Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foolish for Turning to Christ?
As author of the second book to rebut the New Atheists, my life-long hobby of reading attacks on Christianity grows stale. One comes to feel like the prisoners in the old story who share a single joke book. Someone calls out the number of the joke, and everyone laughs. “Blind faith!” “Oppression of women!” “Who created God?” Such punchlines, once amusing for the ignorance they display, grow old with repetition.
So, I find Joseph Klein’s argument that Christianity is to blame for communism rather refreshing. Someone smuggled a new joke into prison! Nor is his case so lame. Klein offers superficially plausible arguments, and two genuine insights (though he misinterprets them), and seems sincere and open-minded.
His occasion was the recent conversion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
My Favorite Atheist
Ali was my favorite atheist. She brilliantly tells the story of her early life in Infidel, then of her move to America in Nomad. Born into a polygamous family in troubled Somalia, and raised partly in Saudi Arabia and Kenya, Ali emigrated to Holland and became a women’s rights activist and member of parliament. Accepting the arguments of Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, she denied God. But she seldom sounded strident or glib to me: she spoke from her heart, and from a lifetime of painful experience and observations.
Then last month, Ali shocked many with an article explaining “Why I am Now a Christian.” Some of her reasons were personal: “I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable — indeed very nearly self-destructive.” But her focus was on the role Christianity has played in creating and preserving western civilization, and the triple threat of “great-power authoritarianism and expansionism in the forms of the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin’s Russia; the rise of global Islamism … and the viral spread of woke ideology, which is eating into the moral fiber of the next generation.”
A Wealth of Evidence
Klein also dislikes those movements, but is suspicious of Ali’s conversion. Where does she express faith in the deity of Christ? The resurrection? Or even in God? He thinks if she looks hard she won’t find real evidence for Christ. But whose fault is it if Ali’s New Atheist friends proved unconvincing? And wait till she discovers G. K. Chesterton, William Lane Craig, Stephen Meyer, NT Wright, Craig Keener or (who knows?) maybe even my books. There is a wealth of evidence for the Christian faith waiting to be explored.
Christianity is Responsible for Communism?
Klein also blames Christianity for communism. He knows that serious communists deny God. In fact, I would add, most atheists alive today were taught to despise “religion” by the Chinese Communist Party, Kim Il Sung, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Jim Jones, or other disciples of Marx. But I am always happy to meet an atheist who recognizes how murderous the communists are. (Especially an atheist not named Ayn Rand, whose anti-communist cult could be almost as obnoxious and silly.)
Still, as a student of communism (or “far-leftism,” as Klein calls it), I find his three arguments that Christianity is to blame for Marx & Co rather weak:
Far-leftism predominately arises in Christian nations, with some notable exceptions in East Asia where both Marxism and Classical Liberalism were western imports.
“Notable exceptions?” The communist countries of East Asia have three times as many people as all European Warsaw Pact nations combined. A billion and a half people are indeed “notable!” But oops, Mr. Klein, your “exceptions” turn out to be the rule.
And which of those lands remain communist? And who toppled Marxism in the others? Have you heard of a Catholic electrician named Lech Walesa? A German pastor whose prayers and candles helped overthrow a dictatorship? A Nobel Prize winning Russian author who wrote, “Thank you, prison, for being in my life,” because it was in Soviet concentration camps that he cast off Marxism and atheism and returned to Christ, before helping inspire the overthrow of Soviet communism?
Get The Stream’s daily news roundup, quick and served with a healthy splash of humor. Subscribe to The Brew
That writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was raised in a Christian family. He lost his faith in school — you wonder why so many who fight Woke education are Christians today? The young are often gullible. But which youths are more likely to join a BLM or pro-Hamas mob — those raised in public or secular schools, or those taught in, say, Christian classical schools? Why are so many dissidents in the Far East also Christian?
And which nation led the fight against communism? Skeptical France? Free-thinking Sweden? Japan, where religion is seldom mentioned? Or the more Christian United States, under the likes of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan?
Communist Values Do Not Come From the Bible
Secondly, Klein argues that communist values come from the Bible.
These atheists were instituting the very same values their Christian culture instilled in them.
