit of one man and one woman with their biological or adopted offspring as bigoted and homophobic, banish the church from society in the name of separation of church and state by which they really mean the exclusion of biblical Christianity from the public square in favor of a purely and thoroughly
    nonreligious, if not altogether antireligious state, and demand that the central government become an all powerful nanny state arbiter redistributing income to achieve the ignis fatuus of delusional artificially constructed collectivist egalitarianism.
    In the collectivist new world order, socialist presuppositions supersede reasoned thought, subjective self-identification exceeds and becomes an accepted facsimile for reality, idealism is substituted for practicality, intent trumps actual measurable results–either positive or negative, morality is reduced to individual preference, victimhood becomes the prime prevailing virtue, criminality is blamed on the victims of crimes, spirituality is restricted only to idolatrous self-worship, unfettered license assumes the place of principled liberty, and the public weal is defined solely and exclusively by the degree of the triumph of collective centralization.
    The Progressive Movement is the modern day Tower of Babel, human society founded, constructed, operating, and attempting to perpetuate itself apart from individual, family, or societal accountability to God. Progressives persist in the delusional myth and abject lunacy that it is possible to renounce and thus to evade responsibility to self, to family, to society, and to God. The result has been, is, and will always be the same: a debilitating diversity of incoherence that instead of being the basis for utopian unity, becomes nothing more than another monument to the perversity of fallen depraved failing humans and their godless institutions.

    • TWBDB

      Another ‘attack mode’ tome written by the man who thinks himself above rebuke.


    I believe we are far too quick to categorize others, other countries, modes of governing, various religions into mutually exclusive factions; this isn’t reality. Compare a list of countries who most employ capitalism successfully with countries which also employ socialist programs. Countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, France, and yes people, the USA fall into both categories. The list is longer of course. We have incorrectly intertwined the term socialism with communism in our own political language. This is a way of controlling our thoughts and we should reject it soundly. This is a way of leading us to believe that social programs are at heart anti-Christian, and then in turn anti-American. Indeed, if we are to follow what some, or one rather, here in our DJ community would have us believe there is only one way to think about everything, including Christianity – – which if I understand communism correctly fits that definition pretty well.

  • räv

    “the idea of free individuals having control over their own lives.”

    Unfortunately, that is fundamentally opposed to the basis of virtually all religion, which inherently tells other people (that are not of that particular religion) what they should or should not do.