As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, Robert Owen believed that all of humanity’s problems would disappear if religion, marriage, and private property were abolished. In 1813 in A New View of Society he declared that reorienting religion from worshiping God to bettering the condition of humanity would be sufficient to establish and maintain the perfect world.
|Owen: "All religions except the one I invented are evil"|
In 1817, however, either Owen’s views underwent a slight modification (in spite of the fact that he claimed he had never in his entire life ever changed his opinion on anything, once formed), or he decided that any need for prevarication was over and he could reveal what he really thought. It was in August of that year at the London Tavern that he denounced all world religions. (Podmore, Life of Robert Owen, op. cit., 119.)
Transformation of a religion to focus on purely worldly and material matters was no longer enough for Owen. As so many have decided these days as organized religion comes more and more to resemble a second-rate government welfare agency, Owen realized that if religion is simply an effort to duplicate what others (such as a private sector élite or the State) can do better, religion is redundant, not even an expensive luxury. It diverts people from their true purpose of serving humanity and the State. As far as Owen was concerned, religion of any kind cannot merely be transformed, it must be eliminated entirely, along with marriage and private property.
|Peel: Owen's good ideas don't make up for the bad ones.|
Tactically, this was a serious mistake. Whatever problems the Church of England was having, unlike today few people (even dissenters) were willing to go so far as to say religion was a waste of time and resources, even if they never set foot in a church.
Owen’s social reforms (such as they were; even many of his greatest admirers have explained away — or tried to — the fact that much of what Owen took credit for was actually the work of others) were essential if society was in any way to remain even marginally bearable. By linking his practical reforms to his social theories, however, and insisting that any amelioration of the propertyless workers (better pay, conditions, shorter hours, stricter regulation of child labor, etc.) must include his other demands (abolition of religion, marriage, and private property), Owen set back the cause of social betterment by decades.
Sir Robert Peel, for example, was in favor of Owen’s factory reforms, but absolutely opposed to anything that called religion, marriage, or private property into question. This is understandable, as he was the Member of Parliament for Oxford University, a bulwark of the Church of England and the privileged classes. He waited years after rejecting Owen’s reforms before introducing his own bill, possibly believing that all efforts at social reform had been tainted by Owen’s efforts.
|Reuther: Don't abolish private property, make everyone an owner.|
Owen also linked the labor movement inextricably with socialism in the minds of many. Abolition of private property was his mantra, and organized labor even in the United States would tend to view any proposal for direct worker ownership with deep suspicion. A century and a half later, labor statesman Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers, came across the work of Louis Kelso and began advocating worker ownership as a possible solution to the problem of the “Rust Belt.” Although he testified in Congress, Reuther was virtually ignored.
Although other socialists tended not to admit that they paid close attention to what their fellow socialists were saying and doing (especially when they borrowed theories and arguments), it is evident that Owen’s experience greatly influenced how socialism was promoted in Europe and the United States. Instead of coming right out and saying that they intended to abolish religion, they took a page from Owen’s New View of Society and declared that they were simply reforming religion, returning it to its roots, getting back to what Jesus, the first socialist, really meant.
|Msgr. Knox: Wary of an excess of charity.|
This tactic was a resounding success. It inflicted massive damage on all Christian denominations down to the present day. It was, in essence, what G.K. Chesterton called the invention of a new religion, even a whole new idea of religion, under the name of Christianity. It was greatly assisted by the prevalence of what Monsignor Ronald Knox called “enthusiasm,” or “ultrasupernaturalism,” which reached flood stage in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries before being diverted into socialism, modernism, and the New Age, although it has been present from the earliest days of the Catholic Church.
Knox defined enthusiasm as “an excess of charity [that] threatens unity.” (Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961, 1.) Any objective reader of Knox’s masterpiece, the distillation of a lifetime of learning and observation, will immediately be drawn to the parallels between enthusiasm and socialism, even down to specific recommendations and rationalizations.
In his book Knox repeated more than once the enthusiasts’ belief that “the ungodly” (meaning anyone who disagrees with the enthusiasts) have no rights. The shift of rights from people to the abstraction of the collective, of course, is the hallmark of socialism; in socialism rights are to be exercised only for the good of humanity, not the individual. Socialism and modernism are thus the most successful manifestations of enthusiasm the world has ever seen, spreading far beyond Christianity.
|Chesterton: No need to invent a new religion.|
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Chesterton cited some of the same people and incidents as Knox in two of his most popular books, Saint Francis of Assisi (1923) and Saint Thomas Aquinas: The “Dumb Ox” (1933) to underscore the continuing problems caused by the phenomenon. It is, in fact, what Chesterton called “that great enemy of Christianity from its beginning: the Manichees.” (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: “The Dumb Ox”. New York: Image Books, 1956, 106.) As he explained,
What is called the Manichean philosophy has had many forms; indeed it has attacked what is immortal and immutable with a curious kind of immortal immutability. It is like the legend of the magician who turns himself into a snake or a cloud; and the whole has that nameless note of irresponsibility, that belongs to the metaphysics and morals of Asia, from which the Manichean mystery came (Ibid.)
This should ring a much louder alarm bell than it does in the twenty-first century, especially among Chestertonians, some of which have actually been seduced by the very thing against which Chesterton himself warned them. It should only be necessary to point out that a favorite book of many such Chestertonians has been described as “Buddhist economics,” and marketed as “the New Age guide to economics.” If that were not enough, however, Chesterton continued,
|Sheen: Reason is the foundation of faith.|
This error then had many forms; but especially, like nearly every error it had two forms, a fiercer one which was outside the Church and attacking the Church, and a subtler one, which was inside the Church and corrupting the Church. There has never been a time when the Church was not torn by that invasion and that treason. (Ibid., 108.)
It is no coincidence that Fulton J. Sheen, who had Knox as a teacher and colleague, made the problem the subject of his doctoral thesis . . . with a foreword by Chesterton, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925), and its sequel, Religion Without God (1927). Whether you call it enthusiasm, Manicheism, socialism, modernism, it is all the same, and all rooted in a “theory of society utterly foreign to Christian truth”: the idea that an abstraction created by human beings is greater than human beings created by God, and thus greater than God.
The significance of that theory will be the subject of the next posting on this subject.#30#