"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Crazy Communistic Christians

In one of the first books he published over his long, distinguished career as the most important moral philosopher of our time, Alasdair MacIntyre bluntly argued in Marxism: An Interpretation (which was later revised and republished as Marxism and Christianity) that “the two most relevant books in the modern world are St. Mark’s Gospel and Marx’s National Economy and Philosophy; but they must be read together.” (For those unfamiliar with MacIntyre, I give something of a retrospective of MacIntyre's writings here; I show here how revoltingly he has been traduced by some oversharing blogger; and discuss something of his use of Marx and Freud here.)

MacIntyre has returned to a new engagement with Marx in his newest book, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity: An Essay on Desire, Practical Reasoning, and Narrative (Cambridge UP, 2016). Here, MacIntyre says, we must learn “from Marx just what it was about capitalism—that appropriation of surplus value—that transformed the relationship of the cultural and social order so radically." While recognizing the prosperity capitalism has brought some, MacIntyre also insists in his latest book on recognizing that it has also “destroyed…traditional ways of life, created gross and sometimes grotesque inequalities of income and wealth, lurched through crisis after crisis, creating recurrent mass unemployment and left those areas and those communities that it was not profitable to develop permanently impoverished and deprived.” All this Marx had clearly foreseen two centuries ago.

The deceptive and destructive power of capitalism today is such that we often fail—at least, ironically, until Donald Trump came along—to take seriously those inequalities and those deprived and destroyed areas that have been increasing in the last several decades. And it is not just politicians who fail to own up to this: many churchmen have also often gone along with, or at least failed to criticize, these developments, which MacIntyre, in an updated 1995 preface to his Marxism and Christianity, sees as a dereliction of ecclesial duty: “Capitalism is bad for those who succeed by its standards as well as for those who fail by them, something that many preachers and theologians have failed to recognize. And those Christians who have recognized it have often enough been at odds with ecclesiastical as well as political and economic authorities” (here one thinks immediately of Dorothy Day, as Lance Richey and I tried to show in our book).

MacIntyre’s earliest published writings on Marx were from the 1950s and 1960s. Those writings were reprinted in 2008 in the collection, Alasdair MacIntyre's Engagement with Marxism: Selected Writings 1953-1974, edited by Paul Blackledge and Neil Davidson.

All these thoughts came back to me today in reading David Bentley Hart's op-ed in the New York Times, "Are Christians Supposed to be Communists?" Hart's work on re-translating the New Testament has forced this question upon him again, as he notes in this op-ed and elsewhere.

It is certainly a question worth considering again and seriously because it's never been adequately answered by Christians of the last century and more. The capture of the Christian imaginary and its colonization from within by advanced capitalism remains, to my mind, one of the most insidious problems of our time. Certainly my students this semester, reading, inter alia, Vincent Miller's Consuming Religion have, with great diffidence and discomfort, raised this question of whether we should be "communists." I have no great answers to this, but when men like Hart and MacIntyre say we need to be asking such a question anew, it behooves all of us to sit up and listen.

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