Communism has attracted a number of people in Hollywood, from Dalton Trumbo and Burgess Meredith to modern-day communist sympathizers like Sean Penn and Matthew Modine. While they would not support the oppressive actions of Communist regimes, they do like the utopian dreams of Communist theorists. Of course, to get to the fictional OZ, there are a lot of flying monkeys you must destroy. So far, Communism has killed quite a few of them, around 100 million.
“I think that you could define [Jesus] as a Utopian communist, where people would work together to solve our problems,” Matthew Modine told The Christian Post.
I’m all for working together to solve our problems. But that’s not Communism. Communism is forcing people to work for the goals of the State, and the State is a bunch of elites who claim they know what’s best for all of us. In the end, it’s these leaders who get the utopian spoils while the masses suffer.
Modine offers this simplistic reading of the Gospel accounts:
According to the Bible, Jesus and his followers chose to own nothing, and shared their belongings. There were no needy people among them. Those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales, put it at the Apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. By this definition, Jesus and his followers were communists.
The key word is “chose.” Being able to choose is not Communism. In fact, Jesus’ disciples did not take a vow of poverty. Peter still owned a home in Capernaum (Matt. 8:14–17; Mark 1:29–31; Luke 4:38), and when he thought Jesus’ death ended it all, he returned to his family’s fishing business (John 21:1–14). Paul made his living as a tentmaker (Acts 18:1–3). Unlike Communists who covet what others have, Paul worked with his own hands and used some of what he earned to help others (20:33–35). This can’t be done in a Communist system (Phil. 4:14–16). The list of attempts at failed Communist systems is a long one. See Gary North’s Puritan Economic Experiments.
Modine jumps outside the gospels and tries to make his case by an appeal to the actions of the early followers of Jesus in the book of Acts (2:44–45 and 4:32–37). R. J. Rushdoony puts the events in their proper historical context:
The “communism” of the early church, in Acts, was not economic in any sense, and should not be considered as an economic experiment. The church took seriously our Lord’s prophecy concerning the coming fall of Jerusalem (Matthew 24). They knew that they were living in a doomed city and country. The logical step of faith was to make liquid their assets for ready flight. Some who made liquid their assets dedicated their funds in part or whole to the church, for the evangelization of Judea before its destruction [Luke 21:20–24].
The relief money collected by Paul was not collected because an economic experiment had failed at Jerusalem and Judea. Men there continued in their vocations, simply living in rented properties, since their assets had been made liquid. The problem was a severe drought which had struck the entire area [Acts 11:28], creating a serious economic crisis and extreme shortages of food [Rom. 15:25–26; 1 Cor. 16:1–3]. This is a matter of historical record. Outside help was needed by virtually all in Judea, and the Christians were no exceptions. Thus, “communism” had nothing to do with it, and did not exist in the early church. Because the Christians were prepared for ready flight by our Lord’s words, and by reason of having divested themselves of properties, none lost their lives in the fateful war with Rome, A.D. 66–70.1
There would not have been the ability to help their fellow Christians who were suffering from the effects of famine (Acts 11:28) if Communism was operating since there wouldn’t have been any money to give. There wouldn’t have been any property to make available to those in need. Once all property is confiscated, there is nothing left to build on. Communism kills the golden goose to get the golden eggs, but only once.
There was no government intervention, no command to sell everything, no directive for the people to give up all their possessions. In fact, Peter makes it clear that at every point in the sale of the property by the early Jerusalem Christian converts it was theirs to do with as they decided. This is made clear in the Ananias and Sapphira story: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? (Acts 5:4).
God did not command these early Christians to sell all their possessions in the name of communal living and wealth redistribution. There is no directive in the rest of the book of Acts or the epistles for such a program. If there had been, Christianity would have died out before the century had concluded.
No one is stopping Modine from selling all his possessions and living the communal life. Will it happen? Don’t bet on it. He’s like the early John Lennon who imagined “no possessions” and left an estate of around $200 million.
Modine says that his short film isn’t really about Communism but cooperation. The only way people can cooperate is if they’re free. People don’t cooperate in communist countries. The free market is the biggest cooperative in the world. Billions of equal trades — I’ll give you this for that — are made every day. There’s no coercion. If you don’t want something, you don’t have to buy it. If you don’t like one price, you can shop around for a better price.
It’s only when governments get involved that cooperation is lost. People are forced to comply with rules and regulations that separate real consumers from actual sellers. Consider mortgages. The government got involved in the name of “fairness” (communism) and insured loans that a cooperative free market would not have made. The result? The most financially vulnerable consumers were hurt.
Now we find politicians guaranteeing income. Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark, NJ:
“The problems we have belong to all of us, not just a few of us, so the solutions must be collective and not individual,” Baraka said.
“We believe in universal basic income, especially in a time where studies have shown that families that have a crisis of just $400 in a month may experience a setback that may be difficult, even impossible, to recover from.” (New York Post)
When something is subsidized, you get more of it. This collectivist approach will only make more people more dependent. The cycle of poverty will continue. The people who will be forced to fund a guaranteed income will choose to move elsewhere. Newark’s problems aren’t all about money. “Conservatives quickly derided the idea as a potential big-government boondoggle, pointing out that a Scandinavian country, Finland, quickly abandoned its basic income experiment.”
- From a personal letter written by R. J. Rushdoony to John R. Richardson: Christian Economics: The Christian Message to the Market Place (Houston: St. Thomas Press, 1966), 60. [↩]