Socialism

The Church and Socialism

(About this series)

CHAPTER VII — THE CHURCH AND SOCIALISM

BY PROFESSOR CHARLES R. ERDMAN, D. D., PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, PRINCETON., NEW JERSEY

The sudden rise of Socialism is the most surprising and significant movement of the age. A few years ago the term suggested a dream of fanatics; today it embodies the creed and the hope of intelligent millions. For example, in America the Socialistic vote increased from 20,000, in 1892, to 900,000 in 1912. In France this vote numbers 1,104,000, and in Germany more than 3,000,000; and in these and other lands multitudes who are not openly allied with political Socialism are imbued with Socialistic principles and are advocates of Socialistic theories.

With this great movement the Christian Church is deeply concerned; first, because of the endeavor which many are making to identify Socialism with Christianity; and, secondly, because, on the other extreme, popular Socialism is suggested as a substitute for religion and is antagonistic to Christianity; and, thirdly, because the strength of Socialism consists largely in its protest against existing social wrongs to which the Church is likewise opposed but which can be finally righted only by the universal rule of Christ.

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What's Wrong with Capitalism?

These words of Marx and Engels (Communist Manifesto, 3:I:a) suggest that Christianity may be initially quite useful for the socialist cause:

Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a socialist tinge. Has not Christianity declaimed against private property, against marriage, against the State? Has it not preached in place of these, charity and poverty, celibacy and mortification of the flesh, monastic life and Mother Church? Christian socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat.

Even though the abolition of all religion is ultimately a necessity in their suggested system, Marx and Engels recognize the practicality of incremental progress toward their goals. Hence, they welcome a slight retasking of Christian ideas in order to facilitate societal drift toward socialism, and ultimately toward communism.

Marx and Engels perceive that all conflict is traceable to class struggle, and that class struggle is economic at its core. Redistribution of wealth is a key to neutralizing the conflict and liberating the oppressed from their oppressors. For Marx and Engels, class struggle is an economic issue that can only be resolved politically, hence their political efforts toward an economic final solution. Capitalism represents, for them, a system that enables continuing oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. Capitalism is a great enemy to be conquered, and one that will naturally fall—if and when the proletariat realizes their great strength, unites, and acts in accordance with Marx’s and Engels’ designs.

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