Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Marxism: The Great Western Heresy

The greatest threat to peace, justice and freedom in the word today comes, not from Christianity as the Left would have you believe, but from the heretical offshoot of Christianity known as Marxism.

When I speak of "the Left" I am using a deliberately vague word whose meaning expands and contracts depending upon the context. It is an umbrella term that includes a number of different categories of people, publications and organizations, all of which trace their intellectual heritage back to Karl Marx (just as groups as different as the Roman Catholic Church, Baptists and Messianic Jews all trace their heritage back to Jesus Christ.) Let me list some of them:

1. Communists - or Marxist/Leninists or Stalinists - unreconstructed cold warriors; many European countries still have Communist parties capable of winning seats in the legislature.
2. Social Democrats - Marxists who renounce violence to achieve their collectivist goals; often believe in a highly taxed, tightly regulated and state monitored "free" market to generate wealth.
3. Progressives - an American movement originating in the early 20th century and dominant in today's Democratic Party that seeks to head off full-blown Communism by transforming America into a European-style, social democratic state.
4. Big Government Liberals -or Welfare State Liberals are liberals in the process of losing their faith in liberalism and becoming socialists in all but name. There is a controversy whether people who self-identify in this way are cynically using a more palatable political label or whether they are honestly trying to prevent Communism by moving in a social democratic or welfare state direction. (The same goes for Progressives.)
5. Liberation Theologians - attempt to combine Marxist analysis with a secularized, politicized, immanentized version of Christian eschatology
6. Anti-Globalization Protesters - also known as Anti-Capitalists; you see this show on TV every time there is a G20 or G8 Summit. These people simplistically identify Capitalism as the source of all evil in the world, but some will not admit to being socialists or communists. The hard core of the movement, however, is definitely Marxist of some kind and the rest are fellow-travelers.
7. Anarchists -claim to believe that no government would be better than imperfect government; it is difficult to believe that they believe in what they claim to believe. Underneath the anarchist exterior is usually a Utopian core. They feel free to tear down without proposing an alternative order because they naively believe that whatever arises after the destruction of the current political order would necessarily be better than the status quo. If you didn't believe that, then you would be no better than a common criminal.
8. Environmentalists - not all those concerned with pollution, but those with a Utopian, anti-industrialist society streak; the latter often make common cause with Marxists.
9. Feminists - second wave Feminists originating in the 1960s use Marxist analysis instead of appealing to Christian humanism and Enlightenment rationalism as earlier Feminists did.

While these nine distinct groups differ over tactics and although some are more extreme than others, all share a common hatred of:

1. Natural law - the belief in objective moral rules and principles that are based in the way reality is; may be specifically Christian or may be rooted in other religions or worldviews.
2. Free enterprise and Private Property - even though many of the movements mentioned above claim to respect private property and the market mechanism, the fact is that doing so makes them inconsistent Marxists. For Marx, private property is equivalent to the disobedience of God's command in Gen. 3 as the cause of original sin.
3. Individual Freedom under the Rule of Law - The state is superior to the individual in all forms of Marxism, which is to say that "Social Justice" (or equality) trumps "Individual Freedom" (or liberty).
4. Judeo-Christian Religion - The Ten Commandments is the basis of Western law and natural law is understood as being congruent with natural law.

Some of these groups claim merely to use Marxist analysis to diagnose the nature of the problems of the world (eg. Latin American Liberation Theology), while others believe that Marxism provides the positive solution as well as the diagnosis of the problem. It is not easy to tell what an individual person believes because in some cases it would make no sense to diagnose capitalism as the problem if socialism is not the solution. In such a case what would the solution be?

All believe that America and Israel are evil and must be severely weakened, if not destroyed. (Anti-Colonialism is often code for Anti-Americanism). They all believe that after a purging of capitalism and liberal democracy from the world there will emerge, somehow, a new world that will be better. All the ideological descendants of Marxism are essentially Utopian. This is the new religion that has come to dominate the Western academy and academic freedom is a tool it uses to eradicate all traces of the Judeo-Christian and Greek philosophical heritage that undergirds the West from the academy.

