Christianity was one of the main driving forces of the West. For many centuries they were in many ways synonymous. But as Christianity weakened, so too did the West. Thus what can be called Christian heresies arose, such as communism. It offered a compelling grand narrative but was based on materialism.
And for a long time, one could stand up for the West while opposing communism. The two were different in so many ways. As I said in a recent piece, the one championed freedom and democracy while the other promoted godless tyranny. But as I also mentioned, increasingly the West is becoming a hotbed of the secular left, and much of their worldview differs little from that of old-school communism. See that piece here.
In that article, I highlighted an important volume by Ryszard Legutko: The Demon In Democracy (Encounter Books, 2016). Although the book has been around for a while now, it still nicely repays a visit. His book is all about the similarities between communism and liberal democracy.
As someone who lived in communist Poland, but managed to escape and travel to the West, he was surprised at how little resistance there was to communism. Instead, there was a lot of empathy for it, at least among the intelligentsia, the media, the universities, and so on.
He is now back in post-communist Poland, and lectures in philosophy. So he is well-placed to observe the similarities between the two systems. I have quoted from this book in several articles now, and want to do more of the same here. He examines how comparisons can be found in such areas as history, politics and ideology.
Here I want to look at his chapter on religion. His insights and observations are well worth featuring. He begins by noting how much Marx hated religion, especially Christianity. And his ideas were certainly run with: when the communists got into power, targeting the churches and Christians was always a top priority. Early on Legutko says this:
Marx’s attitude well reflects the feelings that the socialists and communists have always had about religion: on the one hand, a profound hostility, often accompanied by an almost sadistic longing for a world in which religion would be wiped out without a trace; on the other, a wish that socialism become a genuine form of religion in the sense that it would satisfy needs, dreams, and desires similar to the way in which religion did and which apparently inhered in human nature. p. 145
He further discusses communism’s brutal and obsessive war against Christianity, but what he says about Western liberalism of the past few centuries is worth spending some time on. He writes:
The attitude of liberalism toward religion was, from the start, frosty and sometimes hostile. Like the socialists later on, the liberals were aware of the great ideological power wielded by religion (although the term “ideology” had not been coined yet), which they found politically most troubling. Religion, they said, provokes deep divisions, incites civil wars, pushes people to violence against their neighbor…
The idea that the state is the ultimate supervisor in all matters relating to the political community, including religious ones, had a long tradition and in itself was not revolutionary. The problem was that the state could go too far in imposing discipline and be tempted to use the argument from political rationality to extirpate some religious groups deemed suspect, to violate human conscience on a massive scale, and to usurp the role of the spiritual and moral authority under the pretext of a disinterested political supervision. pp. 151, 153
While at first Western governments sought some form of accommodation with religion, over the past few decades they have been on an aggressive ideological mission:
[They] started legislating morality in an open confrontation with the teaching of Christianity (and other religions). . . . This offensive was so formidable that a lot of religious groups, mostly Protestant, but some Catholic too, acquiesced. Those that acquiesced had to adapt their teaching to the requirements of the liberal-democratic state and, consequently, to revise their doctrines substantially, sometimes beyond recognition. Those that resisted put themselves on a collision course with the liberal-democratic state and, as their critics repeatedly said, with modernity as such.
