Christianity & Socialism: Moral allies or mortal enemies?

Jared Staudt

You’re probably hearing a lot about socialism recently. It’s become a hot button issue in our culture with major politicians advocating for it as a fair option for everyone by spreading wealth around. This has been building up for a while, as education in the United States has been dominated by socialist thinking ever since the avowed socialist John Dewey led a philosophical rethinking of public education, steering it away from study of the great ideas and into social conditioning. College students regularly hear socialist ideas on campus, drawn to its promises of free (publicly funded) health care and college tuition. It sounds like a good idea, right? We’ll make sure that everyone has enough and is taken care of.

Although it may sound Christian, socialism is rooted in dangerous ideas.

Ideas certainly have consequences. In the year of revolution that swept across Europe in 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels issued one of the most consequential documents in human history, The Communist Manifesto. The ideas contained in this missive unequivocally have proven to be among the most harmful and destructive in human history. Numbers alone make that case. Communism was responsible for the deaths of 120 to 160 million victims in the 20th century, especially in Russia and China where brutal regimes killed tens of millions of their own citizens.

The year 1989 seemed to mark a turning point in the global fight against their brutal and dehumanizing ideology, and yet communism has proven so resilient that it now guides China’s quest to become the world’s superpower and finds new life in socialist movements even within the United States. After declaring victory with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Americans are now menaced by the same ideology from within. Socialism appeals to many, because it seems very Christian and just by offering equality and to give to those in need. It may offer to solve problems, but, in fact, it ends up causing much more injustice by imposing the State over and against economic and religious freedom. Even after decades of fighting communism abroad, America has slowly but surely been following Marx’s goals—the subordination of the individual, the family, education, the economy, and even religion to the dominance of the State. Both communism, focused on the control of the State by a single party, and socialism, which works for the same goals within a broader State, advocate for the public control of the economy and the means of production. Marx did not invent these theories, but he did provide the most important articulation of their goals that provided the framework for communist revolutions throughout the world over the 100 years following The Communist Manifesto.

A worker’s utopia?

Marx diagnosed the problems that followed the Industrial Revolution, causing the rise of modern social problems of poverty and the exploitation of workers. He did not simply offer practical solutions but rather put forward radical views of human nature and history. Marx advanced a materialist view of life, driven by economics and especially class conflict. Human beings simply became economic beings in his view, with religion deemed the opiate of the people that kept them downtrodden by the ruling classes. Marx’s solution was to create a violent revolution of the working class, the proletariat, that would abolish all private property, the main Communist goal. This revolution would not only destroy the middle and upper classes but would also remove the public influence of religion and erode the family. To achieve a classless society, the State would become all controlling (on behalf of the workers, of course), though, for Marx, it would eventually fade away into a utopian life that would allow workers freedom and ease.

The Church immediately condemned these outrageous theories that pit people against one another in society. Two years before the Manifesto, Bl. Pope Pius IX already warned against Communism, stating, “if this doctrine were accepted, the complete destruction of everyone’s laws, government, property, and even of human society itself would follow” (Qui Pluribus, 1846). Pius put his finger directly on the appeal of socialism by offering complete equality and justice, though doing so in a way that would undermine and ultimately destroy much of what is good and noble in society, speaking of “their plans to quench peoples’ zeal for piety, justice and virtue, to corrupt morals, to cast all divine and human laws into confusion, and to weaken and even possibly overthrow the Catholic religion.” Every single pope from Bl. Pius IX to Pope Francis have condemned the errors of Marxism as standing against the natural law, God’s divine law, and the dignity and rights of the human person.

Pope Leo XIII gave the first lengthy response to the errors of socialism and communism in his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, beginning to feel the revolutionary pressure about to burst. Leo focused on the nature of property as something that flows directly from human work. “It is surely undeniable,” Leo argues, “that, when a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own. . . . Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life” (5). Socialism destroys the nature of work and self-sufficiency, taking away the true motivation of the worker, but also undoes the nature of the family and religion by supplanting the State in their place: “There is no need to bring in the State. Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body” and of his family (7). Leo realized that communism necessarily entailed the destruction of human rights and liberty and, in the end, would hurt workers far more than it would help them.

Our Lady’s prophetic warning

Leo may have feared the consequences of communism, but he had no way of knowing just how destructive it would become. Our Lady did know, however, and in July of 1917 she warned the three children at Fatima of the dangers coming through Russia if the world did not repent and turn to prayer: “If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.” Although there is much hope in this message, her requests were not immediately heeded, and the evil of communism did spread throughout the world. The Miracle of Sun occurred during her last apparition at Fatima on October 13, 1917 and the Russian revolution broke out less than a month later, on November 7.

