Monday, November 12, 2012

Communism in the New Testament (Part II)

Throughout history communistic communities, of whatever nature, voluntary or State-enforced, have not been economically viable communities except under certain abnormal conditions. Where societies that practise a community of goods are economically viable they are not usually family based societies. In fact, the rejection of the biblical model of the family is usually to be found in such communities in some form. For example, monasteries are often economically viable communities, [1] but they are not family based communities. They are single sex communities that require the rejection or suppression of a fundamental aspect of human nature. They are therefore abnormal societies. Furthermore, although they are often economically viable in the narrow sense, i.e. they produce enough to enable the community to live from year to year, and even a surplus beyond this that can be used to generate successful business enterprises, they are dependent upon the outside world for new members, since reproduction is denied as a means of securing the long-term future of the community. In other words, the continued existence of the community requires the existence of a world that does not share the ideals of the community, and indeed that lives in a way that contradicts the ideals of the community, from which it must recruit new members. If everyone were to adopt the ideals of monastic living the community would not so much cease to be viable economically as cease altogether. In that sense it is a sterile community that contradicts one of the most basic and fundamental purposes of God’s creative will for mankind, the command to multiply (Gen. 1:28).

There are other economically viable communistic communities that do not share this ideology of sterility or infertility. The Hutterite Anabaptists, for example, whose ideals are derived from the Radical Reformation, live in societies that practise a community of goods and that are economically viable, but retain marriage and procreation. Nevertheless, these societies do not usually practise normal family life. The family is communised as well as man’s goods. Children are not brought up in family units but by the whole community. [2] In this sense the ideal of the commune goes much further than the community of goods. The children are not really treated as the children of particular families but as the children of the commune and they are brought up in a way that is consistent with this belief. Normal family life is abandoned.

“The function of the family is to produce new souls and to care for them until the colony takes over the major responsibility of training [i.e. educating—SCP] the children. The family performs those functions that cannot easily or efficiently be performed by the colony. Child-rearing is not thought of as a private enterprise; children are not extensions of the parents’ egos but gifts of God who belong to the colony, and potentially to the church.” [3]

This amounts to much more than the existence of a mere extended family. It is rather an ideology that structures the community.

In communes that are economically viable there is usually a price to be paid in this way. The social theory and practice of the commune is abnormal from the biblical point of view. That is to say it involves the setting aside of the biblical pattern of family life, and this usually involves the denial of some aspect of man’s created nature. The family does not function as the basic unit of society. Rather, the community takes over this function. The basic building block of normal society, the family, is either dispensed with altogether or restricted virtually to a mere biological function. The community replaces the family. In the more extreme mediaeval European heretical communistic sects and also in the socialism of many Enlightenment philosophers the communisation of sexual relationships was also an article of faith. [4] Another example of this is the communistic community established by the Oneida Perfectionists in Madison County, New York, between 1848 and 1880 under the leadership of John Humphrey Noyes. Although commercially successful as a communistic community sexual communism and the abandonment of normal family life was a central doctrine of the community. [5]

The eradication of marriage and the abolition of family life based upon it in favour of “free love”—i.e. sexual communism as well as economic and political communism—has also been one of the goals of Marxist communism. [6] According to the Russian communist diplomat and radical feminist Alexandra Kollontai:

“The old form of the family is passing away; the communist society has no use for it. The bourgeois world celebrated the isolation, the cutting off of the married pair from the collective weal; in the scattered and disjointed bourgeois society full of struggle and destruction, the family was the sole anchor of hope in the storm of life, the peaceful haven in the ocean of hostilities and competitions between persons. The family represented an individual class in the social unit. There can be no such thing in the communist society. For communist society as a whole represents such a fortress of the collective life, precluding any possibility of the existence of an isolated class of family bodies, existing by itself, with its ties of birth, its love of family honour, its absolute segregation.” [7]

