Realizing Marx and Lenin's Dream?
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:41 AM [+]
Previously I talked about the trend I believe we are seeing in the western world whereby the secularization of society is successfully and unintentionally being accomplished to a degree that Soviet Atheism’s blatant and deliberate attempts could only dream (and lie) about. Not that outright atheism has overrun religion (though arguably significant portions of Europe’s population is largely atheist now), but rather that affluence, moral and intellectual relativity, and the “privatization” of faith has lead to a form of everyday “practical” atheism. I see this in my own life, where too often I compartmentalize my faith into realms of convenience.
Marx and Lenin believed that religion arose out of ignorance of the natural world and a need to psychologically deal with life’s many tragedies and thus science combined with technological advancement would erase the error of religion. However, Marx and Lenin – as you all no doubt know – see in history a story of great and ongoing economic clashes between the “have’s” and the “have-not’s.” The “have not’s” have thus been unable to share in the benefits of education and technology (medicine, farming advancements etc) and so, the communists reasoned, it is no wonder that religion persists even in their age of remarkable advancements. Creating a large vicious cycle, religion also became a tool of the “have’s” by which they could keep the “have not’s” focused on the future (heaven) so as not to worry so much about their present unjust sufferings. However, one should not be confused into thinking that Marx and Lenin felt this was a misuse of religion, they adamantly believed that religion itself perpetuated this problem by its very nature.
I often wonder to myself: how does one answer this criticism of religious faith? Are Marx and Lenin right? I mean, it is true that our faith teaches us that there are far worse things than poverty, right? Are we not also taught – repeatedly and rightly – of the dangers of wealth and affluence? Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be? A general leaning toward being content with what you have? Slaves obey your masters? Of course there is the flipside in that the rich are exhorted to give. We are all called to care for the poor – the widow and the orphan. And throughout our Church history we have example after example of Saints abandoning their worldly comforts (giving them away) and embracing a life of poverty (virtue to be found in poverty? Virtue in suffering?). Anyway, clearly the communists are not entirely accurate in their criticism, for while the poor are exhorted to be content, the wealthy are by no means exhorted to horde their wealth…quite the opposite really.
Sometimes I wonder what precisely was Marx and Lenin’s ultimate goal. I suppose it may be a sort of chicken or egg question, but here it goes: Is Marxism’s primary goal the abolition of human suffering, or the abolition of human religions? In other words, what really drove their political philosophy? Some of Marx’s comments betray far more than a mild distaste for religion and since they were both intimately linked in their minds (like the chicken and the egg), I’m not sure they could have conceived of an economic utopia that retained religious faith. Which then leads me to wonder if there really could be an economic utopia that not only retained religious faith, but was actually founded upon religious faith?
I’ve heard more than one person claim that the early church was a proponent of socialism. And while there is a world of difference between church leaders in a hostile environment exhorting members to share amongst one another and the establishment of a massive government system (and in a decidedly secular context as well), I did myself spend sometime seriously thinking about applying the early church’s practice to the government. Yes, I was a massive Ron Sider fan and upon my dorm room door was this little quote which I think I made up: “Socialism fails because of man’s sinfulness; Capitalism succeeds for the same reason”, and to be honest I’m rather certain I put it on my door more to irritate people than much anything else…likely a foundational reasoning for many a bumper sticker. (A tangent, I’m sure, but what is the deal with political bumper stickers? Have they ever changed ONE mind? Clearly my "FRED" sticker accomplished nothing!)
Anyway, an interesting trend has been developing amongst even some evangelical Christians in which we see more left leaning politics being espoused under the banner of Christian teaching. It has grown for some to the extent that unlike Marx and Lenin who saw nothing but the poor being told to be content in the gospels, these folks see nothing but class liberation in the gospels (the poor, the stranger – aka minorities, or whoever might be suffering). For some this further evolved into a teaching (condemned by the Catholic Church) known as “Liberation Theology.” Like Marx and Lenin did with history, these folks have done with Scripture such that the Christian gospel and Judaic history is illustrative of liberation from unjust political and social tyranny of economics, racism, colonialism, or whatever “ism” one may deem suitable. However, this is an extreme, for many it simply means taking Christ’s commands to care for the widow and orphans to the voting booth. Thus Christ still saves us from death and sin and not economic class injustice. I don't personally agree with asking the government to do that, as it involves forcing people to take care of the poor and needy and I don't see that act as being in harmony with the Gospel. Further, it puts my Christian charity into the VERY heavy hands of a secular government that upholds all the socio-political emptiness of materialism and diversity I mentioned previously. I'd prefer a more personal approach, but that's another tangent and I'm liable to step on toes and besides I am happy to respect other people's right to be wrong on this point. ;)
Anyway, I wonder what Marx and Lenin would think of Liberation Theology? We know they approved of wealth redistribution via the government and further that the government ("the people") ought to have ownership of businesses and industries, and that there ought to be fiscal equality amongst all people. They would no doubt approve of an economic-sociological class warfare reading of Scripture...but could they get past their distaste of religious faith to see the usefulness of it as a tool? To perhaps let go of their insatiable desire to enlighten the religious masses with the natural sciences, and instead embrace religion as a pro-revolutionary force?
In reading Lenin it is hard to imagine this ever happening. As with most extreme leftist movements, humanism is usually the ultimate inspiration and such philosophical underpinnings have a difficult time reconciling with a belief system that does not uphold humanity as being subject to nothing. But, just such a humanist life philosophy is in fact evolving around us today, even if it is couched within a theistic facade...as I said before: it is a sort of practical atheism and humanism, and from my perspective our government can do little else - by its nature and the current environment that determines it - than support it. This being the case, I find myself having more and more libertarian leanings. And now, working for the State has completely reinforced this. The last thing I want to see happening is for "Faith based Initiatives" to bring state sponsored Diversity and Cultural Sensitivity Training to our churches...and that's just the tip of the PC iceberg that will come home to roost if we invite it.
Here's an interesting little article about "Liberation" theology from Touchstone. It's particularly good because it compares the standard socio-political liberation beliefs with the "health and wealth" gospel and demonstrates how they both share the same basic flaw in their theology.
Anyway, I've just begun getting into the meat of the book "A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Anti-Religious Policy" and it is already driving me to numerous audible expressions of astonishment (I must drive my fellow van pool riders nuts!). This true story, within which are innumerable dramas, clearly needs to be more widely told. I expect I'll have more to share later.