One of the interesting discussions following the wake of this year’s political campaign has been about Catholics and socialism. Is it OK to be a Catholic socialist? (Wonder what sparked this line of thought?)
Despite Pope Pius XI saying, back in the 1930s, that “No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist”, some Catholics want to argue the point. They claim the “Christian socialism” described in Acts, in which “All those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need,” is the inspiration for the “scientific socialism” espoused by Marx and Engels. After all, Marx and Engels say it is.
Well, of course Marx and Engels say their inspiration for the socialist ideal was early Christianity. It gives their theories authority and respectability. As Saul Alinsky drily exhorts young radicals, “… you do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments.” [Rules for Radicals] Marx and Engels are simply clothing socialism with Christianity, the wolf in a sheepskin.
At the blog called Catholic America: A closer look at Church, Culture and Change, which is a feature of Newsweek/Washington Post, writer Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo recognizes that the salient component of “Christian socialism” is choice. He glosses over this, however, and only a paragraph later is reminding the reader that he must also bear in mind another Christian principle, namely that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” We see where this is going.
And so here it is: “At stake in contemporary Catholic America is a growing awareness that the U.S. economic system has serious flaws.” OK, Mr. Stevens-Arroyo, hold on there just a minute. Yes, the U.S. economic system has serious flaws but that’s the human condition. There has never been and never will be an economic system without serious flaws. But the US economic system, for all its flaws, has been the envy of the world…and has brought prosperity to the majority of its citizens.
Stevens-Arroyo continues: “In addressing the financial system, “socialism” is not a dirty word for Catholics.” Um…yes, it is. Re-read the Pius XI quote, above. Or, read John Paul II, who, without any illusions about its imperfections, writes, “it would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs.”
John Paul is not so generous with socialism. “[I]n today’s world, among other rights, the right of economic initiative is often suppressed. Yet it is a right that is important not only for the individual but also for the common good. Experience shows us that the denial of this right, or its limitation in the name of an alleged ‘equality’ of everyone in society, diminishes, or in practice absolutely destroys the spirit of initiative, that is to say the creative subjectivity of the citizen.”
Referring to Pope Leo XIII, he says: “His words deserve to be re-read attentively: ‘To remedy these wrongs (the unjust distribution of wealth and the poverty of the workers), the Socialists encourage the poor man’s envy of the rich and strive to do away with private property, contending that individual possessions should become the common property of all…; but their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that, were they carried into effect, the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are moreover emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community’. The evils caused by the setting up of this type of socialism as a State system – what would later be called ‘Real Socialism’ – could not be better expressed.” [Centesimus annus]
It gets worse. The pope continues, “Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility that he exercises in the face of good or evil. Man is thus reduced to a series of social relationships, and the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision disappears, the very subject whose decisions build the social order.”
Benedict XVI has some hard words for socialism, too. “Let us recall the fact that atheism and the denial of the human person, his liberty and his rights, are at the core of the Marxist theory…Moreover, to attempt to integrate into theology an analysis whose criterion of interpretation depends on this atheistic conception is to involve oneself in terrible contradictions. What is more, this misunderstanding of the spiritual nature of the person leads to a total subordination of the person to the collectivity, and thus to the denial of the principles of a social and political life which is in keeping with human dignity.”
Why are we even discussing this? The answer is that you have a large body of people – the Catholics living in the US – who, if they knew their Church teachings, rather than what other Catholics say they say, might rebel at incoming socialist incursion. Socialism – the unchosen, forced-onto-society, “scientific” version that has martyred hundreds of thousands – is a really dirty word to Catholics.
Ahem. Let me try that again. Socialism is a really dirty word.