Does Pope Francis Really Believe That ‘Communists Think Like Christians’?

Pope Francis delivers his message during a Jubilee audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

By Samuel Gregg Published on November 14, 2016

Marxists, Marxist ideas and Marxist regimes have brought death and destruction to millions. Yet according to Pope Francis, “if anything, the communists think like Christians.” What’s going on here?

Within the first year of his pontificate, Francis’s strong criticisms of economic globalization and capitalism resulted in him being accused of having Marxist sympathies. Such charges, however, are demonstrably false.

For one thing, Francis has specified that Communism is a mistaken idea. Back in a 2013 interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, the pope stated that “Marxist ideology is wrong.” Likewise, the Argentine home-grown “theology of the people” which has influenced Francis’s thought explicitly rejects Marxist philosophy and analysis. Nor has Francis hesitated to canonize Catholics martyred by Communist regimes. He’s even conferred a cardinal’s hat upon an Albanian priest, Father Ernest Troshani Simoni, who was twice sentenced to death by Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship — one of the very worst Communist regimes. These aren’t the words or actions of a Communist fellow-traveler or apologist.

Nevertheless, in the same interview in which Francis described Communism as wrong, he immediately added, “But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people.” One wonders if the pope would say something similar, for example, about Nazis: “But I have met many Nazis in my life who are good people.”

There’s little in Marxist ideology (let alone practice) to suggest that “communists think like Christians” about very much at all.

Somehow, I doubt it — even though political movements and regimes lead by Marxists and guided by Communist ideologies invariably embrace methods indistinguishable from those of National Socialist Germany. Indeed, if one goes simply by the numbers, Communists have slaughtered millions more people than the Nazis. In Pope Francis’s Argentina, Marxist movements such as the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo had no qualms about engaging in kidnappings and assassinations in the late-1960s and early-1970s as part of their effort to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Do Communists Care About the Poor?

One possible interpretation of the pope’s words about Communism is that they reflect his belief that some people are drawn to Marxism because they regard Communism as being on the side of the world’s underdogs. During a 2015 interview, the pope suggested that Communists were, in a way, closet Christians. They had stolen, he said, “the flag of the poor” from Christians.

These themes resurfaced in a more recent interview of Francis — this time conducted by the self-described atheist, the 92 year-old Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari.

Caution is advised when reading any of Scalfari’s interviews. Scalfari’s renditions of his conversations with prominent figures are based on memory rather than notes or recordings. That’s bound to raise questions about the veracity of what’s written (not to mention the prudence of talking to Scalfari, but that’s a different matter). Scalfari’s questions are also designed to encourage the pope to make controversial remarks. In most cases, Francis politely deflects them.

At the same time, some of Francis’s comments in his latest Scalfari interview mirrors odd statements he’s made on other occasions. Consider what Francis says about Communists in response to Scalfari’s comments about equality:

Eugenio Scalfari: So you yearn for a society where equality dominates. This, as you know, is the program of Marxist socialism and then of communism. Are you therefore thinking of a Marxist type of society?

Francis: It has been said many times and my response has always been that, if anything, it is the communists who think like Christians. Christ spoke of a society where the poor, the weak and the marginalized have the right to decide. Not demagogues, not Barabbas, but the people, the poor, whether they have faith in a transcendent God or not. It is they who must help to achieve equality and freedom.

The problem with these words is that the most cursory reading of standard Marxist texts soon indicates that there’s little in Marxist ideology (let alone practice) to suggest that “communists think like Christians” about very much at all.

In the first place, Marxism is rooted in atheism and philosophical materialism. Christianity is not. That’s a rather fundamental and irreconcilable difference. Second, virtually all Marxist thinkers and practitioners — Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Che Guevara, Pol Pot, etc. — hold that the ends justifies the means. Small “o” orthodox Christianity, with its insistence upon moral absolutes which admit of no exception, specifically refutes that claim. Third, Marxism, Marxists and Marxist movements don’t see the poor as Christianity does: i.e., as human beings who need to be loved and assisted.

Communism views the poor — like all human beings — as simply moving-parts of the dialectics of history.

Instead Communism views the poor — like all human beings — as simply moving-parts of the dialectics of history. The economically less-well off, from a Marxist standpoint, have no intrinsic worth by virtue of their poverty or status as human beings. Such a materialist and instrumentalist perspective is light-years away from Christianity’s view of those in poverty and human beings more generally.

