Is Socialism incompatible with Religion, Monasticism?

Is Socialism incompatible with Religion, Monasticism? August 8, 2007

A while back I wrote:

The thing is, communism works in very small enclaves, in monasteries, for example, where everyone involved is entering willingly, is voluntarily looking to be denuded, is eager to “give stuff up” in an effort to attain something quite different from worldy “stuff.” Communism does not work, though, in a large-scale national situation whereby people are expected to sublimate themselves, their instincts and their ambitions for the good of the party. Socialism does not work.

There is an enormous difference between a few dozen people voluntarily giving up their worldly goods for communal living, and forcing people to participate in such a society against their will. The first brings freedom for those who choose it. The second, historically, has brought tyranny, poverty, slaughter and the gulag.

I was taken to task on that post,
by a woman who disliked my equating the rhetoric of Hillary Clinton to socialism, even though Mrs. Clinton has been very clear that she is enthusiastic about re-distribution of wealth and the government taking control of whole industries (healthcare and oil exploration/refining/marketing to name two), although she is curiously silent on environmental industries and issues, particularly where they affect her financial backers.

The writer charged that Mrs. Clinton, who is great and smart and everything good, “has some appreciation (more than the Anchoress does) of ‘Christian Democracy.'”

Well, I am absolutely positive that Mrs. Clinton has a better appreciation of “Christian Democracy” than I. Believing that Democracy is not the exclusive stronghold of Christians, I have never – until this moment – tapped out those two words, “Christian” and “Democracy” in succession. I’m not even certain that Religion and Democracy ever explicitly intersect, rather they strike me as two ideas that run parallel to each other, like railroad tracks, helping to bear society through the mountains, valleys, jungles and deserts of human folly and human profundity, and the mess of morals that rest between them. As I said a while back,

Faith and Reason share a kinship, and within that kinship the natural and supernatural wave back and forth, like wind-stirred wheat in a field, but only to an point. The gift of faith is itself supernatural, but let’s call it a small-s-supernatural, one in which reason may be easily ascertained. I think once circumstances have led one – willingly or unwillingly – to confront capital-S-Supernatural, the waters become very deep, and reason must necessarily hang back near the shore.

All that said, Mrs. Clinton’s rhetoric does strike me as socialist in character if not always in tone, and her instincts – to solve every human problem with “government” solutions (more money for police! More money for schools! More money for everything and with it the necessary governmental oversight and regulation!) speak volumes. Some say she is not a socialist, and if that’s you’re take on it, that’s fine. We simply disagree. When Mrs. Clinton said, “we’re going to have to take some things away from you for the common good”, many inferred the unspoken second part of that sentence to be, “and if you have any objection to that notion or how we go about it, then you’re a bad, mean, selfish and probably immoral person.” Which would be quite an unfair charge to level at most folks.

What has this to do with Monasticism? Well, with my computer lately so inaccessible to me, I’ve been reading more books – and I’ll be writing about some of what I’m reading as soon as my internets are stable – but in re-reading the marvelous book The Right to be Merry by the outstanding Mother Mary Francis, PCC, I came across a passage I’d missed before, written in the first edition (1956) of the book:

The children of light walk heedless of the source of their light. The children of darkness know better. And when the hour of darkness is at hand in any country, the first act of the powers of evil is invariably to throw the switch. They raze the cloisters. They turn the contemplatives out of their monasteries with loud speeches about the good of the state and about contributing to the social need. […]

By a strange paradox, the persecutors of religion are always far more spiritual-minded than the common run of humanity. It is a perversion of spirituality, but it is a kind of spiritual vision, nonetheless. One has to be very spiritual-minded to grasp the true meaning of the cloistered contemplative vocation, very convinced of the supernatural values to understand its supreme significance for the universal Church. Those who hold power in communist-dominated countries have a very comprehensive grasp of it. They understand its significance quite perfectly. If they sometimes draw red herrings of “national churches” across their atheistic paths, they dare not deal even in half-measures with cloisters. We shall grow old and die waiting for Russia or (Communist) China to set up “national cloisters.”

Mother Mary Francis is right. Whenever a totalitarian regime is in place (and this was true in England during Henry VIII’s and Elizabeth I’s restructuring of England into a “Protestant” nation, and also during the French Revolution) the cloisters are made illegal, the nuns and monks imprisoned, killed or forced underground.

I’m not saying Hillary Clinton wants to raze the monasteries, or that she dislikes religion in general – indeed, whenever she (or her husband) is running for anything, we routinely (and conveniently) read reports of Mrs. Clinton’s deep and abiding faith, her rich prayer life and her reliance upon spiritual leaders. And it’s entirely possible that her faith informs her world-view, that she interprets her faith to mean that society as a whole should embrace the ideals of monasticism; I believe a person can reach that conclusion with sincerity of heart.

But as we have demonstrated, monasticism – the perfect manifestation of the socialist ideal – only works if entered into freely, willingly, with open hearts and generous intentions. On a large scale, with less-than-willing subjects (and embracing the deadly idea of extreme equality with “special privileges for none”) the ideals which flourish in the cloister lead to stifling bureaucracy, the stagnation of creativity and no reason to excel beyond a standard of mediocrity.

I don’t think Mrs. Clinton “hates” religion.
But there’s that old saying: you are known by the company that you keep or – in an election year – by the checks you cash and the soirées you attend. Many of the people who support Mrs. Clinton – either because they fear her, want to glean from her leftovers, truly love her, consider her anti-establishment (heh) or because they simply follow where they are led – do, indeed “hate” religion. In fact one of the reasons some of them so despise President Bush is because of he is all-too religious for their tastes. The “avowed secularists” (who likely do not comprehend all the ways they still manage to create “religion” no matter what it’s called) would not mind “freeing” the world of these ancient and stifling cults. Those of her supporters who do claim a religious sensibility (even if they too dislike the faithfulness of our “born again” president) would in all likelihood not mind it if the state – having taken over everything else – defines what an allowable, government-sanctioned religion may be.

I’ll give you two guesses what the “allowable” churches would look like. The rest – as in China, today – would likely be compelled to worship underground. Therein, of course, one will find The Remnant.

This is no ranting denunciation…it’s an attempt to be thoughtful about everything that we’re seeing and hearing and what it really means in the world. Food for thought as we head into autumn and hit the one-year-til-elections mark by which time it is actually useful to start listening to politicians. If you’re going to listen to the vastly ambitious, I’m simply urging you to consider the musings of this humble nun, as well. It doesn’t do to simply swallow everything as presented to us today, like a tasty bourbon, without a cleansing chaser of history to go along with it.

Catholic Pillow Fight has more thoughts on this.

More on the whole question of whether Hillary is or is not a socialist (with rhetorical examples) at Gateway Pundit.

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