Are you comfortably numb?

Monday, November 06, 2006


See right for a new favourite quote of mine. Helmut Gollwitzer was a Lutheran who lived in Nazi Germany and was a member of the Confessing Churches. But I stumbled across him in my reading around Marxism and Christianity in the book "Christian Faith & Marxist Criticism", written by him.

I'm on page 13 and it's really opening my eyes to stuff about Marxism that I never really realised before. They teach you a really stupidly condensed, missing the point form of Marxism in college.

More to follow, no doubt.

Will hopefully get round to posting my last editorial here soon.


  • When we did the Communist Manifesto last year I realised I agreed with pretty much all of it.

    By Blogger Tom, at 10:28 pm  

  • :) Christians must be socialists, eh?

    I beg to differ.

    Socialism is a product of a particular socio-political framework - I'm not sure I could do this, but I suspect that socialism requires the existence of capitalism (or at least capital) for its very definition. It would have done Christians in the Roman Empire little good to have been socialists. Or, for that matter, in Medieval Europe ("Holy Grail" notwithstanding).

    God's word is universal. Politics, like theology, is contextual.

    And in what sense are you/is the writer using the word "must"? Is this a logical imperative ("by definition") or a moral imperative? If so, what about Cadbury? He wasn't a socialist - he was a socially concerned capitalist. Unless you change the definition of socialist so that it is sufficiently imprecise to include him.

    Socially concerned, I will allow, or socially active. Socialist? No. Your writer has lost sight of the wood for the trees. "I must be a socialist" doesn't mean that "all Christians must be socialists".

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 11:21 am  

  • Helmut Gollwitzer, however, was writing in a context where socialism was a relevant political force, not in the Middle Ages or in the time of the Roman Empire. I doubt that when he wrote the quote he meant it to apply to Christians who have been dead for many hundreds of years. In any case, economic systems have existed for thousands of years, as have taxes.

    Cadbury may have been a 'socially concerned capitalist', but the point is that capitalism as an ideology does not specifically outline social concern as one of its components. Social concern, in a capitalist society, is a result of individuals being gracious, not as a result of the system building social concern into itself. As opposed to socialism.

    I find it difficult to understand how a Christian could subscribe to capitalism or even classical liberalism, let alone neo-liberalism.

    By Blogger Bec, at 11:29 am  

  • Helmut ... Empire
    In that case, what is the force of the quote that you give? That given the presence of socialism, all Christians should be socialist? I still wonder whether socialism is defined as something "counter" to capitalism - that it only makes sense given the presence of a capitalist system. So is it sinful for a Christian to run a business? How is Christian work funded? How was it funded in the New Testament era? You can invent semi-politico-religious programmes that will achieve these things, but that's not the framework for life given in the NT.

    That if socialism isn't present, Christians ought to invent it? Facetiously, what you then end up with is the constitutional peasants - "Help, help, I'm being repressed". Less facetiously, perhaps you might end up with the anabaptist situation in the mid-late 1500's, where Christian communities break out of the society in which they find themselves, and are unable to form their own counter society, and also fail to live as the citizens of their own societies that the New Testament calls them to live.

    You are right that economic systems and taxes have existed for thousands of years - but in the context of other political systems - feudalism, absolute monarchy and so on. Socialism would have been incongruous in such situations. (I am conscious that you know much more about this than I do already, so I'm bound not to make my point eventually .....)

    "I find it difficult ..."Maybe. But, in addition to the social concern dimension of your socialism, you are including a strong work ethic, which like it or not is probably a consequence of the years of right-wing government in the 80's. How would your socialism respond to the militancy of the unionised printing press, say, or general state control of businesses (and a corresponding disadvantage to those businesses who aren't state controlled, and corresponding high prices, inefficiency and so on)? You don't remember those days, and I only do a little, but socialism then was not pretty.

    I am socially concerned, and would consider myself more than half a socialist. But socialism today looks very different from how it looked in the 70's. Which in turn looks very different from how it looked in the 50's ... and so on. Politics is historically particular - fortunately, God's Word is universal - which is why Jesus didn't call people to be socialists. He called them to follow him - in whatever circumstance they find themselves, whatever it takes.

    Your remark about "individuals being gracious" is a telling one - as to me, that runs to the heart of this issue. As Christians, that is exactly what we are called to be - whether we are capitalist millionaires, or we are completely dependent upon the rest of society. Socialism doesn't guarantee grace.

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 1:32 pm  

  • Argh, I just wrote out a response and it got lost when the internet went down, how annoying! I'll try to recreate.

    1) I'm not saying Christians can't live in the context that surrounds us. Anarchists can't live as if we have an anarchy. We must live WITHIN the system we have whilst not forfeiting our beliefs. So a Christian can own a business within our system, but he should treat his employees with respect (which is not guaranteed by the system itself), for example.

    2) Socialism changing etc. When I talk of ideologies, I tend to mean what they are in essence, rather than in implementation. For example, Communism to me means what Marx and Engels advocated, rather than anything Russia or China have ever embraced (as that is not true Communism). Also, I know Socialism wasn't pretty back in the day, but that was also the result of context (for example the 1973 oil crisis would have hit ANY government hard, not just a labour one, as it had world-wide repercussions).

    3) I agree totally that our allegiance is to Jesus and nothing else. However, I do believe that most socialist ideals correspond to what Jesus taught, and that is the reason for what I said.

    4) You're right that socialism desn't guarantee grace. But in my opinion, it is a FAR more gracious system that capitalism ever has or can be.

    By Blogger Bec, at 2:44 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home