That’s Marxist

That’s Marxist July 9, 2020

No photographer listed: Angry Man Pointing / PickPic

Catholics have long experienced the charge of being pagans because of the similarity between some Catholic practice or teaching with a pagan practice or teaching. Moreover, because Catholics have a history of looking at, examining, and actually adapting pagan thought, transforming it as is necessary to be compatible with Christianity, critics believe they have sufficient grounds for making their charge stick. But then, those critics turn on each other, and start accusing each other of being contaminated by pagan thought as well.

The fact that there is similarity with, or actual borrowing from, pagan sources does not make a thing pagan. Nor does the fact that something can be shown to be pagan in origin make it bad. Far from it. Everyone, including those who attack paganism, are heirs of the pagan tradition. Pagans invented writing. Does that make all writing pagan? Does that make writing bad? Pagans prayed to their gods. Does that make all prayer pagan? Does that make prayer bad? Pagans contemplated moral questions. Should we disregard morality?

When people from various pagan backgrounds became Christian, they took much of their heritage with them.  This wasn’t wrong for them to do. Far from it. It really highlighted the good which they had received from their pre-Christian faith. There is no way human civilization, indeed, Christian thought, could continue on if that were the case, because so much of the Christian tradition developed out of its pre-Christian roots. This is why it was proclaimed at Vatican II:

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.

The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.[1]

Indeed, as C.S. Lewis once noted that pagans have a great number of spiritual truths which have otherwise been lost to modern humanity, and it would be great if humanity returned to them.[2] Christianity has nothing to fear when it learns from pagans – indeed, they should be grateful for what has been handed over and realize that, whatever differences pagans and Christians have from each other, pagans have contributed much which is good and true to the history of humanity.

Just because the source of an idea, the source of a tradition, is pagan, does not make the idea or tradition is bad: it has to be examined in its own right. Likewise, just because a Christian comes up with some idea or tradition, that does not mean the idea or tradition is good: Christianity is filled with evil Christians promoting evil ideologies (which is true to this day, as can be seen in the way many Christians embrace racist ideologies).

Recently, however, there is a new version of “that’s pagan” being used by many so-called Christians, but also by secular people on the right. Instead of saying “that’s pagan” (often because few people are concerned about paganism), they say “that’s Marxist.” Just like those who used ‘that’s pagan” to simply suggest something is necessarily wrong, because of its source, so “that’s Marxist” is being used to simply suggest some attempt at social justice is bad because of its source. The genetic fallacy, which was used to decry the adaptation of pagan thought, now is being put to use for political ideologies.

But just like Christians can and should embrace ideas and traditions coming from pagans, that is, they can recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men, so Christians (and anyone else) should be able to do the same with Marxism. Pope Benedict XVI, a critic of Marx, thus was able to recognize Marx, in his analysis, did make significant contributions to human thought:

With great precision, albeit with a certain onesided bias, Marx described the situation of his time, and with great analytical skill he spelled out the paths leading to revolution—and not only theoretically: by means of the Communist Party that came into being from the Communist Manifesto of 1848, he set it in motion. His promise, owing to the acuteness of his analysis and his clear indication of the means for radical change, was and still remains an endless source of fascination. [3]

Thus, Pope Benedict XVI could point out how “Democratic Socialism,” which learned from Marxist analysis, was not only close to Catholic teaching, but helped promote social justice in Europe:

But in Europe, in the nineteenth century, the two models were joined by a third, socialism, which quickly split into two different branches, one totalitarian and the other democratic. Democratic socialism managed to fit within the two existing models as a welcome counterweight to the radical liberal positions, which it developed and corrected. It also managed to appeal to various denominations. In England it became the political party of the Catholics, who had never felt at home among either the Protestant conservatives or the liberals. In Wilhelmine Germany, too, Catholic groups felt closer to democratic socialism than to the rigidly Prussian and Protestant conservative forces. In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness.[4]

Democratic Socialism, which Pope Benedict XVI rightfully stated, is close to Catholic social teaching (though, of course, it will not be one and the same, because Democratic Socialism is fundamentally secular and does not embrace Christian revelation, though some who follow it do incorporate their Christian faith with their embrace of it), While Benedict would not approve of uncritical adaptation of Marx, the fact that someone employed Marx and Marxist theory, by itself, does not tell us anything about the validity of their analysis. What is proposed must be examined, and, in all likelihood, good and bad will be found tied together; whatever is  good and true can, and should, be employed, just as whatever is good and true found in pagan faiths could be and should be accepted by Christians.

“That’s Marxist” is just a cheap, unintellectual way to disengage from issues of justice. Indeed, it is often used by those who want to defend unjust policies, such as racists, by suggesting critics of such policies must be Marxist and so must be fought against just because there might be some Marxist critique involved in their analysis of the situation at hand. Calling something “Cultural Marxist” is a favorite way of doing this, though when analyzed, those employing such terminology are claiming things to be Marxist which have nothing to do with Marxism at all. What we must be concerned with is whether or not the analysis is correct, not the source of the tools by which the analysis has been made; if they are correct, and they show a problem, we must find a solution; if they are not, then it doesn’t matter where the analysis came from, we can show the error and leave it at that. What we can’t do, however, is just believe the statement, “that’s Marxist” proves something is wrong, just as we cannot believe “that’s pagan” means something is wrong either.

[1] Nostra Aetate. Vatican translation. ¶2

[2] See C.S. Lewis and Don Giovanni Calabria, The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis. Trans. Martin Moynihan (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998), 85 [Letter 23].

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi. Vatican translation. ¶20.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI and Marcello Pera, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam. Trans. Michael F. Moore (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 69-70.


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