Five Reasons Why Some Christians End Up as Leftists
A few weeks ago I laid out five reasons why many Christians today turn up their nose at their natural allies on the Right in culture and politics, and retreat from their civic duty to engage the culture and fight for a just, free social order. Now I’d like to dig deeper, and explore why some believers go even further off the rails and end up on the Left.
“Right” and “Left” as used here follow the scheme laid out by political philosopher and anti-Nazi exile Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddihn. For him, the Right is the political tendency that emphasizes liberty, diversity, and personal autonomy — even at the price of inequality, hierarchy, and slow governmental action. It is the worldview of the hero, and of his inverse image, the solipsist. Kuenhelt-Leddihn views the Left as the groping toward interchangeable sameness, conformity, and a centralized, powerful state — which can steamroll over the human differences that goad people into envy and intolerance. It’s the creed of the sheep in search of the comforting warmth of the herd.
Kuenhelt-Leddihn admits that it’s possible to err too far to the Right. The anarchist, the loner, or the crank who rejects community, has followed one instinct too far. Christianity itself promises us salvation not as isolated souls but as part of a church. We grow and develop virtues in the community of the family, and we owe our native land the duty of patriotism. But within those capacious structures, we are meant to develop freely, to develop and nurture the God-given uniqueness that is vouchsafed to each of us infused with an immortal soul.
And that the Left cannot allow. For the ultimate expression of the Leftist rage for sameness, you could turn to the pages of history, and study how “mass movements” of nationalists, socialists, or National Socialists destroyed traditional society, invaded the sphere of the family, and ruthlessly homogenized society from top to bottom in service of the Collective. The best evocation in literature is Kurt Vonnegut’s classic short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” in which athletes must wear heavy weights, and beautiful people masks, in service of the grim, false god of Equality.
Now that our terms are clear, let’s see the key reasons why some Christians are tempted by the Left:
1. They grew up around unthinking conservatives who held good ideas for bad reasons.
There’s nothing that will more effectively vaccinate someone against the truth than learning it from people who cling to it for confused or evil reasons. The venerable principle of “states’ rights,” which we inherited from our Founders, was poisoned for 30 years by its misuse in defense of racial segregation. Nevertheless, it is essential for a nation as vast and diverse as ours; the alternative is a leaden uniformity of mores, laws, and policies, imposed on almost 300 million people by elites — such as five unelected justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Many other key ideas which the Right in fact soaked in from the Christian view of the person have likewise been sometimes misused. So the naïve Christian might find himself fixated on such abuses, and go to reject essential truths such as parents’ rights, private property, or the traditional family — even coming to agree with Marxists or feminists who see them cynically as pretexts for sinful “privilege.”
2. They confuse servility with the Christian virtue of patience.
Servility, for Aristotle and Aquinas, described the beaten-down character of a frightened, obedient slave. It’s easy to misread Jesus’ statements about “turning the other cheek” and serving others as a call for this kind of character. But how many of the saints were really like this? Was Jesus even like this — except during the last three days or so of His earthly life? Right up until then, He was winning debates with Pharisees, overturning the stalls of money-changers, and rebuking powerful hypocrites. It’s true that none of us have His messianic calling, or the right to tell all who will listen, “Moses said to you X, but I say unto you Y.” Nevertheless, the fact of Jesus’ spirited, confident ministry contradicts the simple picture of Christian virtue as laying down like a doormat to all comers. You wouldn’t know that from reading the statements of too many Christian leaders on the proper response to Islamic aggression, or violent crime, or other threats to good social order, like uncontrolled immigration.
3. They confuse scrupulosity with the Christian virtue of Humility.
Humility does not mean despising yourself or pretending that you don’t have the virtues and qualities God gave you. It means attributing them accurately to divine grace and creation, and using them properly. Good-looking people should not pretend that they are ugly, nor brave people that they are cowards, under the illusion that this pretense is somehow pleasing to God. As C.S. Lewis knew, humility is simple honesty, and the resolve to remember that all good things come from God — with very little help from any of our efforts. Extreme readings of humility will lead us to scrupulosity, to a masochistic paralysis that prevents us from undertaking any great or courageous action — just like the “useless servant” in Jesus’ parable who buried the talents which his master had entrusted to him. Far worse, leftist Christians extend such scrupulosity beyond themselves, and apply it to the West, even the church — accepting the multiculturalists’ unspoken premise that Western and Christian societies must be subject to constant criticism, while other cultures and faiths must be accepted and embraced. That’s how you end up with clerics apologizing for the gospel while making excuses for sharia.
4. They have internalized leftist resentment and conflated it with a Christian quest for justice.
A whole book could be written on this — and indeed one has, the fascinating history The Pursuit of the Millennium, by Norman Cohn, who traced the roots of revolutionary Marxism and intolerant nationalism to heretical mass movements in the late Middle Ages, which cited Old Testament prophets and texts wrenched from Revelation as pretexts for creating the Kingdom of God here on earth by militant force. The whole of Liberation Theology can be traced to this deadly error, which Pope Leo XIII warned against in the late 19th century, when he called socialism a Satanic counterfeit of Christianity. Martin Luther had plenty to say about this heresy in his time, when he answered the Peasants Revolt with the pamphlet “Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants.”
5. They think that Christian faith (as they see it) constitutes its own political ideology, or “third way.”
This is tempting, isn’t it? The idea that our faith gives us a special, secret knowledge that sets us apart, and allows us to transcend the “petty” quarrels that divide our fellow citizens. What would follow from that, were it true, would be that the church was in fact a this-worldly movement, whose statements on politics and economics enjoyed a divine guarantee and protection from error. We could start to treat our church as Communists treated their Party, as the vanguard of history whose answers are infallible. We could put the material interests of our church above the legitimate claims of our neighbors or of our country, and practice a militant nationalism on its behalf. And all the while we would feel extremely special, like divine commandos dropped deep behind enemy lines.
It will be tempting, of course, to simply sniff that such worldly concerns have little to do with salvation or the gospel. That impulse lies behind those who now seek out religious ghettos where they can (they daydream) live out their lives without engaging the common good. But in fact we have no such option. Because our civilization was formed by Christianity, everything that emerges from it is either a wholesome fruit of the Christian view of the person, or some distorted mutant form that grows out of a heresy. So Marxism is a militarized perversion of monasticism, while the “prosperity gospel” is a misguided reach at reclaiming some Old Testament covenant. And so on. Christ has colored everything for us, even politics. So when we examine political questions, we must do so with Christian principles in mind. Because we have a vote, we share in the sovereignty of Caesar, and will be judged in part by how we have used that hard-won privilege. We have no right to bury it back in the yard, or spill it promiscuously in the Left’s rocky, poisoned soil.