Socialism versus Christianity. Are They Mortal Enemies?
The perturbation of the Church at the spread of Socialism was reflected in the predominance of that topic among the subjects discussed at the Church Congress at Swansea ; and the very full report of its proceedings in the Standard newspaper was interesting reading to Socialists in consequence. Early in the first session
was struck, and the identity upon fundamentals of the two great sections of Christians in this country was indicated. A return deputation from the Welsh and English Free Church councils of Swansea came with words of welcome and expressions of gratitude, and, amid the bandying of compliments, the president of the Congress gave voice to their fundamental unity. As between the Liberal and Tory sections of the capitalist class in frankly political matters, so between the religious reflexes of the two sections, there is nothing vital at stake ; and the attitude of the clergy of the Church of England toward Socialism differs in no essential from that of the clergy of Nonconformity.
At the Church Congress, as at other Christian conferences, the acuteness of the conflict between the mission of the workers and that of the churches showed itself as an instinctive feeling, expressed in different ways by all the speakers, that between Socialism and Christianity something fundamental is at stake. Frankness, however, is not characteristic of the prelate, and toward Socialism his antagonism is often
with everything, except, of course, that which is material. So soon, indeed, as the material interests of the workers are dealt with, or the need of a radical change in economic conditions is mentioned, and particularly whenever the indubitable necessity for deposing the class whose interests and aims require the maintenance of the present hellish conditions is expressed, all this Christian sympathy vanishes amid mutterings of “Materialism,” “Atheism,” and assertions of the utter unimportance of all material things as compared with things spiritual. If by their simulated sympathy the clergy can succeed in diverting a section of the working-class movement from its genuine material aims into a futile chasing of spiritual will-o’-the-wisps, they will deserve well of their capitalist paymasters. And that such aim underlies the so-called Socialistic leanings of many Christians is made plain by the hope they constantly profess, of ridding
of its materialism and of its hostility to the capitalist class; and this means ridding the Socialist movement of its Socialism.
Thus Dr. Ingram, Bishop of London, in a most conciliatory speech, nevertheless found it needful to “denounce many advocates of the social movement for the unchristian setting of class against class in public speaking. It was absurd to say that Capital and Labour were enemies,” etc., etc. So also the Bishop of Truro, who opened, pleaded for “Socialism” the while that he severely reproved materialism and revolution. Thus Christian “Socialism” is a term emptied of all meaning, and on this ground one can understand the Bishop’s emphasised remark that “we might all quite safely be Socialists to-morrow if we and the rest of the world were sincerely Christians to-day.” On the same lines doubtless the worthy Bishop might safely obey the scriptural injunction tomorrow to sell all he has and give it to the poor if the term “poor” could be so Christianised to-day as to mean a company that would pay him 20%.
There was, however, at least one speech at the Congress that rang true and was not a mere juggling of words. Dr. Shadwell clearly and vigorously emphasised the
that exists between the Christian and the Socialist concepts of life, and with much of what he said we are in agreement. He denounced the loose and unjustifiable use of the word “Socialism” as a misuse of language and a source of confusion, and proceeded to call a spade a spade. He traced the term to an early definition and said :
“It stood for a movement having a practical aim in view. It was not a theory, or a doctrine, or an idealistic sketch like the Utopias, but an essentially practical policy. Its object was to abolish poverty by doing away with the unequal distribution of wealth, to which all evils are attributed. The means were a reconstruction of the economic framework of society, whereby the working classes, who alone produce all wealth, should become its owners, and all private property, except that actually earned, should be abolished. . . . The only changes effected in the three-quarters of a century since elapsed are the demarcation of several varieties ot Socialism, distinguished by differences of detail in the methods they would adopt, a more concise definition of the predominant policy, and the discovery of a so-called scientific basis for it. But they all come under this description—a movement for preventing the present unequal distribution of wealth and abolishing poverty by the economic reorganisation of society. This, and this alone is Socialism. The ultimate end is the universal happiness of mankind, the extinction of strife, and the establishment of brotherly love.”
