by Joe Hargrave
With the political storm clouds gathering over the horizon for November, I want to take this opportunity to explain why I will be voting for GOP candidates (specifically Tea Party candidates when possible) at the midterm elections. It is not because I “believe in” the Republicans, or because I think that a Republican Congress is going to lead America into a new golden age. It is because the Obama/Democrat agenda must be slowed down, and more importantly, because I do not share the hierarchy of priorities or values of the left.
It was Pope Pius XI who explained the fundamental differences between Christianity and socialism the best in Quadragesimo Anno. In fact, this is the reason why no Catholic can be a socialist:
We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.
For, according to Christian teaching, man, endowed with a social nature, is placed on this earth so that by leading a life in society and under an authority ordained of God he may fully cultivate and develop all his faculties unto the praise and glory of his Creator; and that by faithfully fulfilling the duties of his craft or other calling he may obtain for himself temporal and at the same time eternal happiness. Socialism, on the other hand, wholly ignoring and indifferent to this sublime end of both man and society, affirms that human association has been instituted for the sake of material advantage alone. (117-18)
I am well aware of the fact that there are many who refuse to see socialism in the policies of Democratic Party – these are the ignorant. Then there are those who see it, and proclaim it to be good – these are the naive. Finally there are those who proclaim it is the moral duty of Christians to support socialist policies – these are the obstinate.
While fully conceding that there are different kinds of socialism, and that yes, it is debatable as to whether or not this label applies to the Dems in a purely technical sense, and finally that the kind proposed by the Democrats is not as wholly and onerously evil as the kind that existed under Stalin or Mao, I think it is obvious that Democratic policies and rhetoric (by and large) share the same premise indicated by Pius XI above: that “material advantage” is, if not the sole good in life, the highest good. This is a premise which I, as a traditional Catholic, utterly reject.
Honesty compels us to admit that many of the arguments put forward today by many Democrats and leftists are rooted in Marxist conceptions of alienation and impoverishment. In the book The Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky, one of the architects of the Bolshevik Revolution, we are told that the chief hostility between Marxism and religion is the former’s faith in material progress, while the asceticism (that is, self-denial for the sake of God) of the latter is to be completely rejected and scorned.
In this view of things, life is not worth living if one has not attained a certain level of material comfort. The notion that hardship and adversity could actually be blessings and serve to shape and strengthen the soul is mocked as a fantasy invented to keep the poor in their place. Marxists project their envy and cynicism onto every figure, teaching, and episode in history; they don’t believe for a moment that anyone who is in power, including the popes and Christian kings, have ever taken seriously these truths.
Further still, they hold that the poor and the working class are in a degraded condition, unable to become “fully human” in their poverty and ignorance, and are therefore in need of enlightenment and leadership from a cadre of professional intellectuals, the vanguard party. The irony is that while these beliefs were rooted in a supposed “radical humanism”, they are in fact anti-human. That is perhaps why O’Brien, in Orwell’s 1984, replies to Winston Smith’s hope that the “proles” (the proletariat) will overthrow the Party by saying that “the proles are not human.” As I have argued many times, radical humanism inevitably degenerates into radical misanthropy, as all atheistic revolutions degenerate into monstrous dictatorships.
I recognize well this basic Marxist argument in the rhetoric of many contemporary Democrats and leftists in America today. Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas was a good representation of this way of thinking; he paints a picture of people who, as Obama opined during the presidential campaign, have become “bitter” with their economic situation and therefore “cling” to guns, God, and the culture wars. Not too long ago Noam Chomsky said similar things in relation to the Tea Party.
Of course, overflowing with compassion, the enlightened leftist “understands” that religion is the “cry of the oppressed” – it is a subconscious longing for a fulfilled material existence. It is economics alone that accounts for the “real” motivation of the right-wing revolt, with the cultural and religious matters forming as mere “superstructure”, the phantasms that emanate from petty-bourgeois rage. This teaching was also held as the equivalent of a divinely revealed truth in the Marxist political organization I once served. But fine phrases about abstract humanity often give way to stark and uncharitable appraisals of real human beings. This is the universal trajectory of the godless left.
