A few quotes from Dorothee Soelle

A few quotes from Dorothee Soelle December 12, 2009

I was reading excerpts tonight from the late German feminist and political theologian and activist Dorothee Soelle — who coined the term Christofascism — and thought I would share just a few provocative passages.

“I suspect that the post-Christians do not want to have anything to do with the dialectic of a religious institution. But it is just this self-contradictory experience of the church as traitor and the church as sister that stares me in the face, and I have to live with it. Post-Christianity seems to me like a slick formula that covers up the two-sided encounter with the church and reduces it to the ‘church from above.’ Then the church from below is forgotten, and with it what tradition has identified as the ‘mystical body of Christ.'”

(From “Christianity and Post-Marxism” in The Window of Vulnerability: A Political Spirituality (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 24-5)

“I am often impatient when believers ask me: ‘Are you a Marxist?’ The best reply I can think of is a counter-question: ‘Do you brush your teeth? I mean, since the toothbrush has been invented?’ How can anyone read Amos and Isaiah, and not Marx and Engels? That would be absolute ingratitude toward a God who sends us prophets with the message that to know YHWH means to do justice. Are we not obliged to do use every analytic tool that can help us to comprehend injustice and at the same time reveal the victims of injustice as the possible forces for change that can break the spell of oppression for both the oppressors and the oppressed? Can we afford to ignore Marx at a time when I ought to be clear to every attentive observer of the misery of the Third World that capitalism neither can nor will satisfy hunger? Our economic system works for the rich, not for the other two-thirds of the human family.”

(Ibid., pp. 25-6)

“If we do not [use our tradition], it will use us.”

(Ibid., p. 27)

“Reagan was a master at playing on the deep-seated anxieties of people caught up in massive technological change. He exploited their fear of inflation and the loss of jobs and turned it toward a different point — namely, sexuality. It is not the nuclear bomb that threatens our survival: it is love between two men or two women that endangers everything we have achieved!”

(From “Christofascism,” in The Window of Vulnerability: A Political Spirituality (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), p. 138)

“In a theological perspective it is evident that the content of this fascist religion [right wing Christianity] contradicts the message of the Jewish-Christian tradition. The God of the prophets did not preach the nation-state, but community between strangers and natives. The apostle Paul did not base the justification of sinners on the Protestant work ethic, but on grace, which appears for young and old, for diligent and for lazy people! And Jesus did not make the family the central value of human life, but the solidarity of those deprived of their rights. The most important norms of the Moral Majority are not contained in Christian faith, as we can see from the many critical remarks against the family that appear in the gospels. It is characteristic of Christofascism that it cuts off all the roots that Christianity has in the Old Testament, in the Jewish Bible. No word about justice, no mention of the poor, whom God comes to aid, very little about guilt and suffering. No hope for the messianic reign. Hope is completely individualized and reduced to personal success. Jesus, cut loose from the Old Testament, becomes a sentimental figure. The empty repetition of his name works like a drug: it changes nothing and nobody. Therefore, since not everybody can be successful, beautiful, male, and rich, there have to be hate objects who can take the disappointment on themselves. Jesus, who suffered hunger and poverty, who practiced solidarity with the oppressed, has nothing to do with this religion.

“At a mass meeting a thousand voices shouted: ‘I love Jesus’ and ‘I love America’ — it was impossible to distinguish the two. This kind of religion knows the cross only as a magical symbol of what he has done for us, not as the sign of the poor man who was tortured to death as a political criminal, like thousands today who stand up for his truth in El Salvador. This is a God without justice, a Jesus without a cross, an Easter without a cross — what remains is a metaphysical Easter Bunny in front of the beautiful blue light of the television screen, a betrayal of the disappointed, a miracle weapon in service of the mighty.”

(Ibid., 140.)

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  • “And Jesus did not make the family the central value of human life, but the solidarity of those deprived of their rights.”

    That’s not true in the least and it takes one heck of a twisting of Jesus’s message of love to reduce it to merely that.

  • Michael Denton – The whole thing is “not true in the least?” Or just part of it? Also, is it “not true in the least” or is it a “reduction” of Jesus’ “message of love” to one particular facet of it? It cannot be both.

  • “How can anyone read Amos and Isaiah, and not Marx and Engels?”

    Amos and Isaiah were prophets of God. Marx and Engels were prophets of the slaughter of 100 million people.

    That might be a reason.

  • Marx and Engels were prophets of the slaughter of 100 million people.

    Are you kidding me? Do you just make history up as you go along?

    And hopefully you aren’t suggesting that we shouldn’t listen to the insights of Marx because of what some of his readers did with him. The same is true of the Bible, last I checked.

  • What?

  • Is something confusing to you in my last comment?

  • I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t read Marx, only that it’s not essential to living a good holy life, or to knowing about justice.

    Also, that Marx’s ideas had unspeakably evil consequences.

  • I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t read Marx, only that it’s not essential to living a good holy life, or to knowing about justice.

    That’s not really what you said above at all. Had you said that I would have agreed with you. Most Latin American Christians involved in base ecclesial communities, for example, had not read one word of Marx and yet they joined in the struggle for a more just society.

    Reading Amos is probably “not essential to living a good holy life” either. When was the last time you sat down and read it?

    Also, that Marx’s ideas had unspeakably evil consequences.

    No, that’s really not true. That’s like saying the ideas in the Bible had “unspeakably evil consequences.”

  • Well I confess was trying to be provocative, as I thought it would be in tune with the spirit of this post.

    But how is it like saying the ideas in the Bible had evil consequences? I guess I don’t think Marx was misunderstood by the Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong of the world. Do you?

  • Aegis

    Mr. Iafrate,

    I am afraid, having read only portions of The Communist Manifesto, that I am unfamiliar with the precise attraction of Marxism. Many intelligent men and women are and have been Marxists. Ms Soelle says that being a Marxist is as obvious a choice as brushing one’s teeth with a toothbrush. Unfortunately, to one unread in Marxism’s ways (such as myself) there exists a veil of ignorance not easily penetrated.

    I do not know if you are a Marxist, Mr. Iafrate, but at the least I am hopeful that you can clarify Ms. Soelle’s comments about it.

    • Aegis,

      Soelle is saying that we take so many of Marx’s ideas for granted now — such as the process of alienation involved in capitalist production — that the question “Are you a Marxist” is a silly one. As someone once said, we are all Marxists now. Including John Paul II, I guess, who incorporated a lot of Marx into his thinking on work. So one needs not have read much Marx in order to have been influenced by him.

  • Kurt

    Even when I was in college in the 1970s/80s, it was often conceeded that if Marx was re-incarnated in the world at that time, he would be George Meany.

    One can have endless debates as to if Kautsky or Lenin were the true heir to Marx. But the fact there is a debate requires one to ask another to define themselves when they call themsleves Marxist rather than make assumptions.

  • Zach#2

    I would say that Marx was misunderstood by most people. Whether Stalin and Mao misunderstood him, or understood him and just found his ideology as a convenient cover for their own machinations is beside the point. I think your examples of Marxist theory in practice is roughly equivalent to someone saying that the Romanovs, or Francisco Franco, or Joseph Kony are fair representations of Christianity in practice. Having heard that sort of straw man argument used against both Jesus and Marx, it makes me think such comparisons are more a method of ending discourse and thwarting understanding than the other way around. I assume you have studied both Marx and Jesus Zach #1. Can you not think of some better examples than those that have been mentioned her of people who practice Christian thinking and people who practice Marxist thinking?

  • Zach#2

    [I have to apoligize in advance for the sarcasm of this post. I hope you can decipher my meaning through the despairing frustration.]

    Kurt,

    I can only guess that if someone was calling George Meany the incarnation of Karl Marx in the 1980’s it was because they we trying to make up for missing out on all the fun in Chile in 1973.

    George Meany…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Meany

    The thing with Fascists (and this is remarkably similar to hardline Communists) is that you can never be too extreme. Without Meany and other anti-communist Democrats I suppose Republicans might have been matched up against actual Socialists, and certainly wouldn’t have had as easy a time conducting wars in Southeast Asia. But all those Democratic “Cold warriors” became dirty reds in the 80’s eh? At least that’s what Fox News would have us believe. I guess we had to root out all that unconscious Marxist thinking that Michael was talking about though… after all, if we’d left our society tainted by the evil of welfare programs and financial regulation, where would we be now?

  • Zach, respectfully I must disagree with you. I do not think my examples of Marxist theory in practice are analogous to those cases you mention. It’s also not a straw man argument, for what it’s worth. It may be wrong, I suppose, but it’s not a straw.

    Stalin and Mao were explicitly Marxist. They fully embraced Marx’s dialectical materialism, and used this premise to come logically to the conclusion that human beings are expendable and only useful insofar as they participate in the revolution. They saw themselves as facilitating the movement of history towards its inevitable post-capitalist communist zenith. They read Marx and took him at his word. There are many other examples, but these two are the most significant, I think.

    Contrary to what I think is a popular opinion, communism is not a good idea gone wrong in practice. It is a terrible idea that has had terrible consequences. Man is not a cog in the wheel History is not reducible to economics,

    Michael, FWIW I agree with what you say in that comment about Soelle.

  • Stalin and Mao were explicitly Marxist.

    And Randall Terry is explicitly Christian. What’s your point?

    They fully embraced Marx’s dialectical materialism, and used this premise to come logically to the conclusion that human beings are expendable and only useful insofar as they participate in the revolution.

