“Atheism and communism always seem to go hand in hand,” begins a letter to the editor I recently found through a Google alert. And though the fear of communism has died down since the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the prejudice that this writer was parroting has affected our politics for decades.
In the Cold War, when anti-communist fear and paranoia were rampant, we sought to differentiate ourselves from the enemy in every way possible. It was this fear that spurred the U.S. government to stamp religious slogans on our money and our national oaths, in an attempt to set us apart from “godless communists”. The ultimate result was that the things which we thought made us unique became linked together in our minds: right-wing politics, Christianity, and red-blooded American capitalism. The effects of that linkage are still visible today, with bizarre consequences like avowedly Christian organizations who make it a major part of their mission to slash social welfare programs and give tax cuts to the rich. Conversely, even after all this time, outspoken atheists are still smeared with guilt by association, regardless of whether or not we have any association with or sympathy for the fallen communist regimes.
But the merger of Christianity with predatory capitalism was not always the case. In fact, the first Christians believed something very different, as we see from a little-known Bible verse.
In the Book of Acts, chapter 2, verses 44 to 45, we hear a bit about how the first Christians lived following the departure of Jesus:
“And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”
This verse probably wasn’t heard from the pulpits too often during the McCarthy era. Indeed, most of the Bible’s clear teachings about social welfare (another one is Deuteronomy 15:7-8, which commands believers to give the poor whatever they need) have been ignored by the Christian right, which embraces social Darwinism in the policy arena even as they denounce Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Some Christians did recognize this – C.S. Lewis, for example, says that the ideal Christian society would in many ways be leftist, and there are plenty of liberal churches that emphasize social justice. But even today, hardly any advocate the socialist, communist ideal that is plainly envisioned by the Bible itself.
Other posts in this series: