Communism and Christianity

iBrian

Peace, Love and Unity
Veteran Member
Messages
6,542
Reaction score
30
Points
48
Location
Scotland
It was suggested in the thread The Secular Experiment that Christianity is the actual root of Communism.

While my initial reaction is to agree there are ideological similarities, I would also be concerned that it's an attempt to blame religion for more "unpleasant" secular ideals.

So to try and focus more on that specific discussion issue -

1. To what degree is Christianity the actual ideological root of Communism?
2. To what degree is Christianity the actual ideological root of Seculaism in general?







 
1. To what degree is Christianity the actual ideological root of Communism?

Time to dust off my internet copy of The Kingdom of God is Within You. Here's a bit of what Tolstoy says about Communism and Christianity:

Humanity! Where is the definition of humanity? Where does it end and where does it begin? Does humanity end with the savage, the idiot, the dipsomaniac, or the madman? If we draw a line excluding from humanity its lowest representatives, where are we to draw the line? Shall we exclude the negroes like the Americans, or the Hindoos like some Englishmen, or the Jews like some others? If we include all men without exception, why should we not include also the higher animals, many of whom are superior to the lowest specimens of the human race.

We know nothing of humanity as an eternal object, and we know nothing of its limits. Humanity is a fiction, and it is impossible to love it. It would, doubtless, be very advantageous if men could love humanity just as they love their family. It would be very advantageous, as Communists advocate, to replace the competitive, individualistic organization of men's activity by a social universal organization, so that each would be for all and all for each

Only there are no motives to lead men to do this. The Positivists, the Communists, and all the apostles of fraternity on scientific principles advocate the extension to the whole of humanity of the love men feel for themselves, their families, and the state. They forget that the love which they are discussing is a personal love, which might expand in a rarefied form to embrace a man's native country, but which disappears before it can embrace an artificial state such as Austria, England, or Turkey, and which we cannot even conceive of in relation to all humanity, an absolutely mystic conception.

"A man loves himself (his animal personality), he loves his family, he even loves his native country. Why should he not love humanity? That would be such an excellent thing. And by the way, it is precisely what is taught by Christianity." So think the advocates of Positivist, Communistic, or Socialistic fraternity.

It would indeed be an excellent thing. But it can never be, for the love that is based on a personal or social conception of life can never rise beyond love for the state.

The fallacy of the argument lies in the fact that the social conception of life, on which love for family and nation is founded, rests itself on love of self, and that love grows weaker and weaker as it is extended from self to family, tribe, nationality, and slate; and in the state we reach the furthest limit beyond which it cannot go.

The necessity of extending the sphere of love is beyond dispute. But in reality the possibility of this love is destroyed by the necessity of extending its object indefinitely. And thus the insufficiency of personal human love is made manifest.

And here the advocates of Positivist, Communistic, Socialistic fraternity propose to draw upon Christian love to make up the default of this bankrupt human love; but Christian love only in its results, not in its foundations. They propose love for humanity alone, apart from love for God.


But such a love cannot exist. There is no motive to produce it. Christian love is the result only of the Christian conception of life, in which the aim of life is to love and serve God.


The social conception of life has led men, by a natural transition from love of self and then of family, tribe, nation, and state, to a consciousness of the necessity of love for humanity, a conception which has no definite limits and extends to all living things. And this necessity for love of what awakens no kind of sentiment in a man is a contradiction which cannot be solved by the social theory of life.

The Christian doctrine in its full significance can alone solve it, by giving a new meaning to life. Christianity recognizes love of self, of family, of nation, and of humanity, and not only of humanity, but of everything living, everything existing; it recognizes the necessity of an infinite extension of the sphere of love. But the object of this love is not found outside self in societies of individuals, nor in the external world, but within self, in the divine self whose essence is that very love, which the animal self is brought to feel the need of through its consciousness of its own perishable nature.
Apologies for not using many of my own words and thoughts here, and mods feel free to remove this post if it is not in the right spirit of the discussion. While some of the ideals of Christianity may have been adopted (or even highjacked) and used to justify communism, I do not think that communism is really rooted in Christianity. Having said that, I don't think that communism, as an ideology, is evil. It is "idealistic" and like most ideolgies put into practice as governance it is quickly corrupted by our human weaknesses.

I agree with Tolstoy that any government upheld by force or coercion defies Christian principles. However, I'm at a loss to suggest a way to govern that does not involve making people subject to some type of central authority.

lunamoth
 
Last edited:
I said:
It was suggested in the thread The Secular Experiment that Christianity is the actual root of Communism.


While my initial reaction is to agree there are ideological similarities, I would also be concerned that it's an attempt to blame religion for more "unpleasant" secular ideals.

So to try and focus more on that specific discussion issue -

1. To what degree is Christianity the actual ideological root of Communism?
2. To what degree is Christianity the actual ideological root of Seculaism in general?​


Naturally this will turn on phrasing & nuance. I wouldn’t go so far as to boldly state that “Christianity is the root of Communism” because that oversimplifies the case in several ways.

