Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech: Lessons from the Historic Tension between Communism and the Church III

For the first time in the world’s history, the Kingdom of the Antichrist has acquired political form and social substance and stands over against the Christian Church as a counter-church with its own dogmas and its own moral standards, ruled by a centralized hierarchy and inspired by an intense will to world conquest. Communism is not simply a form of political organization; it is an economy, a philosophy and a creed.

And its hostility to Christianity is due not to its political form, but to the philosophy that lies behind it. Communism, in fact, challenges Christianity on its own ground by offering mankind a rival way of salvation. In the words of the Communist poster, “Jesus promised the people paradise after death, but Lenin offers them Paradise on earth.”

-Christopher Dawson, 1935

You may be surprised to know that popes like Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI used the term "liberalism" in much the same way we use it today. Between early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, liberalism was used to mean the following in many papal encyclicals:

1. Denying the existence of divine authority.
2. Each person defining their own morality and redefining liberty to mean license.
3. Advocating big government.
4. Causing social and political ruin.
5. Excluding the Church hierarchy from the State and other public institutions.

(For the reference to specific documents, please go to the archives of September, 2010 and click on “Using Liberalism in Politics and in the Church.”)

In many respects, the Catholic Church treated Liberalism in much the same way as it did Socialism and Communism. For instance, in his letter On the Nature of Human Liberty, Pope Leo XIII was critical of Liberalism in that it too often promoted an all-powerful State : "By the patrons of liberalism, however, who make the State absolute and omnipotent, and proclaim that man should live altogether independently of God..." What is to be equally reproved is the economic policy found among Socialistic governments. On Capital and Labor he writes the following: “Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal.” What is more telling is that Leo XIII believes that only “Church of Christ has such power to ward off the plague of socialism.”

What is said of Socialism can be applied even more so to Communism. Just as recent as 1996, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, proposed that when the State seeks to be all things to all people, it becomes evil. In an address during the meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he said, “The fact is that when politics want to bring redemption, they promise too much. When they presume to do God's work, they do not become divine but diabolical.” This is precisely what is at issue with the three ideological siblings: Liberalism, Socialism and Communism. President Gerald Ford, who was no Conservative, gave a practical insight into this issue when said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” The more power it possess in order to give, the more power it will have in order to take away. And take it away it will! Once the government acquires that kind of power, citizens are, more often than not, powerless to remedy their situation. The twentieth century is replete with examples to this effect. The people of Europe, Russia, Asia, South America and Africa have not only been deprived of goods and property under Communistic regimes, but their very lives as well. It is no exaggeration to say that millions upon millions were killed at the hands of Communistic dictators.

No one else knows better than the Catholic clergy just how ominous Communism really is. Just twenty years after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical entitled, On Atheistic Communism. In it he gives voice to how God sees the dignity of every human being. He said, “[Man] is a true ‘microcosm,’ as the ancients said, a world in miniature, with a value far surpassing that of the vast inanimate cosmos. God alone is his last end, in this life and the next.” But to politicians who are not accountable to the people or to God, individual citizens are cattle to be herded; used for political ends. Pius XI continues:

“Communism, moreover, strips man of his liberty, robs human personality of all its dignity, and removes all the moral restraints that check the eruptions of blind impulse. There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system.”

Only Christianity can give the true account for why the State exists. The Church has always taught that the purpose of the State is to serve the people. Its authority and power comes from God and as such it is to be tempered by its God-given purpose. Furthermore, it was only after the arrival of Christianity that the Church served as a check and balance against the overreaching arm of governments. In ancient pagan civilization the State had no rivals; no other institution existed to keep it in check. Starting with the fourth century, however, the Church served as a kind of mediator between civil authority and the body politic; reminding Emperors, Kings and Princes that their power was constrained by Divine Law but also exhorting citizens to obey just laws. And whatever tension existed between the Church and State throughout the centuries had benefited society. In recent times, this constraining force the Catholic Church historically imposed on the State has weakened considerably; but not to our advantage.

And so we return to the so-called problem of political rhetoric and freedom of speech in America...in the next blog-