Like this, from Acts of the Apostles:
“Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone as he had need.”
Apparently that was Marx’s life verse! He took the Bible too literally, poor man. Christian values fired his soul from within:
Again and again, the magma flow of his indignation would force itself through the crust of his scientific-sounding prose.
Klein is right about the contradiction in Marx’s thinking, and about the source of what truth can be found in it, but his conclusion could hardly be more mistaken.
What It Really Means
It is true that Christianity launched a moral revolution on behalf of the downtrodden. As Holland and others show (I’ll be adding to this genre soon, but also read the Roman historian Suetonius), ancient Rome had little pity for slaves, the weak, newborns, or women. Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and his followers blessed billions who had been marginalized. They founded hospitals and schools, operated on the hands of lepers, rescued girls from brothels, and cared for old folks. (I have met people who did all these things.) Historians note that in the early church, many rich people did sell all they had and gave to the poor.
But while Marxists responded to the concern for the marginalized that Christ implanted in culture, their solution was the Gulag, not the Gospel. Marx and his disciple Lenin persuaded his followers to seize the “means of production” and establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Communism Constitutes Ethics on Three New Bases
And Marx and Engels openly warned:
Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis.
True, communism couldn’t really abolish morality any more than the profit motive. It constituted ethics on three new bases: rules by which to judge capitalists, others for revolutionaries (“the end justifies means”), and others still for citizens. (Which explains subways in China — on that another day.) But Marx broke dramatically from Christian morality, even the Ten Commandments, each of which his disciples smashed to pieces, ground to dust, and forced believers to swallow with their prison swill.
What Jesus Said
Nor did Jesus say people should “live for others rather than themselves,” as Klein claims. Rather, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then explained what he meant with the story of the Good Samaritan, who rescued a man belonging to an enemy tribe.
The difference between torturing your enemy and saving him may seem subtle to Klein, but creates different cultures. The Gospel sees obvious truths, but also those that some find elusive. That is why Christianity builds a strong foundation for society, while (as Clement of Alexandria put it) cults rip an arm or leg off the body of Christ, worshipping subordinate facts as Truth itself. Millions die, beauty is ravished, and cruelty exalted because people mistake an axiom (“power to the people!” “down with racism!”) for the Law and Gospel as a whole. Klein, too, misses the forest of Christian values for the withered shrub of one isolated ideal.
Finally, Klein calls Christianity a “sinking ship.” Young people are less religious! Churches are closing! How can a doomed religion save civilization?
Again, look at the big picture.
What is the Big Picture?
Klein may not realize it, but he borrows this metaphor from G. K. Chesterton. (You have to get up early in the morning to sneak past Gilbert Keith.) Again and again, Chesterton said, the Church of Christ sinks like a ship, and everyone says it is done. Then it rises out of the waves, shining brighter than ever! One almost pities its foes: Leninists, Maoists, Nazis, Enlightenment philosophers, neo-Confucianists, Muslims, Gnostics, Nero, the crowds that shouted “Crucify!” Just as they drive in the last nail, the ground shakes, and the body they buried appears more alive than ever, eating fish and daring us put fingers in his side, oh you of little faith!
Youth are Often Foolish
Aside from the rascality of his followers, one reason Christianity is trending down in the West today is that most believers oppose the facile ideologies that Klein and Ali both recognize as threats. As a young man, Solzhenitsyn abandoned Christ for the communist Young Pioneers. Prison taught him the error of that choice, but it took a lot of hard knocks. Youth are often foolish, Mr. Klein.
Words of Life
“Will you leave, too?” Asked Jesus, when the crowd thinned after he said something rather shocking.
“Where will we go? You have the words of life!” Peter replied.
Christianity still grows in many parts of the world, often places where opposing ideologies long ruled the roost. That it is, for now, declining in the West, hardly undermines Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s reasons to listen again to those “words of life.”
So I need to find another favorite atheist. Klein may apply, but Ali was a tough act to follow.
David Marshall, an educator and writer, has a doctoral degree in Christian thought and Chinese tradition. His most recent book is The Case for Aslan: Evidence for Jesus in the Land of Narnia.