The Communist Revolution in Russia would lead to unprecedented Christian persecution and the loss of millions of lives. Over 10 million (and possibly many more) Orthodox Christians suffered martyrdom, until the Orthodox Church was forced to capitulate to Communist control. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party that spearheaded the revolution, directly killed hundreds of thousands and intentionally starved at least five million more Russians to death along the Volga river through a provoked famine (a tactic that both Stalin and Mao would later employ to kills tens of millions more). Russia quickly spread her errors throughout the world, with Communist regimes popping up even in Catholic countries such as Spain and Mexico. During the Red Terror in Spain, tens of thousands of priests, religious, and lay faithful faced martyrdom and likewise in Mexico, provoking the Cristero uprising. Pope Pius XI spoke of the attempted extermination of Christians in Russia, Spain, and Mexico as the unholy triangle.

Following the Second World War, the Church realized the dire threat posed by communist expansion across Europe. Pope Pius XII, following his behind the scenes efforts to stop Hitler (for concrete evidence, see Mark Riebling’s Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler), spearheaded efforts to stop Italy from being taken over by communists, which only narrowly succeeded. His predecessor, Pius XI, had already taught that “religious socialism, Christian socialism are contradictory terms, for no one can be, at the same time, a good Catholic and true socialist.” Pius XII, therefore, clarified that anyone who joined the Communist Party or advocated for communism was automatically excommunicated from the Church. No good Christian could support a materialist philosophy bent on the destruction of religion and the extermination of human rights and dignity.

Not another chance

Further to the East, one young man, a future champion of human rights against a culture of death, Karol Wojtyła, was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946, shortly after the alleged “liberation” of Poland from Nazi occupation. In reality, the Soviets completely subjugated Poland, unsuccessfully sought to stamp out the Catholic Church, tried to break up family life through state control of children, and turned the nation into a police state. Father Wojtyła would go on to champion the rights of Poles as Archbishop of Krakow and would galvanize the nation to fight for Eastern Europe’s first free labor union, the Solidary Movement, that would become its first free political party as well. Eastern Europe’s economy and social life were destroyed by Communism, but, after his election as Pope John Paul II, Wojtyła led a revolution of conscience that would take down the entire Soviet Union. This peaceful effort was aided by leaders who stood up for human rights, such as Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher, as well as writers such as the novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who would write of his experience in the Gulag, and the poet Václav Havel, who would go on to serve as the first free President of the Czech Republic.

Even as the Soviet Union headed into decline, Russia’s errors continued to spread with millions of murders in Cambodia, terrible civil wars in Korea and Vietnam, the disastrous revolution in Cuba that destroyed a nation, many dictatorships in African and Latin American nations, and the failed socialist state of Venezuela. Communist atrocities continue at this very moment in China, with over a million ethnic Uighur Muslims in concentration camps, who face genocide and cultural and religious extermination, the bulldozing of Christian churches and the continued persecution of faithful Catholic priests and bishops, their longstanding violent population control such as the One Child Policy, as well as the undoing of human rights in Hong Kong. As China ruthlessly dominates its own country, it also jockeys for center stage in the world economy and political life using deception and its enormous economy for leverage.

With communism and socialism’s abysmal track record and chilling human rights record, how could anyone support this ideology? Anyone can see the results of Marx’s anti-Christian and anti-human ideas and, yet, they still find sympathy from many politicians, educators, and corporate leaders in the Western world. Even in the United States, we can see the effects of socialist ideas, especially in treating people like economic units, manifest in the subordination of the unborn and elderly to materialistic and economic concerns. Government continues to assert itself more and more into economic and social life, with massive spending, including corporate stimulus packages, reconstituting family life and sexuality, and surveillance of the daily life of its citizens. A number of states, such as California and New York, teeter near instability under financial and social pressures (even before COVID arrived), due to excessive government programs, excessive spending and taxation (which Marx advocated in his Manifesto), and intrusion into the life of its residents. Even at this moment, leading figures in one of our two major political parties openly advocate for socialism. Many politicians and corporations overlook China’s human rights record and allow it to steal technology that it uses against its own citizens and the world. Freedom of speech and religion face growing threats. The family faces growing pressure, even as many government programs, such as universal contraception and subsidies for Planned Parenthood, only further its decline. A major activist movement, alleging to support racial equality, describes itself as a socialist movement that seeks the abolishing of the family. The current unrest in the United States seeks to divide us in ways similar to Marx provocation of violent revolution.

Ignorance of history could prove the undoing of the United States if it falls into the same errors that it overcame during the Cold War. I would recommend Paul Kengor’s new book, The Devil and Karl Marx: Communism’s Long March of Death, Deception, and Infiltration (TAN, 2020) for more details on the history and current stakes of the fight against socialism. Although its goals may seem appealing, seeking economic equality, socialism uses unjust means to achieve its ends. Rather than creating peace, it causes discord; rather than boosting up the poor, it creates poverty; rather than ennobling the human spirit, it seeks to suppress it. Catholics and all those of good will are duty bound to oppose the evils of Marxism that seeks to overthrow the true dignity of the human person, the integrity of the family, and religious liberty. Socialism has proven destructive to the world; let’s not give it another chance.

COMING UP: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.