It is no stretch to call this multi-faceted movement, which traces its roots back to all or aspects of the thought of Karl Marx, a new religion. It is actually a Christian heresy, however, which means that it is a corruption of and a departure from Christianity. A new religion that has its origins in Christianity is a heresy and one that does not have its roots in Christianity is simply another religion, but not a heresy.

1. Eschatology - the Christian idea of the Kingdom of God, which is heaven come to earth after the return of Christ, the final judgment and the resurrection of the dead, is transformed into an earthly political kingdom founded through revolution (or, in the progressive version, through continuous socio-political progress).

2. Redemption - the Christian teaching that God becomes incarnate in Jesus and sheds his blood to propitiate his own justice so that sinful humanity can be redeemed is transformed into the doctrine that bloody revolution and mass murder are the prerequisites for the coming of Utopia and therefore all Marxist-inspired revolutions from Lenin to Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot to Castro and so on have all been bloody and the blood is seen as redemptive.

3. Sin - the Christian teaching that human beings are born in sin by virtue of being descendants of Adam and Eve and then go on to actualize this evil tendency by their own free will is changed into the idea that individuals are born innocent but suffer evil because a corrupt socio-economic system (Capitalism) dominates the world. (Where evil came from before the invention of Capitalism is not explained, but if you go back far enough in history, they believe, you find matriarchal, socialist, free-sex Utopias all over the place. When somebody invented private property - that was the beginning of evil in the world.)

So Marxism is a Christian heresy and Modernity is the period of Western civilization in which this heresy gradually replaces and drives out orthodox Christianity. We are living in the period after Christendom in the sense that we live in the declining phase of Western culture during which time time the heresy predominates, although orthodox Christianity is far from dead. Yet the center of the Christian world is moving south as the Marxist heresy spreads throughout the West. Whether or not some form of Marxism will triumph in the West is not yet known, nor do we know which form it will take if it does. But this we know: if it does triumph Christianity will be eradicated.


Anonymous said...

Well at least conservative Evangelical Christians are free from being Marxists!

Seriously though, in your view, can one oppose Capitalism as an economic system without you labeling them a Marxist? If no, why? If so, what might that look like?

Grace and peace,


Craig Carter said...

It isn't merely a question of what I would label them; it is a question of what they would label themselves. I don't really think the idea of tearing down the structures of society in the name of "The Revolution" without having a proposal for a replacement is the action of a responsible adult. In fact it is somewhere between intellectually lazy and culpably (i.e. willfully) stupid. What if that which emerges from the rubble is the world of 1984? Or the USSR complete with gulags and food lines? Are you just going to say "Oops" and move on? (I don't mean you as in Jonathan, I just mean it generically).

Actually, I would rather someone promote Revolution as an orthodox Marxist who believes the iron laws of history will bring about the classless society if only we can tear down the structures of oppression. Such a person can, at least, be argued with to some extent. The person who just wants to smash the system with no idea of what comes next is impossible to reason with. (The ancient Romans would have called such a person a "barbarian.")

What I find especially difficult to take is the silk stocking critic of capitalism who sits there benefiting from the system while using a Marxist analysis derived from a Marxism they don't quite believe in to undermine the engine of prosperity and antidote to poverty in the world.

Now my question to you is, if you oppose capitalism, why be afraid of being labeled a Marxist?

D. Chambers said...

Hi Dr. Carter,

I strongly agree that Marxism is opposed to the Christian doctrine. I do think more needs to be said about this from the pulpit. There is a implied notion that the teachings of Jesus are more marxist or socialist than anything and that the prophets of the Bible were really religious socialists calling for the same thing progressive-minded people do today. I think capitalism works best when used by responsible Christians who have self-I think Christians are strongly uncomfortable with associating Jesus with Capitalism. As long as Capitalism is uncritically associated with evil and greed and oppression and Marxism with a pristine, pure ideology with bad practicioners such as Stalin and Lenin the conservative Christians will have a hard time abhoring Marxism.


D. Chambers said...

Hi Dr. Carter,

I strongly agree that Marxism is opposed to the Christian doctrine. I do think more needs to be said about this from the pulpit. There is a implied notion that the teachings of Jesus are more marxist or socialist than anything and that the prophets of the Bible were really religious socialists calling for the same thing progressive-minded people do today. I think capitalism works best when used by responsible Christians who have self-I think Christians are strongly uncomfortable with associating Jesus with Capitalism. As long as Capitalism is uncritically associated with evil and greed and oppression and Marxism with a pristine, pure ideology with bad practicioners such as Stalin and Lenin the conservative Christians will have a hard time abhoring Marxism.