Dr. Shadwell further added, with quite unconscious irony, that ‘”this would involve the disappearance of Kings, Lords and Priests— especially Bishops.” One can quite understand that if the
has as a consequence the disappearance of his profession, it is not what he is looking for.
Speaking of the materialistic basis of Socialism Dr. Shadwell said :
“In the first place Socialism deals solely with material or economic conditions—the distribution of wealth. All evil and unhappiness are traced to its mal-distribution, which divides mankind into rich and poor; and its redistribution is relied on to abolish them and establish the ideal “state.” If any one thinks that view of life compatible with Christianity, then I am afraid he is not a person with whom I can discuss anything seriously, for however estimable he may be, words evidently have for him no particular meaning. . . The purely materialistic view on which Socialism is based is absolutely opposed to Christian teaching and false to life.”
It is, however, the Christian concept that is false to life in that it denies the primary importance of material things and is in perennial conflict with science. Moreover, that this conflict with science is the condemnation of Christianity, is recognised by the clergy ; as is shown by their strenuous but futile endeavours to reconcile religion with science. In this matter they attempt to
and cannot help but come to grief inconsequence. This is illustrated hi the discussion at the Church Congress, for Dr. Shadwell’s stand on behalf of Christianity and free will a opposed to Socialism and economic determinism, was cut from beneath his feet by two of his confreres. The Archdeacon of Ely said :
“Evidence has been brought under my notice which shows that the tone of morality in some Cambridgeshire villages is deplorably low, and that no external change would do more to remedy this than the building of sufficient cottage accomodation.”
while the Bishop of London said :
“As he wended his way to some slum church, he felt almost ashamed of the comfortable condition of his life as contrasted with the awful life of people in the slums. Therefore he could not agree with Dr. Shadwell that circumstances did not affect character, and that there were not children born damned into the world.”
Now can these priests be ignorant of the fact that they have, by their evidence, knocked the bottom out of the Christian position ? If children are born into the world damned for life, as they undoubtedly are, what remains of the doctrine of free will and the whole religious superstructure raised upon it ? Admit the influence of economic conditions on character and conduct and the whole Christian scheme of reward and and punishment, fall and redemption,
as a logical consequence ; for where is the reason for reward or punishment hereafter if man is what heredity and environment have made him ? Fundamentally, indeed, the supernatural is totally excluded from the whole of the known, universe by the interminable warp and woof of cause and effect. As Leibnitz said, “As knowledge takes a step forward God takes a step backward.” The height of man’s superstition is the depth of his ignorance. Socialism is science applied to society, and is the child of experience and light, just as Christianity is the offspring of ignorance and darkness. The one reflects the development and perfecting of the social forces under man’s control, while the other reflects their imperfection, insufficiency, and lack of control by man. In his “Jewish Question,” Karl Marx said : “For us religion is not the cause of social imperfection but its result. We explain the religious subjection of citizens by their social subjection. We do not pretend that they must shake off their religious chains in order to get rid of their social chains; we say, on the contrary, that they will get rid of their religious chains by disengaging themselves from their social chains.
“We do not transform questions of this world into questions of theology, we transform the questions of theology into questions of this world. History has
long enough, let us explain religion by history The question of the relations between political emancipation and religion become for us a question of the relations between political emancipation and human emancipation.”
Thus does Dr. Shadwell’s assertion that “Socialism is the mortal enemy of Christianity” obtain a deeper meaning. As the Bishop of Truro said : “Individualism is of the very essence of Christianity.” And modern Christianity is at once the reflex and faithful ally of capitalism, doomed to disappear with the system that it supports.
