The socialist gospel

Daily Reading for October 8 • William Dwight Porter Bliss, Priest, 1926, and Richard Theodore Ely, Economist, 1943

Every true disciple of Jesus Christ gives an affirmative to the question which Cain raised only in denial: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Socialism, as Christians view it, is only a consistent carrying out of this principle as far as necessary, viz., that each man is his brother’s keeper. We say, only as far as necessary. This guards individuality, while it maintains co-operation and reciprocity. This principle is already acted on to a large extent by the co-operation of free men in maintaining government for the protection of individual rights against invasion by force or fraud. It is carried still further by the concerted action of the community for the common benefit, in maintaining schools, asylums, libraries, works, aqueducts, sanitation, the post-office, etc. Socialism is simply aiming at consistency and thoroughness in this line of action.

It is singular above all things to find Christian people so often using socialism as a term of reproach, very much as democracy was used a century ago. Some, reputed to be wise, even class it among the foes of Christianity. . . . There are socialists and socialists. There may be found socialists who answer to the bogie held up as representing all. Socialist schemes are advocated by some who are simply enemies of mankind. So nitrogen is a constituent both of nitric acid and of beef-tea. People who are influenced by names are often as silly-wise as the girl who, after reading of a terrible explosion of nitro-glycerine, very carefully emptied her glycerine bottle into the gutter as a timely precaution.

When, therefore, a preacher, or a church-member, as now and then, cries out against socialism, it is always charitable and generally correct to say that he is ignorantly giving away the good-will of his business. He means only to oppose the atheism, or the immorality, or the revolutionary folly, that has sometimes taken to itself that good name, which is really the original trade-mark of Christianity. No man is fit to be a Christian teacher who does not know that Christianity was originally and is essential socialistic. . . . Christianity was at first a social and humanitarian movement, in a time much resembling ours in respect to the extremes of wealth and poverty, burdensome monopolies, oppressive taxation, and inordinate luxury. In the society of his disciples Jesus laid down two socialistic principles as fundamentals, viz., (1) Scrupulous care for the “little ones which believe in me,”—the weak, who are likeliest to go under in the struggle for existence. (2) The proportioning of burdens to ability, — “he that is greatest shall be servant of all.” This we respect in times of peril, when the strongest are selected for the battle-field because they are strong; but it is repudiated in peace under our system of taxation, which experts declare puts the heaviest burden on those least able to bear it.

From “Why Christians Should Be Socialists” by William Dwight Porter Bliss, in The Dawn, Vol. II, No. 1 (May 1890).

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