D. Chambers said...

**self-control and are accountable to God and to churches

David said...

Thanks for this post Craig.

Two points come to mind though. I think that Marxism is less frustrating to me than 'liberalism', at least as liberalism functions in the west. Marxism is a coherent analysis of the now, based, as you said, on a Christian heresy (which imagines the now as banal, inert matter) and proceeds like all modernist 'answers' to show how a certain form of social and industrial relations can most effectively limit significant unrest. Things can improve for the proletariat so they should sign up, if the bourgeois don't change the dialectic of history will ensure their death, so change is in their interests too. The society that emerges will diminish the need for the dialectic of violence born of this selfishness to continue. It's clear, sensible, and, of course wrong as all modernist approaches are. They all, pace Kant, agree that our selfishness is a core problem and then think they can change the socio-political context without changing us! But they've admitted that we're the problem! As Christians know, and the heretics called Marxists forget, only salvation, transformation, liberation by our Lord Jesus Christ can bring about change in a socio-political context that has, as it's problem, us sinners! Even contemporary Marxists like Zizek admit this.

Western Liberalism however, which is mimetically and partially genetically related to Marxism, forgot the coherent analysis that is Marxism in the 60's. It took socialism and drank, smoke and fornicated it into the distant past. What emerged was a vague memory of Marxism. A vague recollection of the "4 legs good, 2 legs bad" type. Liberals don't know why 'tolerance', 'diversity', 'inclusion' and so on are magical totems of goodness they just have a vague sense they are good and they should bow to them at all opportunities without thinking. They don't know that no one who thinks about it affirms all sexual practice, but they don't think about it, and assume that all sexual practice should be affirmed as that's what is 'tolerant' and 'diverse' and 'open'. The totems emit their siren song, and they blindly follow. They're like a child born of a genetic mutation of marxism.

Todays liberals are more frustrating than Marxists to me, as I can talk to Marxists and when they leave I'll know progress has been made. But when I teach liberals, even when they leave the classroom agreeing with me, I just know they will hear their totemic slogans again and drift back into their unthinking idiocy. I can argue and reason with marxists as there is something solid and coherent to argue against? How can you reason with a liberal who is moved not by argument or analysis but by totemic words of huge power.

My other point has been touched on. While I agree with you on almost everything, you seem to have Dr David Livingston's (one of my heros) belief that an economic system not too dissimilar from capitalism can help shape a context that will allow for a genuine religious freedom, and thereby will allow Christianity to prosper. Our mutual friend Pope John Paul II would, I think, agree with you.

I however am convinced by Dan Bell, Steve Long, Bill Cavanaugh and others that Capitalism today represents a shaping of desire toward commodities which it encourages us to use as the law (Galatians, not Ottawa), that is, like a ladder through which we can justify ourselves by climbing. The desire it sparks and directs is, then, a lust. It is contrary to the shaping of our desire by the Holy Spirit. Capitalism, as a shaping of desire (and 21st century global capitalism, I believe, can not be anything else) must be opposed by Christians in favor of a different alternative economy which we call the Church.

So while I, of course, agree 100% with your critique of Marxism and its bastard children, I remain convinced that capitalism is not neutral, nor can ever be.

God bless you for your great work!

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Craig Carter said...

Those are two great points. Let me make a brief response.

1. I agree completely. Marxists are much easier to debate with than liberals who presuppose many Marxist ideas, often unconsciously.

Suppose we distinguish between liberals and progressives this way. We reserve the term "liberal" for the classical 19th century liberals who genuinely believed in freedom and limited government. We use the term "progressive" to refer to 20th century descendants of liberalism who have taken a great deal of Marxism on board and who are often very illiberal.

2. Further, suppose that we distinguish between classical liberals who were strongly influenced by Christian faith (eg. Wilberforce and the American founders) versus 19th century liberals who lost their Christian faith and embraced Darwinian materialism, utilitarianism etc. These two groups roughly represent the French versus the Anglo-Saxon Enlightenments: one of which worked out an agreement with Christianity and one of which was defined by its anti-clericalism and later its materialism and atheism. (Progressivism, despite existing in the Anglo-Saxon world, breathes the spirit of the French Enlightenment and is deeply hostile to the American Founders and orthodox Christianity.)

