Socialist Greed, Christian Poverty

In Dostoyevsky’s novel about Russian radicalism (The Devils) the retired author Verkhovensky observes: “Why is it, I have noticed… that all these desperate socialists and communists are, at the same time, also such incredible misers, such acquisitive fellows, such believers in private property, and indeed, the bigger the socialist, the more extreme he is, the stronger is his feeling for private ownership – why is it?”

Jesus said to the rich young man: “If thou hast a mind to be perfect, go home and sell all that belongs to thee; give it to the poor…” (Mt. 19:21). Christianity has always encouraged voluntary poverty where appropriate, but the main emphasis is on spiritual humility – being “poor in spirit.” Material self-denial is only a means to that end.

Comparing socialism with Christianity, I am much more impressed by the story of Charles V (1500-1558), the ruler of half of Europe who abdicated as emperor and retired to a Spanish monastery, than so many progressive celebrities, whose philanthropy never seems to impinge on their wealth or power. An even more telling example is that of St. Francis of Assisi, who followed Christ’s injunction to the letter. I am not up to that standard by a long shot, but at least St. Francis practiced what he preached. He did so at his expense, not others. He did it without boasting, and genuinely helped a lot of people along the way.

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