. Socialism and Christianity | London Progressive Journal
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Socialism and Christianity

Tue 18th Jun 2013

I have often been approached, whilst at home and whilst out walking, by religious people (mainly Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) trying to convince me to adopt their religion. In fact, I have received a number of free magazines from Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years. Recently, I was approached by a Christian who entreated me to let Jesus into my life. I entered into a discussion with him and informed him of my atheism and my left wing political views. In response, he told me that Jesus was a communist (as the nineteenth century German Utopian Socialist Wilhelm Weitling stated ‘ ‘Jesus and his disciples held all things in common’’ [1] ) and I responded to him that, as a former Roman Catholic, I was aware that the early Christians had lived communistic lifestyles . For example, in Acts 2(43) it is stated that:

‘‘All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed’’ [2] .

Taking into account firstly, that according to the bible, Jesus, his disciples and his early followers adhered to communist principles and secondly, the pronouncements that Jesus is purported to have made (for example, when a rich man asked him how he could be sure to receive eternal life, Jesus replied ‘‘go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven’’ [3] ), I think that it is an interesting question why the Christian religion became the dominant religion in Western Europe in the Medieval period through to the capitalist epoch in which we live today (in which its influence is dwindling), the societies of which were, and are, characterised by class hierarchies and gross inequalities in wealth. Although certain groups within the Christian faith continued the communist tradition, such as the Franciscans, Christians primarily accepted the state of affairs of the Medieval period, and subsequently the capitalist epoch.

The answer lies partly in the fact that Christian theologians, such as St Thomas Aquinas, were influenced by Roman law which saw private property to be expedient ‘‘to avoid continual strife among neighbours’’ [4] .

As Wilhelm Weitling recognised, ‘‘ it was the abolition of property, the necessary condition for putting the teaching of Jesus into practice, which made its open proclamation and propagation so difficult’’
[5] .

The answer also lies partly in the doctrine of original sin. It was argued by some Christian theologians that at the time of creation, man’s soul was in harmony with his passions in subjection to his will, his will to his reason and his ‘‘reason to God’’
[6] . According to Christian theology, had man remained in this condition ‘‘government, slavery and private property would never have been required’’ [7] . However, after the fall of Adam, the passions broke loose meaning that order was replaced by a ‘‘state of lawlessness’’ [8] in which ‘’greed, lust for power, the spirit of insubordination, weakness of will, feebleness of mind, ignorance, all swarmed into the soul of man’’ [9] .

Thus the fall of Adam brought sin into the world necessitating private property
[10] .

The inequalities in wealth between men was justified by the idea that after the fall of Adam there were ‘‘two sorts of people; one, the diligent, intelligent, and, above all, frugal elite; the other, lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living’’ [11] .

The former ‘’accumulated wealth, and the latter sort had at last nothing to sell except their own skins’’
[12] . Thus ‘‘from this original sin dates the poverty of the great majority that, despite all its labour, has up to now nothing to sell but itself, and the wealth of the few that increases constantly although they have long ceased to work’’ [13] .

This justification in defence of property was described by Karl Marx as ‘‘insipid childishness’’
[14] .

As a result of the Christian religions acceptance of the social conditions within Western Europe (and subsequently other parts of the world), while many socialists and communists have been inspired by the Christian religion, others have seen it (and other religions) as a tool for the ‘‘domination of the masses’’ [15] .

The role of Christianity within society was famously satirised in George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Animal Farm’, in which the character Moses, an old Raven, visits the farm of the title (initially when it is under human ownership and then subsequently once the Pigs have consolidated their power) and informs the animals there of Sugarcandy Mountain, an incredible place where they go when they die, only if they work hard
[16] .

It is my view that Christianity was utilised by the dominant classes to motivate workers to work hard and accept the prevailing social conditions both in Medieval times and in the capitalist epoch
[17] .

Consequently, as Karl Marx famously said:

‘‘The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions’’ [18] .

As a result, rather than believe in some paradise in the afterlife, which has no evidence to commend it, whilst at the same time accepting unjust social conditions on Earth, it is my view that we should work to change conditions on Earth to increase the happiness of humanity. I will therefore not accept unjust social conditions on the basis of an unethical Christian doctrine which ‘‘ condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor’’ [19] .

The next time I am asked to revert to Christian belief, I will politely ask the would-be converter to read this article.

[1] Weitling, W. (1969) Gospel of Poor Sinners. Livingstone, D. Trans., London: Sheed and Ward, p26

[2] Acts 2(43)

[3] Mark 10 (21)

[4] Jarrett, B. (1914) Medieval Socialism. London: T.C. and E.C. Jack, p11.

[5] Weitling, W. (1969) Gospel of Poor Sinners. op cit.,n.1 at p49.

[6] Jarrett, B. (1914) Medieval Socialism, op cit., n.4 atp9

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid at p11

[11] Marx, K.. (1867) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy Volume 1 [On-line] Available: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ [Accessed: 12 June 2013]

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Kropotkin, P. (1976) ‘Law and Authority’ in Capouya, E and Tompkins, K (eds) The Essential Kropotkin. London: Macmillan, p32.

[16] Orwell, G. (1945) Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. London: Secker and Warburg, p7.

[17] Habermas, J. (1992) Legitimation Crisis. McCarthy, T, Trans., Cambridge: Polity Press, p77.

[18] Marx, K. (1843) A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right [On-line] Available: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm [Accessed: 12 June 2013]  

[19] Dawkins, R. (2007) The God Delusion.

London: Transworld Publishers, p285.

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