Friday, 15 June 2012

Being A Christian Socialist

Christian Socialist Philosophy

Nowadays, when I examine my current beliefs and opinions, I would say that it is possible to consider myself as a Christian Socialist. Two "big" words here, each easily evoking a set of cliches and stereotypes - Christian and Socialist. In order to avoid any confusion, I have decided to explain what each word means to me. I will also explain how my beliefs are weaved together into a Christian Socialist philosophy that guides my life.

Being A Christian

First and foremost, I would like to make it clear that even though there are numerous groups that call themselves Christian, I tend to prefer the Roman Catholic shade of Christianity. This is mainly because of my observation that even though there are several dogmatic Catholics, this group is far more open to scientific analysis and discussion than many other Christian organisations. Just to mention one example, there are relatively few Catholics nowadays who interpret most of the Bible on a literal basis. 

What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century? What do we mean by religion? Does religion still play an important role in our lives? Many people associate religion with superstition and with extreme behaviour. I view it differently. To me, religion is a way of life. It consists of a set of principles that are there to guide my actions.

When it comes to Christianity, countless individuals get bogged down in long - and sometimes heated - discussions regarding the possibility or impossibility of believing in events that allegedly occurred many centuries ago. To be honest, whether a particular battle mentioned in the Bible really occurred or not does not make much of a difference to me.

The historical Jesus together with his main teachings should, in my eyes, be the central focus of Christianity.  Granted, the fact that virtually everything we know about him comes from material that was written by other people at different points in time can give rise to various debates about the authenticity of certain events. Brushing aside the squabbling about whether this or that "miracle" truly occurred, it is still possible to identify a number of principles or beliefs that could be considered as Christian. If followed as guides to human action, those principles could have very tangible consequences. 

Having gone through the writings of several prominent Christians, I believe that it is possible to list the following beliefs as among the most important when it comes to calling oneself a Christian:

  • The importance of forgiveness and love for one's enemies
  • Helping all other human beings - regardless of their backgrounds and past deeds - to be the best they could be, physically and psychologically
  • The wish to build a better world whereby the best standard of living can be enjoyed by all human beings simply because they deserve to live so; a world where happiness is not dependent on money
  • A strong desire to avoid perceiving death as the end of our lives

Many people take a negative view of Christianity as a result of a priest's or even a pope's words or actions. When compared to the main objectives of being Christian, the words and deeds of fallible human beings who are largely conditioned by the societies they live in do not play a pivotal role in my choice of embracing the Christian philosophy.

Does being a Christian mean that one must base one's life entirely on faith and ignore science? Absolutely not! In order to help all other human beings to be the best they can be on both a physical as well as a psychological level, it is virtually impossible to do this without the help of science. It is scientific thinking and activity which helps us to obtain a better understanding of ourselves and of the world we live in. Such knowledge can go a long way to helping us continue improving our lives and the lives of millions of other individuals. Equating religion with superstition or with unscientific attitudes represents a very narrow way of looking at such a complex topic.

In view of the above, being a Christian has little to do with spending hours clapping hands and acting in what sometimes appears to be a quasi-hysterical way. Being a Christian is mainly about action. It is largely about doing things to improve oneself and to improve the lives of all other human beings.

Being A Socialist

What about Socialism? Why am I saying "Socialist" and not "Communist"? How does being a Socialist fit with being a Christian?

To me, Socialism is a way of translating one's Christian beliefs into action on a community or even national level. Just to give an example, if I am struggling and filing petitions to have more health centres opened around the country, this action is being motivated by my desire to see people living a better life.

Genuine Socialism is characterised by a strong feeling of love. It embraces scientific thinking and analysis to bring about great advances for the people.

Similar to religious organisations, political parties are made up of fallible human beings. Mistakes are often made. People are hurt in various ways. Having said this, I believe that one should not automatically link an organisation's objectives or beliefs with every word and action of each one of its members. A mistake is a mistake. Needless to say, it is extremely important to learn from the errors of the past to avoid their repetition. Yet, in an imperfect world, drawing conclusions about the goals of an organisation based on the errors of its members is a totally fruitless way of thinking.

The 20th Century witnessed countless errors made by individuals who described themselves as Socialist or Communist. Indeed, the latter word still evokes a great deal of scepticism and fear among many people.

Furthermore, numerous Communist organisations have done almost irreparable damage to themselves by either failing to appeal to the masses or by getting involved in protracted bickering with a number of other Communist groups. 

The errors committed by numerous Communist individuals and groups as well as the dogmatism that is frequently associated with such organisations have led to a massive wave of distrust by millions of people in many countries around the world. Indeed, brushing aside those nations such as Cuba whereby Communist parties managed to retain a key role in the lives of the local populations, the hard-line Communist organisations in several other places have become relatively marginal and largely ineffective. Even if a Communist party in a particular country has, say, ten thousand members, that number pales when compared to the millions supporting the more popular parties.     

Even though I often described myself as a Communist in the past, I now prefer to call myself a Christian Socialist. This does not mean that I am opposed to numerous beliefs that are commonly described as Communist. I just believe that the current times require a different approach to politics. 

Guided by the Christian Socialist philosophy, I believe that it is possible to look at every country in the world and ask oneself: what type and degree of Socialism has been achieved in that country? I believe that - throughout history - countries have managed to achieve varying types and degrees of Socialism. No matter how much two or more countries tried to share certain values and practices in the past, no two nations ever shared an identical type and degree of Socialism.

In my view, the more Socialist a country becomes, the closer it gets to becoming Communist. More specifically, a country can only be called Communist when it has become completely Socialist. Is this a goal that could be achieved any time soon? Depending on the country being analysed, this would tend to be a difficult question to answer. At the moment, there are definitely countries that are more Socialist than others (i.e., some countries are closer to Communism than others).

What would define a Communist society? I believe that the latter would be characterised by a community whereby there is no more war or suffering inflicted by one person or group of people on other human beings. In a 100% Socialist or Communist society, all human beings would be able to enjoy the best standard of living without relying on money to do so. Power would be distributed fairly within a community so that there would be no elite groups dominating less powerful people. A Communist society is characterised by the highest degrees of love and friendship among all human beings. Of course, this could sound like highly utopian talk. I am aware of that. Yet, there is absolutely nothing to lose by working to build a better world for all human beings.