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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Is The Church Using Socialism As A Ploy To Hide A Phantom Menace?

If we travel in the Way-Back-Machine to Germany after the Nazi Party first gained governmental power, we will find some possible parallels to what is happening today. Both the Protestant and Roman churches viewed Marxism as an enemy. In fact, it was seen as such an enemy that the Nazis used its opposition to Bolshevism-Communism as a drawing card to get the churches to cooperate. One of the reasons why Pope Pius XI approved of the Concordat of 1933 with the Nazi government was because the Nazis were sworn enemies of the Bolsheviks. And the Bolsheviks were not only atheistic, they were militantly so.

Why would the Bolsheviks, the party that Lenin led, be against God? Perhaps it was because of some observations Lenin made of the Chrisitan churches back then (click here for source):
Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weighs down heavily upon the masses of the people, over burdened by their perpetual work for others, by want and isolation. Impotence of the exploited classes in their struggle against the exploiters just as inevitably gives rise to the belief in a better life after death as impotence of the savage in his battle with nature gives rise to belief in gods, devils, miracles, and the like. Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward. But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven. Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze,   in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man.

We should note here that even before the October, 1917 Russian Revolution, some religions, Christianity in particular, opposed Socialism. Its antagonism to Socialism was led by the clergy and may have been more motivated by class concerns than by religious ones. Around the same time that Lenin wrote the above, Luxemburg painted a different relationship that Socialism wanted to have with the Church (click here for the source): 
It is with extraordinary vigour that the clergy fight against the socialists and try by all means to belittle them in the eyes of the workers. The believers who go to church on Sundays and festivals are compelled, more and more often, to listen to a violent political speech, a real indictment of Socialism, instead of hearing a sermon and obtaining religious consolation there. Instead of comforting the people, who are full of cares and wearied by their hard lives, who go to church with faith in Christianity, the priests fulminate against the workers who are on strike, and against the opponents of the government; further, they exhort them to bear poverty and oppression with humility and patience...

The workers can easily satisfy themselves that the struggle of the clergy against the Social-Democrats is in no way provoked by the latter. The Social-Democrats have placed themselves the objective of drawing together and organizing the workers in the struggle against capital, that is to say, against the exploiters who squeeze them down to the last drop of blood, and in the struggle against the Czarist government, which holds the people to ransom. But never do the Social-Democrats drive the workers to fight against clergy, or try to interfere with religious beliefs; not at all! The Social-Democrats, those of the whole world and of our own country, regard conscience and personal opinions as being sacred. Every man may hold what faith and what opinions seem likely to him to ensure happiness. No one has the right to persecute or to attack the particular religious opinion of others. That is what the socialists think.
  
BTW, it is important to contrast Luxemburg's words with Lenin's actions and attitudes against the Church when discussing Socialism and religion. Why? It isn't because Luxembourg called Lenin's rule over Russia a bourgeois dictatorship (click here). It is because it shows that not all Socialists are alike.

Now for the German churches, a not so funny thing happened on the Nazi acquisition of absolute power. What the churches there fell prey to was not the Communism of the Bolsheviks, as horrible as that was, but the nationalism of the Nazis. The Nazi view of German nationalism was used to try to force both Protestant and Roman churches into making doctrinal changes that went against the Scriptures.

Now let's return to today. Simply because Bernie Sanders has called himself a Socialist and because many young people are flocking to be his supporters, many religiously conservative American Christian leaders are repeating the actions that were practiced during the Nazis' reign of terror. As the conservative church leaders are attacking Socialism, their automatic acceptance of Capitalism is moving them to make believe things that go against the Scriptures.

In attacking Socialism, perhaps the most egregious attempt to define Socialism was written in the Federalist website (click here). Though the Federalist website is not a Christian website, its article on Socialism was cited by R. Scott Clark's Heidelblog (click here). Why the article from the Federalist website is so horrible is because it paints Socialism as a monolith. That means that despite Luxemburg's description of Lenin's reign as a bourgeois dictatorship rather than a proletariat one, the Federalist article would imply that Luxemburg and Lenin were the same in their views and actions because they were both socialists. BTW, just as a side note, the proletariat dictatorship was called that not because it consisted of an dictatorship, it was actually a partial democracy; but it was because the bourgeoisie were totally excluded from having any say so in a real Socialist government. The Federalist article also asks us to believe that all past Socialist attempts are no different from what was practiced in Russia, China, and so on.

Therefore, the "Socialism" advocated by Bernie Sanders will, according to the Federalist logic, only turn out to produce the same results that the Russian Revolution did. Why do they believe this? It is because the examples of Socialism they took in their study excluded the Paris Commune and the Spanish Revolution. There are also smaller examples when there exists workplace democracy. In addition, the logic the Federalist used to make such a claim forgot to consider how existing political-social factors that preceded Socialism which might have contributed to the dictatorships that occurred in Russia, China, North Korea, and alike as they turned to Socialism. Whether it was the Tsarist rule in Russia, the attempt to change China from being ruled over by  Warlords or Chiang Kai-shek's attempt to establish his own centralized government, or how North Korea was ruled over by Japan prior to its creation after WW II, Socialist revolutions emerged out of tyranies. 