First of all, I would say that “Christianity” only exists in the metaphysical sense. In practical terms, even before the Reformation there have always been “Christianities”, a variety of competing visions based on the ambiguities and alternate readings of the gospels. To take extremes, in the United States you have some conservative Christians who make Jesus sound like the prophet of self-reliance, in favour Capitalism & small government, while on the left there is the long standing social gospel which assimilates public institutions to the injunction to serve the poor. And of course there is the outstanding example of Liberation Theology in Latin America, in revolt against a conservative Catholic establishment. So in this sense, if you look at the spectrum of Christianities as formative components of Western culture, you can say that Christianity is the root of everything, which would clearly make the idea of Christianity being the root of anything in particular rather meaningless.

Secondly, I think we need a much wider context. The true framework is the Abrahamic tradition as a whole. It represents a mode of eschatological thinking, of metaphysical/ethical dualism, which is not strictly universal, a fact that we who live inside this culture often have a hard time understanding. It’s this thinking that percolates through Christianity, but it percolates through Jewish and Islamic culture as well, and in the broadest terms shapes our modes of thinking. (Of course, all these cultures were shaped by Greek thought as well, which further strengthens their commonality.)

The upshot is, that when we hear of a suicide bomber blowing up a school bus, we may be shocked; we may have a hard time understanding, from our more privilege places, how anyone could be so desperate, and throw his or her life away in so hideous a fashion. But when we honestly listen to the reasoning, the way this act was rationalized, we must recognize with some discomfort how close it is to our own thinking about sacrifice, God & absolute truth. We’re not nearly so far from religious extremism as we think we are.

I think we prefer to distance ourselves from the difficulties of the tradition and its texts. Pat Robertson talks about assassinating Chavez or about Sharon getting what he deserved, and we’re scandalized and claim he’s an aberration. If fact, he speaks for a kind of Christianity that still exists, and when you look at his biblical citations you might have a different interpretation but still have a hard time dismissing his on purely logical grounds. We may believe it’s the word of God, but the devil is in the details, and no more so than in the details of scripture.

So, regarding your first proposed question, I would say that Christianity as a subset of, and in conjunction with, the larger Abrahamic tradition, while not the sole root of Communism, is broadly speaking, with the rise of modern industrial capitalism, one of the two most important roots of most totalitarian ideologies. Again, while much can be learned by studying modern economic conditions, I don’t know how you really get inside the head of European ideology without bringing in these Judeo-Christian roots.

Regarding your second question, the first problem is: what is secularism? If it means the consumer society, instant gratification, of no human value beyond what is in reach of the senses, than it’s merely negative, an absence of all spiritual values, another word for nihilism. In that sense, it has little to do with Christianity, or any other ideology, but is merely an example of what the Buddha called “tanha”, or instinctual craving.

On the other hand, there is a positive meaning for secular, which can be another word for pluralism. Here the idea is not that there is no greater or more ultimate reality, but that the human means to express this reality are varied, and cannot be reduced to a monolithic system without doing damage to both ourselves and the truth. So this is the wall between church & state Thomas Jefferson talked about, the notion that the greater reality is there for free exploration, but that the ordering of society should be much more modest in scope, relying more on Greek reason than on biblical ideology.

In that sense, secular society was created against, or at least in tension with traditional Christianity, with its creeds, catechisms & metaphysical absolutes. Of course, one can also argue that Christianity was also a midwife, in a sense, to secularism on a more subtle level with the interiorization of consciousness some say it brought to the European mind, especially regarding the late explosion of Protestantism and its emphasis on a direct relationship with God. But I would think the fact remains that the secular mind and the minds of traditional Christianities remain in tension.

So that’s my take. Hopefully you’ll get some more responses.
 
lunamoth said:
1. To what degree is Christianity the actual ideological root of Communism?

Time to dust off my internet copy of The Kingdom of God is Within You. Here's a bit of what Tolstoy says about Communism and Christianity:


Apologies for not using many of my own words and thoughts here, and mods feel free to remove this post if it is not in the right spirit of the discussion. While some of the ideals of Christianity may have been adopted (or even highjacked) and used to justify communism, I do not think that communism is really rooted in Christianity. Having said that, I don't think that communism, as an ideology, is evil. It is "idealistic" and like most ideolgies put into practice as governance it is quickly corrupted by our human weaknesses.

I agree with Tolstoy that any government upheld by force or coercion defies Christian principles. However, I'm at a loss to suggest a way to govern that does not involve making people subject to some type of central authority.

lunamoth

Hi Lunamoth.

- Thanks for posting this bit of Tolsoy. He's impassioned & moving - though sometimes a little over-the-top!

- Addressing this kind of passionate text isn't easy. I'll just throw out a couple brief points.

- The very fact that Tolsoy is expending this much energy distinguishing his Christianity from secular philosophies illustrates how closely related these modes of thinking are. We may differ on whether the problem is only the perversion of an original message, or whether the original message itself is part of the problem, but I think there's no debating the close relationship in ways of thinking.

- If I understand him correctly, he's making a distinction between an idea of universal love based on reason & the evidence of the senses, as opposed to one based on a direct experience of God.

- He correctly points out the thinness and abstraction of love based on mere reason; in a bit of wit, he calls it mystical, while I think most of us would see his experience of God, as he describes it, has highly mystical.

- This is the interesting point for me. Here I think Tolstoy was prophetic, because the complete destruction of the communist ideal, as it devolved into doctrinaire Marxism, calculating Leninism, murderous Stalinism, hideous Maoism, arose precisely out of the human need to put flesh on ideological bones, add deep emotion to mere abstraction. Hence the cult of personality, and states, like North Korea today, that have taken on many of the trappings of a theocracy.

