While Lord of the World marked a turning point in the writing career of Robert Hugh Benson, it also chronicled in satiric fashion what Benson saw as a turning point in the human career. Is humanity meant purely for material wellbeing in this life, or is there something more than that?
|What happens when the State is God.|
This might seem like an odd question for a Catholic priest to ask, but stop and consider. By the time Benson wrote Lord of the World, the popes had condemned the false religion of socialism a number of times. Leo XIII, whose encyclicals have been hijacked to support the invention of a New & Improved Christianity (at least for those who focus all their efforts on the Church’s temporal role), made socialism the focus of his first three encyclicals, as well as the revolutionary (in a good way) Rerum Novarum.
This is appropriate, for socialism is, in a sense, the deadliest threat to humanity today. Socialism takes everything that is bad in capitalism, especially the loss of individual and family power, and makes it worse, and then adds a few touches of its own, such as the abolition of the family and complete State control of every aspect of life . . . . Because. People. Just. Won’t. LISTEN! Obviously, then, people must be forced to do what’s right . . . as determined by someone else, who has a direct line to God, of course. As Orestes Brownson (1803-1876), the mentor of Isaac Thomas Hecker, put it,
|Orestes Brownson: Agin' Socialism.|
[Socialism] wears a pious aspect, it has divine words on its lips, and almost unction in its speech. It is not easy for the unlearned to detect its fallacy, and the great body of the people are prepared to receive it as Christian truth. We cannot deny it without seeming to them to be warring against the true interests of society, and also against the Gospel of our Lord. Never was heresy more subtle, more adroit, better fitted for success. How skillfully it flatters the people! It is transformed into saints, and invested with the saintly character and office. How adroitly, too, it appeals to the people’s envy and hatred of their superiors, and to their love of the world, without shocking their orthodoxy or wounding their piety! Surely Satan has here, in Socialism, done his best, almost outdone himself and would if it were possible, deceive the very elect, so that no flesh should be saved.
But the essence of Socialism is in this very assumption, that our good lies in the natural order, and is unattainable by individual effort. Socialism bids us follow nature, instead of saying with the Gospel, Resist nature. Placing our good in the natural order, it necessarily restricts it to temporal goods, the only good the order of nature can give. For it, then, evil is to want temporal goods, and good is to possess them. But, in this sense, evil is not remediable or good attainable by individual effort. We depend on nature, which may resist us, and on the conduct of others, which escapes our control. Hence the necessity of social organization, in order to harmonize the interests of all with the interest of each, and to enable each by the union of all to compel Nature to yield him up the good she has in store for him. But not all men are equal before God, and, since he is just, he is equal in regard to all. Then all have equal rights, — an equal right to exemption from evil, and an equal right to the possession of good. Hence the social organization must be such as to avert equal evil from all, and to secure to each an equal share of temporal goods. Here is Socialism in a nutshell, following as a strictly logical consequence from the principles or assumptions which the age adopts, and on which it everywhere acts. (Orestes Brownson, “Socialism,” Essays and Reviews Chiefly on Theology, Politics, and Socialism. New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co, 1852, 502-503.)
|Karl "Not Really a Socialist" Marx|
Socialism has made such inroads into modern society, even into the Catholic Church, however, that not a few people can be found who condemn anyone who is not a socialist to eternal perdition. They get around the fact that the Catholic Church has condemned socialism in no uncertain terms by claiming that what they’re talking about isn’t really socialism, that the Church made a mistake, that true socialism wasn’t really condemned, etc., etc., etc. — anything to assuage a conscience and reassure the socialist that he or she is okay with God . . . as understood by the socialist, who often has no problem serving as God’s spokesman, or helping the poor, old duffer out when others break His laws and He doesn’t step in to punish them as they obviously deserve.
Eh, watcha gonna do? Gods will be gods, and He needs the socialists to Take Charge, or matters won’t get put back on track. To the socialists’ satisfaction, anyway.
So what happens when the socialists get everything they want? We’ll look at Benson’s satiric take on that in the next posting in this series.