LEFTISM AND THE POST-RELIGIOUS CHURCHES
By: Dr. John J. RAY (M.A.;Ph.D.)
The Mainstream Protestant Churches
From Robespierre to Stalin, Leftists for many years opposed all religion. They saw it as a rival to their own claims on power. In recent decades, however, this seems all to have become reversed. For instance, it used to be said in Britain that the Church of England was "The Tory Party at prayer". These days it is certainly not. It is more like the Liberal party at prayer. Throughout the developed world, the churches now are often the source of clearly Left-wing messages.
This seems to be very much associated with the fact that there seems to have developed in the "Western" world in recent decades the curious phenomenon of the post-religious church. This is most marked in the case of the Church of England and its related Anglican churches worldwide.
There was once a time hundreds of years ago when followers of the Church of England were passionate believers in its blend of Protestant doctrines and episcopal organization. And assent to the 39 "Articles of Religion" is to this day supposed to be the mark of the Anglican. These articles say things such as: "Holy scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." (Article 6). And: "They are to be had accursed that presume to say , That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law and the light of Nature." (Article 18). No universal salvation or doctrinal flexibility there! And no vagueness about what is authoritative!
How much this uncompromising language contrasts with the wishy-washy social gospel that is usually to be heard in Anglican churches today. When the Anglican flock go to church these days what they hear from their clergy tends to be a wishy-washy mish-mash of every trendy "liberal" belief under the sun. God and the Bible are lucky to get a mention. The former Archbishop of Canterbury (Carey) is so "Green" that not even Greenpeace could have found fault with him and the present Archbishop (Williams) clearly has no respect whatever for Bible teachings about homosexuality. It is not even certain that a majority of the Anglican episcopate believe in God in any meaningful sense. Some of them clearly do not.
So in modern times nothing seems to be forbidden in the Anglican churches and nothing seems to be required for membership other than a modicum of politeness and a patience with rambling sermons. And it is not so much belief that is required as good taste! How has this come about?
It would appear to be because we no longer live in a culture of belief. Where once the churches were a part of everyday life for most people they are no longer so and religious skepticism is widespread. Why? Probably because science has made such inroads into explaining the once-inexplicable and because the conduct of so many supposed Christians has been so unchristian for so long that huge numbers of people have lost faith in organized religion and its traditional teachings. About the only religious belief that still wins widespread assent in the modern Western world is belief in God. But this is now accompanied by widespread skepticism about whether the churches know any more about God than anybody else. Certainly, the idea that one particular church has the truth while others do not is now widely seen as ridiculous.
In this climate, the more established churches have tended to lose their bearings. Long acceptance made them soft, and loss of that acceptance panicked them and demoralized their clergy. Rather than having the fortitude to continue proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, they scrabbled around looking for any means of regaining popular favour. Their long acceptance had meant that both their clergy and their laity had lost their religious edge and that they had become the refuge for those who were not very religiously committed anyway. So their struggle to retain some popularity had few restraints and steadily led them down a long downhill path to a point where they had virtually no fixed beliefs of any kind.
Perhaps the defining moment in this process was the publication in 1963 of the book "Honest to God" by Church of England bishop John Robinson. This book revealed to all how far the faith of many theologically sophisticated Anglicans had decayed and it was widely read. It denied the idea of God as any sort of a separate identity and said that God was simply "The ground of our being" -- whatever that might mean. From that point on, the phenomenon of the essentially Atheist Anglican became increasingly widespread. In the struggle to retain their acceptance in the modern world, many Anglicans were willing to abandon even God.
So their churches became little more than hollow shells or religious vacuums. When their traditional religious formulas and beliefs became widely questioned, they abandoned any advocacy of them and had nothing substantial to replace them. They now offer a facility for worship and fellowship but have no authority in matters of morals, doctrine or anything else. They have become social facilities rather than religious institutions. Rather than deliver salvation, all that many churches now aspire to is to make their congregations feel good. And old stone Cathedrals, magnificent vestments, mesmeric chants, angelic choirs, soaring hymns, fragrant incense and powerful pipe organs assist greatly with that. No-one has ever denied that the Anglican churches in particular can do a good show when they try.
But this mere show and lack of any moral, ethical or doctrinal anchors leaves the door open wide for what is popularly believed and promoted in the secular world to be adopted in the churches as well. The thinking seems to be that if you want to keep the collection plates full, you must tell people what they want to hear. So if Leftist, Greenie, Feminist or "Gay-lib" beliefs are vocally expressed in the community at large, such beliefs will be expressed with similar energy from the pulpit.