As a political ally, indeed, the ruling class make use of it to the full. They value it as a working-class soporific, or, in other words, as a means of directing the energy of the worker away from his material aims to the pursuit of things utterly immaterial, in order that the security, property, and profits of the parasites may be undisturbed. At the very Congress in question the Rev. John Wakefield was moved to remark that:
“The Church has in a large measure forfeited her right to condemn and denounce by her inexplicable cowardice and culpable silence when commons have been enclosed and peasant holdings have been swept away, and fetid slums have been made to vield swollen profits to ground landlords and property and property jobbers.”
But in truth it is not that the Church has been passive in all this, but that it has been
in the robbery and oppression of the toilers. It has long been the servile tool of the ruling class and the hypocritical enemy of those who produce, always ready to bless war of oppression and to oppose the resistance of tbe workers to oppression, or lull them into submission. To quote a pregnant sentence from Marx’s criticism of Hegal, “Religion is the opium of the people.” The slave is enjoined to resist not evil, to despise earthly things, and to regard this world as a vale of tears, a toilsome preparation for a reward in eternal life. Socialism on the contrary is the recognition of the supreme importance of material things, while Christianity is their negation. Socialism is part of that scientific conception of life which excludes the supernatural by tracing all things to natural sources. It indicates the natural genesis and modern decay of religion, and exposes its role as an agent of class oppression.
That Christianity still retains its ancient Inquisitional characteristics wherever it is strong enough, may be seen from
the educationist Ferrer by the clerical party in Spain. Its comparative harmlessness in most countries in these latter days can be attributed directly to its growing weakness and fissiparious nature. It is the development of economic forces, and man’s consequent growing control over nature and increasing knowledge of her working, that provides a wider and firmer basis for science, and leaves less room for superstition in the minds of working men. Indeed, science itself is the outcome of economic developement. It is the torch which, as its greater circle. It therefore, occasions no surprise that one of the sessions of the Church Congress was devoted to discussing that inevitable Christian conference subject: “Neglect of public worship; its causes and remedies.” The great decline of religion among the workers has been attested in every field, but none of the clergy put his finger on the cause, as was, indeed, to be expected. And in point of remedies : revision and readaptation were the keynotes of the discussion. Revise and readapt how she may, however, the Church, is
She persists and is supported to-day because she is useful as the handmaiden of class government, and because of the confusion and ignorance that remain owing to the disorder, parasitism, and and oppression of capitalist society. As Marx says, religion will only finally disappear through Socalism, wherein alone the relations between men in society and their relations with nature will become reasonable, orderly, and completely intelligible, leaving no mysterious or obscure nook or cranny for superstition. Nevertheless the growth of the social forces of production within modern society, and the increasing knowledge of the workers of their true relations to each other and to nature, while they form the basis of Socialism materially and intellectually, will also loosen the chains of ghost worship and mysticism from their limbs, and lessen the power of religion as a political weapon in the hands of their masters. Thus one by one the weapons of the enerny will lose their effectiveness.
The acceptance of the gospel of Socialism, indeed, logically implies the rejection of supernatural religion, although this will not in all cases be at once clearly recognised, and cannot therefore be made a test question for Socialist recruits. But the bulk of the workers are in point of fact already indifferent to religion, and no harm to tlie cause of Socialism can possibly result from intellectual honesty and plain speaking on religion and the implications of Socialism. To adopt any other policy, indeed, is to play the confusionist game of the enemy, as is done by such organisations as the Labour Party, those hangers on and preachers for the Nonconformist section of the capitalist party. It is science, not religion, that is the theoretic basis of our policy, and to attempt to base tbe working-class movement on religion is to build upon the shifting sands. Argument from the basis of religion can only add to the confusion that impedes our path. It can lend no support or inspiration to the working class in its mission, while it provides the opportunity for the charlatan, the mystery monger, and the political trickster, and buttresses the powers of oppression and robbery. We are, therefore, thankful for the speech of one who frankly opposes us, and can testify to the profound truth of his dictum that “Socialism is the mortal enemy of religion.”
F. C. W.