'As proved by the budget, the basic idea is simple enough: they divide society into those who think they can cope with globalisation and those who cannot, and then shower the former with praise and modest enticements – while clobbering the latter in the service of political popularity. Better to be a striver than a benefit claimant. Better, too, to play your part in what David Cameron calls the global race – manifested in George Osborne's beloved infrastructure projects – than to admit its impossibility. For all its awfulness, I understand that version of what lies ahead; indeed, I can almost feel it.'
John Harris, writing in, of all media, The Guardian, argues that the Tories own the future (of the United Kingdom) and the social democrats, let alone the socialists of the Labour Party are trapped in the past. The Tories make up 'they' in the above quote. This is no propaganda piece for the Tory right. But witheringly he asks of their counterparts on the left,
'What Marx and Engels would call the mode of production has long since changed. But have enough people on the left actually noticed?'
A challenge for Christians thinking through the politics of Jesus in 2014 is to work out these politics according to the situation of today. That puts a lot of weight on 'the situation of today'! Harris makes an excellent point that 'today' is not the burgeoning industrialised world of Mark and Engels in the mid nineteenth century. Arguably the only virtue of communism in Soviet Russia and in Mao's China (the two most notable communist experiments of the 20th century) was that they caught up two largely agrarian societies with the mid nineteenth century. If that is a virtue given the ongoing effects of industrialization on our world such as pollution and waste.
Some reference to 'the Left' and to communism is called for when working out the politics of Jesus for today because the core vision of Jesus' politics is remarkably in tune with communism's vision for sharing control of the material things of life and for the outcome of class warfare in which there is only one class of equal people.
Our guide here is Luke, theologian of the poor, when he sets out the life of the earliest days of the church in Acts 2:44-45:
'All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.'
Prior to this Luke has told the story of Jesus preaching the good news of the kingdom of God (i.e. the Gospel according to Luke). That story in Luke's hands has introduced us to a Samaritan caring for a Jew, to Zacchaeus returning his stolen money to the community he has defrauded, to women treated as equals of men, and to the impossibility of the rich entering the kingdom of God. How does that work out in practice, Luke? Like this, Luke says: 'All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.'
Whether or not we go on to say 'but' or 'except' in respect of people earning a living (e.g. Paul making tents during his missionary travels) or continuing to own large houses in the service of churches meeting in them (e.g. Romans 16) or the lack of action in abolishing slavery through direct change (see Philemon for, arguably, changing slavery by indirect action), we should not as Christians engaged in politics, seeking to be faithful to the politics of Jesus himself, let go of the communist core of these politics.
Every time we gather as church, inviting all baptised believers to gather together around the table of the Lord as one body of Christ, we honour the vision of a classless kingdom of the baptised.
What we may not be so good at doing these days is working out the implications of sharing communion together for community life between 11 am Sunday morning and 10 am the following Sunday morning!
POSTSCRIPT: It might be going too far to say that Jesus was a homeless bum at the bottom of society through no choice of his own, as a recent doctoral thesis presented here argues. In this news report of it, I am very pleased to find that the new Dean of Tikanga Pakeha students at St John's College is a person of sensible, orthodox theological views!