Socialism: Christianity’s Renewable Heresy (2)

The Church vs Socialism

By Dr. Gary North

Part 2

Half-Hearted, Worldly Evangelicalism

Neo-evangelical Protestantism is a halfway house theology, one adopted by budding theological liberals on their way out of orthodoxy, and by converts out of liberalism into orthodoxy, but mostly by the former. Calvinist philosopher Ronald Nash should have known better when he wrote in 1963 that “The charges implying that evangelicals are perhaps half-hearted heretics, i.e., men who are beginning to drift away from the basic centralities of the Christian faith, are totally without support.” On the contrary, far from being “crude misrepresentations” of the neo-evangelical position, as Nash termed the critics’ accusations, these accusations have proven, year by year, decade by decade, to have been right on target. One by one, the neo-evangelical leaders and institutions of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s have steadily shown their true colors. They have steadily sold out the faith, and more to the point, have sold out the donors whose funds built the institutions that now pay the salaries of the neo-evangelicals. When, at a 1989 meeting of almost 400 of these neo-evangelical theologians, a voice vote confirming the existence of hell was called for, the motion failed. The merest hint of “biblicism” has been enough to gag them.

Nash subsequently “atoned” for these “sins of youth.” He spent the 1980’s in a valiant attempt to call the “outward-bound drifters” of the neo-evangelical movement back to conservatism — moral and theological — though without visible effect. His later work may have been beneficial in guiding a few of the “inward-bound drifters” from outside the movement toward the morally and economically productive shores of free market economics. But his early negative response against the critics of neo-evangelicalism was typical of what goes on among academics: refusing to see what is happening under their noses until it is too late to do anything effective about it, they attack anyone who calls attention to the looming crisis. Then, when the disaster has become visible to almost everyone else, they either remain silent about their earlier skeptical position or else they go around saying to everyone who will listen — and few people will — “Golly, I wonder how this happened.”

Liberalism in Formerly Conservative Bastions

By 1980, if a denomination or ecclesiastical association had a seminary that was staffed by theologians rather than by pastors (meaning virtually all seminaries), the worldview of modernism probably had established at least a foothold in the denomination or convention. Even Westminster Theological Seminary, the last bastion of academic Presbyterian Calvinism, has steadily drifted away from the free market opinions of its founder, Machen. The tenets of theological liberalism and outright apostasy have almost universally penetrated the leadership of the modern church, undermining the leaders’ confidence in the reliability of the biblical narratives. This has left them philosophically and morally defenseless against the tenets of political liberalism, which have been imported into the church through the back door of the seminaries and officially Christian liberal arts colleges, all of them staffed by holders of advanced degrees from humanist universities and certified by apostate academic accrediting agencies. Subordinating themselves judicially to liberal humanists in the various academic accrediting agencies, the once-conservative Christian academic institutions have steadily taken on both the institutional structure and the worldview of their accreditors.

By the 1970’s, American evangelical colleges had become heavily influenced by the liberal worldview. By 1980, the leadership of the American churches had become anti-capitalist. This hostility to the free market left church leaders vulnerable ideologically to the overnight collapse of the Communists’ economies in late 1989 — or more accurately, to the unexpected public admission by Communist leaders in Eastern (Central) Europe and the USSR that their economies were bankrupt, accompanied by a plea for tens of billions of additional dollars in unsecured loans and outright gifts. The embarrassing setback suffered by their humanist peers and intellectual models inevitably afflicted the neo-evangelicals and the liberation theologians.

The Christian-Marxist Dialogue

The Social Gospel as an intellectual movement culminated in the 1960’s, a century after its creation, with the attempt of Christian intellectuals and Marxists to establish a new dialogue. This attempt began in earnest in 1965 with the Communist Party’s preliminary dialogues with Roman Catholic intellectuals and priests. This was an obvious Party strategy by 1965, given the collapse of the conservative forces within Rome as a result of Vatican II’s four sessions (1962-65), especially in the final year. By 1965, Pope Paul VI (Montini) had led the Roman Church into liberalism and had opened the doors to radicalism. Simultaneously, avant-garde Protestants were going through the short-lived fad known as the death of God theology (1963-66). Then came the works of Jürgen Moltmann, especially his Theology of Hope. The dialogue movement escalated in the late 1960’s. Its character is well illustrated by one of the self-professed Christians in this dialogue, Paul Oestreicher, who began his essay on “Dialogue in Hope” with this stirring analysis: “Anti-Communism, in its ideological form, is a social disease still prevalent in many parts of the so-called free world. When it has the cloak of the Christian crusader thrown around it, the disease becomes virulent.” The Communists’ intentions were not the creation of a new fusion between Marxism and religion. Their goal was the capture of the minds of leading churchmen. The creation of this Christian-Marxist dialogue was high on the Communists’ list of priorities. Even Herbert Aptheker, the old war-horse of American Communism, got into the act, succeeding at long last in getting a mainstream publisher to issue his manifesto.

