Tag Archives: Communism

The 100 Years War: The Church and Communism – October 16, 2017

The past 100 years from 1917 to 2017 have been an encapsulation of the protoevangelium, when God told the serpent “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” This 100-years-war has signified a most pronounced phase in the enmity. It began in 1917 with both (what are the odds?) the revelation of Our Lady of Fatima and the Russian Revolution to atheistic Communism. For the past 100 years the mystical body of antichrist has undoubtedly taken its most grotesque form in atheistic materialism, embodied in Socialist and Communist governments around the world. The serpent became the Leviathan. Before the “October Revolution,” Mary warned in Fatima in July 1917 of Russia, saying “she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecution of the Church.” The rest, as we know, is history.

In this month and year of the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, it is a good time to recall the “satanic scourge” (as Pius XI called it) unleashed on the world through the wicked wiles of socialism and communism. This is particularly important as Western cultural elites and sympathizers, have long sought to minimize the evils of Marxism, as The New York Times seems to have been doing recently, as The Federalist described, with “a series of fond, nostalgic recollections about the good old days of twentieth-century communism.” Perhaps it is time to review again all the fun had in the “red century” with some relaxing bedtime reading like The Black Book of Communism or Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Or, maybe enjoy some uplifting reads about Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution?” Yay! Or, perhaps, just eat some popcorn and watch a little light entertainment like The Killing Fields.

Some may say, what about “twenty-first century Socialism?” Well, one need only take a quick scan of headlines on Venezuela. Not long ago Venezuela was a prosperous, oil-rich country, a Socialist miracle! Now, after 18 years of Chavez-Maduro Marxism, it is a Socialist hellhole. Many in the country have been reduced to starvation (a Communist specialty) and descended into stealing and eating zoo animals, with apparently a particular delicacy for collared peccaries and buffalo. This, sadly, is not an aberration in Socialist experiments, but the norm. It is probably more palatable, however, than the grass and bark diet in the prison-state of North Korea. The hard facts of history reveal that Communist demagogues killed up to 140 million people (as Dr. Paul Kengor cites in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism) from Lenin to Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot to Kim Jong-un to Chavez to Che and Fidel. The list goes on and on. Lenin did say, after all, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet; 140 million broken eggs, now that is a big omelet!

The Church, on the other hand, was never fooled by the cons of socialism and communism. From the beginning, encyclical after encyclical railed against the false ideology of Marx and Hegel. In fact, it is right there in the Catechism: “The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with ‘communism’ or ‘socialism.’” (CCC 2425) Whereas the Catechism is brief, the papal encyclicals are rich in detail and sweeping in condemnation.

In 1846, Pope Pius IX promulgated Qui Pluribus (On Faith and Religion), beating Marx to the punch, who published The Communist Manifesto in 1848. Pius IX wrote about the “unspeakable doctrine of communism,” which is “a doctrine most opposed to the very natural law. For if this doctrine were accepted, the complete destruction of everyone’s laws, government, property, and even human society itself would follow.” He warned about “the most dark designs of men in the clothing of sheep, while inwardly ravening wolves.”

In 1878, Pope Leo XIII wrote about the evils of socialism in Quod Apostolici Muneris. He began his encyclical about “the deadly plague that is creeping into the very fibers of human society and leading it on to the verge of destruction.” Pope Leo then singled out “that sect of men who, under various and almost barbarous names, are called socialists, communists, or nihilists, and who, spread over all the world, and bound together by the closest ties in a wicked confederacy, no longer seek the shelter of secret meetings, but, openly and boldly marching forth in the light of day, strive to bring to a head what they have long been planning—the overthrow of all civil society whatsoever.”

The encyclical also warned that Socialists sought to destroy marriage and the family. For Socialists, there can be no higher allegiance to God or family, but only to the almighty State. Pope Leo asserted that the “foundation of this society rests first of all in the indissoluble union of man and wife according to the necessity of natural law.” Yet, the “doctrines of socialism strive almost completely to dissolve this union.”

Thirteen years later in 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued another encyclical on labor and capital and the working class in Rerum Novarum, the foundational text for Catholic social teaching in the modern age. Wrote Leo: “To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property…” This, the Church declared, is “emphatically unjust,” and the “remedy they propose is manifestly against justice. For, every man has by nature the right to possess private property as his own.”

Socialism is built upon the notion of coveting, a violation of the ninth and tenth Commandments. Rerum Novarum pointed this out: “The authority of the divine law adds its sanction, forbidding us in severest terms even to covet that which is another’s.” Socialism is also built upon the false idea of class warfare. Here too, Pope Leo dismissed their error: “the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth.”