I am sorry to say that this thinking, to lesser but still visible degrees, has infected a great many Catholics. As a recovering leftist and newly reverted Catholic, I too shared it for a time. The more I contemplate the implications of a spiritual reality beyond the material, which is what I imagine every Catholic ought to be doing, the more I am compelled to reject and anathematize this view of things.
It is true that throughout the Scriptures, God exhorts the Israelites to care for the poor, the sick, the widows and the orphans. These are the responsibilities not only of individuals but also and especially of rulers, and if or when they fail in them, God will judge them. But ought this to be the highest priority in life? What are we to do when a party promises to do all of these things (whether they deliver is another matter), while at the same time promoting the mass murder of innocent children, sexual immorality of every kind, and manifest hostility towards any public recognition of Christianity?
Our responsibilities are set out for us in the Gospels, and let us keep Pius XI’s admonition of socialism in mind as we proceed. In Matthew 6:31-34, we read:
Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.
“Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice” – this is a statement of priorities. To elevate material concerns above spiritual concerns is contrary to the instruction of Christ himself. It is to follow the way of the world, the heathens who have no faith in God’s justice and providence (shame on Jesus for his exclusive rhetoric!) Moreover, the major evils of our day which ought to be sufficient for us to deal with are not that we don’t make as much in real wages now as we did 20 years ago or some other material concerns, but that thousands of children are exterminated like vermin in their mother’s wombs every day, that marriage is undermined, that the faith is threatened and may one day soon be persecuted as it is in other countries.
We also read in Matthew 16:26: “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?”
But what about Matthew 22:21, in which Jesus says “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s”? I will admit that this is a rebuke to those, especially in the Tea Party, who become obsessed with taxes. I do not deny or doubt that taxes can be and in fact are in the present climate oppressive and unjust. Yet Caesar was no less oppressive than the Obama regime, and Jesus tells his inquisitors that they should render unto him what is his. This is not in my view an instruction to passively and permanently accept whatever tax rates are imposed upon us – we have every right to make use of the political process to lower them. But neither should we elevate this material concern above spiritual matters, and thus emulate the same socialists condemned by Pius XI.
I will take this opportunity to say that I support the Tea Party as a resistance movement against the ever-rapacious secular Leviathan, but not as an engine of societal regeneration. This can come only from a mass conversion to Christ and to the full Catholic faith. No secular ideology of liberty will be our salvation; at best it will create the political space needed for the truth to flourish. This contribution should neither be overvalued so that it becomes an end in itself, nor undervalued so that one ends up opposing this movement or becomes needlessly over-critical of it.
In opposing the Democrats, I do not unconditionally or uncritically embrace the philosophy of the Republicans. But in my view, materialism is merely one value among many to the Republicans, while for the Democrats it is a religion. The Republicans do not care whether everyone is materially successful or not; they simply want people to be free to become so through their choices and efforts. At its best, this idea is nothing more than an acknowledgment of our natural right to private property recognized by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum. The Democrats, on the other hand, want to engineer society so that everyone is materially successful, or at least sated, and they see little to no value in the highest spiritual goods. Yes, there are exceptions.
That these efforts often result in disaster is besides the point; I would oppose them if they were successful. Why would I wish a middle-class suburban existence filled with material delights and utterly devoid of spiritual depth or meaning upon a poor family blessed with a throng of children and the Catholic faith? Regardless of what I’ve said about immigration policy, I would envy a poor Mexican family with the faith before I would all of the middle and upper class WASPs I have ever known.
For me, voting in this day and age is about one thing only: choosing those leaders who will do the least harm to what is the highest good. The highest goods are spiritual, and they can only be fostered and spread through the freedom of the Christian religion, specifically through the Catholic faith, whole and unblemished. The Democrats will do more harm to this freedom than the Republicans. So I will vote against them, and I won’t look back.