- So Christians can rightly point out that, while the Catholic Church (for example) may historically have been as rigid & ideological as any modern totalitarian system, no pope was ever a Stalin, Hitler or Mao, no inquisition ever reached the depths of the Holocaust. (Of course some might say they simply lacked the technology, but only if he or she were mischievous.;) )

- The difficulty I keep returning to - my hobbyhorse, as you well know - is the absolutist tenor of all these modes of thinking, a rigorous reduction of the vast complexities of human life & existence to one framework, one set of concepts, often one particular vocabulary, holy ground, history.

- This marks me as a person of mature age, no doubt, but this is the story of most idealisms. Some of the most vicious tyrants in history (don't ask me to cite my sources!) have precisely been disappointed idealists.

- There's a thin line between idealist and ideologue.

- Not that I've given up on idealism. I just think for it to work you have to be sly as serpent and gentle as a dove, as the scripture goes.

- Will to power, as I've pontificated before, is so pervasive on every level, right down to our individual self-righteous selves/not-selves, that our frontal assaults almost always backfire. We're better off to try some method of subversion.

- We may have to trick ourselves into being as good as we'd like to be.

- Here's a minor contemporary example. Christopher Hitchens, political writer & man of letters, was once a Trotskyite and violent critic of the Vietnam War; now he supports Bush and the decision to invade Iraq. The difference? An ideological calculation. Hitchens sees the Iraq war as a battle of civilisations, between enlightenment values & medieval theocracy. He's chosen a side, and like every ideologue he's committed to his side, whatever the cost, even to the point of supporting actions that are ill-timed, risky, clumsy, which may result in yet greater calamities, and that now result in great loss of innocent life. To the ideologue, none of this matters. What matters is loyalty to his side and adherence to the grand strategy.

- Of course, in the reality of human life as it is, one is compelled to take sides, resort to force. But there's a great difference between taking sides compassionately, pragmatically, with the human costs ever in mind, with the full realization of the world's plurality, and taking sides ruthlessly, as a Manichean, arbitrarily dividing the world into light & dark, like Blake's Urizen with his compass.
 
Devadatta said:
Hi Lunamoth.

- Thanks for posting this bit of Tolsoy. He's impassioned & moving - though sometimes a little over-the-top!
Oh yes, the Church thought he was quite over the top too. It is interesting to me that at the end of his life he gave all his property away to his relatives. I love to read Tolstoy's impassioned words, but how can I agree, in practicality, to shun all government and implore all others to do so as well. I'm not an anarchist! Until we are all enlightened, and I do not claim to be anywhere near it! unrestricted "freedom" for all will end up freedom for none. I fear it would be survival of the fittest.

- The very fact that Tolsoy is expending this much energy distinguishing his Christianity from secular philosophies illustrates how closely related these modes of thinking are. We may differ on whether the problem is only the perversion of an original message, or whether the original message itself is part of the problem, but I think there's no debating the close relationship in ways of thinking.
I don't think communism was perversion of the Christian message. Doesn't communism outlaw all religion, including Christianity? I don't know much about it myself but Tolstoy above suggests that really they (communists, whoever they are??) just highjacked some of the message and twisted it to fit their ideology. Not too different from Rome adopting Christianity in that way. So, who can claim that communism started as a Christian movement?

- If I understand him correctly, he's making a distinction between an idea of universal love based on reason & the evidence of the senses, as opposed to one based on a direct experience of God.

- He correctly points out the thinness and abstraction of love based on mere reason; in a bit of wit, he calls it mystical, while I think most of us would see his experience of God, as he describes it, has highly mystical.
I'm not sure that he means a direct experience of God in the sense of having a transcendent experience. If Anna Karenina is informative of Tolstoy's experience, then I would say it was more of a breakthrough in reason and logic that moved Tolstoy to belief. His was a very practical Christianity and he poo-pooed (and worse) the Mystery adored by the Church. To me the passage I quoted suggests that he makes a distinction between our love based upon our humanness (which bottom line always is selfishness) and the unlimited Love of God that flows to us when we understand Jesus when he said 'love your enemies." That like of love for the unlovable takes complete trust and the only One worthy of such trust is God. Don't push me on this point because once again I am in over my head in this discussion :) .

- This is the interesting point for me. Here I think Tolstoy was prophetic, because the complete destruction of the communist ideal, as it devolved into doctrinaire Marxism, calculating Leninism, murderous Stalinism, hideous Maoism, arose precisely out of the human need to put flesh on ideological bones, add deep emotion to mere abstraction. Hence the cult of personality, and states, like North Korea today, that have taken on many of the trappings of a theocracy.
I can't comment much on this. I don't really know how, in the 'ideal' communist government, anyone was put into a position of power. Maybe someone here can help me out. Perhaps because the idea of communism (complete egalitarianism) and the need for someone to be calling the shots are at such odds that it leavesa vacuum in the practical application. The vacuum is then easily filled by a central authority that can work in secrecy, with no checks and balances.

