Christianity and Communism

Blessed Are the Poor at Christmas

A few days ago, I had a friend of mine ask me what are the differences between Christianity and Communism. He asked because some of his associates were stating that the two world-views were compatible with each other.

Communism is the political/social system where the government owns property and the means of production and is supposed evenly distributes the resources to its people so that no one is in need. Karl Marx, the founder of Communism, believed that if everyone had their bodily needs met and everyone was equal, then you could attain a utopia on Earth. Throughout history, Communism has led to the brutal subjugation and mass murder of millions. And still, there are those who claim that there is some compatibility between this and Christianity. This is despite the fact that Communism is explicitly atheistic.

Those who take this view often cite Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4, where it says, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. “ (Acts 4:32). On a surface level, it sounds like a Communist utopia where goods are evenly distributed. But that is only on a superficial view. Once you dig even a little bit down, you can see how the two cannot be compatible.

As we see in the quote above, the Bible does say that the ancient Christians shared their goods in common and distributed to those in need. But the reasons and goal are very different than the Communists. Even if an action has a similar result, the intention can make a huge difference. For example, one man may kill a man and another man may kill a different man. Both acts are homicide. But the reason and the goals of each killer may radically alter the meaning of the action. One may be murder, but another may be self-defense or an accident or something else entirely.

The early Christians laid their possessions at the feet of the Apostles to demonstrate their complete surrender to God. It is God, through the administration of the Apostles, who will providing for the needs of the poor. In Communism, people’s property is confiscated by force and redistributed evenly. On the Communist view, the men who run the state are given supreme authority over the individuals. For the early Christians, God is supreme, which is why Peter says in chapter 5 of Acts “It is better to obey God rather than men.” In Communism, it is better to obey men, rather than God.

Notice that the act of surrender on the Christian is an individual choice, an act of charity and love. Becoming a Christian is a free commitment, but it is a full commitment, like marriage. In ideal Communism and ideal Christianity, both should result in every individual having their material needs met. But it will end up having very different results because it is done for different reasons.

Please forgive me as I use a horribly crude analogy. I only use it, because I think that it is helpful to see the distinction, Christianity is like a virgin getting married and Communism is like a virgin being raped. Both will result in the loss of physical virginity, but it occurs for very different reasons with different results.

Finally, Communism is about the collective. Christianity is about the individual AND the collective. In Communism, the individual’s needs are sacrificed by the state for the greater good of the collective. That is why you can steal from and murder individual members of the collective if it will benefit the collective. Christians are called to unity, to be “one mind and one heart.” (Acts 4:32) Paul speaks about how we are all one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12) and how if one part suffers, we all suffer. But we never lose our individuality. For Christians, we help members of the collective because each individual in the collective is a child of God. We cannot steal from and murder the individual for the collective. But the individual can give of himself to build up others. This would be an act of love and charity.

There was a story I once heard about St. Teresa of Calcutta. Her order was growing in the cities and the Indian government offered to partner with her to create a large charitable organization to serve the greater country. St. Teresa said no. It was pointed out to her that with this group, hundreds and maybe thousands more could be helped. She responded that she was not called to love groups of hundreds and thousands, but to love and serve each individual to whom she ministered.

If five people were in one place and only one of them had food, Communism would say that it would be morally right for the other four to steal from the fifth because then that small collective would be fed. In Christianity, the other four would make an appeal to the fifth and if the fifth was generous, it would beget righteousness on his part and love between the people. Like the Dark Side of the Force from Star Wars, Communism is quicker, easier, more seductive. Christianity takes patience, forgiveness, and faith.

Communism is built on the idea that the human will can overcome human nature and transform it into something else. But we Christians understand that only the supernatural grace of God can raise up our fallen human nature.

Copyright 2019, WL Grayson

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W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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