The acclaimed Marxist theorist Gramsci foresaw many years ago a "long march through the institutions" for Leftism -- and the post-religious churches have offered no resistance to that march at all. Their clergy now preach salvation through the nostrums of Leftism and Environmentalism rather than through the worship of Christ. The vacuum left in the churches by the loss of faith in their own traditional teachings is filled by whatever beliefs are fashionable in the secular world.
Leftist influence in the Roman Catholic church
Under the strong leadership of a theologically conservative Pope, the situation is not quite as grim in the Roman Catholic church but influences from the surrounding culture are still, of course, strong. One of the Catholic Church's historic methods of bringing people under its influence has in fact been its great willingness to compromise with the surrounding culture and adopt pagan elements as its own. Christmas, for instance, was devised to coincide with the pagan Winter Solstice celebrations and Easter to this day bears the name of an ancient pagan Goddess (Astarte or Ashtaroth). And it is influences from the outside world of today that lie behind such untraditional and unscriptural ideas as the advocacy of female and openly homosexual priests.
The very "Red" nature of much contemporary Latin-American Catholicism is, however, not really in the same category. It is not a wholly modern phenomenon. In fact, ever since Pope Leo XIII wrote his encyclical "De Rerum Novarum" of 1891 (Yes. 1891, not 1991) the church has given qualified approval to socialist ideas.
Famous though it is, many people will not know what De Rerum Novarum says. It rejects Marxism but justifies intervention by the State on behalf of the workers and proposes that the best solution for working-class poverty would be some sort of combined action of the Church, the State, the employer and the employed. Such a "corporatist" solution was of course put faithfully into practice by various good Catholic sons -- such as Benito Mussolini and General Franco.
And the basic idea did not die with the Fascists. It is now known among Leftists as the "Third Way" and is the official policy of Britain's Labour Party, led by Tony Blair. Tony Blair is an Anglican so he is more moderate and democratic than Mussolini or Franco but he too rejects the old Marxist nostrums of abolishing private property and having government run industry while at the same time still using the power of the State to redistribute wealth from those who have earned it to those who have not.
So it was only the atheism of Communism that made Communists the enemies of the Church. The socialist but theistic Nazis and Fascists were soon accommodated. So while Catholics and most of their clergy do at least appear to remain religious, theirs is a religion that has always accommodated to a large degree whatever nonsense that is believed in the world around them -- so therefore many Catholic clergy now accommodate or embrace the Leftist ideas that are so prominent in the contemporary world of the media and academe.
So the main motivation behind Catholic socialism would seem to be the wish of the church to curry favour with the often poor members of its congregations but some attempt to treat Christ's counsel about the surest path to the afterlife (e.g. "Go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor and thou shalt have treasure in heaven" -- Matthew 19:21) as if it were also advice about how to run the affairs of the secular world is also of course involved -- materially assisted by the fact that theologians seldom seem to be very literate in economics.
So in many countries this does sometimes result in people hearing from Catholic pulpits condemnations of the "greed" of capitalism. Yet is it not greed to demand something that you did not earn? Is it not greed to use the coercive power of the government to take from others? Is it not greed to use the coercive power of unions to receive an unfair wage, often at the expense of other less-unionized workers? Is it not greed to demand that church members pay you a certain percentage of their wages? So the second-rate theology that fails even to ask such questions results in many Catholics worldwide hearing from their priests a message that is in some ways not very distinct from the message of Marxist revolutionaries.
This abrogation of their traditional role of giving the faithful a distinctive message does however seem to have been highly detrimental to both the Catholic and the historic Protestant churches, causing a steady leaking away of their congregations.
A fully observant Catholic is a great rarity these days and conservative movements within the Catholic church (such as charismatic movements, pilgrimages to sites of alleged miracles or the Tridentine movement led by Archbishop Marcel Lefebre) commonly get an enthusiastic response. These phenomena suggest that the great majority of the ordinary Catholic laity would be much more receptive to a traditional faith-based message than the political message that they so often get these days.