As in earlier encyclicals, Pope Leo again defended the institutions of the family and marriage against the attacks of socialism: “the family … has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State.” “The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.”

In 1931, Pope Pius XI released Quadragesimo Anno on the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, which it called the “Magna Carta” of Catholic social teaching. Pope Pius stated bluntly: “We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, socialism … is utterly foreign to Christian truth.” Pius went further stating: “If socialism, like all errors, contains some truth, it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”

But, what about Socialism-lite? Pius dismissed this too rather succinctly: “We have also summoned communism and socialism again to judgment and have found all their forms, even the most modified, to wander far from the precepts of the Gospel.” Pope John XXIII also would later reiterate this point in his 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra saying “Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate socialism.”

To be fair, Pius did take extreme “individualism” and capitalism to task to respect the human dignity of the worker, who “cannot be bought and sold like a commodity.” He pointed out what is needed is not an excessive reaction, like the Socialists propose, to destroy the whole free market system, but rather, the “first and most necessary remedy is a reform of morals.” The Church’s stance has always been a measured approach, protecting the rights of both the employer and the employee through a return to Christian charity and concern for one’s neighbor.

Pope Pius left his harshest criticism for the “Communist plague.” He skewered it with such lines and paraphrases as: “Unrelenting class warfare and absolute extermination of private ownership”; “employing every and all means, even the most violent”; “its cruelty and inhumanity”; “The horrible slaughter and destruction”; “openly hostile it is to Holy Church and to God Himself”; “impious and iniquitous character of communism”; “seeks by violence and slaughter to destroy society altogether”; “pave the way for the overthrow and destruction of society.”

Pope Pius XI was not done. In 1937, he issued another encyclical, Divini Redemptoris, on atheistic communism. Pius did not mince words again. He exhorted that “the Faithful do not allow themselves to be deceived! Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever.” “It is a system full of errors and sophisms.” The encyclical was aimed directly at the “imminent danger” posed by “bolshevistic and atheistic communism, which aims at upsetting the social order and at undermining the very foundations of Christian civilization.”

Communism is particularly insidious as it “robs human personality of all its dignity.” “There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity.” In the collective, “all forms of private property must be eradicated.” The collectivity also rules over marriage and the family. “There exists no matrimonial bond … that is not subject to the whim of the individual or of the collectivity.” Think “postcard divorces.” The spread of communism has been aided by a “diabolical” propaganda of the “sons of darkness,” and a “conspiracy of silence” by the non-Catholic press, due in part “by various occult forces which for a long time have been working for the overthrow of the Christian Social Order.” Sounds familiar.

In 1991 Pope John Paul II issued Centesimus Annus for the 100th year anniversary of Rerum Novarum. It re-stated the Catholic teaching that the root problem of modern totalitarianism is its denial of the transcendental dignity of the human person. “Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism.” Militarism and Marxist class struggle are derived from the “same root, namely, atheism and contempt for the human person, which place the principle of force above that of reason and law.” As Bishop Fulton Sheen wisely observed, “communism tries to establish the impossible: a brotherhood of man without a fatherhood of God.”

George Orwell knew well this Socialist deception, adapting the mantra in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal.” Yet, as the pigs declare later in the story “some animals are more equal than others.” Their true colors eventually come out. This is the Orwellian doublethink of the Party. How eerily reminiscent are crimethink and the thought police of 1984 to the current environment of political correctness on American campuses and in European governments. The Berlin Wall may have come down and the U.S.S.R. been dissolved but cultural Marxism is as strong as ever. The progressive vanguards of the Left continue on as the ideological heirs of the twentieth century Socialists and Communists. They carry on the revolution by embracing the “errors of Russia” and attacking private property, free markets, individual liberty and free speech, traditional marriage and the family, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. There may not be at this moment an “Evil Empire,” a singular totalitarian state, but there is a totalitarian state of mind present; the imperious impulse in the media and our educational, governmental, and judicial systems. Big Brother is still lurking.

Still, we have hope. The Church did triumph over Soviet communism. And, Christ has given us the blessed assurance that the gates of hell will not prevail over the Church. In the dreary days of 1917, amidst World War I, and the unleashing of the evils of atheistic communism, the Virgin Mary promised, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Yes, Leviathan continues to lash out and rage, but its head has already been crushed.

