Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Gentle Marxist-

Some years ago a friend of mine, Mike Wilson, invited me to come and visit his philosophy class. The class had a Marxist coming in as a guest speaker. Mike and I had spent much time in discussing our Christian faith and what kind of philosophy might come from that faith. He respected my opinions and even more he valued my questions.

Questions have always been my strength. I tend to be good with questions, especially questions that would lead myself as well as the person I was questioning toward deeper understanding of ourselves and our subject matter. Mike wanted to bring this strength into the class and see what happened.

A large part of what happened was me probing gently into the nature of this man's Marxism. He was a gentle soul, and truly believed that Marxism offered a step forward out of the selfishness and emptiness of our current society. I used my questions to aid him in clarifying his position.

His Marxism was remarkably pure. Most of the expressions of Marxism since the days of Marx have been modified forms, often brutal. I do regret I cannot recall this Marxist's name, but I cannot. To me he is the Gentle Marxist, because of his choice of how he was spreading the Marxist doctrine.

We both agreed that Marx considered his social and economic model to be an evolutionary step in human development. A kind of economic Darwinian evolution. We also both agreed that no state in our present world had really "matured" (in the Marxist sense) to be ripe for true Marxism. We even both agreed that the Communist states then in existence were not truly Marxist states, but something else entirely.

This Gentle Marxist was working in adult literacy. He was using the same tool that Christians had used in advancing Christianity. The power of the written word. However, instead of teaching literacy using the Bible he was using the teachings of Marx. He was acting in kindness and a genuine belief that he was laying the groundwork for the coming Marxist revolution.

To be quite honest, I understand the drive toward true Marxism under the circumstances Marx described as catalytic to the revolution. Great wealth held by few who dominated by using that power and repressed the working class. Such a circumstance would demand some form of revolution, and an ideal state such as Marx's pure communism would be a fantastic alternative.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that humans are on the verge of a great evolutionary step, and that this evolution would lead to a pure communist state. Even under the circumstances that would bring about the worker's revolution the workers remain selfish and imperfect. They would ultimately seek their own good over the good of the masses, and some would seek more than their share.

The Christian doctrine is of humanity in need of redemption. We do not need an improved economic model, we need a fundamental change of our sinful nature. We need the salvation that is in the completed work of Christ on the Cross, not a redistribution of wealth. We need people motivated by the love of God, acting out that love in whatever economy they might happen to live within.

I sometimes wonder if the Gentle Marxist I met that day might have eventually come to embrace the Christian faith, and experienced a shift in his philosophy. Several of the Communists I had previously known had done so. Would the zeal survive the transition? It doesn't always.

The Gentle Marxist did set a valuable example. He was meeting real needs, and sharing his philosophy as he did so. He was acting as a secular evangelist. The best Christian evangelists generally act in the same way. Meeting needs and sharing Christ. Many other Christians fall far short of the example of the Gentle Marxist. That is quite sad.

I am not sure that the economic model under which we live is particularly important. More important is freedom. Freedom to think, and freedom to share thoughts. Freedom to meet needs and have needs met. In an environment of that kind of freedom the love of God could be freely shared. An economy that allowed for such freedom could be lived within, no matter what name it held.

In the end the Gentle Marxist and I found ourselves in two different philosophical camps. Religion in general and Christianity in particular do not fit within the teachings of Marx, and so a true Marxist must oppose such philosophies. Our Gentle Marxist ultimately could not allow the freedom of which I just wrote to stand.

That said, it is not the communist economic model that is a problem but the opposition of Marx to religion. In that point there is conflict. Indeed, the problem with the economic model is not a failure of the model itself, but the selfish nature of humans. Without compulsion they would not hold to the altruism of mutually shared resources. Always there will be the feathering of nests.

Like Plato's Philosopher Kings the voluntary communists of Marx's philosophy sharing the means of production and the fruits of labor equitably is nothing but a dream. Humans are flawed individually and corporately, and in need of redemption and resurrection to make them whole.

Only Jesus Christ offers that. I hope our Gentle Marxist finds the way.


pboyfloyd said...

I must say that I enjoyed reading your post.

I recall expounding that communism could never work because people were just too damned greedy, in a bar one afternoon.

It was a strange subject for me to be expounding on as none of my friends at the table seemed to be particularly interested in the subject at all.

Then a strange thing happened. A 'slavic' looking man picked himself up, walked over to me and shook my hand.

I say that he was 'slavic' looking, I mean that he looked exactly like 'the working class' hero on some communist propaganda posters that I've seen.

Seemed like such an obvious thing to say, essentially, "We're just too greedy to share!(if communism can be 'boiled down' to sharing")

After giving my hand a vigorous shaking, he went back to his seat and continued pondering the 'oddness' of the world, I'm supposing.

I was too amazed to ask his name and I thoughtlessly didn't aak him if he'd like to sit down, but he seemed happy enough to be giving me a, "You're absolutely right!" handshake and be done with it.

You commented on 'ABSENCEofGOOD', thanks!

In case you never look back there I named your "Hound of Heaven" "Scooby-don't"!

From GOD's supposed habit of "Thou shalt not-ting"

Harvey said...

It seems to me that the biggest difference between intelligent and thoughtful Christians (like you seem to be) and equally intelligent and hopefully thoughtful atheists and agnostics (like I hope to be)is that we non-believers actually think we can achieve a loving,caring, and ethical approach to this life with regard to our fellow man without the need for Jesus' (or any other Biblical character) enjoining us to "good" behavior. I agree that you are correct in your belief that humanity often fails to completely outgrow the selfishness that is hard wired into us at birth. Learning to consider the effects of our behavior upon others is, clearly, what growing up means for the individual and civilization means for larger groups or tribes. If we can remember that "do unto others...." pretty much sums up everything Jesus wanted to teach us (at least regarding out personal relationships), we should be able to succeed in these relationships at both the personal and group levels most of the time.
But.... to the non-believer, all the rest of the Bible or any other religion's "take" on how people should relate to the God of their choice is simply irrelevant. I would like to think that some of us non-believers can see the value in kindness, caring, and sharing behaviors, not because of some threat of punishment or separation from God after death, but because I believe that anyone can see that these behaviors are not only morally right, but in each person's best self interests. I like to remember hathat all systems of government are man-made and thus just as likely as religious laws to fail in the practise because the practitioners are human beings.