The First Church of Christ, Communist

M Smith, senior warden. Rectorship currently vacant.

Slightly surprising piece in Jacobin.

This is a topic that has always interested me, as a high-church, liturgically and theologically conservative, Episcopalian Commie. (In fact my current tragedy is that my old mother church has become too liberal for me, but has never been left-wing enough.)

I personally have never found any contradiction here. I’m not an especially good Communist, or an especially good Christian, but to the extent that I’m either, they’ve never seemed to pull me in different directions. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, the remarkable Lady sings, and hath exalted the humble and meek. Sounds pretty Commie to me.

Jacobin’s writer seems to be asking, Why shouldn’t a Commie be a Christian?

Well, there are reasons. Start with the fact that the great sages were atheists – Marx, Engels, Lenin, and so on. So how can one be an admirer and follower of theirs and yet not an atheist?

One obvious answer is that our admiration for Marx et al. is not fideistic, it’s, well, empirical; on matters of political economy and politics and history they seem to have got a lot of stuff right. When they ascend to metaphysics, they run the usual risk of hypoxia. So these great men are not Moses, charged with tablets from Sinai, but fellow-enquirers with us, like Newton or Darwin. They’re not a package deal. This is not meant to endorse a cherry-picking eclecticism, but to suggest that every reading, however respectful, of the Greats, Marxist or not, is also an interlocution.

There’s another, perhaps more serious obstacle: the default position for self-respecting college-educated people in North America and Western Europe these days is to be an atheist; the alternative is more or less an unthinkable gaucherie. One has to be very contrarian to take it up. I dare say that most Marxists in my world were atheists long before they were Marxists. And why should an atheist ever change his mind, absent some extraordinary road-to-Damascus thing? Atheism is a perfectly respectable and consistent position, after all; and it’s really implicit in modernity.

So I would turn Mr Jacobin’s question around, and ask rather, why shouldn’t a Christian be a Commie? I think I could convert Christians to Communism more readily than most Communists to Christianity – because Christianity is basically a tough sell, as St Paul observed some years ago, but Communism is just good common sense.

For religious people – not only Christians, but religious people in general — there’s the “baggage”, of course, that Commies are supposed to be atheists. I think this is easily disposed of. In politics as in religion, start with the praxis and the theory will, over time, make itself clear. Believers can easily, and do easily, make common cause with non-believers on some agreed-upon project. And a lot of believers started coming to church with mental reservations – consider the famous joke about Episcopalians crossing their fingers when it’s time to say the Creed. So they’re used to this, and they have the mental apparatus to dip their toes into Communism “except for the atheist part”. Some of them will find the water fine.

Lemma: the atheist Commies mustn’t insist on atheism as a requirement. And indeed, I can’t think of any way that Marxism or Leninism requires atheism qua axiom – falls to the ground without it.

The substantive ideological obstacles to Communism, for religious people, aren’t often specifically religious ones; in fact they’re usually irreligious ones, and lie in commonplace secular ideological notions about the nature of the State (liberal representative democracy, due process, rule of law, tyranny of the majority, all that mythology) or human nature (sociobiology and all its hellspawn).

In the US, at least, the curious sociological fact is that a lot of the people that us Commies would like to recruit – in fact, the social base we’re meant to depend on — are self-identified Christians. The atheists are all PMC and therefore hardened liberals. Not quite beyond Communist redemption, perhaps, but the parable of the camel and the needle’s eye (mutatis mutandis) does come to mind.

In fact, if 10% of Christians could be brought round to Communism, that would be (at least numerically) a bigger deal than 10% of Commies becoming Christian. Because there are a lot of Christians, and very few Commies, I’m sorry to say; I wish there were many, many more.

5 thoughts on “The First Church of Christ, Communist

  1. Christianity today is the heir and child of the reconquista, the Crusades, the Reformation, the scientific revolution, the age of exploration, colonialism, civilizing the native, etc., etc.