Now, frankly, in one's religious life there is merit, indeed virtue, in obedience. I think that is why the mixture of church and state, or a theocracy, is such a dangerous thing. Having said that, I still want my representatives and President to reflect my values, which happen to be Christian values. Luckily, they are also values that are shared across many religions.

- So Christians can rightly point out that, while the Catholic Church (for example) may historically have been as rigid & ideological as any modern totalitarian system, no pope was ever a Stalin, Hitler or Mao, no inquisition ever reached the depths of the Holocaust. (Of course some might say they simply lacked the technology, but only if he or she were mischievous.;) )
No need to pick on the Pope, but no one is going to argue that religion is free of responsibility for many atrocities. But, like Houston Smith, I still hold the line that it is the highjacking of religion, rather than the religious ideals themselves, that leads to these crimes.

- The difficulty I keep returning to - my hobbyhorse, as you well know - is the absolutist tenor of all these modes of thinking, a rigorous reduction of the vast complexities of human life & existence to one framework, one set of concepts, often one particular vocabulary, holy ground, history.
I agree that absolutism is a dangerous mindset, yet relativism is just as bad in its way. No worries--I know you udnerstand this. However, I think you often paint religions, esp the Abrahamic faiths, with just those same broad and reductionist brush strokes. Tolstoy did too. These blindly obedient, shallow, crushingly oppressive absolutists you rail against are by far not the majority.

- This marks me as a person of mature age, no doubt, but this is the story of most idealisms. Some of the most vicious tyrants in history (don't ask me to cite my sources!) have precisely been disappointed idealists.

- There's a thin line between idealist and ideologue.

- Not that I've given up on idealism. I just think for it to work you have to be sly as serpent and gentle as a dove, as the scripture goes.
I'm glad you're not going to give up on idealism. :D

Will to power, as I've pontificated before, is so pervasive on every level, right down to our individual self-righteous selves/not-selves, that our frontal assaults almost always backfire. We're better off to try some method of subversion.

- We may have to trick ourselves into being as good as we'd like to be.

- Here's a minor contemporary example. Christopher Hitchens, political writer & man of letters, was once a Trotskyite and violent critic of the Vietnam War; now he supports Bush and the decision to invade Iraq. The difference? An ideological calculation. Hitchens sees the Iraq war as a battle of civilisations, between enlightenment values & medieval theocracy. He's chosen a side, and like every ideologue he's committed to his side, whatever the cost, even to the point of supporting actions that are ill-timed, risky, clumsy, which may result in yet greater calamities, and that now result in great loss of innocent life. To the ideologue, none of this matters. What matters is loyalty to his side and adherence to the grand strategy.

- Of course, in the reality of human life as it is, one is compelled to take sides, resort to force. But there's a great difference between taking sides compassionately, pragmatically, with the human costs ever in mind, with the full realization of the world's plurality, and taking sides ruthlessly, as a Manichean, arbitrarily dividing the world into light & dark, like Blake's Urizen with his compass.

Well, many more creative thoughts there than I can deal with in one sitting! To an idealogue, as you use it above, decisions are made easy. You just need to logically reason out the advantages and disadvantages to your "side." In our complex world it is very difficult to take sides compassionately, pragmatically with the human costs ever in mind.

lunamoth
 
I said:
It was suggested in the thread The Secular Experiment that Christianity is the actual root of Communism.


While my initial reaction is to agree there are ideological similarities, I would also be concerned that it's an attempt to blame religion for more "unpleasant" secular ideals.

So to try and focus more on that specific discussion issue -

1. To what degree is Christianity the actual ideological root of Communism?
2. To what degree is Christianity the actual ideological root of Seculaism in general?


1. The degree of Christianity being the actual ideological root of Communism is rather small. Nor is Communism actually based on Christian roots. Rather it is based in great part on early Greek thought, prior to Christianity. At Plato's time there was the concept of the "Golden Age", where all owned everything, and there were no class concepts. The purest ideal was actually benevolent, being that it was a basic communal concept. Oh, individuals owned certain properties or possessions, but the things that made the community function successfully, were community owned.

Even in Middle America today we have such concepts. Farmers farm their land, and the lot of them within a certain area purchase combines together. 10 farms use the same equipment to sow and reap the harvest, and hence, boost profits. However, it is an agreement that can be broken by anyone, at anytime...with no retribution (also no further support).

2. The degree in which Christianity is the actual ideological root of Seculaism in general, is very interesting Brian. Jesus is noted for declaring that people give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's and to God what is God's, (and complain not). Christianity also declares that Christians shall be in this world, but not of it. But here is the kicker...

America is the first "major" nation (after time), to prohibit the "STATE" from declaring a church or religion as law...

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to the Anibaptists of New England promised, that there would be a "separation" of Church and State, meaning the State would not attempt to impose a state religion over anyone.

I believe this is the beginning of "secularism" in the modern world.

my thoughts

v/r

Q
 
Quahom1 said:
1. The degree of Christianity being the actual ideological root of Communism is rather small. Nor is Communism actually based on Christian roots. Rather it is based in great part on early Greek thought, prior to Christianity. At Plato's time there was the concept of the "Golden Age", where all owned everything, and there were no class concepts. The purest ideal was actually benevolent, being that it was a basic communal concept. Oh, individuals owned certain properties or possessions, but the things that made the community function successfully, were community owned.