    I’m not sure one “logically” leads to the other. What is your understanding of dialectical materialism?

    They read Marx and took him at his word.

    But did Marx ever say that human beings are “expendable,” for example?

    Contrary to what I think is a popular opinion, communism is not a good idea gone wrong in practice. It is a terrible idea that has had terrible consequences.

    There is not one kind of communism.

  • Kurt

    But all those Democratic “Cold warriors” became dirty reds in the 80’s eh?

    I do find it amusing that a Cold War, anti-Communist Democrat like me now gets labeled a Marxist by the conservatives, FOX and some of my Catholic brethern.

    I miss Max Shachtman.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    Communism being horrid doesn’t make capitalism great. Especially not the Friedman version as inflicted by the US on Chile, Argentina and other victims. Talk about the Road to Serfdom! Friedman on Pinochet’s lap. I agree with the Pope that the Western European model of mitigated capitalism is the best we’ve come up with.

  • Joseph S

    “As someone once said, we are all Marxists now. Including John Paul II, I guess, who incorporated a lot of Marx into his thinking on work.”

    Could you enligthen us as to when JPII agreed with the sentiment that we are all Marxists, and where he includes Marxism in his writings on work? If you read “Centesimus Annus”, it should be clear that he deplored both Marxism and Western Materialism.

    Here is what John Paul II actually thought of it:

    “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. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil. Man is thus reduced to a series of social relationships, and the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision disappears, the very subject whose decisions build the social order. From this mistaken conception of the person there arise both a distortion of law, which defines the sphere of the exercise of freedom, and an opposition to private property. A person who is deprived of something he can call “his own”, and of the possibility of earning a living through his own initiative, comes to depend on the social machine and on those who control it. This makes it much more difficult for him to recognize his dignity as a person, and hinders progress towards the building up of an authentic human community. (Ref: Centesimus Annus, 13)

  • Joseph – Please consider that you should distinguish between three terms — Marx, Marxism, and socialism. You are using them as synonyms and you shouldn’t.

    I said JPII incorporated Marx into his ideas, not Marxism. In Laborem Exercens the influence of Marx’s critique of capitalism is obvious.

    The quote you cited discusses “socialism” which is abstract and unhelpful.

    “I am not a Marxist.” – Karl Marx

  • Karl Marx used the terms socialism and communism interchangeably.

  • Zach – Are you such an expert on Marx that you know that for a fact? I’m certainly not. I really find it hard to believe, though, that he would equate the two across the board in all of his writings and in every context. For example, it would be odd if in his engagements with Bakunin he did not regard the latter’s anarchism as a type of socialism. But in other contexts, I could see him “equating” the two if he didn’t take the time to make distinctions. Such as when I refer to myself as a socialist; when I do so I am not “equating” socialism and anarchism. They are related but distinct. Also, the word “communism,” then as now, had a variety of meanings.

  • Kurt

    Here is a little handy guide. Communism — the programme of the Third International. Socialism — the programme of the Socialist (Second) International. http://www.socialistinternational.org/

  • Gerald A. Naus

    Let’s bear in mind that it was Socialists and, to a lesser degree, Christian Democrats, who declawed “Manchester Liberalism”. It’s the American Right who wants to get us back to those happy days. (Neoliberalism, confusingly usually called neoconservatism in the US). When Marx wrote his works, life was hell for the average worker. Granted, the USA never progressed all that much, but even here the lot of employees greatly improved through the activism of Socialists. (A term downright unusable in the USA thanks to decades of “red menace” propaganda)

    The first group the Communists went after were Socialists. In Austria, it was Socialists (i.e. union people) who thwarted a Communist coup attempt after WWII. I come from a long line of Social Democrats. “Red Vienna” had more and better social services, from great housing and healthcare to kindergarten etc. almost a century ago than the US does now. What US-Americans forget is that it’s the USA that’s the exception in the West when it comes to a safety net, employees’ rights and so forth. Even the far Right in Europe would never agree with Republican social policies. What many Catholics forget is that their Church opposes much of what has been wrought by Republicans (and, to a lesser degree, Democrats). I don’t think you’ll find the Pope swooning over Milton Friedman.

    Freemarket (a misnomer really, non-competitive contracts to Halliburton don’t make for much freedom) capitalism a la Friedman is just as radical as Communism was, and with its cronyism and wealth for a few it’s not really that different, heck in Latin America and Iraq it even featured/s many of the same tactics, from torture to murder. It’s no surprise that “veterans” of Salvadoran and Chilean horror chambers now work as contractors for the US – all in the name of freedom, of course. Brutal oppression benefits this kind of pillaging capitalism.

    I assume you’ve read The Shock Doctrine, Michael ? I’m late to the party as usual, but $&#* !