Christianity and Socialism

A very pertinent teaching by St. Hilarion (Troitsky). He lived in the days of the rise of socialism and its taking of power in Russia under the form of Soviet Socialism. St. Hilarion ended his life as a martyr, tasting first hand the ruthless fruit of socialism against which he warned. The discerning reader will find the applicable correlations to current times and events. What follows are selections from an article entitled “Christianity and Socialism” originally published in English in Orthodox Life, May-June 1998, pp.35-44. 

This truth remains ever and everywhere immutable. Any single truth or any series of truths always comprise what is “greater” for man, and this “greater” is man’s authority; he refers to it, he “swears” by it. Yet the same truths are not what is “greater” for all men. Sometimes what is “greater” is entirely false; yet man nevertheless swears by this illusory “truth” as though it were authoritative. The measures by which men approach the phenomena of the life which surround us are quite varied. Each chooses that authority which seems best to him, and therefore one may accept the position: Tell me what your authorities are, and I will say what sort of man you are.

Now, many have quite different, and even contradictory, authorities. Truly, where now can one find in the “progressive” press any reference to God and the Church? Is not agreement with the laws of God and the Church of Christ now considered the hallmark of what is bad, of backwardness, while opposition to them is considered a sign of what is good? I recall a certain student (at the {Theological} Academy, alas!) who, seeing a man with whom he was unacquainted eating fasting food, said: “He is probably one of those who participates in the pogroms!” Another student, when I praised the Theological Academy in his presence, enumerating its good qualities, quite seriously interrupted me, saying: “No, tell me: What has your Academy done for the Revolution?”

I declined to enumerate such dubious merits, yet such a statement is entirely characteristic of our times. Now it is not what is pleasing to God or the Church that is good, but what is “progressive,” “liberal,” revolutionary; that which is “right-leaning” is the concatenation of all evils. “It is in agreement with Marx!” – this is the highest praise for any teaching, for any opinion. Even holy Christian doctrine is assessed on the basis of this new standard. Thus, all of Christianity’s fundamental teaching concerning the personal struggle of repentance and humility is cast aside, while only some sort of “social teaching” is taken up and given consideration, and in it only that which one can reinterpret in a liberal-revolutionary way is approved.

Those who wrote and labored in the Church, even the great Holy Fathers, are assessed using the same debased, inferior coinage. We ourselves were witness to how a certain “orator,” delivering a panegyric to Saint John Chrysostom on November 13th, 1907, declared that the great hierarch ‘thought like Marx on some things, though not as well.’ Such – we dare to say – blasphemy is now troubling to very few. In life, some new world-view is urgently announcing itself; new gods, new idols are being erected.

Socialism

Of course, the Church of Christ is holy and without blemish. The people of the Church continue to live in accordance with the divine laws of the past, refusing to bend their knees before Baal. For them there is no other god than God and His Christ; there is no authority besides the authority of the Church. However, there are no few people who have already adopted the new world-view, who have already bowed down before the new idols, yet nevertheless have not for some reason left the Church entirely. Such people are constantly passing judgment on Christianity, on the Church. They pass judgment not as ones taught by the Church, but as ones who would teach it; they wish to “correct” the Church’s understanding of Christianity, replacing it with their own, in which the teaching of Christ is shown to bear a remarkable resemblance to all the most recent teachings and actions of the godless, up to and including revolutions, expropriations, and bombings.

Eras of decline are always characterized by the absence of definite, clearly expressed convictions. Men become, as it were, impotent; their laziness does not allow them to think a thought through to the end, and for this reason the most contradictory elements, taken from various sources, peacefully coexist within their world-view. Such is the nature of eclecticism. Our times may serve as an illustration of this. Do not many now desire to bring together in unity the most impossible things? There are far too many who share such a desire in our days!

One of the more prominent misunderstandings which have arisen in this area is the misunderstanding about socialism. On the one hand, they aver that Christ was a socialist; and on the other hand, that socialism is entirely in agreement with Christianity. This implies that in all these discussions Christianity is not taken to be the only possible and definite form of the Holy Church of Christ. The Holy Church is mindlessly disparaged as “official,” “the one which put itself at the service of the old regime,” et al.

Everyone interprets Christianity as he pleases, and only a small part of its sacred books is given any attention. The epistles of Paul are rejected; no one knows them! Even from the Gospels only that which is “appropriate” is selected, e.g., the expulsion of the merchants from the temple, as proof of the lawfulness and necessity of violence, though of course only revolutionary violence. With such devices, it is not difficult to demonstrate whatever one pleases, and not only some “agreement” between Christianity and socialism. In light publicistic literature one may constantly encounter attempts to reconcile pagan socialism and Christianity. It is sufficient merely to socialize Christianity and to Christianize socialism – and, lo! Christian socialism is the result!

Therefore, any attempt to investigate, from a strictly Christian point of view, the question of whether socialism is appropriate for Christians, or is our adversary, can only be welcome ….

If socialism looks upon itself as a world-view, what, then, is this world-view? It is, first of all, a consistent materialism … Socialism replaces everything with itself; it is founding its own religion. In the resolutions of the various socialist assemblies and the discourses of socialist leaders, one finds clearly and definitely expressed the demand for a revolution in all human thought. “Socialism is not and cannot be a mere economic science, a question concerning the stomach only… In the final analysis, socialists are striving to bring about revolution throughout the entire juridical, moral, philosophical, and religious superstructure” (Vandervelde). “Is socialism merely an economic theory?,” we read in the socialistic catechism of Bax and Kvelch; “In no way! Socialism envelops all the relations of human life.” According to Bax, in religion socialism is expressed as atheistic humanism.