Even in Middle America today we have such concepts. Farmers farm their land, and the lot of them within a certain area purchase combines together. 10 farms use the same equipment to sow and reap the harvest, and hence, boost profits. However, it is an agreement that can be broken by anyone, at anytime...with no retribution (also no further support).[/left]

Hi Q.

It’s true that communism as an idea can be found elsewhere, but there’s a great difference between an idea in seed and in realization. Plato in his Republic proposed a kind of communism but his proposal remained a thought experiment with no practical political outcome that I’m aware of.

I think you’re right that the communal idea is widespread and figures into the communist ideal. But I think we should also keep in mind that in European history Christianity has always had a central place in communal and socialist thinking, based on the gospel of love, on certain sayings of Jesus, and on the perceived primitive communism of the apostles and early Christians.

In any case, I don’t think you find the essential core of communism as it was actually realized either in the Greeks or in the natural impulse to communalism. As you’re probably aware, at the core of communism is the faux theology of dialectical materialism, a determinist philosophy which sees human history as powered by class struggle and necessarily moving through certain stages from feudalism through mercantilism, capitalism and finally ending with the definitive victory of the proletariat, the withering away of state authority and the emergence of a completely just society lacking all forms of coercion - the end of history. Your golden age.

And at the back of Marxism is a whole tradition of German philosophy, especially, it’s said, Hegel, and its great fascination with the idea of a collective Will moving through history, and giving it a certain direction & shape. This fascination/fixation unfortunately became assimilated to the idea of national or racial Will and was influential in Nazi thinking, which talked of a 1,000 year Reich, i.e., a millennium.

All of this should by now sound familiar. This general view of history is the bible’s great innovation. In the bible, history is the manifested Will of God; it has a special, sacred meaning beyond the mundane; it’s powered by the struggle of class, the chosen against the unchosen; it ends with the final reckoning, the reign of justice, the millennium.

Radicals of all ages & places, from the Paris commune to our contemporary suicide bombers, storm the ramparts not based on simple communal feeling or Greek thought, but on their deep conviction of being on the right side of history.

One may say, of course, that these kind of ideas exist in seed form elsewhere, that the idea of justice as the identity of virtue & power is fairly universal. But what isn’t universal is this dynamic view of history and the identity of social revolution & salvation. In traditional India, to the extent history was regarded at all, it was in the context of vast cycles, not one track with no exit this side of the rapture. Traditional China had the concept of the mandate of heaven, but fulfilling this mandate did not entail the end of history.

So again I don’t know how one understands the rise of modern European totalitarian ideologies, like communism, without taking into account these profound biblical roots.

But why do we need to understand? Am I just being a bummer? Why can’t we just rest secure in our sense of innocence? Anyway, we’re not Nazis, Stalinists, members of Al Qaeda. We’re decent Christians, Muslims, etc. These groups just highjacked our otherwise inerrant beliefs.
Here are a few that occur to me:

1. Biblical ideological has strongly conditioned our way of thinking, in all Christian, Jewish and Islamic cultures, whether current or lapsed, religious or secular. In fact, at this stage in history it’s influenced the thinking of people around the globe. If we don’t have some understanding of this conditioning, we have little chance of knowing who we are or where we’re going.

2. We also have little chance of understanding, or effectively dealing with extreme manifestations of biblical ideology, like suicide bombers, until we reduce the distance we put between us and them. We are not as different as we think we are; the same violence exists in us, in perhaps more attenuated form. (See Gandhi.) When we don’t recognize our essential identity with these others, we create space or absence. This absence is the absence of God, which according to Augustine is the definition of evil.

3. Here’s a simpler one: the benefits of bad examples. The better we understand how easily the conjunction of power & virtue can turn evil, the better equipped we are to avoid the same slippery path.

4. Another simple one: the more we know about these deep impulses and their dangers the better chance we have of turning them to good rather than evil purposes.

5. Most importantly to me, the biblical ideology, or worldview, is a tremendously powerful instrument for social revolution and social control, and as such is tremendously dangerous. We can’t escape it. It’s in our DNA. But in my view, we better have as deep as knowledge of its workings as we can, and never have the spiritual chutzpah to think we’re immune to its distortions, or to creating those distortions ourselves.

(Speaking of a particularly feeble example of will to power, see how easily I slip into a sermon! Luckily, I do it for free. I appreciate your greater brevity.)
 
I am of the opinion that what was founded in the early and middle 20th century and called "communism" is anything but, and certainly not founded on Christian principles. In fact, the first thing the new "communistic governments" did was remove God from the picture completely (especially Christianity, Judeasm and Islam). As for the communal concept, well I think history shows that was merely lip service, and the reality is that everything was and is state owned, state run, and state sanctioned, otherwise quite frankly socialism to the extreme.

The closest thing to a successful "communistic" society, I believe is that of the Israeli Kibutz, and perhaps other similar isolated communities low in population, and tight in familial circles.

In that light, and in the purest sense of "communism", perhaps Christianity and/or Abrahamic faiths did have the honor of providing the roots.

In a communistic society, everyone is all and everyone matters, and God is most welcome, wherein a socialistic society is owned and run by the state, the state does everything, and expects absolute allegiance from the people...and God has no place.

my thoughts ;)

v/r

Q
 
Good points, Q. A communistic community could be a Christian community, or hold any other religious belief. And, I think you make a good point about the size and family relationships in the community. It takes a lot of trust and the larger the group the less change that trust can be maintained.

