The Point
Last updated: 19 June 2017.

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(Catholic) Christians and Socialists - Natural Allies?

Socialist, practising Catholic, and regular Point contributor Rob Dewar argues that there is more that unites socialism and Christianity than divides, and that people of faith are deserving of more respect from non-believers within the left community.

 

"It is increasingly intolerable that financial markets are shaping the destiny of people rather than serving their needs, or that the few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while the many are deeply burdened by the consequences".

Thus wrote a contemporary Christian of some renown, indeed, no less a Christian than Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation of 2013. Rather than scorn and mock Christians, socialists should embrace them as allies – for Christians were radicals and socialists long centuries before Karl Marx.

If I were not first a Christian and a Catholic, I would not also be a socialist - my socialism evolved and grew along with my sense of Christian mission. It is a deeply moral and principled socialism, heartfelt, rather than a doctrinaire or intellectual socialism, for it arises from my Christian convictions; from my Christian concerns with fraternal love, with justice and fairness; it arises from my Christian outrage at greed and exploitation and cruelty.

Many Catholic Christians, especially those in South America, are radicals and socialists today, even if they do not give themselves those labels. Pope Francis, who heads the largest of all Christian denominations (1.2 billion Catholics world-wide) is renowned for his criticism of unbridled capitalism: for his denunciation of the injustices and cruelties the capitalist economic system imposes upon those whom it exploits.

"Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labour is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment". Thus spoke Pope Francis during his 2015 visit to Bolivia.

Pope Francis makes a mockery of the lies that capitalism uses to justify its greed:

"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been proven by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the good of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting". (Apostolic Exhortation, 2013)

This is the language of a radical. As is this: "This (economic) system is by now intolerable: farm workers find it intolerable, labourers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable. The earth itself – our Sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable". (The Pope's visit to Bolivia, 2015)

Well known for his ecological concerns, for the well-being of the planet that is our home, Pope Francis repeatedly denounces the capitalist economic system for the damage it is doing to the planet. Pope Francis is a "Green" driven by a far greater passion than mere concern at the damage being done to nature by material greed: his is the passionate concern for the well-being of the planet that is a fundamental aspect of the Christian belief that Man is given authority over the earth and all that grows and dwells upon and in it, not in order to abuse and exploit these resources, but to husband them, and pass them on unspoiled to future generations.

 

Pope Francis is the perfect Pope for this generation of Christians, for Christians with a social and ecological conscience who recognize that an economic and social revolution is necessary. He makes no bones about the fact that his views are revolutionary, and must in fact lead to social and economic revolution.

During his visit to Bolivia last year he called the unfettered pursuit of money "the dung of the devil". He went on: "Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change". He denounced an economic system "that has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature".

Yet I (and other Christians like me) – socialists by very virtue of our religious convictions, as passionately committed to social and economic revolution as any Marxist – sometimes have to tolerate what we perceive as a broadly anti-religious, and especially, anti-Christian, perspective in socialist online groups and forums, and there are few who come to our defence, perhaps because orthodox Marxist thought is deeply prejudiced against religious belief.

Examples of this attitude arise often enough to make it difficult for me to single out any one example in particular, without making difficulties for myself within this online political community. For the most part I tolerate this sometimes barely veiled contempt for my faith because I know my history: I know how rotten and corrupt the Church was for many centuries; I know that throughout much of European history (though not all the time) the Church was allied with an oppressive establishment. I know too of the Church's recent gross failings. So I generally remain silent.

But in God's name, what is to replace the Church when it is altogether gone? A dreadful materialism, a salvation through "stuff"? It seems to me that socialists need to spend more time than they do in questioning the fundamental assumption that material blessings inevitably lead to happiness. And I say this whilst raging, along with atheist socialists, against the present day inequitable distribution of material blessings. I know that if you're starving, and homeless, and cold, you cannot come to spiritual blessings.

That knowledge plays a great part in my socialist beliefs. So, I – and the many other Christian socialists like me - must bite our tongues, for the sake of socialist solidarity. I never waver in my belief in the essential fraternity of Mankind; a fraternity that must be founded upon social and economic justice, and underpinned by respect for our planet and its often fragile ecology.

It seems to me that Scottish/UK socialists run the risk of failing to embrace a potentially huge constituency of political supporters. They often, in fact, do their best, not to embrace as allies those (Catholic) Christians who support Pope Francis' radical views, Christians who know themselves to be socialists and even, revolutionaries, but to alienate them.

This is a great loss for socialism.

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books