It is understood that in the socialist world-view there will also be no place for belief in the immortality of the soul. The denial of immortality is one of the main conditions for the success of socialism, “because with the weakening of belief in heaven, socialist demands for heaven on earth will be strengthened” (Bebel). Dietzgen advises that one prefer “a comfortable world here” to the other world. On February 3rd, 1893, a certain Catholic deputy asked the social-democrats of the German Reichstag the question as to whether they believed in the afterlife. They answered unanimously in the negative. One socialist newspaper, Neue Zeit, suggested that “the threats of hell be mocked, and that pointing to heaven be disdained.”

Now the socialists have but one desire: to debunk Christianity, to undermine trust in its historical principles, to mock the content of its ideals, and to drag even its moral teachings through the mire. Christianity arises from economic conditions and spiritual needs. For the sake of decency, they try to present the case as “scientific.” At the Mainz Conference, the demand was made “to provide a scientific refutation of the teachings of Christianity suitable for the purposes of agitation.” And so, a filthy and blasphemous caricature of Christianity appears in “scholarly” literature. “Here one does not know what to be more surprised at: the psychological limitations of the authors, their ignorance of history, the backwardness of their point of view from the standpoint of principle, or their dishonesty in distorting the facts and twisting the sense of the texts. In no single area does the science of this socialism, which boasts of its scholarship, bring such shame upon itself as here, in its juvenile, perfervid criticism of Christianity” (Kozhevnikov, p. 39).

Irrefutable conclusions of science” arise among the socialists of Tubingen. Lafarge sees in the Christian Faith a “systematic amalgamation of ideals and myths, which dominated in the ancient world for hundreds of years.” For Bebel, the existence of Christ is “very uncertain”; Christianity borrowed from Egypt, from India, Buddha, Zoroaster, and even from Socrates; of course, it is of human origin, and “its elimination, from the point of view of progress, is essential.” The Church is “the yoke with which the clergy harness the people in the interests of the ruling classes” (Bebel).

The dogmatic aspect of Christianity is of no interest to the socialists. Who now considers dogmas obligatory? Yet the socialists dare to blaspheme even the moral teachings of Christianity and to propose their own “greater.” According to this teaching, all morality is conditional; it is immoral only to deviate from one’s own morals, and in no case from those of others (Kautsky). The conscience, according to Menger, is only fear of unpleasant consequences for opposing power and what is commonly accepted, and power and morality are in essence identical. “Hope in the Messiah is senseless; Christianity has not fulfilled its promises of universal redemption from the needs and cares of existence.” (But where is the proof that it ever made such promises?)

To criticize the moral teaching of Christianity, which they do not wish to acknowledge, the socialists do not undertake criticism, but prefer to wage war. Christianity is “a religion of hatred, persecution, and oppression” (Bebel) … The perfection of the “modern socialist movement” is not in Christian life on earth, nor in eternal blessedness in heaven. Both the former and the latter are relegated to the archives. “Our ideal is not poverty, nor abstinence, but wealth, and wealth immeasurable, unheard-of. This wealth is the good of all humanity, its holy object, its Holy of holies, toward the possession of which all our hopes are directed” (Dietzgen).

I have only wanted to show what moral ugliness socialism is, what an abyss of falsehood lies within it, and, therefore, how mistaken is any attempt to reconcile socialism and the divine Christian Faith. Such attempts are being made not only by Christians who have lost their faith, who have “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like the corruptible man, and birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23); certain among the socialists, or better to say, workers seduced by socialism, are also naively convinced that it is possible to combine socialism and Christianity. The socialist press is also trying to take advantage of this trust, arguing “that Christ belongs not to the churchmen, but to the socialists.” Oscar Zimmer, in his booklet “The Socialist from Nazareth”, reaches the conclusion that all the religious teaching of Christ was a mere addendum to His preaching of socialism. In the opinion of another author, Christ unfortunately could not fulfill His most important task – to write a manual of political economics; but the modern lights of socialism have brilliantly carried out this task.

The believing man is absolutely unable to speak of any agreement between socialism and Christianity whatever. Socialism is not only not ours, it is our declared and dangerous adversary. It is guilty of enmity toward Christianity and deserves no condescension. It is our enemy. Every member of the Church must be aware of this, and it is essential that the Church explain this for all the world to hear. If passing into heresy entails separation from the Church, passing into socialism is an error more grievous than any heresy, and is even more deserving of punishment. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema” (I Cor. 16:22). We have already seen how socialism ‘loves’ Jesus Christ. It is necessary to commit all inveterate socialism to anathema. Ravening wolves must be driven from the flock, else the whole flock will perish. How can one speak of the ‘Christianization of socialism’? These are empty words. Can one Christianize atheism? “Christian socialism” is a contradiction in terms. What is Christian cannot be socialist. If we do not loudly and openly declare that socialism is the enemy of Christianity, nothing will result except harm and scandal. All compromises are inappropriate here. One must look one’s enemy in the eye. To underestimate danger is always deleterious.

New Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky)

2 thoughts on “Christianity and Socialism

  1. Ben

    Humanism and materialism are also the foundations of capitalism. According to capitalism, greed is the good that runs human affairs. We must remember as Christians that we cannot find salvation in this world and its systems. Thank you Father for sharing St. Hilarion’s analysis of socialism.

    Like

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