I was reading Merton on the beach yesterday - "New Seeds Of Contemplation" - and came across this passage that summarizes what I hold to be the authentic Christian teaching on wealth, and government:
A man cannot be a perfect Christian - that is, a saint - unless he is also a communist. That means that he must either give up all right to possess anything at all, or else only use what he himself needs, of the goods that belong to him, and administer the rest for other men and for the poor: and in his determination of what he needs he must be governed to a great extent by the gravity of the needs of others. ...
If Christians had lived up to the Church's teaching about property and poverty there would never have been any occasion for the spurious communism of the Marxists and all the rest - whose communism starts out by denying other men the right to own property.
The italics are in the original. And this is why the cooptation of Christianity for various forms of socialism and redistributionism - Obama's tendency - is worrying to me. Because it isn't about encouraging charity; it is about the enforcement of "charity" by the strong hand of the state. And in so far as it forcibly takes people's property from them, it also diminishes their capacity for real charity.
Now, saints are very rare.
And the kind of voluntary communism of which Merton speaks likely only in monasteries and religious orders. In the world as it is, there should be some mandatory public provision for the poor, the sick and the indigent. But it should be a safety-net to avoid specific social evils, not a system of redistribution to construct some notion of "social justice" (see Chapter 6 in "The Conservative Soul"). In the end, the social Gospel can make Christianity less, rather than more, likely. The state cannot experience faith; and it cannot express charity. Only individuals can. One by one.
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