Communism, Communalism, Community, and Christianity
December 5, 2020
If you were to ask me which part of fairly recent human history does the present most resemble, I would say 1930s. Which is a scary thought. The 1930s saw the increasing undermining of the credibility of international institutions, the rise of the radical left and the radical right—and as we all know, that eventually bled over into bloody conflict. That is not, of course, to say that our present situation is bound to lead to war. It is just to say that we are seeing an increasing polarization, and part of that is extremes on both the left and the right.
In this article, I will only address the extreme left; that is not to say there are not issues on the extreme right, too. There certainly are. But I can’t talk about everything at once. Perhaps the extreme right will be the subject for another article in due course. At any rate, I have some personal experience of the extreme left and that makes me intrigued with its current attraction to some.
My personal experience of the extreme left—what I suppose, for simplicity’s sake, we can call “communism”—was living in a post-Soviet Union country and traveling through the Soviet Union to get there. It was a remarkable experience. The darkness was the most compelling memory. Things broken. No food in the stores. Long lines for bread. The depression. The despair. I will never forget those things. When someone says “communism” to me, I think of all that repressive nightmare that millions of people went through, and that millions of people were killed for.
Why then has an extreme left vision become attractive to some? Perhaps it is because we forget. But I think it is more subtle than that: at its best, communism is offering something highly appealing. It is offering equality and a commitment to one another in mutual community. But communism is at one extreme end of how to find that community and connectedness. And, as so often has been noted—by no one perhaps better than George Orwell or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—the ideal did not take into account human nature. We are naturally selfish beings, and what happened under communism was that without due motivation to work, many did not, and those who did were not rewarded, and others grabbed for themselves status and wealth that few others could find. Opportunity was lost, and nightmare was embraced.
However, there are other ways of finding community. Communalism would be another way. Communalism is not the same as communism. Communalism is saying not that you have to give up private property but that you can live together in close quarters and share your property with others. Community is less extreme again. You don’t have to live together in a commune, you just embrace the opportunity to get to know people and help other people in your neighborhood.
What about Christianity? The local church is intended to be the community that people are looking for and that we all need. In the early church, there was a radical generosity: selling property so that there was no poor among them. It was not forced (like communism), nor were they all living together in a commune (like communalism); but it was a community, and it was fueled by the power of the Spirit and centered on Christ as Lord.
In short, if you are looking for community, don’t run to the extreme. Run to Christ, and get involved with the church.
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