Tonight I bought two scary books: A novel by Stephen King and The Communist Manifesto.
I’m trying to figure out why so may people are so terrified of Marx, but maybe I’ll soon figure it out. My uncle tells me I have the ability to write powerful and punchy prose, but my aim is communicate a relatively clear message. And I guess, what is prose but poetry without line breaks?
Snow is gradually finding its way to the streets in the windless evening. There’s a lightpost in the parking lot of this Starbucks and I know I want to write something but I’m not 100% sure what. I got a good chai in me and it’s a perfect night for composition. I have had a lot of thoughts lately, perhaps too many to condense into a post.
I’m working on a new project on Zooming Out. I may have to leave the country again for it, and that’s not something I’m dreading. I’ve been thinking a lot about systems and how they really dictate our world, and the more I think about it, the way we think.
Look at it like this:
You come across a beach filled with beached starfish. These poor creatures are utterly unable to move themselves back into the sea, so they simply lie on the sand awaiting their death by drought. There is absolutely no way to rescue every single starfish, so your internal reaction is sadness for such a mass death.
Then you see a man in the distance. He bends over and stands. Bends over and stands.
As you get closer, you realize he is picking up starfish, one at a time, and lobbing them back into the water.
[Let’s pause here and recognize that there are two endings here. First, an emotionally-tugging one, then a realistic one.]
You ask him why he’s doing this, because there are far too many to save and it doesn’t matter.
He bends over and tosses one into the ocean, “It mattered to that one.”
And life is beautiful.
Of course, the logical observer will note that the small dent the Good Samaritan makes will still leave thousands of fish dead on the shoreline. His pithy maxim won’t save these thousands of other lives, and that is where systems come into play.
A system hires a bulldozer, or a score of bulldozers, and pushes them all into the ocean, saving thousands at a time, though a few may get crushed on the outskirts of the plow.
A system is less personal but more effective at providing care for the masses.
Prior to the Reformation, before Atheism was invented, the Church was the vehicle for this care. It was the machine which took in the sick, the poor and the hungry and provided for them. The Church was the evidence of the coming of the Kingdom of God, witnessed by the world, as God’s means of providing care to the world. However, in the wake of Luther’s departure from the Catholic church, this machine was splintered. it was stunted and suddenly a space emerged between these two gargantuan forces where Western people realized that they could exist outside the world of the Church.
Outside the realm of God.
In the wake of the Reformation, as these two massive entities pulled away from one another, folks realized they didn’t really need God to go on with life.
(Additionally, the splintering brought on by the Reformation effectively rendered the word “God” useless and it’s why people like Meryl Streep and Lil’ Wayne always seem to thank It when they win awards.)
Over time, the system’s power shifted from the Church to the government. The State was now the one responsible for bulldozing the stranded and powerless starfish back into the sea. So the State took from the Church the responsibility for healthcare, welfare and soup kitchens, thus rendering, in many people’s minds, the Church to be obsolete and useless.
And to be frank, it has left many postmodern Christians confused as to why their giving a PB&J to a homeless man hasn’t solved the issue of homelessness in America. Because the issue isn’t a single person being hungry; it’s millions. And though the sentiment of giving out a sandwich is sweet and we can pat ourselves on the back, it still leaves 999,999 people hungry. And it leaves that same guy hungry tomorrow.
So as Christians, how do we interact with the System, which at this point in time, is the State? How do we join forces in order to feed the hungry and heal the sick in a way that’s not ignorant of a bigger system at work? How do we zoom out enough to see the bigger picture?
Marx seeks to connect man to his labor in the absence of a higher power. His aim is ‘liberation’ from the class system from which society emerged when the divine monarchy dissolved and religion too a back seat to the State. Or at least, that’s what I’m getting.
Think about it: So many kings thought they came to power because God elected them (Romans 13 and all), and the Papacy held enormous power over the country as well. That alone is enough to create a dichotomy between these people and those people. The more important and the less important. And the value trickles down from the top through the nobility to the peasants and slaves.
Take away the church’s power as well as the existence of God, and in that vacuum, you realize that all men are created equal. And no one deserves more than another. And that’s where Marx’s ideas come into play and sway the crowd.
We are still feeling the effects of his writings whether we know it or not. Whenever someone calls on the name on ‘equality’ to justify their actions or their cause, they are referring to Marx who upholds both humanism (read: Atheism) and equal rights across the board. (Sound familiar?)
So if this post leaves you, as a Christian, more confused as to how we are to act within the boundaries of our system, then you’re not alone. The State is doing (or has potential to do) a lot of good for a lot of people, ever since the catholic (lowercase c) church split into a thousand pieces and left a vacuum for the needy people of the world.
Here is what I’m thinking about now, and invite you to join me:
-How should Christians act in order to shape our respective system to look more like the Kingdom of God?
-SHOULD Christians fret over socio-political issues within the State, or focus our energies on the Church universal, God’s intended vehicle for healing the world?
-Was the Reformation ultimately good or bad for Christianity, as it made many positive theological shifts, but brought about division on a level previously unknown to Christendom.
-What can I do to help?
-Is it worth picking up individual starfish and tossing them into the sea, despite the thousands of others left stranded? Is the parable of the one lost sheep vs. the 99 meant to be literal, or is that a naive reading of it?
Let me know what you come up with because I’m distraught!
I think you are conflating two different texts that have quite different intentions. Firstly in each case both Christianity and Communism came into being and are practised in error due to corporate practises of the theory. Marx was proposing an economic theory not a political ideology, Jesus was living an example not advocating a religion (He didn’t and doesn’t need a religion, He is the truth).
We get the results of an incorrect application in each case, arguably we see the same excesses of human suffering due to each. In the one system we do not see the emergence of any ‘super man’ of perfected nature, in the other we see individuals inspired to suffer like their example to transcend human frailty.
Communism could work if its subjects were truly Christian, this is both ironic and tragic.
okay I totally tried to post a life changing and earth shattering comment and low and behold my computer didn’t post it. But this is a great post and I’d love to discuss this further when my computer isn’t being lame.
“SHOULD Christians fret over socio-political issues within the State, or focus our energies on the Church universal, God’s intended vehicle for healing the world?”
Is it possible to wholly “act justly” if Christians are only interested in what is happening within the Church? I’m of the opinion that there is no helping the other 99, at least in a sustainable manner, without engaging the State considering the interconnectedness of almost every injustice (social, climate, etc.).