Source: The Stream
By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse
This essay is part of a series examining how American religious, economic, and political freedom are compatible with Christian views of a good society. It was provoked by the publication of the Tradinista Manifesto, which called for “Christian socialism” and an established national Church.
The Tradinistas (Traditionalist + Sandinista) make up a new “movement” of mostly young Catholics who drank the heady wine of Marx, and believe that his economics is the wave of the future. The attraction is the same that seduces all devotees of the now discredited ideology: the promise of a just society free of material deprivation and exploitation of the weak.
You would think defending Marx in any place but an American university would be next to impossible, but the Tradinistas are determined to try. In an essay titled “St. Marx and the Dragon” (where Marx is presented as a biblical exegete, the Dragon as capitalism), the Tradinistas declare that Marx’s economic theories should be “subjected to the holy mysteries and authority of the Church.” Money (capital) is Mammon and “all have been seared with trade,” they write. Like Marx, the Tradinistas believe that the “Beast” of Revelation is actually money/Mammon, thus those that fight against capital do the work of God. “Mammon is ascendent in the form of global capitalism and it desires the worship due to God alone,” they argue
Marx, if not yet a saint, should at least be a Father of the Church, if the Tradinistas had their way. And while the ideology of globalism is a threat to community and liberty, Marxist dogma is hardly the solution. Marxism has failed everywhere it has been tried. In many cases it unleashed evils that spilled forth rivers of blood. Yet the attraction doesn’t dim. Why is that? What is it about Marx that holds the minds of men in such paralyzing thrall — in such deep ideological inebriation — that even the voices of those murdered by the violence unleashed time and again by this barbarous ideology cannot penetrate it?
Abortion: The Fly in the Ointment
A clue lies in the Tradinista Manifesto itself. Most of the manifesto reads like the usual anti-capitalist screeds that the left routinely spits out like paper in a copy machine. Declaration #13 however stands out: “Abortion is a horrifying crime which much be eradicated immediately.”
That’s a contradiction. The value of the unborn, which the Tradinistas rightly affirm, cannot be reconciled with Marxist dogma. The Tradinistas don’t understand Marx. They don’t see that if they adopt his dogma, the ground for defending the unborn and ultimately all human life will dissolve beneath their feet.
The Tradinistas don’t see the contradiction because they don’t understand the materialist ground (man is matter, no soul exists) of Marxist ideology. They don’t comprehend who Marx was, or that his economics are derived from his desire to stamp out religion and not the other way around. The antidote to their ignorance is found in history, in the words of men wiser than ourselves, who experienced the Marxist horrors firsthand and understood why the promises of Marxist justice are so intoxicating.
Voices from the Red Empire
In 1906 Sergei Bulgakov published Karl Marx as a Religious Type. Bulgakov came from a long line of Orthodox priests, but abandoned his Orthodox faith in college to embrace the promises of Marxist justice sweeping the Russian intelligentsia of his day. This essay examines the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of Marxist ideals, which led him to recant Marxist ideology and turn back to the faith of his fathers. Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn considered this essay “one of the deepest analyses of the heart of Marxism and Marx himself.”
Marx, writes Bulgakov, drew from Feuerbach’s critique of religion and turns it against all religion. “He aims toward a complete and final eradication of religion, toward a pure atheism in which no sun shines anymore, neither in the sky or in the earth.” Marx himself wrote:
Religion is the breath of a suppressed creature, the sentiment of the heartless world and, consequently, the spirit of a callous epoch — it is the opium of the people. The annihilation of religion … is the demand for their real happiness.
To offer that happiness, Marx called for “the decisive, affirmative elimination of religion. Bulgakov responds that:
- Marxist ideology is a break from the Western philosophical tradition; the ostensible continuity between Marx and classical philosophy is only an “imaginary connection;” and that
- Marx reduces religion and theology to sociology.
By formulating a theory of economics based on the negation of religion, Marx reduces man to an algebraic unit who finds his purpose and destiny only in relation to the collective. The denial of God reduces man to matter, and once this happens, the restraints against evils are broken. This is why Alexander Solzhenitsyn taught that the cause of the suffering of the past century could be summed up in one existential fact: “Man has forgotten God.”
What We Need is Spiritual Warfare
If there is no room for God — if the memory of God must be eradicated from the cultural memory in order to build the New Jerusalem of the materialist (in fact another Babel) — then any notion of the sacredness of man must be eradicated as well.
The Tradinistas don’t understand Marx, but worse, they don’t understand their Christian faith either. Too many Christians are defenseless against the materialist/secular onslaught of the present age that Marx codified, even though the antecedents of materialism lie even further back in history. Such Christians get stuck in paradigmatic thinking, assuming that secularism in just another “world view” in competition with others. They believe that persuasion defeats evil, when what we need is spiritual warfare.
The sacramental dimension of the Christian faith reveals that material creation shares in a brokenness, the healing of which only comes from God Himself. The locus of salvation is the Cross and the Cross can only be located in the raw, existential, concrete awareness of one’s own brokenness. Dostoevsky was a master at revealing this inextinguishable truth about human life, especially in Crime and Punishment.
This sacramental dimension, this embrace of the Cross in one’s own life, is the means by which the light can penetrate and eventually extinguish the materialist delusion. It is also the way by which the evils unleashed by the mythology of the collective that grows from its acidic soil are defeated. It’s good that the Tradinistas go to church. Presumably they have been baptized and receive the Holy Eucharist. But do they have any understanding of what these sacraments mean? Are they functional atheists?
No Room for God in the Socialist Utopia
The Tradinista’s defense of the unborn, the only point that stands out against their notions of collective justice, may reveal that an authentic sense of the inviolability of human sacredness indeed remains among them. They are ignorant however of how viciously the Marxist materialism that informs their economic ideas militates against it. If there is no room for God — if the memory of God must be eradicated from the cultural memory in order to build the New Jerusalem of the materialist (in fact another Babel) — then any notion of the sacredness of man must be eradicated as well.
So what is the appeal of the false promises of Marxist ideology? Why does it seduce the minds of otherwise bright people and hold them in such paralyzing thrall? The promises of collective justice, the inauguration of the New Jerusalem, the implicit desire to rule others as one of the chosen, all these distortions of soul occur because the whisper first voiced in Eden is heard and believed: You shall be like God.
If, God forbid, Tradinista ideas are implemented in the West as they were in the Soviet Union in the last century, some of them will become like prisoners Solzhenitsyn described in The Gulag Archipelago. The Marxists inmates never perceived that the regime was evil. “There must be some mistake!” they cried, certain that Comrade Stalin would free them any day. They went to their deaths believing it.