This may help to explain why people like me do not see all free enterprise, limited government, the rule of law, individual freedom etc. as simply one big thing called "Capitalism." Classical liberals who allow their practice of capitalism to be disciplined by Christian charity, the family and a belief in providence are not hostile to Christianity. Rather, they see capitalism (liberalism) as appropriate for a fallen world where greed is universal and perfectionism impossible. They live in a tension between this world and the next.

I think Cavanaugh and co. are on to something important when they speak of the Christian limiting, shaping and reformation of desire. St. Augustine thought this way too. But I worry that they may sometimes accept too much of Marx and not enough of Augustine and end up trying to destroy desire instead of disciplining it.

Karl Marx once wrote, invoking Goethe's devil (in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon): "Everything that exists deserves to perish." No Augustinian could ever say that. Nor could any Christian.

We should not oppose capitalism to the church but rather lust, disordered desire, and consumerism. Capitalism is the system that allows prices to be set by the market rather than the government and this is the foundation of economic freedom. By identifying desire with evil (like Marx) and trying to avoid desire, there is a strong tendency to do exactly what the liberals you are so frustrated with do: fly into the arms of the Nanny State.

A free society is a matter of ordered liberty, that is, one in which people are free to act selfishly and lose themselves in lust but most do not. And why not? Because of the economic system? No, because they are members of the Church.

Christianity can discipline desire (i.e. rightly direct desire) as no economic system or government ever could do. For example, take John Wesley's motto: "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can." Socialism says it is too dangerous to let people earn all they can but they do not know the power of the Spirit.

David said...

This debate is really fascinating to me Craig. I must admit to not being on board for a lot of 19th century liberal principles. They imagine that the separation of Church and state is a good thing. I think imagining a distinct entity called "the state", that somehow is owed allegiance and plays a role in defining the self is a problematic thing.

They imagine that democracy is a good in itself. If I thought that this was true I would try to make the Church more democratic.
They seemed to believe in autonomous reason in a Kantian "What is Enlightenment" form. I don't believe in this.
They proclaim a rule of law set down by a state wholly separate from anything called "Church" which makes appeals to only universally proclaimable norms. Such laws function in order to maintain a caricature of the good while people are bad. People don't do x in order to avoid consequence y. But instead a society should inculcate practices that are supportive of Christ's mission and aid the transformation of selves. It swaps "legality" for "Good". You and I know better, but millions of Protestants and Catholics don't. Because of this the law of the land fools people who identify themselves with the state that abortion is legal and thereby 'good'. It substitutes a legal order for a moral one, a state for a Church and this is and has been disastrous. Abortion was normative in pre Christian Rome and now it's common in the post Christian west. I think the Church ceasing to shape the moral imagination of the baptized is to blame and people thinking of themselves as 'citizens' rather than 'the baptized' is hugely problematic and, for me, an indictment of the whole liberal project.

19th C Liberals believed in religion as a private thing seeking to claim the identity of people as citizens from their earlier allegiance to something called the Church, the faithful or the Body of Christ. The liberal secular state will always be antagonistic to the Church in my opinion. Bismarck knew this, clever founding fathers of the U.S. knew this and they saw Roman Catholicism as a threat, as indeed most "progressives" today see evangelicals as a threat and something that they'd like to destroy (as the shapers of the Manhattan Declaration know only too well).

I'm not comfortable in my position here and you do a great job of convincing me I'm wrong (appealing to Augustine and the City of God). I will say though that Augustine, unifying the officies of bishop of the Church and judge for the empire, cannot imagine the secular state, it simply can't make sense to him as it is today. So too Aquinas. We look to him for guidance on Just War but he cannot think about anything other than a Christian prince waging a Just War. Take the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, she is anointed, swears oaths to God, the ceremony is set in biblical narrative, her responsibility is to widows and orphans. Aquinas has enough faith in the Holy Spirit to imagine morally good actions as possible (and maybe even likely) from such a prince, but a secular 'elected" leader like Obama? With no properly biblical responsibility, no coherent explicit and accepted role for the Holy Spirit in his direction and guidance? No chance.