Anyone see The Village?

cheers,
lunamoth
 
Quahom1 said:
I am of the opinion that what was founded in the early and middle 20th century and called "communism" is anything but, and certainly not founded on Christian principles. In fact, the first thing the new "communistic governments" did was remove God from the picture completely (especially Christianity, Judeasm and Islam). As for the communal concept, well I think history shows that was merely lip service, and the reality is that everything was and is state owned, state run, and state sanctioned, otherwise quite frankly socialism to the extreme.

The closest thing to a successful "communistic" society, I believe is that of the Israeli Kibutz, and perhaps other similar isolated communities low in population, and tight in familial circles.

In that light, and in the purest sense of "communism", perhaps Christianity and/or Abrahamic faiths did have the honor of providing the roots.

In a communistic society, everyone is all and everyone matters, and God is most welcome, wherein a socialistic society is owned and run by the state, the state does everything, and expects absolute allegiance from the people...and God has no place.

my thoughts ;)

Don't really take issue with what you're saying here. I guess I would only say that I took the discussion to be about the relationship between Christianity and Communism as they've actually existed in history, not as ideals. As ideals there's nothing much to discuss. I think it's only the concrete realities that in these cases provide real matter for discussion, and tell us something about the nature of the ideals themselves - though this latter point I believe neither you nor Lunamoth would agree with.

All the best.
 
Devadatta said:
I think it's only the concrete realities that in these cases provide real matter for discussion, and tell us something about the nature of the ideals themselves - though this latter point I believe neither you nor Lunamoth would agree with.

All the best.

I agree that it is the concrete realities that are meaningful and worth discussion, but I'll have to bow out for lack of sufficient knowledge to discuss them point by point intelligently.

But Deva, I do disagree with your main premise that the Abrahamic faiths have set us up for abusive idealogues, dictators, and other types of absolutist authorities. It is our root human nature, our fallibility, our pride, our weakness in caving in toward picking the golden apple that makes any 'pure' ideology fail in practice.

It is our pride and self-conceit, Deva, that allows us to think that we really can come up with one perfect system that will give justice for all, if only we force it on everyone around us. Even something like communism or socialism, which are based in ideals such as egalitarianism and compassion, are easily corrupted in practice. Are Abrahamic faiths the only source of those ideals?

You can't say that all authoritative, absolutist leanings come from the Abrahamic faiths. What about the dynasties of China and Japan? What about the caste system of India? You can't pin it on the Abrahamic faiths, you can't even pin in on religion in general. You can only pin it on weak human nature, the seduction of power, the very weaknesses that religions seek to counteract. If you want to pin it on religion, you need to go to the foundation and pin it on the virtues, compassion, justice, peace. Religion has no corner of the market of idealism, or self-conceit.

Yes, we can speak in ideals as much as we like but it does not reflect reality. In reality life is messy and if anything is predictible it is that humans are corruptible. The answer to a messy life is a 'messy' govenance, one that is guided by ideals but acknowledges (attempts to deal with) the realities. It's not going to be perfect but if it is flexible it can work toward getting 'more just.' It may not be perfectly just, but if it is transparent it can be held accountable for that injustice.

The accounts of the Bible are not saying that God is going to give some humans mandates to 'take over the world' or some part of it. The accounts of the Bible show that when humans make that mistake to think that they can ignore injustice when they see or create it, there will be consequences. And I don't mean God coming down with his smiting stick, as BB would say. It means just as we see in modern history--those corrupt governments fall and they fall hard, and innocent people are killed. And I am not saying that any country, including the US, is exempt from those consequences. In fact I think we are seeing it ever more strongly in this country. We are Rome.

Now, if you really want to get me going then let's talk about objectivism, which would be a philosphy devoid of religion.

Gotta run!
lunamoth
 
Devadatta said:
Don't really take issue with what you're saying here. I guess I would only say that I took the discussion to be about the relationship between Christianity and Communism as they've actually existed in history, not as ideals. As ideals there's nothing much to discuss. I think it's only the concrete realities that in these cases provide real matter for discussion, and tell us something about the nature of the ideals themselves - though this latter point I believe neither you nor Lunamoth would agree with.

All the best.

Don't know Deva. I would have to hear further on the issues. ;)

But I think I have a pretty open mind.

v/r

Q
 
lunamoth said:
I agree that it is the concrete realities that are meaningful and worth discussion, but I'll have to bow out for lack of sufficient knowledge to discuss them point by point intelligently.

But Deva, I do disagree with your main premise that the Abrahamic faiths have set us up for abusive idealogues, dictators, and other types of absolutist authorities. It is our root human nature, our fallibility, our pride, our weakness in caving in toward picking the golden apple that makes any 'pure' ideology fail in practice.

It is our pride and self-conceit, Deva, that allows us to think that we really can come up with one perfect system that will give justice for all, if only we force it on everyone around us. Even something like communism or socialism, which are based in ideals such as egalitarianism and compassion, are easily corrupted in practice. Are Abrahamic faiths the only source of those ideals?