The Dignity of the Human Person – January 14, 2017

“When the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life.” (Evangelium Vitae, 21)

It is a perplexing fact of history that one of the world’s most prolific mass murderers, Adolf Hitler, was also a vegetarian who abhorred cruelty to animals. This conundrum was oddly revisited when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ran a publicity campaign “Holocaust on Your Plate” in 2003 comparing caged farm animals to Jewish prisoners in Nazi death camps. As author Richard Weikart points out, ironically both the Nazis and PETA engaged in the fallacy of anthropomorphism, blurring the distinction between humans and animals. These are extreme examples, but highlight an underlying philosophical confusion in our modern era regarding the dignity of human life. Subsumed in this diminishment of human worth is an implicit denial of personhood.

This misanthropic view is unfortunately on the ascendancy in Western culture. To have a sense of this, one need only look at the recent outpourings of indignation and contempt at the killings of Cecil the lion and Harambe the gorilla. The flipside of overvaluing animal life can often be the devaluing of human life; the outrage over Cecil and Harambe stand in stark contrast to our culture’s complacency regarding abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, suicide and assisted-suicide. This “culture of death” is the negative underbelly of the modernist endeavor: recasting the human being as simply an ordinary animal who no longer merits ontological God-given dignity or teleological God-given purpose. Human life becomes expendable compared to the perceived greater good of the society or state, or the whimsy of the individual. The worth of the human person today has become obscured.

How did we get here?

Conflating the dignity of man and animal is but a symptom of the overall creeping confusion. A dimming appreciation for the specialness of man runs centuries deep, with incremental philosophical subversions to the foundations of true knowledge.

At its core, we are in a crisis of epistemology. The great breadth and depth of human knowledge have been sacrificed on the altars of skepticism and materialism. This modern epistemological error revolves around the denial of our true human nature as composite beings, of body and soul. The initial missteps of severing body and soul were philosophical.

Some trace the errors of modern secularism back to William of Ockham in the 14th century, who posited that universal essences, like humanity, are not real, but are only nominal extrapolations in our minds. Ockham theorized there are no universal forms but only individuals. This undermined part of our ability to explain objective reality. If there is no universal human form, or human nature, then we are deprived of fulfilling those ends of our nature and our teleological purpose. Once that is gone, it is not hard to imagine a confusion of personhood and a loss of ethics.

In the Enlightenment era, empiricists, like Locke and Hume, proposed that only the phenomenon of a thing could be known, and not the thing itself. Like Ockham, they rejected abstract knowledge of universals in favor of sense experience only. In other words, they dismissed our intellectual and spiritual knowledge for something akin to that of animals. Kant similarly conceded that we only know “things as known,” as interpreted by the mind, but not “things in themselves.” This “epistemological geocentrism,” as physicist Father Stanley Jaki called it, prevents us from having knowledge of God, the soul, and the full nature of reality.

Perhaps the most damaging blow to our understanding of our composite natures comes from biological materialism, in the form of Darwinism in the 19th century. Darwinian theory made strict biological materialism and scientism the predominant “acceptable” knowledge. No longer was there a need for the special creation of man by God, or the need for an immaterial soul or intellect. Man is just an evolved ape, created through blind forces, genetic mistakes, and the survival of the fittest. The severance of body and soul, begun in the philosophies of the previous centuries, was now complete. As Chesterton noted, “Evolution does not especially deny the existence of God; what it does deny is the existence of man.” Man was no longer a composite spiritual being, but mere physical creature.

This materialist reductionism had major repercussions on the modernist worldview and the dehumanizing of man. When the materialists finally seized power, Communist regimes, from Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot, murdered some 100 million people. Social Darwinism too had seeped into Western thought, sparking talk of people as “fit” and “unfit,” and races as “superior” and “inferior.” This was most pronounced in Nazi Germany, where racist notions were “proven” and “justified” by so-called science. Hitler had fully embraced this idea of evolutionary ethics in his march towards war and genocide.

The evidence of the past century has highlighted the fact that evolutionary ethics is no ethic at all. It undermines our moralistic certainty. Morality becomes very subjective, and in the spirit of the age, relativistic. Material reductionism altered people’s view on the sanctity of human life, by devaluing what it means to be human. The soul became merely an epiphenomenon of matter. In that sense, Christianity is at odds with strict Darwinian materialism, as opposed to the general theory of evolution, with which there is no conflict. This dogmatic materialism denies a priori even the possibility of final causality in man. It falsely stifles the reasonableness of belief in God, our moral compasses, and the knowledge of our selves as spiritual beings.

Sadly, this epistemological reductionism has not only persisted to the present day, but also increased. Although there is some progress against the culture of death, there remains a peculiar amnesia regarding the dignity of man, lingering in our cultural psyche. Not surprisingly, there has also been a concurrent falling away from the faith, as evidenced by record numbers of non-religious and atheists in recent polls (i.e., the “rise of the Nones,” so-called for listing “none” as their religious preference).

