Catholics and Socialism by Stephanie Block

socialism1

       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.

6 thoughts on “Catholics and Socialism by Stephanie Block”

  1. i would like to answer the question above…yes for me catholics can be marxists at the same time.. Zizek suggests, “I think the Christian legacy is all too precious to be left to, well, Christians themselves.” And he vexes his audience by declaring his purpose is “to demonstrate how Christianity effectively provides the foundation to human rights and freedoms.” Zizek defends the revolutionary character of Christianity against the growing popularity of New Age spiritualisms. The unbridgeable difference between these two worldviews is on the issue of globalism versus universalism. For Zizek, “the very core of the pagan wisdom resides in the insight into this cosmic balance of hierarchically ordered principles, more precisely, the insight into the eternal circuit of the cosmic catastrophe, derailment, and the restoration of order through just punishment” (Zizek, 2002, DST, p. 54). In the pagan cosmology everyone has her own rightful place in the hierarchy. This kind of cosmological principle in enshrined in New Age religions. Christianity, like in Buddhism, introduces a very disconcerting element into this cosmology (DST, p. 54). Zizek interprets the injunction of Jesus in Luke 14:26 [“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”] as enjoining Christians to universalize their love. Rather than the individual being defined by a bigger cosmic hierarchy, the individual in Christianity is unplugged from her organic connection with traditional hierarchy. Christianity is a miraculous Event that disturbs the balance of the One-All. It is the violent intrusion of difference which throws off the rails the balanced circuit of the universe. Borrowing from Freud’s group psychology, Zizek likens the opposition between pagan society and Christian movement to the difference between the church and the army. Pagan society is like a church that always compromises and tolerates, while the Christianity like an army is a “combative group working towards an aggressive re-conquest defined by the antagonism between us and them.” This what Zizek finds so militant in Christian universalism. It is a fighting creed. As Zizek strongly argues, “Christian universality is not the all encompassing global medium where there is a place for all and everyone –it is rather, a struggling universality, the site of constant battle” (2006, p. 35; Plea for return to difference, 2006). He therefore suggests that “Christianity and Marxism should fight on the same side of the barricade against the onslaught of new spiritualisms” (Fragile Absolute,).

  2. legibus,

    Thank you for the response.

    As I am no educated man according to the world, I will try to answer your response according to personal life experience pre-and-post conversion to Catholicism. As one who has read a bit of the Marxist ideology before conversion, was affected deeply by socialism and atheism, considered that God did not exist, and even, hated Christianity, I believe I can address a few points here even despite the handicap.

    You said:

    i would like to answer the question above…yes for me catholics can be marxists at the same time.. Zizek suggests, “I think the Christian legacy is all too precious to be left to, well, Christians themselves.”

    My friend, I had to laugh some at Zizeks suggestion here. But it deserves an anecdotal response: I’m at a loss for the names of the parties involved, but there is a famous story told about a confrontational meeting between an highly-placed Vatican cleric and SS officer during WWII; wherein the SS officer angrily declared to the cleric before leaving the meeting, “We will destroy you”. Meaning the Catholic Church. After a pause, the cleric responded to the German officer by saying, “Good luck, we’ve been trying to do the same thing for nearly 2000 years…”
    The point here, depending on Zizeks definition of “legacy”, is that the Catholic Church is a divinely established spiritual body made up, (with the exception of its divine founder and His Mother), of sinful fallen natures (men). Divinized for sure through the Sacraments, and adorned with the gifts of the spirit to equip her for the mission of salvation in the world, but nonetheless, still awaiting the full realization of the hope placed within us—a new heaven and new earth. All this is the work of God, and one needs (most especially a classic Marxist Atheist) the concrete experience of the Spirit that leads into conversion to avoid finding this divine goal preposterous. It is here where Marxism and liberation theology fails, by failing to acknowledge in full are part the salvific divine plan for man and earth, respectively.

    You said,

    And he vexes his audience by declaring his purpose is “to demonstrate how Christianity effectively provides the foundation to human rights and freedoms.” Zizek defends the revolutionary character of Christianity against the growing popularity of New Age spiritualisms. The unbridgeable difference between these two worldviews is on the issue of globalism versus universalism. For Zizek, “the very core of the pagan wisdom resides in the insight into this cosmic balance of hierarchically ordered principles, more precisely, the insight into the eternal circuit of the cosmic catastrophe, derailment, and the restoration of order through just punishment”

    I agree that Christ is the foundation by which human rights and freedom must be built upon.
    As for the revolutionary character of Christianity against the growing popularity of New Age spiritualisms: I believe that spiritualism of various forms have plagued the Church from its early birth. And there are documents of the Church that address the New Age Movement, but, at the center of all this is a solid Christian principle: through the Paschal Mystery of salvation wrought by Christ, all power—in heaven, on earth and under the earth have been placed in his hands. Yes, there are good and evil spirits—and for the most part the battle is unseen, above the radar screen of we men, if you will. But, the power of God is the ultimate defender from chaos—and all is ordered toward discovery of the truth about God and man. Movements of this kind are not destined for victory.

    As for paganism, the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Truth, Who leads men into all truth. A good study would be the conversion of South America via the supernatural actions of God through Our Lady of Guadalupe – Another example of the All-Powerful One drawing men to Himself (as mentioned above). And He did so using signs and symbols in which the pagans could relate from their cosmology. Fascinating really.