The Survival of Real Protestantism
And the mainstream Protestant churches are steadily losing their congregations to more Bible-oriented churches. Where the priest in an Anglican church might be preaching to six old ladies in flowered hats on a Sunday, the more evangelical church down the road will have hundreds of people of all ages in it. There is no doubt that the churches have to adapt to the modern world but the evangelical Protestants show that you can do that without replacing the Christian gospel by a Leftist gospel. So, once again, Leftism is destructive. By invading the mainstream churches, it has made them increasingly irrelevant.
When it comes to adapting to the modern world, it may be of some relevance to note here that there is one diocese in the worldwide Anglican communion that is outstanding for its enthusiasm for strict Bible teachings and historic Anglicanism. That is the diocese of Sydney in Australia. And the Sydney Anglican seminary and churches are so full of adherents (old and young, male and female) that the Sydney diocese alone accounts for one third of all of Australia's Anglicans. Some ordained priests from the Sydney Anglican diocese have even been known to go out into other Australian Anglican dioceses and set up new churches there -- much embarrassing the local bishop by the large size of the congregations that they attract! The Sydney diocese shows what the Anglican church might have been.
The following report from the UK Daily Telegraph of October 14th, 2002 would suggest that also in England itself it is the traditional rather than the "modernist" Anglicans who attract the large congregations.The clergy at one of Britain's richest parishes are to refuse their Church salaries in protest at the next Archbishop of Canterbury's liberal views on homosexuality..
In a revolt that could spread across the country, the Rev William Taylor, the evangelical rector of St Helen's Bishopsgate in the City of London, said yesterday that Dr Rowan William's views were immoral and divisive. The decision by Mr Taylor and three fellow clergy to be paid by their congregation rather than the Church Commissioners is the first example of the "direct action" against Dr Williams threatened by conservative evangelicals. It will further raise tensions between traditionalists and liberals before this week's annual conference of Reform, the conservative evangelical network, which has called on Dr Williams to recant his views or resign. In his sermon to a congregation of about 450, Mr Taylor took a resolutely hardline stance on homosexual acts, which he condemned as morally and spiritually wrong
Christianity that is firmly and unwaveringly based in the New Testament still obviously has great popular appeal and failure to deliver a truly New Testament message is rapidly relegating the historic Protestant churches to minority status within Christendom. And what adherents they do still have tend to be more the members of a social club than committed Christians
The problems of the Roman Catholic Church in adapting to the modern world are of course different but, if strict Protestant fundamentalists can have married priests and acceptance of contraception, the theological and disciplinary difficulties in reconciling such practices with the historic Christian message cannot be too great. Certainly, there is demonstrably no need to adopt Leftist amorality in order to succeed as a church in the modern world.
An important result of their replacing traditional Christian faith by Leftist amorality is that the mainstream churches now seem to feel that they have no authority to offer moral guidance of any kind. For instance, rather than oppose or condemn the undoubtedly evil Saddam Hussein (who himself has said that from his point of view Hitler was too weak), they mostly avoided their traditional role of giving moral guidance entirely and were much more likely to ask their congregations simply to "pray for peace"! If such responses were to become common in the population at large, this would surely be a serious erosion of the values that underly Western civilization and perhaps even of the values that underly any civilization. So perhaps we should hope that the decay into irrelevancy of the mainstream churches will continue apace.
Jesus: Leftist or Rightist?
This Leftist invasion of the senescent mainstream churches does tend to raise the question of what Christ's Gospel really was. Are the current teachings of such churches Christian or not? The churches concerned would of course normally claim that they are. Answering this question fully, however, requires a trip into theology rather than into the sociological questions and observations that the present article addresses. All that is required for acceptance of the theses of the present article is a recognition that "traditional" Christian teachings have been substantially replaced by Leftist moral relativism and fervour for equality. How closely the traditional teachings of any given church mirror the teachings of Christ is another debate entirely.
Nonetheless, discussing religion whilst ignoring theology is surely a most incomplete enterprise so it would surely be remiss not to make at least a brief excursion into the theological questions involved.
We could approach this front-on by asking whether Jesus was part of what we would now call the Left or the Right. And since this is, of course, very much an old chestnut, let us look at it briefly:
As Leftists are traditionally anti-religious the argument has usually gone by default to the conservatives. Leftists have usually not wanted anything to do with any religious figure so conservatives could claim Jesus as one of their own with little opposition. And that claim is not without reason: Jesus did after all say, "For ye have the poor always with you" (Matthew 26:11) and he did make a point of dining with rich businessmen (Luke 19:1-8) and he did praise entreprenurship and profit (Matthew 25:14-30). And he did rebuke his disciples for proposing to sell their luxury goods and distribute the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 26:10). He denied being a revolutionary (Matthew 5:17) and preached obedience to the law (Matthew 5: 19; Mark 12:17). He preached compromise (Matthew 5:25) and opposed divorce (Matthew 5:32). And Jesus did of course inherit the Jewish view that mankind is in a "fallen" and imperfect state and preached that only faith in him could correct it (Luke 19:10; John 8:7, 32).