In addition, what will always remain unknown is whether Socialist regimes that were the result of the democratic choice of the people would turn into Communist dictatorships. That is because the US intervened to overthrow and replace left-leaning democracies with tyrants. Such occurred in Iran ('53), Guatemala ('54), Greece ('67), and Chile ('73). What is also not mentioned is that some Socialist governments that did not turn into a Communist dictatorship emerged from Western supported dictatorships such as in Nicaragua. Nicaragua's Socialist Sandinistas were put out of office by a democratic process. But something else should be mentioned here. The US pressured Nicaragua into changing governments by sponsoring terrorist attacks against the people of Nicaragua by the Contras.

What about other examples of Christian writing against Socialism? David Koyzis associates it with Hitler and Stalin (click here), Piper associates it with coercion and theft (click here), Matt Kibbe calls it a dictatorship (click here), and Larry Schweikart said it bred dependence and a lack of responsibility (click here). What they failed to mention besides the Paris Commune and the Spanish Revolutions was that Socialism's alternative, Capitalism and its "Free Market," was built up on exploitation on which the movie series Hunger Games illustrated with is stories about the Capitol and the Districts.

And now we are getting into the last part of the analogy between the churches during the beginning of Nazi Germany and today's religiously conservative American churches. As Nazi Germany's government eventually forced the German churches to compromise their doctrines in order to accommodate the Nazi conception of German Nationalism and blood, so America's religiously conservative churches today are being asked to compromise Biblical concerns for social justice so they can identify Capitalism as a Biblical approach to economics. And this is done by focusing people's attention on our national wealth to the extent that they won't see the means of that wealth and the welfare of all of our economy's stakeholders.

As for our economic achievements, we might ask whether we were different from past empires. Take the British Empire for example. A significant part of its economic growth was due to empire itself and how it could exploit the riches and natural resources of other nations for its own benefit? How did we grow so strong economically? Didn't much of our initial growth result from the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans from the land and the enslaving of Blacks with the practice of slavery before the Civil War and Jim Crow afterwards? Didn't we see a large scale exploitation of labor and a violent history in the attempt by some to suppress unions? Today, doesn't the offshoring of jobs mean that much of our consumer economy is built on the use of sweatshop labor overseas and the use of government assistance programs to subsidize the corporations that are paying full-time worker poverty wages? Or how about our growing wealth disparity that exists not just in the US, but some other Capitalist nations? And what about how our economic system and way of life is destroying the environment?

See, it isn't that Socialism is perfect or that it can produce a utopia. Some socialists believe that, but others don't. It is that one of the major problems the religiously conservative American Church has is that it talks about Socialism as a monolith in order to misinform them. For like Capitalism, Socialism has multiple forms. In fact, contrary to conservative opinion, there is a form of Socialism that doesn't even believe in the existence of the State or central government. That form of Socialism is called Libertarian Socialism. Thus, not all forms of Socialism are the same.

Right now, despite Sanders' popularity, Socialism is not doing well in this country. Why? Because first, what Sanders calls Socialism, Socialists call FDR's New Deal economics. In other words, he is not promoting Socialism so his success is no reflection on the popularity of Socialism. Second, our values run counter to Socialism. For we've always been enamored with elites and their exceptional wealth and what the consolidation of that wealth can do. Thus, we are prone to live vicariously through their success. But as we do that, we become less aware of the suffering others. Martin Luther King Jr. attributed our lack of awareness to our society being a 'thing-oriented society' rather than a 'person-oriented society' (click here for an example of King explaining these concepts). For as long as we are a thing-oriented society where we live vicariously through the success of others, we will not have the values that would lead us to wanting to try Socialism.

But the above is not Socialism's biggest problem. American Socialism's biggest problem today is the same as the largest problem faced by many, if not all of, America's political movements including Democrats, Republicans, and Tea Party people. That problem is found in the way they promote their beliefs. Their beliefs are promoted in ways that put each group in a position of trying to win a king-of-the-hill battle. Instead of looking at how they can share power with others, they are looking for approaches that would allow them to dominate the rest, to win at king-of-the-hill. And for as long as we speak about learning to overcome the other groups, we will only be preaching to the choir while remaining ignorant of how to reach out to others. And this illustrates how history's examples of Socialism really contain a mixture of Socialism and what was that country's political-social-economic context before Socialism came into being or power. 

Take Lenin for example, historian Oliver Figes attributes some of Lenin's approaches such as to his own life and revolution, to Russian literature, not Marxism. In fact, the works of Chernyshevsky served as an inspiration to both Lenin and other Russian revolutionaries and may have inspired Marx himself.1

The point here being that much of the conservative Christian criticisms of Socialism, especially that which talks of Socialism as a monolith with its worst forms serving as the template for all Socialism, are really examples of opportunism, using a highly selective use of facts, and being overly simplistic. This indicates that many of the religiously conservative Christian criticisms of  Socialism are designed discredit Socialism rather than to inform people about it.

It's not that Socialism is beyond criticism, it certainly isn't even if one was to pick the most pure form of Socialism possible. It is that as the German churches were tempted and even gave into the idea of supporting the Nazi government because its opposition to Socialism only to fall prey to the Nazi's emphasis on nationalism, so many religiously conservative American Christians are supporting Capitalism because it too opposes Socialism while they are unaware of the compromises supporting Capitalism may require. The remaining question is: Is the Church being deceived or is it deceiving others about Socialism? The answer to that question can only be answered by determining whether the Church is serving power and wealth, as it has before.

References

  1. A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 by Orlando Figes, Penguin Books, pg 130-131




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