    You said,

    (Zizek, 2002, DST, p. 54). In the pagan cosmology everyone has her own rightful place in the hierarchy. This kind of cosmological principle in enshrined in New Age religions. Christianity, like in Buddhism, introduces a very disconcerting element into this cosmology (DST, p. 54). Zizek interprets the injunction of Jesus in Luke 14:26 [“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”] as enjoining Christians to universalize their love. Rather than the individual being defined by a bigger cosmic hierarchy, the individual in Christianity is unplugged from her organic connection with traditional hierarchy.

    I think here we have an over-intellectual interpretation on a matter concerning conversion of the heart. First, in no way are Christians called to hate. Not even enemies, let alone parents. This scripture passage is meant to indicate the disposition of our souls in our willingness to part with anything that may hinder union with God–to Love God above all things. And no less so, are Christians unplugged from their organic connection from traditional hierarchy on earth (family or Church) or the hierarchal nature present in the divine nature of God, Who is Spirit. For a person desiring to use his our her free will in the search for the truth about God, and thus, the truth about ones own self, it is necessary to draw close to God…And one soon finds that there are obstacles that need overcoming, not forgetting the obstacles of ourselves here. The point is surrender.

    You said,

    Christianity is a miraculous Event that disturbs the balance of the One-All. It is the violent intrusion of difference which throws off the rails the balanced circuit of the universe. Borrowing from Freud’s group psychology, Zizek likens the opposition between pagan society and Christian movement to the difference between the church and the army. Pagan society is like a church that always compromises and tolerates, while the Christianity like an army is a “combative group working towards an aggressive re-conquest defined by the antagonism between us and them.”

    Christianity is destined toward an eternal point when God will be in all and through all. The Word, in Whom all things came into being will reassert the truth of His being—even more so than He does today through Baptism. Baptism is the first fruit leading to knowledge of God according to the state of the individual soul and the will of God’s providence in revealing Himself to that soul. All this means, is one discovers that the created universe is not One-All, but a creation of the One true God—In fact, all flesh will know that the power of God’s love created all things, and that the Divine Will is the restoration of all things in Him—this is why the Word became flesh—Jesus the Christ– and dwelt among us, God became man for this very purpose—to reunite our fallen nature with the divine nature that we might not perish. But, he does no violence to our free will. So a choice must be made… As for an aggressive re-conquest—my experience of the Holy Spirit was that of a tender (but no doubt all powerful) reality of love that opens the stone-hard heart of a God-hater, Whose conquest was by way of Divine Mercy within the soul; one is found in the very pierced heart of God made man Himself in hypostatic union, and amidst blood and water, the lamp of the soul discovers Light, the Light of the world that only the Son of God can provide as the Son of Man—no one goes to the Father except through the Son. From here, the upper reaches of the intellect are enriched, and one then discovers that being in the presence of ones Creator individuality is not lost before the divine vision; but our entire eternal existence and destiny relies on this great gift. Aggressive? No. Meek and humble of heart? Unspeakably so…

    You said,

    This what Zizek finds so militant in Christian universalism. It is a fighting creed. As Zizek strongly argues, “Christian universality is not the all encompassing global medium where there is a place for all and everyone –it is rather, a struggling universality, the site of constant battle” (2006, p. 35; Plea for return to difference, 2006). He therefore suggests that “Christianity and Marxism should fight on the same side of the barricade against the onslaught of new spiritualisms” (Fragile Absolute,).

    This is pure nonsense from both a terrestrial and spiritual perspective; Deadly in fact, from both perspectives.

    Peace to you and yours,
    I hope this helps,
    James mary evans

  3. thank you for that…as a begginer in philosophy i am very grateful for conversing with you…if it is just fine? can you explain gadamer’s philosophy on dialogue? I am doing an undergraduate thesis, using his concept of dialogue. thank you..

  4. People usually think of socialism in technical terms i.e. the gov. owning the means of production, etc. What they fail to grasp is what it means for the citizens/individuals. The individual has to give (personal rights, freedoms, etc.) for the good of ______ (whatever). OR more accurately… personal rights, freedoms, etc. are taken by force from the individual “for the good of”.

    Nowhere in the bible is this taught. Jesus only used force once when driving the moneychangers from the temple. Jesus never took anything from anyone to give to another, He never forced anyone to give anything to another or to the gov.

    When Socialism is allowed as a form of gov. it uses FORCE… laws and/or physical force. Force causes resentment, rebellion, and hate, exactly the opposite of what Jesus and God want. Not to mention that it takes away form the grace we receive from doing/being good on our own, from our hearts. Plus it takes away the value of lessons learned by trial and error.

    It’s just like taking money from some to give to others by taxes, or charging interest … Jesus was against both. Now I know someone will refer to the bible where Jesus says “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but render unto God what is God’s” So I’ll go ahead and address that.

    If you look a few verses before that it says the men conspired to trick Jesus by asking him about taxes in front of the gov./tax man. How could they think they would “trick him” unless they already knew how he felt about it and that being against taxes?

    But Jesus knew what they planned and know that it was the right time and/or reason to be jailed and tried he used the situation to make a point. Jesus asks the man in whose image in the coin made and the man says “Caesars” to which Jesus said “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but render unto God what is God’s”.

    Now, what was made in God’s image? (hint: look in Genesis)🙂

  5. That’s suppose to be:

    But Jesus knew what they planned and knEw that it wasN’T the right time and/or reason to be jailed and tried he used the situation to make a point. Jesus asks the man in whose image in the coin made and the man says “Caesars” to which Jesus said “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but render unto God what is God’s”.

    Now, what was made in God’s image? (hint: look in Genesis)🙂

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