Fideism—characteristic of Protestantism but spreading beyond its boundaries—which encouraged the subordination of external religion to the state, caused a gradual marginalization of Christianity in the public realm, which, as was to be expected, had to result in progressive secularization. p. 154
All this is now seen quite clearly in bodies such as the EU:
The view that the modern world is essentially non-Christian, only timidly uttered a few decades ago, is now widely accepted. Articulated explicitly and loudly by philosophers, political scientists, and writers, it has penetrated public opinion and become a sort of uncontested axiom of social wisdom. A reference to Christianity as an important part of European identity in the Preamble to the EU Constitutional Treaty provoked such an angry reaction that it had to be dropped as allegedly incongruent with what the EU calls “European values.” Even acknowledging the historical role of the Christian heritage is now thought too extravagant to be tolerated. All these manifestations of an anti-Christian sentiment are not a trifling matter. They illustrate the triumph of the ideological thinking whose distinguishing feature is a reorganization, and quite often a falsification, of the past in order to put it at the service of the contemporary political project. “Who controls the past controls the future,” as Orwell accurately observed in his dissection of totalitarianism. The communists did it on a large scale; the EU in its effort to build a new European identity is doing something quite similar, though on a smaller scale. p. 161
If Christianity was under ceaseless attack by communists, things are not much different today in liberal democracies:
The Church is bound to get into permanent conflicts with liberal democracy in matters of morality, which this system has appropriated and subjected to the power of legislative bodies and the courts. Today it is the legislators and the judges who decide what is and is not permitted, what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil in matters of life and death. Until recently, the family ethics was to a large degree shaped—and with good results—by the Christians who continued and developed the teachings of the classical thinkers. But during the last decades this ethics was taken away from them and incorporated into the liberal-democratic mechanism. Dozens of legal decisions were taken directly affecting family and even sexual life, and those decisions, blatantly diverging from Christian teachings—for example, about abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia—became law. Christians were forced to accept the humiliating subordination to a law they thought immoral but whose disobedience is penalized. Quite often, the grounds for these decisions have strong anti-Christian overtones: Christian arguments are dismissed as merely “religious” with the implication that as such they are irrational, parochial, anachronistic, and unrepresentative. In many countries the conscience clauses protecting Christians were either scrapped or made invalid by the courts. There is virtually no area in which the influence of Christianity has not been challenged. pp. 166-167
And the end result is startling indeed:
If the old communists lived long enough to see the world of today, they would be devastated by the contrast between how little they themselves had managed to achieve in their antireligious war and how successful the liberal democrats have been. All the objectives the communists set for themselves, and which they pursued with savage brutality, were achieved by the liberal democrats who, almost without any effort and simply by allowing people to drift along with the flow of modernity… pp. 167-8
And why does all this matter? He says this:
Christianity is not just a religion, but a vital spiritual element of Western identity, something that allowed Europe to maintain a strong sense of continuity, linking the ancient with the modern and absorbing into itself a variety of intellectual inspirations. By rejecting Christianity—after having marginalized the classical heritage—Europe, and indeed, the entire West not only slides into cultural aridity, a process noticeable for some time, but also falls under the smothering monopoly of one ideology whose uniformity is being cleverly concealed by the deafening rhetoric of diversity that has been pouring into people’s minds at all occasions and in all contexts.
Christianity is the last great force that offers a viable alternative to the tediousness of liberal-democratic anthropology. In this respect it is closer to the classical rather than the modern view of human nature. With Christianity being driven out of the main tract, the liberal-democratic man—unchallenged and totally secure in his rule—will become a sole master of today’s imagination, apodictically determining the boundaries of human nature and, at the very outset, disavowing everything that dares to reach beyond his narrow perspective. p. 174
As I mentioned in my earlier article, it was for a long time most proper to reject the myth of moral equivalence – the idea that there are no real differences between the free West and godless communism. However, as the West becomes increasingly secular left, and is mainly led by secular leftists (think Biden, Trudeau, Macron, Ardern, Albanese, to name but a few), the distinctions between the two systems are increasingly being blurred.
This site has documented hundreds of cases of anti-Christian bigotry in which believers are being fined, jailed, or losing their jobs. But I refer to here in the West, not in Communist China or North Korea. Indeed, simply consider the most recent example of this – the headline says it all: “Norwegian actress Tonje Gjevjon faces up to 3 years in prison for saying men cannot be lesbians.”
The Berlin Wall may have come tumbling down in 1989, but the communist war against Christianity and rationality continues unabated, even if in somewhat different forms.