On the other hand he did say that it was as hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as it was for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24) and he did tell a seeker after holiness to first sell all his wordly goods (Matthew 19:21). He did advise "giving freely" and advised against accumulating both money and worldly goods (Matthew, 10: 9,10; 6:19 and 6:31-34). He preached equality among the faithful (Matthew 20:25-28). And he was very much a pacifist (Matthew 5:39). All these latter references, however, clearly have more to do with spiritual guidance than with advice about how to run the affairs of the world.
The essential point in all this, however, is surely that Jesus was even in his own time an avowedly religious leader rather than a political one and, as such, he does not fit neatly into any modern political category and was in fact uninterested in how the affairs of the world should be ordered. His constant focus was on the Kingdom of Heaven and its entry requirements rather than on any earthly kingdom. So traditional Christian teachings about how the world should be ordered have had to evolve with only a little guidance from the master himself. On balance, however, Jesus does show a realism when he discusses the state of the world that is encouraging to conservative views of it.
Nonetheless, the fact that, in his spiritual guidance to his followers, Jesus opposed condemnation of others and retaliation for evil, that he also opposed selfishness and materialism and preached love and compassion could be seen as consonant with what Leftists advocate (but do not practice). And undoubtedly it is. That is why Leftists advocate it. It suits Leftists to pretend to believe that Christ's spiritual teachings can be taken as a template for organizing the affairs of the world and that only evil men or evil classes of men stand in the way of bringing about a socialist Utopia or any other desired state. That the world will always fall far short of the high ideals that Christ set they ignore. In this sense, Leftism is akin to the old Pelagian heresy, as Christ himself was emphatic that, although perfection is to be sought (Matthew 5:48), it is only to be obtained through faith in him (John 3:18). As Jesus summarized it to Pilate, "My Kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
It seems obvious, however, that if you treat your fellow man kindly as part of your highroad to Christ's Kingdom of Heaven you will also want to support political policies that are kindly towards your fellow man. But note here that what Christ said was to give your OWN possessions to the poor -- not to give OTHER PEOPLE'S possessions to the poor. So Catholic "Liberation theology" and its Protestant equivalents -- which preach the latter course -- is simply bad theology. And the Holy Father (who is in general no great friend of capitalism) has proclaimed that too, of course.
To revert to the sociology of the matter, however, the teachings of Jesus have become deeply ingrained in our culture so that they form at least a large part of the ideals that most of us aspire to even if we often fall far short of living up to those ideals. And Leftists simply use that. If the change- and power-seeking Leftist wants to sound persuasive, the easiest way to do so is to place his appeal squarely within the existing ideals of the society. If we still lived in the pagan world of our ancestors as described (say) in "Beowulf", he might instead justify his cries for change in terms of what would lead us towards greater glory and fame. But in neither case could we safely conclude that what he says represents his real aims and values. And we can most certainly not conclude that those who preach compassion etc will therefore also practice it when they have the power to do so.
So it is far from true that it is Christianity which is Leftist. What is true is that the Churches which have LOST their traditional Christian values have become Leftist.
An important result of their replacing traditional Christian faith by Leftist amorality is that the mainstream churches now seem to feel that they have no authority to offer moral guidance of any kind. For instance, rather than oppose or condemn the undoubtedly evil Saddam Hussein (who himself says that from his point of view Hitler was too weak), they are more likely to ask their congregations to "pray for peace"! If such responses were to become common in the population at large, this would surely be a serious erosion of the values that underly Western civilization and perhaps even of the values that underly any civilization. So perhaps we should hope that the decay into irrelevancy of the mainstream churches will continue apace.
Clickable Index to the above:
Mainstream Protestant Churches
Leftist influence in the Roman Catholic church
The Survival of Real Protestantism
Jesus: Leftist or Rightist?
This article originally appeared in Front Page Magazine in 2002 but is reproduced here in a slightly expanded form.
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