Do Christians and Communists Have the Same Goals, as Pope Francis Claims?
I apologize if my columns are making The Stream seem like an angry Catholic website. But with all the madness that has been hitting the world from this Vatican, I feel like a harried zookeeper trying to clean up the monkey enclosure during a really raucous poop fight.
The latest fragrant projectile to smack us from inside the bars: The news that Pope Francis considers Christians and Marxists to be natural allies, since we share the same goals and values. The pope this week received representatives of Marxist organizations and lauded their concern for social justice. Here’s a quote from the statement the groups presented him:
Beyond religious and ideological boundaries, Christians and Marxists, as well as people of good will recognise today that they are united in their commitment to the end of armed conflicts in the world and the security of the most basic human rights, in order to guarantee social equilibrium and peace for humanity.
Vatican News reported that Francis
shared with them his pain for a world that today appears ‘divided by wars and polarizations’ and, on the other hand, his encouragement to look to the future and try to imagine a ‘better world.’
‘We Argentinians say: don’t wrinkle, don’t go backwards. And this is the invitation I extend to you too: don’t back down, don’t give up, don’t stop dreaming of a better world.’
Pope Francis didn’t stop to croon John Lennon’s “Imagine.” He didn’t need to.
Marxist ‘Christians’ and Useful Idiots
Now I’ve published at Chronicles magazine an essay arguing that the most economical explanation for Pope Francis’ statements and actions is that he’s a Marxist atheist, perhaps one who entered the seminary on the orders of his local Communist party. Let’s leave that aside, however.
Plenty of Christians who weren’t Party plants, who didn’t fall for the KGB psy-op called “Liberation Theology,” are still somehow beguiled by the prospect of an alliance with the Left. Indeed, we recently learned that the civics curriculum Russell Moore and David French have been peddling to evangelical churches was funded by … left-wing, pro-choice nonbelievers. Because those people all have the Church’s best interests at heart.
Worse still were the angry young Catholics who dubbed themselves “Tradinistas,” and tried to craft a fighting creed out of resentment against the American founding, their middle-class neighbors, and the ugly post-Eden need to earn one’s bread in the sweat of one’s brow. That movement sputtered and died, not long after The Stream commissioned a series of savage critiques which were widely circulated — and which I like to think suffocated the movement in scorn. It’s hard to play the angry young man when everyone is laughing at you.
The Seven Deadly Sins of Marxism
It’s easy enough to scoff at efforts to smoosh together Christianity and Marxism by pointing out the savage religious persecutions that curiously occur everywhere Marxists take power. Or by quoting Karl Marx’s acid contempt for religion as a drug that numbs the poor and keeps them docile. Or by noting the crushing poverty, inequality, environmental devastation, use of torture, concentration camps, and sky-high abortion rates that occurred everywhere Marxists took power.
You could also follow the biographical route, as scholar Paul Kengor did here at The Stream, noting that Marx didn’t just doubt God but actually hated him, and in his youth liked to identify with Satan.
I actually compiled for Stream readers a guide to the Seven Deadly Sins as they manifest themselves in Marxist thought and practice.
But I’m not here to prove that efforts to crossbreed Christianity and Marxism are as ludicrous as trying to mate German Shepherds with Persian cats. Instead I’d like to explore why anyone would even think of trying such a hybrid in the first place.
The New Jerusalem, Built Out of Human Bones
And that’s a little more interesting. Because you see, Marxism is in one sense a Christian heresy. An extreme heresy, as far removed from the apostolic faith as Islam or Mormonism. But like either of those two movements, Marxism could never have emerged had the Gospel never been preached. The brilliant scholar Norman Cohn documents this fact in his classic study The Pursuit of the Millennium, which everyone should read. Cohn explores how “end-times” fever would periodically grip some Christian society — often after a bout with the bubonic plague, or a really destructive war.
In such crisis situations, a demagogue would often step forward, who appealed to the desperation of his neighbors by pointing to the promised New Jerusalem that Christians believe will come in the wake of Christ’s return to earth. But instead of consoling the suffering with the prospect of eternal bliss, or even the distant idea of a new heaven and earth at the end of time, the demagogue would argue that we can build that New Jerusalem right here, right now, by our own human efforts. All it would require is fanatical devotion to him and absolute ruthlessness to opponents.
As Cohn points out, whenever such demagogues emerged, the outcome was the same: angry mobs would first attack their local pastors — who dared to insist on the real meaning of Christ’s promises. Then they’d go after the local Jews, whom they already resented and were eager to beat up and plunder. Then the mob might attack some wealthy merchants, and steal their goods. Usually around the time the demagogue had “discovered” from studying Scripture that he was entitled to practice polygamy, or perhaps that he was divine, the armies of neighboring nobles would show up and crush the rebellion.
In the wake of Luther’s first books attacking the papacy, such a wild revolutionary movement convulsed all of Germany. To his credit, he firmly opposed it, and Lutherans cooperated with Catholic bishops in defeating it.
The French Persecution
The first such wild, Utopian movement to actually gain power and keep it was the French Revolution, and it produced the worst persecution of Christians in the West since Diocletian. It was in the heady ferment of that revolution that the word “socialism” was coined, and the intellectual ancestors of Karl Marx began to offer secular, pseudo-scientific arguments for a godless New Jerusalem. As Cohn explains, Karl Marx’s Rube Goldberg system was merely the most sophisticated attempt to dress up heretical end-times fanaticism in academic tweeds.
We must remember that Marx — and like him Marxists — opposed effective reforms that would improve the lives of the needy. Such half-measures, he scoffed, would merely lull the poor into a false sense of hope and slow down the Revolution. Instead, good Marxists must sow division, encourage class hate, and everywhere sharpen the antagonism and resentments in society — the better to fan a conflagration that would at last be drenched in blood. Only after the liquidation of entire social classes and the seizure of absolute power by Marxist ideologues who scoffed at quaint Christian notions such as morality and due process would the New Jerusalem of a classless society with limitless wealth sprout up from the earth which the Marxists had scorched.
So yes, Marxism has Christian DNA, the way that tumors have the DNA of the patient whom they are killing. If Pope Francis really isn’t consciously trying to kill the church, he ought to stop dosing the Body of Christ with carcinogens.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. His upcoming book is No Second Amendment, No First.