Thursday, August 18, 2011

Socialism and the New Evangelization: Two competing movements for the soul of America

Socialism and the New Evangelization:
Two competing movements for the soul of America

Riots in the U.K in recent weeks, global economic uncertainty and the fight to resurrect the U.S. economy, is all symptomatic of a greater conflict between the Catholic Evangelization and the propaganda of Socialism. In 1938, when the line between the City of God and the City of Man, between the Church and the World, between the Free World and Communism, was more clearly defined, a Catholic historian by the name of Christopher Dawson reminded Christians of the following:

“The conflict between Christianity and Marxism- between the Catholic Church and the Communist party –is the vital issue of our time. It is not a rival of economic systems like the systems between Socialism and Capitalism, or of rival political ideals- as with the [Parliamentary system] and Fascism. It is a conflict of rival philosophies and of rival doctrines regarding the very nature of man and society.” (Dawson, Religion and the Modern State) Dawson goes on to say that 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.”

Just a year before, in 1937, Pope Pius XI wrote a compelling encyclical entitled, On Atheistic Communism. In so many words he confirmed what Dawson would later claim, that Communism- and here I would include Socialism –is more than just an economic ideology; indeed, it is a philosophy of life and a way of living. Pius XI cautioned the world that Communism, “more emphatically than similar movements in the past, conceals in itself a false messianic idea…Thus the class struggle with its consequent violent hate and destruction takes on the aspects of a crusade for the progress of humanity.” From this struggle between the haves and have nots comes a political campaign to invoke an all-powerful State to remedy the alleged injustices. But in order to convince the populace that it intends to level the playing field it must acquire the power to do so. And such power can only be purchased from voters with political promises to take care of the needy or the "little guy." In a word, in order for the State to be a master it must first sell itself as a nanny and foster dependence on government programs among its citizens.

Communism, as it existed in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe, that is, in its rigid political form, has yielded to a softer, nanny-like version, namely, Socialism. This friendlier version, something akin to what Alexis de Tocqueville styled in the nineteenth century as “soft despotism,” is precisely what is plaguing America today. But long before Socialism drained the U.S. treasury, it undermined its very soul.

Through State-run education the principles of Socialism have been inculcated, indirectly and directly, in the minds of American children for decades; not just in its economic form but in its philosophical and political form; not just by what it emphasizes- be it environmentalism, class warfare, anti-colonialism and statism –but what it doesn’t emphasize. And what State-run education does not emphasize is God, the Ten Commandments, moral absolutes, the dignity of the immortal soul and the true nature of marriage and the family. Absent these truths, the cult of the State is sure to be propagated as it has been with great success! As the Catholic philosopher Etienne Gilson wrote, “…the only reason why a State may not want children to be educated in view of God is that it wants them to be educated in view of itself.”

What we haven’t come to grips with yet is that Socialism, affectionately embraced by many Catholics due to insufficient catechesis, is diametrically opposed to Catholicism; just as Communism is. It is not only a rival to the free market in some unrelated or compartmentalized sort of way; it is a nemesis to the Gospel itself. Instead of Christ as its Good Shepherd- he who should be the center point of society -the State thus becomes the Good Shepherd. As Cardinal James Gibbons said that it is "in the very nature of man that something must be supreme, something must take the place of the divine when this has been excluded; and this substitute for God, according to a predominant philosophy, is the State."

During the Woodrow Wilson administration (1913-1921), many would argue that Socialism had made progress in the America. Perhaps this is why Cardinal James Gibbons cautioned his fellow Catholics in a 1919 Pastoral Letter that a State-monopoly on the economy or education would spell disaster for America. In this memorable statement he points not only to the problem facing America but the greater conflict that would ensue between Catholic Evangelization and the propaganda of Socialism in the decades to come. He said, “The spirit of our people in general is adverse to State monopoly, and this for the obvious reason that such an absorption of control would mean the end of freedom and initiative. The same consequence is sure to follow when the State attempts to monopolize education; and the disaster will be much greater inasmuch as it will affect, not simply the worldly interests of the citizen, but also his spiritual growth and salvation.”

Postscript: Although this post is not primarily about Socialism versus Capitalism it must be stated that the Church only criticizes the excesses and the misuse of the Free Market (i.e. Capitalism) but never does it condemn it as instrinsically evil as it did with Socialism.

As recent as 1991, Pope John Paul II provides a fine distinction between the positives and negatives in Capitalism:

Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

The answer is obviously complex. If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.
(Centesimus annus)