Why God, Guns, and Grunt Work Go Together. Socialism Smothers Them All.
You might remember that the Vatican’s quasi-official magazine La Civilta Cattolica embarrassed itself a few weeks back. It published a nasty, ignorant attack on America. And on conservative Protestants. Oh yes, and on pro-lifers, free marketers, and the vast majority of faithful U.S. Catholics who voted for Donald Trump. The piece read like something cooked up over the second bong at a Soros-sponsored non-profit. I answered it here at The Stream with the scorn it deserved.
Matthew Schmitz dug a little deeper over at the Catholic Herald (U.K.). His analysis is fascinating, but it reveals a few blind spots of his own. (I’ll get to those later.)
I was grateful to learn from Schmitz that the lead author of the cringe-worthy attack, Rev. Antonio Spadaro, did scholarly work on Flannery O’Connor. She’s a wonderful author. I’ve written academic papers on her, too. But if her stories formed the basis of Spadaro’s understanding of America. … That’s like grounding a comprehension of Italy on the movies of Fellini. Or better yet, the novels of Gabriele D’Annunzio.
America: More Violent, More Religious Than Europe
Schmitz notes that O’Connor offers a useful window, nevertheless, into the differences between Western Europe and America. Those differences include a comfort with violence, an acceptance of risk, a positive birth rate, and yes, an ongoing interest in religion. Schmitz writes:
Americans are indeed more indulgent of both public religion and public violence than are their European counterparts. From prayer on the 50-yard line to stand-your-ground laws, from the First Amendment to the Second, Americans never seem to walk far from heaven or hell.
Spadaro probably learned this from the writer and Catholic apologist Flannery O’Connor, on whom he wrote his thesis, but the man who has thought most deeply about Europe’s and America’s differing approaches to religion and violence is the French political scientist Pierre Manent. “For Europeans the abolition of the death penalty constitutes the most eloquent expression, the one dearest to their hearts, of their identity and their distinctive values,” he writes. “Europeans find the American retention of capital punishment almost incomprehensible.”
It is no coincidence that America is more comfortable with both religion and violence – in some strange way, the two go hand in hand.
Actually, there is nothing strange whatsoever about that fact. That’s something Schmitz seems to miss. And I think I know why. You see, while he’s an orthodox and in some ways even traditionalist Catholic, Schmitz is also quite publicly a socialist. Joe Carter of the Acton Institute recently complained about the rising tide of socialism at the once-free market First Things magazine, where Schmitz is an editor.
Socialism Hides the Fall of Man
Religion, violence, fertility, and the free market all go together. Socialism doesn’t just suppress one of those things, but all of them inextricably and at the same time. That’s why most of the nations in the European Union simultaneously:
- Ban guns
- Smother the free market in a tangle of restrictions
- Cushion people from economic risk through cradle-to-grave government programs
- Suppress patriotism and flood their citizens with foreigners
- Forbid capital punishment
- Marginalize religion, and
- Produce fewer babies than corpses every year.
Why do these things move together, most of the time? The answer is not economic or political, but religious. Faith answers many needs in the human heart. But its primal function is this: It’s an answer to the obvious fallenness of the world. To natural evils, like death. And scarcity. And suffering. And violence. Our Christian faith does better than pagan creeds at diagnosing the deep, causal connections among these things. It doesn’t sugarcoat the ugly truth: that death, scarcity, conflict, and suffering all came into the human world because of sin. We didn’t suffer from any of that in Eden. If our forebears hadn’t sinned, we wouldn’t still struggle with them now.
The Big Heresy: We Don’t Need Redemption
I wrote back in 2009 that most of heresies abroad in the world, and many of our personal sins, come out of one impulse. It’s the urge to sneak back into Eden. To reject the fallen/redeemed world that we learn about in the Old and New Testaments, in favor of some earthly utopia. Some world where sin doesn’t really exist — just “sickness.” Where every sharp edge and pointy corner is filed down. Where none of our actions have any really tragic consequences. Where violent emotions and actions are relegated to the dead past of our forgotten ancestors. A world of rubber bullets, guaranteed incomes, and purely decorative churches. A world that’s not really fallen, so it doesn’t need redemption. Just a little tidying up.
Under socialism, you never confront an economic crisis that might drive you to your knees in desperate prayer for help. You toddle on down to the local welfare office and file a claim for your entitlement. No criminal is really evil, so you can’t go and hang them. They simply need rehabilitation.
In such a world, you never confront an economic crisis that might drive you to your knees in desperate prayer for help. You toddle on down to the local welfare office and file a claim for your entitlement. No criminal is really evil, so you can’t go and hang them. They simply need rehabilitation — such as the Swedes are offering dozens of ISIS fighters, who came back and filed for welfare benefits. No need to bear children who will someday look after you when you’re old, sick and feeble. The state will take care of that, and when you are too far gone it will euthanize you like a senile Persian cat. You trade the stink of diapers for the promise of the needle … .
By the Sweat of Your Brow
Isn’t that just the worldly utopia that the Vatican authors crave? Isn’t it the imaginary world inhabited by the oligarchs who run the European Union via secret, appointed committees?
It’s also the world that fills the fantasies of young Christians who identify as socialists. For instance, the Tradinista Collective, which Matthew Schmitz defended in First Things. Its authors’ central demand (in their uproarious “Manifesto”) was this one: That people be able to live comfortably without working. Those grumpy, churchy Millennials complained:
The foundational relation of capitalist society is between those who are compelled to sell their labor-power on pain of destitution and those who, by their ownership of capital, are enabled to exploit the former.
That’s just a pretentious, Marxian way of saying: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen. 3:19) Or: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thessal. 3:10)
Societies that follow the socialist fantasy and sever the bond between hard work and financial success cut a lot of other ties at the same time. They snip the bonds between parents and children, our ancestors and our descendants, and between God and man. Socialism doesn’t just destroy the economy. It dissolves the nation and empties the cradle. It takes the place of God as the omnicompetent, benevolent refuge in our hour of need. It is the church of the Golden Calf.
So multiple popes have warned us. I wish that Matthew Schmitz — and the current pope — would go back and read them.