The best symbol of the Party’s unilateral goal was the brief public career of Roger Garaudy, the French Marxist theoretician. He was the most prominent European Communist spokesman of the Marxist-Christian dialogue. His book, From Anathema to Dialogue: A Marxist Challenge to the Christian Churches, published in France in 1965 and in the U.S. in 1966, may be said to have launched the dialogue movement. He announced in 1968: “Without us, Communists, I fear that your Christian love, marvelous though it is, will continue to be ineffective; without you, Christians, our struggle risks again confinement to a horizon without stars.” He co-authored a book with a Jesuit philosopher, Quentin Lauer, A Christian Communist Dialogue (1968). But when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1968, Garaudy opposed the action. He was then expelled from the French Communist Party. Only then, still a socialist, did he write about “the theoretical bankruptcy of the Soviet leaders,” the “crime against Czechoslovakia” and the Soviets’ “official lies,” and the “impotence” of the French Communist Party because “it continues to consider as the only valid socialist model one that would impose the leadership of the Soviet Union.” But, by then, no one was paying much attention to him. (His expulsion was not even mentioned by one Lutheran student of Garaudy’s works, despite the fact that his book of praise appeared in 1974.) His career as a professional Communist was finished, and so was his usefulness in the dialogue. He had disappeared from public view by 1975.

So much for Communist dialogue. From the beginning, it had been a dialogue between loyal Communists and disloyal Christians. Its importance was in laying the foundations of the liberation theology movement.

Self-Imposed Blindness as a Way of Life

The Soviet economy by 1989 had visibly reached “meltdown.” Eastern (Central) European Marxist economies had all been poverty-stricken and poverty-producing from the very beginning of Communist rule (the end of World War II), but the West’s media and academic community had steadfastly refused to acknowledge this fact. Communist rulers have always relied on terror as a means of political control over the citizenry, even using psychology as a means of terror. The Soviet judicial system was corrupt. The Soviet Union’s economy was corrupt and always encouraged corruption. Soviet society was based on extreme class divisions, with the favored few living lives of luxury and the vast majority of people in poverty. The Soviet economy always was utterly irrational. A few ex-Communists defected and revealed the truth. So did people who had been put into Soviet concentration camps. So did journalists who had been stationed there. But until Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, these reports were steadfastly ignored by a large majority of the most influential Western intellectuals.

A few American economists told the truth over the years, but they were generally ignored. All of this negative information had been accessible to American intellectuals from the beginning, but they self-consciously refused to believe it until the Soviets themselves admitted it in 1989. When Western intellectuals journeyed to Communist nations, they saw what they imagined to be wonderful sights, for they were political pilgrims. No better description of these pilgrims has ever been penned than Malcolm Muggeridge’s, who was an increasingly disillusioned reporter for England’s liberal newspaper, The Manchester Guardian, in the 1930’s.

For resident foreign journalists in Moscow the arrival of the distinguished visitors was also a gala occasion, for a different reason. They provided us with our best — almost our only — comic relief. For instance, when we heard [George Bernard] Shaw, accompanied by Lady Astor (who was photographed cutting his hair), declare that he was delighted to find there was no food shortage in the USSR. Or [Harold] Laski singing the praises of Stalin’s new Soviet Constitution…I have never forgotten these visitors, or ceased to marvel at them, at how they have gone on from strength to strength, continuing to lighten our darkness, and to guide, counsel and instruct us; on occasion, momentarily abashed, but always ready to pick themselves up, put on their cardboard helmets, mount Rosinante, and go galloping off on yet another foray on behalf of the down-trodden and oppressed. They are unquestionably one of the wonders of the age, and I shall treasure till I die as a blessed memory the spectacle of them travelling with radiant optimism through a famished countryside, wandering in happy bands about squalid, over-crowded towns, listening with unshakeable faith to the fatuous patter of carefully trained and indoctrinated guides, repeating like schoolchildren a multiplication table, the bogus statistics and mindless slogans endlessly intoned to them. There, I would think, an earnest office-holder in some local branch of the League of Nations Union, there a godly Quaker who once had tea with Gandhi, there an inveigher against the Means Test and the Blasphemy Laws, there a staunch upholder of free speech and human rights, there an indomitable preventer of cruelty to animals; there scarred and worthy veterans of a hundred battles for truth, freedom and justice — all, all chanting the praises of Stalin and his Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It was as though a vegetarian society had come out with a passionate plea for cannibalism, or Hitler had been nominated posthumously for the Nobel Peace Prize.