How are we as Catholics to respond? To start, we can reaffirm that there are many good, intellectual, and multifaceted reasons to believe. Christianity and belief in God are perfectly reasonable, despite protestations from modern scientific materialists and atheists. Science and theology, faith and reason are not opposed to each other, but are “like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” (Fides et Ratio) In fact, there is available today more cutting-edge scientific data suggesting a Creator than ever before. What better confirmation is there, for example, of Aquinas’ cosmological argument for God as the prime mover than the Big Bang and the latest supporting evidence of cosmic microwave background radiation?

Christianity was built upon revelation, of course, but also upon reason. Jesus had commanded us to love God with “all your mind.” (Mt. 22:37) The intellectual tradition of the West, and its empirical science, is, after all, borne out of Christian civilization. The contention with modern secularism only arises with the materialist denial of God and the soul. It is a denial of our composite being. Atheism suffers from an epistemological defect of rejecting personhood. As Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum states, “It is the mind, or reason, . . . which renders a human being human, and distinguishes him essentially from the brute.” We should embrace the idea of personhood and the philosophy of personalism as part of our worldview and ethic, and as a bulwark against dehumanizing philosophies.

One of the greatest proponents of the modern philosophy of personalism was Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul, then Karol Wojtyla, witnessed these dehumanizing forces of materialism firsthand in Poland, initially under Nazi occupation, and later under Soviet Communism. He was in the epicenter for both of these totalitarian outbursts, and observed what he called the “pulverization” of the human person. It was in reaction to these impersonalist philosophies and the subsequent political tyrannies that he helped lead a new philosophical movement and moral theology focused on the absolute dignity of the human person.

Wojtyla advocated for “Thomistic personalism,” a modern philosophy focused on the transcendent dignity of each person. His particular personalism was grounded in Thomas Aquinas’ classical metaphysics, and the cosmological view of man that we are set apart from the rest of creation by our rational nature and intellect.

Wojtyla sought to go beyond this, however, to explain the “totality of the person.” He recognized the great importance of the interior perspective to human experience. This interior perspective he referred to as “subjectivity,” experienced in each person’s consciousness, where no two are alike. Each person, then, is utterly unrepeatable, irreplaceable, incommunicable, and irreducible.

Pope John Paul spoke of this in practical terms, in his “personalist principle,” that the human being should always be treated as an end in itself, and never subordinated to another as a means to an end. Internalizing this principle would inevitably produce concrete practical applications, such as standing against slavery and human trafficking. But, it could also help turn the societal tide against normalizing this culture of death, with its impersonalist impulses, as recently witnessed in the Netherlands, euthanizing a man for being an alcoholic, or with Peter Singer, a utilitarian ethicist from Princeton, advocating for ending the lives of severely disabled infants.

As Catholics, we must always advocate for the inviolable dignity of the human person. This, of course, goes all the way back to Genesis when “God created man in His own image.” (Gen. 1:27) The magisterium echoes this by calling each of us “a sign of the living God, an icon of Jesus Christ.” (EV, 84) We have an interior transcendence in common with our Creator. Humans are relational and social beings, made in conformity to God, a trinity of intra-relational Persons.

As the image of God, there is a specialness to man. It sets us apart from the rest of creation. We alone can say “I.” No other animal, as wonderful as they are, can utter such a thing. They are bound by instinct. Even in the higher primates, as with the fascinating case of Koko the signing gorilla, the disparity remains immense. In the words of Pope John Paul, “an ontological leap” has to be made to span the “great gulf” that separates person from non-person. Man alone is capable of rational and abstract thought, free will, self-consciousness, moral action, complex language and speech, technological progress, higher purpose, altruism, love, creativity, prayer and worship. Man is different in degree and in kind, because God makes each person from the infiniteness of Himself. (CCC 2258)

In the New Testament, Jesus gives us the heart of personalism with His commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” For, as He later reveals, “as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” By embracing this notion of personalism in our lives, we liberate ourselves from our own egoism and coldness towards our neighbor. We see the face of God in each other. This is our vaccination against dehumanizing a person, and adopting a culture of life. It stands against the slide of centuries towards extreme skepticism and materialism, and calls us to draw again from a more complete knowledge. Materialism is only partially true. It denies the higher nature of our spiritual selves. By recognizing the image of God in each other we see the universal ontological value of each person, even down to the seemingly lowliest and weakest among us. It is for us to contemplate (and act upon), in light of Christ’s sacrifice, “how precious man is in God’s eyes and how priceless the value of his life” with “the almost divine dignity of every human being.” (EV, 25)