Inequality, Inequality, Inequality

So what does Francis mean when he says that “the communists think like Christians”? A clue to the pope’s thinking may be found with his references to equality in his most recent Scalfari interview. The pope argues, for instance, that

What we want is a battle against inequality, this is the greatest evil that exists in the world. It is money that creates it and that goes against those measures that try to make wealth more widespread and thus promote equality.

From his pontificate’s beginning, Francis has focused, laser-like, on this inequality theme. As the words above indicate, the specific inequality which the pope has in mind is economic inequality.

But is economic inequality really the greatest evil in the world today? Is economic inequality at the root of Islamic terrorism, dictatorial regimes like North Korea, the termination of millions of unborn-children in the West, resurgent anti-Semitism, or the relentless efforts to legalize euthanasia? There’s no evidence, for instance, that economic inequality causes terrorism.

Moreover, economic inequality isn’t always wrong. There’s nothing in Catholic teaching to suggest that wealth and income inequalities are intrinsically evil. They’re often quite justified. The person willing to take on more responsibility, for instance, in creating and managing an enterprise is usually entitled to a greater share of profits than the employee who assumes less responsibility and who didn’t take the risk of starting the business in the first place.

Another thing that Christians should keep in mind — but sometimes don’t — is that inequality and poverty aren’t the same thing. It’s theoretically possible for everyone to be economically equal because they are equally poor. It’s also conceivable for a society to have vast wealth and income disparities, and for the very same society to have very few people who are materially poor.

Of course, some forms of economic inequality are unjust. One contemporary example is crony capitalism. In these economic arrangements, collusion between businesses, politicians and regulators replaces free competition under the rule of law. If there’s a major culprit (“the money”) for unjust forms of economic inequality today, it’s crony capitalists and their political and bureaucratic enablers.

Crony capitalism should be — but isn’t — the target of Christian critique. Catholic social teaching says exactly nothing about the subject. Part of the difficulty with the pope’s commentary on these issues is that he, like many other good people, doesn’t seem to recognize that market economies are premised on the rejection of governments granting privileges to any particular group. That’s the core argument made in Book Four of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776).

One of Pope Francis’s many paradoxes is that, while he consistently and rightly denounces any idolatry of wealth and the type of materialist mindset which reduces everything to economics, the pope often articulates curiously economistic explanations for the world’s ills. Material poverty is something all Christians must be committed to working to reduce. Let’s not pretend, however, that Christians and Marxists think the same way about poverty — or equality for that matter. The simple truth is that they don’t.

 

Samuel Gregg is Research Director at the Acton Institute and author of For God and Profit: How Banking and Finance Can Serve the Common Good (2016).

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  • WakeUp

    Thank you for the reasoned, if incomplete, discussion.

    Well, grandiosely, glaringly incomplete! In a discussion of Christian morality about origins and remedies of inequality – by someone who boasts his recent book about ‘God and Profit’ there is not a SINGLE CITATION of Biblical witness! Wow.

    Shall all God’s People reply: ‘WOW!’

    Minimally you might have illuminated Biblical texts that directly involve your topic and its content:

    e.g. in Acts 3
    Quote (NIV translation)
    5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
    6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
    7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.
    Unquote

    Exegetical opportunities are profound directly involving the topic and content of your writing. Examining this text for example we find lovely opportunities to discuss
    What is the Biblical witness’ guidance for Christ-followers about use of money?
    What is the Biblical witness’ guidance about a Christ-follower’s perspective about inequitable distribution of resources to live?
    About remedy of inequitable distribution of resources to live?
    and so forth.

    Even a paragraph would have illuminated your concluding conundrum – which you leave as a conundrum:

    Quote
    Let’s not pretend, however, that Christians and Marxists think the same way about poverty — or equality for that matter. The simple truth is that they don’t.
    Unquote

    Well, what is the answer to the conundrum?!

    God’ People again shout: INCOMPLETE work, sir! WOW!

    • AndRebecca

      The author expects the reader to have some background of knowledge which would make the subject matter comprehensible. Obviously you don’t have the first clue as to what the author is talking about.

      • WakeUp

        Why the ad hominem remark?

        I have walked closely with The Lord for many decades. I am not clueless about what God requires. I am also not clueless in exegesis of Biblical texts. [ Nor am I clueless about sound reasoning in public policy and social policy. I go to and speak up at enough public meetings – using the principles that The Stream claims as their own – and change minds of public officials. ]

        My point – that the author fails to deal, even a hot minute, with the Bible as the primary text for Christian moral reflection – is accurate, valid, and valuable.