This phenomenon did not end in the 1930’s. It went on to the last gasp of the Soviets’ economic deception. The long-term moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the West’s intellectual leaders was finally exposed in 1989 by the acknowledged economic bankruptcy and tyranny of the Marxist regimes that the West had accepted as a valid alternative to capitalism. No better example of this intellectual self-deception can be found than the case of Paul Samuelson, economics professor (emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first American to win Nobel Prize in economics (1970), former Newsweek columnist, and the author of by far the most influential economics textbook of the post-war world (1948-present): three million copies, 31 foreign languages. He announced in the 1989 edition of his textbook: “The Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive.”

On January 1, 1990, Time Magazine featured a photo of Gorbachev on its cover, which announced: “Man of the Decade.” The managing editor gushed: “Instead of naming Mikhail Gorbachev Man of the Year for 1989, we decided to designate him Man of the Decade. The only precedent for such a departure from the Y word occurred at the end of 1949, when Winston Churchill was TIME’s Man of the Half-Century.” Gorbachev had been Time‘s Man of the Year in 1987. While this award is given as a “news judgment,” said the managing editor, the lengthy accompanying articles on Gorbachev gave the game away: the political genius of Mikhail Gorbachev. Michael Kramer announced confidently: “Whatever happens to Gorbachev and his risky experiment, he already qualifies as a political genius, if only because he radiates a sense of purpose, motion, decisiveness, and hope…” But Gorbachev never had a plan, as Kramer admitted in the opening paragraph, where he compared Gorbachev with President Franklin Roosevelt, who lacked any anti-Depression plan in 1933, but who was committed to government-directed social experimentation. Planless, Gorbachev lurched from one disastrous policy to another, 1985 to 1991: the Cernobyl nuclear power plant’s meltdown in 1986, a potential ecological disaster that he had been warned about in advance but failed to deal with; the Soviet military’s ignominious retreat from Afghanistan in February of 1989, which forever broke the Soviet Union’s mythology of military invincibility; his refusal to support the Central European Communist regimes, which led to their collapse in 1989; his bankrupting of the economy, whose bankruptcy he openly admitted in 1989; and his “genius” in gaining the absolute hatred of the Russian people of all persuasions. He was a headliner in 1989, all right: the world’s most famous loser of the decade.

From August 19-21, 1991, a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev was attempted by a handful of military leaders. It failed when the ring leaders failed to arrest Boris Yeltsin, the head of the Russian Republic. When Gorbachev returned to Moscow after a brief imprisonment in his own gigantic dacha, he found that Yeltsin, his old rival, had captured the reins of authority during his absence. Within months, Yeltsin had replaced Gorbachev as the head of the USSR. Within a year, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was no more. It had been replaced by a federation of independent states. From 1989 to 1992, the legitimacy of Marxist Communism disappeared in the West. Only a small but entrenched core of Western university professors — defenders of lost causes — kept the faith. In Russia, the old Marxist faith had faded years before, as Solzhenitsyn kept telling the West. It was buried with the failed coup.

President Reagan, who oversaw the covert strategy that destroyed the Soviet Union, never did make Time‘s “Man of the Year.”


The promotion of the idea of a Bible-mandated, State-imposed socialism or communism was confined to heretical religious and social movements until the late nineteenth century. The theological justifications for private property have varied, but the vast majority of Christian theologians who have written on the subject have regarded private property as a God-given social institution that is overwhelmingly beneficial to society in a sinful world.

European socialist movements after 1848 began to influence radicals inside the Roman Catholic Church, but the Church International never did adopt socialism as an ideal. It was only with the rise of Darwinism, and specifically the statist variety of Darwinism, in the late nineteenth century that leaders within Protestant churches began to promote the idea of Christian socialism. It is worth noting that this period coincided with the refusal of the conservative churches to prosecute for heresy.

The collapse of Soviet Communism in 1989-91 has set back Christian socialists and welfare State advocates. Without much warning, the legitimacy of socialism as an ideal collapsed. Only by substituting ecological and environmental concerns does socialism still appeal to voters. This will have its effect inside the churches. Christian socialism has visibly become a lame-duck position. It did not survive a full a century in American Protestantism before it suffered a major setback because of events across the ocean where fashionable Western intellectual trends had long been set: in the Soviet Union. Socialism as an ideal will eventually depart even from American theological seminaries — decades after the USSR abandoned it, I imagine.

[Many of today’s Seminary professors are too often the promoters of the secular intellectual fads of leftist-liberal college professors. Today’s ‘worldly’ Seminary’s and their compromised professors are at best, non-thinkers or very slow learners (silly as a dove), even among academicians.] (Gospelbbq edit).


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