Anyway, I'm ranting! I am close to being convinced by you on this matter but I do think that Augustine and Aquinas' inability to imagine something like today's secular liberal democracies ought be taken into account.

Craig Carter said...

Almost everything you said in the first three paragraphs does not apply to at least most of the American founders. So there is a type of "liberalism" that is not guilty of these things. I think it best to write a new post on Progressivism and we can continue the discussion there.

For now, I can't let this pass without comment:

"I will say though that Augustine, unifying the officies of bishop of the Church and judge for the empire, cannot imagine the secular state, it simply can't make sense to him as it is today."

Read any standard account of Augustine by an actual Augustine scholar (eg. Markus) and you will find that your description is of the early Augustine (conversion in 385-395), not the mature Augustine of The City of God (post 410).

Converted at the height of the Theodosian consolidation of the Christian empire, Augustine was caught up in the Eusebian enthusiasm for "Christian times" as the fulfillment of eschatological predictions of the kingdom of God. But he soon realized that this was overblown hype.

After the sack of Rome, he explained that Rome had fallen because she continued to worship idols. Augustine did believe that a state could achieve an approximation of justice in this age prior to the return of Christ, yet he did not believe in a totally Christianized state.

Far from being unable to imagine the secular, Augustine practically invented the secular - not as a space, but as an age, i.e. the time between Christ's first and second comings. In this age, Christ rules from heaven so his kingdom has not fully come. Yet, wherever his rule is recognized, we see a foreshadowing of the kingdom and we can see both sin and acknowledgments of the rule of Christ in both the Church and the State, which for him must be kept separate in this age.

For Augustine, the city of God, the city of man, the state and the Church are all distinct though overlapping and must not be collapsed into one another. Christendom later did try to make the state into a department of the Church and this was wrong. Modernity tries to subordinate the Church to the State, which is also wrong. But there is a way for the State to recognize the rule of God without becoming the Church and I believe that the American experiment, building on the Anglo-Saxon tradition of liberties, the rule of law, etc. has been able to get right. America is founded on belief in God but church and state are separate. I see it as a fascinating historical experiment in applied Augustinianism.

David said...

A book I'm working on makes the point you do about Augustine practically inventing the secular as his battles with Pelagians wage on after 410. I'm not yet sure though that secular states as we know them are akin to those within Augustine's saeculum which is a waiting, an interim time. Yes, within this time an ordering that is not to be conflated with the Church has a explicit role (stopping Augustine getting killed by Barbarians for example!) and here you are 100% right of course, but I'm not sure that any role such states have are coherently relatable to today's secular states because of the huge gulf in the nature of the states.
Maybe so though, you persuasively claim that the U.S., may be the exception (compared to European secular states for example, as constitutionally they are committed to actually pay up on religious freedom) and then you persuasively suggest that we should envision Church - State relations today as echoing Augustine's Church - State in City of God.

You are a persuasive man and I'm getting there!

My slowness is predicated upon my being unsure that Augustine does not go too far contra pelagians in his imagining of the saeculum. I'm not certain that the City of God is the most biblical model of Church State relations, and throw in my uncertainty about conflating "city of man" with "secular nation state" and you see why I'm being convinced by you more slowly than I should be!

I'm also always uncomfortable with attacks on Christendom (although I'd probably not be able to say that out loud!). A properly theological imagination shared by participants in a government cannot see roles and responsibilities as other than to God and God's will for God's people. Take a chessboard - every piece on the back row, even the rook, becomes what it is in a religious ceremony, the space outside of God's rule, power and involvement is unimaginable. "Christendom" in one sense, is what happens when lots of people in a place understand themselves properly.

I'm not an ethicist though nor a political theorist (both of which are probably evident!) the book I'm writing this sabbatical is about how soteriology has a big impact on radical Christian witness. I'm looking at Alexandrians (Origen and Clement especially) and their 'deification' emphasis and how this grounds their approach to war and peace. I then look at Augustine and how his increasing discomfort with any mingling of the soul and the triune life on earth after 412 and look at how this has a profound impact on his imagining of the saeculum. The doctrinal stuff is fine, with the political stuff I'm on very alien ground. But less alien thanks to all the time I've spent reading this blog! Many thanks again :)