My family was in England for the summer while I taught a law course at Cambridge University, and one afternoon my son and I happened upon an interesting program on the radio. It was a radio “play” featuring a self-confident young woman and Kenneth Lay, the now-deceased president of Enron who masterminded the company’s fraudulent rise to the top and was ultimately convicted on ten counts of securities fraud and related charges. He suffered a heart attack and died before being sentenced, so the judge vacated the conviction.
Lay’s death and escape from justice must have irritated the producers of the radio play, because there was no other reason for putting him at the center of the story. He was depicted as a nice guy but a buffoon; the segment we heard began with his talking about doing time in prison, paying his debt to society, and relying on his faith in Jesus to rebuild his life. He also spoke of encouraging other people to thrive by taking part in the free market and putting their faith in Jesus.
The young woman, in a fully scripted dialogue, then essentially cross-examined Lay. (What lawyer would not love a scripted cross examination?) She asked which market was right, “the one that made you a billionaire or the one that landed you in prison?” She also asked degrading questions about his faith in Jesus. When Lay tried to provide answers to these and other value-laden questions, the woman snidely rejected his arguments. He was a fool who trusted markets and Jesus. She was an enlightened socialist.
The program’s bias was clearly anti-free market; it had probably been produced by the Socialist Party, which is much more active here than in the United States. I had never heard anything quite like this in the United States: While the attack on the free market didn’t surprise me, linking that position with an attack on Christianity did.
If a socialist movement in the United States wanted to launch a campaign against free markets, I would imagine the leaders would approach it indirectly, instead of making the kind of frontal assault I heard on British radio. I am certain, however, that they would know enough not to link their political movement with an attack on Christianity.
America is still Christian enough that an insult to Jesus (or to those who put their faith in Him) is a hindrance to political movements. Unfortunately, that may no longer be the case in some nations, including Great Britain — at least, that’s what the producers of this radio program thought.
Communism and socialism are, at their root, fundamentally anti-Christian. As Pope Pius XI said in his 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno: “No one can at the same time be a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist.” Some years ago, our former parish priest assigned our parish Social Concerns Committee the responsibility of reading the social-justice encyclicals. Our resident religious sister at the time (she has since retired) was fairly open about her socialist leanings. When I brought Pius’s teaching to her attention, she was deeply troubled. She asked me why the pope would have said that.
I didn’t have a good answer at the time, sad to say, but I have thought about it a good deal since then. Perhaps the first clue should be that wherever communism or socialism has taken over, it has mercilessly persecuted Christianity. (As a person of Polish heritage, I always say that, to me, communism means, “kill the Polack.”) Again, however, that leads to the question, “Why?”
These political philosophies are premised upon the state being the ultimate good or ultimate end. Despite claims to the contrary, these doctrines do not ask individuals to share. They insist — at the point of a gun, if necessary — that the individual submit to the state. The ultimate aim is creation of a bureaucracy that treats people as parts of a collective group, not as individuals.
Christianity makes people, not the state, the center of concern. Faith and tradition call upon Christians to be charitable, but ultimately they are left to their own free will. That great gift of free will, which lets men and women decide, is fundamental to Christianity and inconsistent with the uniformity demanded of a truly socialist state. People with free will do not easily submit to enslavement by the state; thus, communist and socialist governments cannot tolerate true Christianity.
Free markets and faith in Jesus may not provide the answer to every social problem, but they give us a much better opportunity for a just society than does the central planning that comes with socialistic programs. The first commandment tells us not to put others ahead of God. Socialism demands that we do so.