The Corner

Christianity and Marxism

In Léon Bloy, a Catholic author whom Pope Francis once quoted, Andrew Stuttaford sees hints of what for many readers of NRO is undoubtedly the most salient aspect of Marxism — the totalitarianism, the gulag, the Cultural Revolution, the Khmer Rouge. That’s some disagreeable company for the Catholic Church to have to keep. Of course, she denies that she keeps it except insofar as she runs a hospital for sinners, including bloodstained Communists.

Andrew stresses that he doesn’t think the pope is a Marxist, so the picture he draws by associating those dots — Francis, Bloy, Marxism — is a bit ambiguous and only suggestive, rather than descriptive, of how Marxism and Christianity do compete over a large swath of common ground. It’s pretty well mapped. Alasdair MacIntyre wrote a book about it thirty years ago, for example. Before him, Paul Tillich thought that “important elements of the Marxist method of thinking are merged with theological thought to such a degree that they are not recognized any more as taken over from Marxism.” But the original and, in that sense, primary influence has been in the other direction.

Just because a Christian rejects Marxism doesn’t mean he has to close his eyes on those passages where it flatters Christianity through emulation. In the December 5 issue of the London Review of Books, Terry Eagleton integrates into his essay on Denys Turner’s new book on Thomas Aquinas some nice observations about how much Thomas, the greatest doctor of the Church in the second millennium, actually thought like Marx. That is, Eagleton finds in Marxism a good deal of Thomism, which he admires. “Like Marx,” Eagleton writes,

Aquinas got into hot water with the authorities for being a materialist. It was not that he held the boring view that there is nothing but matter. His materialism was not some kind of brutal reductionism, any more than Marx’s was. On the contrary, as Denys Turner points out in this superb study, he understood that ‘there is a lot more to matter itself than meets the eye of today’s average materialist.’ His criticism of the materialists with whom he was acquainted was not that they were bad on the subject of mind or spirit, but that they weren’t very good on the subject of matter. . . .

He has, then, a typically Catholic belief in the power of reason, as against a Protestant scepticism of the intellect as darkened and corrupt. But though without reason we perish, and though reason goes a long way down, it does not go all the way down for Thomas, any more than it does for Marx or Freud. In the end, what sustains reason is faith, which is a kind of love.

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