You can't say that all authoritative, absolutist leanings come from the Abrahamic faiths. What about the dynasties of China and Japan? What about the caste system of India? You can't pin it on the Abrahamic faiths, you can't even pin in on religion in general. You can only pin it on weak human nature, the seduction of power, the very weaknesses that religions seek to counteract. If you want to pin it on religion, you need to go to the foundation and pin it on the virtues, compassion, justice, peace. Religion has no corner of the market of idealism, or self-conceit.

Yes, we can speak in ideals as much as we like but it does not reflect reality. In reality life is messy and if anything is predictible it is that humans are corruptible. The answer to a messy life is a 'messy' govenance, one that is guided by ideals but acknowledges (attempts to deal with) the realities. It's not going to be perfect but if it is flexible it can work toward getting 'more just.' It may not be perfectly just, but if it is transparent it can be held accountable for that injustice.

The accounts of the Bible are not saying that God is going to give some humans mandates to 'take over the world' or some part of it. The accounts of the Bible show that when humans make that mistake to think that they can ignore injustice when they see or create it, there will be consequences. And I don't mean God coming down with his smiting stick, as BB would say. It means just as we see in modern history--those corrupt governments fall and they fall hard, and innocent people are killed. And I am not saying that any country, including the US, is exempt from those consequences. In fact I think we are seeing it ever more strongly in this country. We are Rome.

Now, if you really want to get me going then let's talk about objectivism, which would be a philosphy devoid of religion.

Gotta run!
lunamoth

Hi Luna.

- Finally have some quiet moments to reply to your thoughtful take on the topic.

- Not that I’ve been doing anything interesting, but I have been busy, and then we had a power failure due to high winds on Saturday. We stood around for a while looking at one another, bereft of electricity. Truly we were lost souls! But then we dug out the wind-up radio with built-in flashlight and had hours of entertainment.

- I think the divide here (wide or narrow, depending on your point of view) is between those who read the bible through the eyes of faith, and those, like me, who read it through ordinary eyes. Of course, there’s a wide range of opinion on either side of the divide but I think the divide itself is crucial. Neither side has an easier time of it, but I think you find yourself on one side or the other because that side feels intuitively easier or more self-evident to you, or at least more conformable to common sense.

- So from my side, when you say that these things are rooted in human frailty, I agree, but I extend this frailty to the bible itself, and to the institutions & worldviews that have arisen from it. From my perspective, this is not to demonize this collection of texts, or pretend that here is the source of all evil, but only to dispassionately look at how these texts have influenced our way of thinking, and how they are distinct from other textual traditions.

- So I agree that human beings hardly need the bible to rationalize power & oppression, since as you quite rightly point out these behaviours are ultimately rooted in us (and in our concrete situations) and not in mere texts. My ancestors in northern Europe raped & pillaged with all due diligence long before they discovered the bible, and learned how it could be adopted to their own ends – or worse, how they could invent their own, far more dangerous, ideologies, based on the biblical template.

- The caste system in India is an interesting contrast, which I believe only supports what I’m saying. Here’s a culture diametrically opposed to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic stream, in that before the modern era it had social duties but no social gospel, no sense of an identity between revolution & salvation, little notion of a linear time with a single historical narrative. Instead, they had time as vast cycles, and salvation ultimately based in some form of yoga, all of which arguably encouraged the development, maintenance and stubborn persistence of a caste system. (Just a note: the caste system isn’t as ancient as many think; originally there were merely the four classes, or varnas, roughly, priest/intellectual, warrior/ruler, farmer/trader and worker, common to traditional cultures all over the world, and pretty clearly following on prevailing economic & political conditions. The far more complex caste system as it’s known today developed over centuries in conjunction I would guess with the evolution of the religious culture.)

- So the point is not that there is one bad religious ideology, and that the rest are good or harmless, but that all religious ideologies are human productions (again, to my ordinary eyes), worthy of respect for their thoughts & achievements, but liable each one to its own peculiar benefits & dangers.

- If I were a Dalit in India, I’d be with Ambedkar and rightfully cheesed at traditional Indian culture, and that would be my focus.

- But that’s not where I live. I live in a western cultural sphere where broadly speaking biblical ideology still holds a central place, among the secular as much as the religious. This may be too easy, but when Mr. Bush says you’re either with us or against us, when he talks about the axis of evil, when he divides the world with his compass into precise hemispheres of right & wrong, we can hardly grasp what he’s saying without referring to biblical roots.

- In the bad/grand old days of European colonialism, the white man’s burden, la mission civilisatrice, many missionaries were more than happy to credit Judeo-Christian culture with every achievement of European civilisation. Europe made better shoes, guns, steam engines, economies, and parliaments because it was Christian. Obviously, much more went into the creation of Europe than the gospels, but it’s equally obvious that while the biblical tradition deserves much credit, it logically follows that it deserves some of the blame as well.

- Of course, the bible has no shortage of enemies who will give it not just some but all the blame. But ironically they often blast away from within an ideological framework modelled on the bible. Marx called religion the opiate of the people. His followers returned to the kitchen to cook up analogous drugs, the methadones of Marxism.

- In other words, I think the enemies of the bible really go nowhere because the problem is not ultimately in the bible but in ideology itself (here defined as the dynamic rationalisation of power). As I’ve said elsewhere, because of the special conditions of its production, the bible to me can be said to be the mother of ideology, but maybe a better metaphor is Pandora’s box; once the secret of ideological thinking is let out, it’s not going back in, and it takes on its own life.