        Are we to believe that the writer’s new book (2016 publication) has nothing to say about the Biblical texts? At least one additional paragraph would have made the discussion more complete.

        • AndRebecca

          The writer is speaking about the Pope and what he says and doesn’t say in everyday life, including his confusing positions on politics. Why on earth would a Christian have to quote chapter and verse on a common everyday topic? The pope is from Argentina, a non-capitalist, a poorly run country with church involvement in politics, located on a poorly run continent with Leftists in charge. The pope supports Marxists, and disses countries who still have some capitalism going for them, like the United States. The Catholic Church gets a billion dollars a year from this capitalist country, and I doubt all of the Marxist countries in the world give the Catholic Church that. You can back up capitalism with the Bible, but that is not what the author was trying to do in this article. And many Christians have quoted atheists and pagans and others to make their point. I like to quote Karl Marx “I wish to avenge myself against the One above.” You can do a net search and find all sorts of quotes by Leftists against God and Christianity and the family. F. Engels wrote a whole anti-Christian book dubbed “Origins” which was written for his dead buddy Karl Marx. You have to be one confused Christian to support Marxism, when they say they support the devil himself.

          • Jeff Hinkle

            The bible is jewish feces, just like the quran.

          • AndRebecca

            Out trolling, are ya?

          • Jeff Hinkle

            Yes

          • Jeff Hinkle

            But I also believe it

          • AndRebecca

            Too bad for you.

          • Jeff Hinkle

            you have a hebe name

          • AndRebecca

            How astute. Just about all of my colonial ancestors had Hebe names picked right out of the Bible. And so do I. Great people named after great people.

          • Jeff Hinkle

            You are a disgusting fake white person. Only muzzys are worse!

          • AndRebecca

            Huh? You really need to get a life.

          • Jeff Hinkle

            You are a Jew who hates Jews. You deserve the worst!

  • Michael Gore

    The real question is that if Pope Frankie is such a deep and wise theological mind, why do we over and over again keep needing to read all these clean-up articles that spend pages to explain “what the pope really meant”.

    I would not want to be an apologist for the Roman Catholic Church in this day! It’s quite clear to me that he believes entirely different theology than the man he succeeded.

  • RTHEVR

    The only people left who are confused by the Pope are those who try to force him into a theologically orthodox, Catholic box.

    Free yourself of that temptation and he is CRYSTAL clear.

    {Unless he is a certifiable moron, which I do not think he is}.

  • Maggie

    Explain to the millions who have been murdered under communism why it is in any way similar to Christianity.

    • Jeff Hinkle

      Not nearly enough killed judging by the world today.

  • TiredTiredTired

    Funny how The Soviet Union then and Communist China now actually banned Christianity. Yes, the Pope is a Marxist idiot.

    • Jeff Hinkle

      They should have banned all disgusting monotheism. Maybe they did.

  • Barrysullivan1

    It is unfortunate that the Pope continually makes statements devoid of reality in a number of areas. I would say that the USA has one of the freest economies (although it could use some improvement) and that is why so many flock to our country to become successful. The majority of these immigrants know if they work hard they can make a better living than almost all of the countries in the world. Being successful and providing millions of jobs is very Christian in my opinion; it is what one does with the money and his or her spiritual lives which determines one’s eternity.

    • Jeff Hinkle

      Only a moronic race traitor who believes in the jew lord christ would care what the Pope has to say anyway.

  • footballsux

    As Fulton J. Sheen once said (I paraphrase), communism is the cross without Christ. In America, we want Christ without the cross.

    • Jeff Hinkle

      White and black trash luvz the tyrannical jewish savior cult.

  • Antonious

    Karl Marx, a Jew, developed the communist theory which has sought to eliminate religion, Catholicism very much included. This pope is an idiot.

    • Jeff Hinkle

      Christianity is Judaism for white idiots

  • Byraer

    I am a Catholic and am appalled by the Communist Pope Francis he is typical of his kind where as he worked in poor Spanish countries drumming up new poor followers of the faith that lived in third world hell holes. They drum up new business this way but looks like he made it! Don’t let him fool you one minute he is the wolf in sheep’s cloths. I trust my heart and what it tells me… he is pure commie but not for himself he wants communism for you and your money to support the Mob in Italy. Tear down that wall around the Vatican Pope Francis and Donald will build roads not walls.

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