This ideal of free love proved impossible to sustain even in communist Russia: “Experience taught the Government that lawless love endangered the good of society, that there were fundamental laws that could not be infringed without peril; and so new legislation corrected the excessive liberties permitted at first.” [8] Nevertheless, although communism has not been successful in achieving its goal of eradicating family life altogether, the rise of socialism has been one of the main causes of the decline of marriage and stable family life in those countries where it has had any influence, either as an individual ideology or as a form of economic and social organisation. According to Shafarevich, speaking of socialism as a phenomenon spanning the entire history of mankind: “in socialist states we observe the abolition of private ownership of the means of production, state control of everyday life, and the subordination of the individual to the power of the bureaucracy; in socialist doctrines we observe the destruction of private property, of religion, of the family and of marriage, and the introduction of wife sharing.” [9]

In societies practising community of goods, whether voluntary or State-enforced, where the family does remain the basic unit of society, economic viability is compromised, though where there is a sudden change to communism from a previously highly capitalised non-communistic organisation of society it may take considerable time, possibly even a generation or more, for this fact to become evident. Such communistic societies, whether voluntary or State-enforced, are not economically viable societies. This is why there were shortages of food and other basic necessities of life in Soviet Russia. It is also why the Church at Jerusalem ended up in the situation in which she could not take care of her own poor. History has shown this to be the case time and again. And it would seem that it is this same lesson that the Bible teaches with regard to the Jerusalem Church when all the biblical evidence is considered. The Christian community in Jerusalem had become unable to support itself economically and needed help from the Gentile Church. Therefore Paul had to take collections from the Gentile Churches, which did not practice the community of goods as described in Acts chapters 4 and 5, to help the poor in the Church at Jerusalem.

. . . to be continued

  1. Despite the ideal of poverty espoused by the monastic orders, property was not forbidden to most monastic communities. It was private property that was forbidden. Property was owned by the community not the individual. The Rule of St Augustine, for example, requires the surrender of private property to the monastic order—i.e. common ownership. Likewise the Rule of St Benedict. The Rule of St Francis, by contrast, requires not common ownership of property but poverty, i.e. the rejection of all ownership by both the individual and the community. This requirement was founded on the reputed poverty of Christ. The doctrine of the absolute poverty of Christ, however, was declared heretical by Pope John XXII in 1323 (Gordon Leff, Heresy in the Middle Ages [Manchester University Press, 1967], Vol. I, p. 238; see ibid., pp. 51–255 for a full discussion of the Franciscan problem and its history).
2. According to Peter Rideman, one of the founders of the Hutterite movement, “God from the beginning ordained naught private for man, but all things to be common” (Account of Our Religion, Doctrine and Faith, given by Peter Rideman of the Brothers whom men call Hutterians [Hodder and Stoughton/The Plough Publishing House, (1565) 1950], p. 88). For Rideman’s views on marriage see ibid. p. 97ff., and on the education of children ibid. p. 130f. Rideman’s Account of Our Religion, Doctrine and Faith etc., originally written in 1540, has remained the fundamental confession of the Hutterian Brethren up to the present.
3. John A. Hostetler, Hutterite Society (John Hopkins University Press, [1974] 1997), p. 203, see further ibid., pp. 203–224; see also Karl Andreas Peter, The Dynamics of Hutterite Society: An Analytical Approach (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1987), pp. 62–70.
4. See Shafarevich, op. cit., pp. 18–130.
5. See R. Bruce Taylor, “Communism” in James Hastings, ed., Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1980), Vol. III, p. 785bff.
6. See Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis (London: Jonathan Cape, 1936, trans. J. Kane), pp. 87–107, and Shafarevich, op. cit., pp. 243–248.
7. “Prostitution and ways of fighting it,” speech to the third all-Russian conference of heads of the Regional Women’s Departments, 1921, cited in Christopher Dawson, Enquiries into Religion and Culture (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1933), p. 262.
8. M. C. D’Arcy, S.J., The Mind and Heart of Love: Lion and Unicorn—A Study in Eros and Agape (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, [1946] 1954), p. 161.
9. “Socialism in Our Past and Future” in Alexander Solzhenitsyn ed., From Under the Rubble (Collins and Harvill Press, 1975), p. 44 (italics in original).

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