A new book flew past my radar recently, entitled Jesus is a Socialist. I haven’t read it yet but it got the ol’ wheels spinning. Many such books have come and gone over the centuries. “Jesus is this,” “Jesus was that,” and they’re all interesting and they all miss the mark. Why they miss can be hard to describe, as hard to describe as the spiritual life itself.
In an interview with Keaten Mansfield, the author of Jesus is a Socialist, (to which I am largely responding) a phrase was used about how we can “fuse faith with socialism” and that’s key to what I’m going to attempt (and fail) to communicate – Jesus and Christianity are not inherently aligned with any contemporary political system. The two have to be unnaturally “fused” together. Sometimes the result is a true monstrosity, such as the evolution of the “Protestant work ethic” into the imperial capitalism the West (or at least the United States) knows today. Sometimes it’s a bit easier to swallow when it is joined to good social works.
Christianity is, essentially, a poor persons’ religion (the spiritually impoverished and especially the materially impoverished) and the Lord said many profound things directed specifically at the poor. I’ve even heard it argued that the Lord’s Prayer is mostly advice to the oppressed! However when we look to justify our political feeling using Christ we have to be careful not to immanentize everything. To say, as Mansfield does, that Christ’s coming out of the “East” means that He’s going to be leading the PLA is to belie His character. His character is the Cross. To interpret Holy Scripture as Mansfield has done here is an incredibly American and incredibly Protestant thing to; it’s Christianity void of a sacramental worldview. I’m scarcely scratching the surface of the influence of Protestantism (as opposed to classical Christianity) on both the capitalist West as it exists today or the socialist/communist movements (such as “Christian communes”) that have popped up therein from time to time here, but alas that’s all I have time for at the moment.
The material dynamic of Christianity is always comingled with its spiritual dynamic; it’s mysterious. The bread his His Body and the wine is His Blood. But the Church is also His Body. He also “is” the poor. Each of these things I mention are cosmic mysteries that spiritual masters have not only sought to understand, but to live in since the time of the Apostles. So to apply the Gospel literally to current national forces is, in my imperfect mind, extremely problematic. It’s also hard to buy into the idea, again as Mansfield does, that the Soviet Union was a biblically-constituted force against anti-Semitism when it massacred so many of its own people, especially clergy. Of course there is an angle on this that says the Russian Orthodox Church “needed” the revolution so it could be broken off from its imperialist ties, but even if that’s true the brutal deaths endured by many Russian martyrs, or the time they spent in the gulag archipelago, are hardly justifiable.
Speaking of which, I’m currently reading about the life of St. Maria of Paris. Her heart was pure work. At every possible turn she eschewed the ecclesial life in favor of service to the poor. She agreed that Christians must be so concerned, but did not care for revolution. Applying the good work of service from the Gospels to contemporary life is far simpler and superior to its application on top of modern political schemes. How does one even begin to quantify such a thing into any government system?
This kind of talk is further complicated by Mansfield’s passing reference to the Satanic Bible. Laveyic satanism, with its selfishness and lack of compassion, is certainly akin to unchecked capitalism. However there are other Satanic groups that are largely progressive in nature. Your average listener might consider Satanism a monolith, but to forego such a nuance is, again, deceptive and problematic.
I look forward to the dismantling of capital and I agree that capitalism is a (largely) evil system, but to flatly apply biblical terms to contemporary “communist” countries like China (as Mansfield does) is a misstep and will win over too few to make a difference. And that’s okay. Christianity (along with all spiritual beliefs) is and should be weird and tangential to material systems.