- Ideology is a brain disease, Abbie Hoffman said. Maybe it’s more like a chronic, incurable condition.

- So my position is against, or in tension with, ideology, which you may say is an impossible position, like a dog chasing its own tail (tale). Or you may say I’m tilting at windmills, especially in these forums.

- But here’s the whole point. I’m not pretending we can escape biblical ideology, or that we can invent something wholly other. I’m only saying that because we’re all soaking in it and can’t escape it, we better understand what it is, and that means beyond the best case scenario, beyond the ideals of what we think our religious beliefs should mean, and toward a thorough understanding of what our religious beliefs have meant, and how they have worked in fusion with concrete conditions and other strains of thought.

- And here’s where we bridge the divide I mentioned at the beginning. We may be on opposite sides in methods of reading, but we’re on the same side in the biblical sphere; we inhabit the same narrative; history has for us a similar shape; we have a similar preoccupation with questions of justice, with a social gospel, however defined – but this list could be extended; in short, despite the so-called hot button issues, and all the complexities of individual application, we inhabit the same moral universe, and that universe has been crucially shaped by the bible.

- So I would say that the bible remains indispensable on both sides, and again it comes down to the method of reading.

- But here I should make a further distinction. When I say I read with ordinary eyes, I don’t mean to say I read purely with the eyes of the rationalist. When I call the bible a human, fallible document, I don’t mean to deny the reality of what it points to. I only mean to place it within the context of other human, fallible documents, from other traditions, which point to the same reality.

(- Here I guess I’m using the word “ordinary” in the Zen sense.)

- And when we come to reading the bible, it’s easy to point to two contrasting approaches. The first, from the side of faith, sees the bible as a master narrative, unified from beginning to end, so that every word must fit, must be justified according to some method of interpretation.

- The second, from the ordinary side, sees the bible in evolutionary terms, as a collection of writings produced over centuries and edited & re-edited numerous times, and showing a progression from primitive, tribal, ethnocentric roots to more sophisticated and more exalted conceptions.

- From the faith point of view, everything was there from the beginning, in seed form. The Indian Vedic tradition is identical in that regard. For the faithful, everything was already there from the earliest chants, and was only elaborated in the later commentaries, speculations & epics. From the ordinary point of view, Indian tradition shows a considerable evolution from the Brahmanical crib notes of the Vedas to the fully devotional cults of the middle ages.

- From the ordinary point of view, the bible can be seen as analogous to the evolution of the human brain. People talk of three stages of that evolution: the reptilian, the mammalian and the cortical, i.e., the merely reactive, the emotional, and the cognitive aspects of the human mind.

- Of course, this is just a simplification, not to be taken too seriously, but it seems to me that the bible as an instrument can fall into these various uses. At its best, when taken in its most evolved, sophisticated sense, and drawing on its deep emotional power, it’s close to that great force for good we ideally want it to be. But the reptilian, the tribal, the ethnocentric, the xenophobic, the paranoid is always there, forever available.

- When some Muslim demonstrators call for the death & decapitation of journalists for the “crime” of publishing a cartoon, when they burn down embassies for the same reason, when Pat Robertson, who claims to follow Jesus, advises assassination, the reptile is plainly on view. (That is not to say of course that there aren’t many practical economic & political factors that make people susceptible to the reptile in the first place.)

- Here is precisely the dangerous irrationality that produces atheists, hyper-rationalists, nihilists and sceptics who sadly believe in nothing. Here is why so many are tempted to do away with the idea of religion altogether.

- As you know, I’m a pluralist, and one who believes that the great traditions are not futile; that they do point to deep things, and that these deep things are by definition not rational. I think the only way these deep things can be safely handled, and the reptile kept in his glass case, is through the pluralist ideal.

- The pluralist ideal is the “messy” state of affairs you mentioned. Three cheers for messiness. It’s messiness that all ideologues, from fundamentalists to Stalinists fear the most.

- It’s my fond belief that a genuine pluralism, genuinely cognizant of the deeper truths, will save religious institutions, not destroy them, and help them carry on their historical missions even more effectively than they have in the past.

- Anyway, I guess I must always end on a pluralism rant – a bit reptilian, no?

- I’m sorry if I’ve been a little indirect here in answer to your post, but I felt I had to in order to make myself understood. If I’ve failed it’s no doubt my fault, and not yours.

(- On Objectivism, if you’re taking about the cult of Ayn Rand, you won’t get any argument from me. I read the Fountainhead as a teenager and was naturally much impressed with Howard Rourke (sp?), his quest for authenticity, his lonely struggle against mediocrity, against the incomprehension of the crowd, etc. – for a teenager what was not to like? But then I read her paranoid little novella, Anthem, with the hero behind barbed wire on a hilltop (if I remember correctly), and then some of her essays, and I thought, huh? Is that what she’s saying? Now, you may know, you can go to a Web site and stream classroom lessons in Objectivism, and in fact her cult is bigger than ever. She obviously has a constituency and so is worth opposing in the pluralist spirit, but I find her unreadable and her whole thought world creepy & depressing, so I would leave that opposition to stronger souls. Like you, I don’t even want to get started on this...)

All the best. Michael.
 
Back
Top