Friday, May 13, 2011

The spectre of communism still haunts me, after all these years

Sometimes I feel like I've been waiting forever for the new communism to come out. That's going to be the one where everyone gets free medical care and an education, but you can still buy the things you want. I don't know a lot about it, frankly. Humanity hasn't set a release date.

The old communism had some problems. I once wrote a post called "What's bad about a good idea" that gets into the whole difficulty. The basic theme was that you get a very good idea -- like, people shouldn't starve, or something -- and then you pummel the crap out of everybody that gets in the way, er, your way. Of course, making sure everyone can eat is a very nice thing to do, and capitalism doesn't make it easy. But somehow niceness doesn't always hold up in the single-minded pursuit of niceness. More often than not, we're dicks to the people around us, while striking a generous pose toward things that carry no cost.

I've always thought Christianity and communism were kindred spirits in this regard. The Christian ethic, for example, is one of the most powerful ideas in human history. It's extremely popular, as an idea. Christianity as an institution -- yeah, not so much. The two are related in an important way, with the lasting relevance of one providing the moral cover for the other. But the Christian ethic survives either way, just like the need to address needless human suffering. Neither go away, ever -- at least not until they become a more normal part of who we are.


Jack Crow said...
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Jack Crow said...

Behaving out of fear of damnation, according to the dictates of an angry tribal mountain god who never shows his face except to murder people, whose writ commands the slaughter of innocents, who condemns women to eternal punishment for leaving an abusive man because the bonds of marriage are spiritually eternal, who punishes for mere thought, who is always interpreted by some sort of power backed priesthood or ekklesia because, well, he never actually shows his face, and who will savagely torture you for an everlasting eternity, to the enjoyment of those He saves, if you don't do it exactly right, or just because he's a sadistic monster god, and who openly planned the universe to be shaped this way - this is compatible with a human made society where "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is the primary moral ethic??

JW Mason said...

Brecht said it best:

Hatred, even of meanness,
Distorts the features.
Rage, even over injustice,
Makes the voice hoarse. We
Who wanted to prepare the earth for kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.

Will Shetterly said...

I followed Jack Crow over here. I agree with a lot of what Jack says, but there are two kinds of Christianity, the institutions and the philosophy. I have problems with institutions, and so did Jesus. The philosophy of Christianity is ultimately communist, as many Christians of many traditions know, no matter how much priests and princes may try to make Christian principles compatible with privilege.

Jack Crow said...

Will, I wish hell and damnation didn't render that philosophy untenable. A Christianity with eternal torment is fundamentally incompatible with socialism. I think of the best Christianity - the fervent anabaptism of the Low Countries, Bonhoeffer's discipleship, or Catholic Worker and Berrigan anarchism - and it still holds onto unending suffering as imposed by a Creator God.

Will Shetterly said...

Jack, hell and damnation are from the institutions, not the philosophy. Metaphysically, I'm with the universalists: a loving god damns no one. And my focus is on what Jesus taught about this life: love everyone and share everything

Institutions teach that heaven comes after you die, but Jesus said it's inside you. He taught that we should make a heaven on Earth, just like every supporter of democratic communism.

C├╝neyt said...

For what it's worth, Rand considered Christianity and socialism bedfellows, as did Nietzsche (as usual, earlier and more originally).

Christopher M said...

Jack will be sad when he finds out about liberation theology.

Jack Crow said...

Jack was a correspondent of Daniel Berrigan for years.

High Arka said...

Ladypoverty's version of the Christian ethic, and Mr. Shetterly's belief in what a historical/spiritual Jesus may have (did?) felt or said, sound appealing. Nonetheless, the desire to encourage humans to treat one another positively based upon an argument about what someone in the past thought is a good desire fallen prey to ghosts. As any good parasite spirit knows in its deepest subconscious, those who use the methods and justifications of the undispersed dead to encourage life can be stymied by a well-meaning technical argument about what those methods and justifications really were. See, e.g., constitutional law, the Code of Hammurabi, Carnegie Hall, legions of Shakespeare-obsessed scholars, Hollywood, etcetera.

Make the subject the hope of the future, not the truest wishes of the past.

Brian M said...

From what I read, the whole emphasis on hell and damnation was really from Jesus. Hebrew theology didn't spend a lot of time on the afterlife. "Jesus" (in scare quotes because there is some doubt as to the historicity of this individual) was sure happy to condemn his enemies, including the lukewarm, to eternal suffering.

BUT BUT, you say, "Jesus" philosophy and saying don't do this. How do you know that? Why is the "good stuff" (which some historians claim was added in later)historically true but the bad stuff added in by the institutions? Jesus did his share of condemning-including some nice little racist dismissal of people in need.

I'm with Jack, anyway. Christianity claims to be derived from Judaism, and Yahweh is one nasty piece of work.

Will Shetterly said...
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Will Shetterly said...

High Arka, I agree with much of your principle, but the thoughts of our predecessors are useful. Why give up any source of inspiration?

Brian M, unlike many who believe they are Christians and many who criticize the Bible, I've read it. I'm doing a series at my blog now on socialist Bible verses.

As for the changes after Jesus's sayings were first gathered, just compare what 's said about the Christians in Acts with what Christianity became under Constantine.

And, no, Jesus did not do anything racist, nor did he dismiss anyone in need. The concept of race did not exist in that day, and Jesus's repeated philosophy is all about giving to the poor. What verses are you thinking of?

High Arka said...

This one's thought is that ascribing positive motivation to the positive motivation of one in the past is likely to become a discussion about the ghost, rather than a discussion about the future for the living (e.g., which verses moved you?). Though this one takes great delight in such discussions, much like chess is fun, the parasites take their own delight in watching hope break apart as the yearning ones cycle down toward arguing about what the sacred texts said, rather than what should be done.

Of course, the next layer of irony in me taking this analysis to the next step on a blog on teh internets is not lost. Keep that smile wide! The finest descriptions of the details of how our captors wronged in chaining and abusing us do pass the time, don't they?

JRB said...

JC & the gang:

I find most "compatibility" questions come down to which version you are using and whether it is up-to-date!

But the question of "whether Christianity is compatible with communism" isn't mine -- the point I make in the final paragraph is that what is popular about either is frequently used to legitimize what is unpopular about them, in what I find to be a fascinating way.

Interesting discussions, nevertheless!

JW Mason:

The Brecht quote killed me.

Anonymous said...

Nice and thanks!