    So is Marxism.

    but one wants to “castrate the father” and one is a full-grown birch tree, from which the state can always cut a switch or a bow or a spear or an Amazon with which to war upon the commies. the Marxists seem to recognize genetics and history, whereas Christians seek the original intent of words crystalized an ice ago.

    until Christians recognize that their religion is THE state religion of the West, “what concord hath Christ with Belial”? where does this gun culture and sport killing come from? isn’t God on the side of the little lambs? nope. the sacred trinity is really me and Mr. Smith and Wesson. so yeah, rethinking the intent of their religion might be a good idea.

    anywho, one of the “voices upon the waters,” which leads me to ask: do Marxists really recognize what a shithole capitalism is? or are they themselves blinded by the same techno fantasies, springing ultimately from a reading of Genesis 1: “the earth is yours, therefore go kick its ass”?

    scientifically speaking, is there such a thing as “trash”?

  2. btw, since i have more limited exposure to the liturgical side of the church, please correct the error of my ways, if i’m mistaken: “conservative” in the Episcopal (Anglican?) tradition doesn’t per se refer to theology, politics, etc., but can refer to the performance of the liturgy itself, esp during the formal service, so that e.g., Christmas is for Christmas, not Kwanzaa, and none of that Earth First! folk rock, during the service. following Rite 1 and using the King James’ “thine and thou” and pipe organs. and even if the minister (gay or not) is trying, the sermon will likely suck, but it won’t matter, b/c it’s typically only 15 minutes and there’s ‘solid food’ elsewhere throughout the ritual.

    • Preaching in the Episcopal Church is a mixed bag, ranging from very good (in a somewhat dry intellectual way) to very banal (in a maudlin Care Bears way). That’s because it’s not really central; it’s the liturgy and the readings that matter. I take the somewhat unusual view that a highly structured liturgy, with little left to the discretion of the clergy, is really quite liberating for the congregation. And of course it’s better for the latter to be exposed to material from Isaiah to Isaac Watts, a rather rich and variegated vein, than the fleeting contemporary whimsies of an individual cleric. “Conservative” in this context means a lot of different things, of course, and to some people it means No Gay Marriage (I’m fine with gay marriage, btw) or Don’t Ordain Women (some of the best priests I know are women, so this seems quite stupid to me). For me it means respect for all the wonderful stuff we’ve inherited; don’t toss it out in favor of some contemporary preoccupation, which will soon be replaced with another.

  3. an additional thought on this subject, some Ganja from over Himavant way by way of introducing a third to the Marx vs Jesus (false?) dichotomy. From “How to Know God: the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali”. The subject of aphorisms 29-31 is the distractions that interrupt our concentration, the biggest one being “sloth” (lol). Of these distractions, the following:

    aphorism 32: “they can be removed by concentration upon a single truth”, the truth of the existence of the divine, God.

    aphorism 33: “undisturbed calmness of mind can be attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and indifference toward the wicked.”

    aphorism 34: “the mind may also be calmed by expulsion and retention of the breath.”

    James Nestor came out with a book near the start of covid called “Breath: the New Science of a Lost Art.” There is a paywalled summary up at the WSJ op-ed section. We’ll all be paying for any oxygen we get soon enough, so it’s fitting that we must pay to learn how to breath today.

    “You have not been given the breath of slaves.” Romans 8. people of all stripes might rally around the flagpole of quitting. cuz we are simply working way too hard, having our breath stolen from us. the overworked world is being overworked by overworked people. I think Swami Prabhavananda, Karl Marx and Paul would agree with that statement.

  4. Humming produces nitric oxide 15 fold compared to quiet exhalation:

    people been chanting for years now. our breathing is oriented to our machines and computers. humming, chanting and the like have multiple benefits.

    The Healing Power of Proper Breathing
    How we inhale and exhale has profound effects on our health—and not just during a crisis like the pandemic
    By James Nestor
    May 21, 2020 — 6:04 pm ET
    The Wall Street Journal
    (so you can find this if you want.)
    Nestor’s work focuses more on the breath, nasal breathing specifically, this article discusses nasal breathing, exercise, diet, etc., in some depth, re: nitric oxide and covid prevention. gee, good thing the american lifestyle is not up for negotiation.

Leave a Reply