Most Catholics (or anyone familiar with basic facts about Catholicism or Christianity in general) may be surprised to learn that this week America — a prominent Jesuit-run publication — ran a piece entitled “The Catholic Case for Communism.”
While America has long leaned hard to the left (last year it published a piece by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), this seems like a step too far even for the notoriously liberal Jesuits.
The crux of the article (written by Dean Dettloff) seems to be that while communists have done some not-so-great things over the years (such as murdering approximately 100 million people), they did it with the best intentions and an “aspiration for a world liberated from a political economy that demands vast exploitation of the many for the comfort of a few.”
Dettloff draws a parallel between the Church’s emphasis on the common good and what he calls the communists’ desire for an “authentically common life together” made possible by “relativizing property in light of the good of everyone.”
This article, however, ignores some basic and fundamental truths which undermine the idea of a “Catholic case for communism.”
Firstly, at its core, communism is not compatible with Christianity. The first to acknowledge this would probably be the communists. The ABC of Communism — written by Nikolai Bukharian and Yevgeni Preobrazhensky and called “the elementary textbook of communist knowledge” — could not be more clear on this subject. It states, “Religion and communism are incompatible, both theoretically and practically.”
Bukharian and Preobrazhensky maintain that communists must “impress firmly upon the minds of the workers” that religion is a tool used by “oppressors for the maintenance of inequality, exploitation, and slavish obedience.” Moreover, they insist that those who claim compatibility between communism and faith are “weak-kneed.”
This anti-religious, anti-Christian doctrine is not simply theoretical. While Dettloff admits that, “communist states and movements have indeed persecuted religious people at different moments in history,” this seems like an understatement if there ever was one.
It is unlikely we will ever know the full number of Christians killed for their faith by communist regimes during the 20th Century. Some estimates put the number of Christians martyred in Soviet prison camps alone at over 20 million. Add to that the Christians killed by Pol Pot in Cambodia, Mengistu in Ethiopia, Mao in China, etc. and the number becomes almost incomprehensible.
Still today, Christians in China are under a constant threat of persecution from the communist government. Churches are routinely raided, religious leaders are jailed, children are taken from Christian parents, and many are forced to practice their faith in secret. Similarly, in Laos and Vietnam, Christians live in fear of violence and hostility due to communist persecution.
Just as Communism is actively opposed to Christianity, so is Catholicism opposed to communism both in practice and in theory. The Catholic Church has repeatedly condemned the ideology not only for rampant human rights abuses but also its atheistic materialism and its denial of liberty for all people.
“Communism,” wrote Pope Pius XI, “strips man of his liberty, robs human personality of all its dignity, and removes all the moral restraints that check the eruptions of blind impulse. There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system.”
While Dettloff may be correct in assuming that many people are drawn to communism out of “good” impulses, it cannot be ignored that this poisonous ideology has resulted in more death and destruction than any other in human history. Evil committed in order to achieve a greater good is still evil and never justifiable.
The idea of a Catholic case for communism shows a lack of understanding about both systems of belief. And the publication of such an argument by a supposedly Catholic outlet shows a profound lack of judgment.
Nora Sullivan is a Digital Communications Writer at the MRC. Ms. Sullivan holds a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from University College Dublin.