Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Philosophies at War, V: The New Christianity


As we saw yesterday, both capitalists and socialists confuse justice and charity and (while they think they are polar opposites) end up in substantial agreement.  This is because what neither the capitalists nor the socialists see — or could admit even if they did see — is that the natural virtue of justice, and the supernatural virtue of charity are both as true, and are true in the same way, as the other, or (for that matter) anything else that is true.
Justice is incomplete without charity, while charity isn’t truly charity without justice.  The natural and the supernatural go together, but must not be confused, mixed, or distorted.  As St. Augustine said, charity is no substitute for justice withheld.
"Charity is no substitute for justice withheld."
Capitalism does recognize that both justice and charity are true, but it does so imperfectly.  They are both true for the capitalist, just not at the same time.  Capitalism thereby takes the natural goodness of this world and twists it to evil by separating it from the supernatural goodness of the next.
This is why the Catholic Church harshly criticizes capitalism, but nevertheless stops short of condemning it.  The problem is that the little good in capitalism (the recognition that both justice and charity are true . . . sort of) is hidden by its utter repulsiveness.
The great and profound evil of socialism, however — that justice isn’t true or isn’t justice as traditionally understood — is masked by its incredible attractiveness, the glamor of vice disguised as virtue.  Socialism takes the natural goodness of this world, calls it evil, and tries to replace it with the supernatural goodness of the next . . . leading directly to Fulton Sheen’s comment about efforts to make a heaven on earth being the surest way to create a living hell.
The socialist shift, however, vests the transformation of good into evil with the false beauty of perverted virtue.  It appropriates to itself the outward appearance of good, while hiding its overwhelming wickedness under the name not merely of Christianity, but of Catholicism.  As Orestes Brownson observed in his devastating analysis of what was in his day called “New (or Neo) Christianity,” commonly understood as a euphemism for socialism (something of which Brownson had personal experience, having been involved in the New Christian movement and the American Fourierists; Brook Farm was a Fourierist commune) —
Brownson: socialism steals Catholic symbols.
The spirit that works in the children of disobedience must . . . affect to be Christian, more Christian than Christianity itself, and not only Christian, but Catholic.  It can manifest itself now, and gain friends, only by acknowledging the Church and all Catholic symbols, and substituting for the divine and heavenly sense in which they have hitherto been understood a human and earthly sense.  Hence the religious character which Socialism attempts to wear.  It rejects in name no Catholic symbol; it only rejects the Catholic sense.  If it finds fault with the actual Church, it is because she is not truly Catholic, does not understand herself, does not comprehend the profound sense of her own doctrines, fails to seize and expound the true Christian idea as it lay in the mind of Jesus, and as this enlightened age is prepared to receive it.  The Christian symbol needs a new and a more Catholic interpretation, adapted to our stage in universal progress.  (Orestes A. Brownson, “Socialism and the Church,” Essays and Reviews, Chiefly on Theology, Politics, and Socialism.  New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., 1852, 499-500.)
The Christian socialist thereby has an advantage no capitalist, Christian or otherwise, can counter or even detect without first rooting out the very error that makes him a capitalist, although he knows instinctively that something is horribly, terribly wrong.  The socialist can take the very highest good and turn it into the most hideous evil by what Chesterton called “a paradox; a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of . . . a sane point of view.”  (Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas, op. cit., 145.)
What the socialist says is so very near the truth that, paradoxically, it ends up missing the truth by an astronomical distance.  As Chesterton explained,
[T]he strange history of Christendom [is] marked by one rather queer quality; which has always been the unique note of the Faith, though it is not noticed by its modern enemies, and rarely by its modern friends.  It is the fact symbolized in the legend of Antichrist, who was the double of Christ; in the profound proverb that the Devil is the ape of God.  It is the fact that falsehood is never so false as when it is very nearly true.  It is when the stab comes near the nerve of truth, that the Christian conscience cries out in pain.  (Ibid., 91-92.)
Yet it is this very close resemblance, this “aping” of truth, that allows socialism to ensnare the unwitting and the unthinking, as well as those who seek to manipulate the inevitable chaos to their own advantage.  As Brownson said,
"Never was heresy more subtle, more adroit, better fitted for success."
[Socialism] is as artful as it is bold. It 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 said, the saints shall judge the world. By the change of a word, the people are 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. (Brownson, “Socialism and the Church,” op. cit., 502.)
This is why, despite all claims to the contrary, and even despite what appear to be similar, if not identical demands, socialism and Catholic social teaching can never be reconciled.  At the deepest level, of course, socialism is established on a principle that necessarily implies that God is not God: the idea that the collective created by man is greater than the human person created by God.
Given this, all the similarities, even presumed identities between socialism and Catholic social teaching turn out to be mere illusion, window-dressing to deceive people into accepting something so contrary to human nature created by God as to be permanently irreconcilable.  That is why Pope Pius XI declared without qualification of any kind,
"No one can be a good Catholic and a true socialist."
But what if Socialism has really been so tempered and modified as to the class struggle and private ownership that there is in it no longer anything to be censured on these points? Has it thereby renounced its contradictory nature to the Christian religion? This is the question that holds many minds in suspense. And numerous are the Catholics who, although they clearly understand that Christian principles can never be abandoned or diminished seem to turn their eyes to the Holy See and earnestly beseech Us to decide whether this form of Socialism has so far recovered from false doctrines that it can be accepted without the sacrifice of any Christian principle and in a certain sense be baptized. That We, in keeping with Our fatherly solicitude, may answer their petitions, We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth. . . . If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.  (Quadragesimo Anno, §§ 117-120.)
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