Other students would hear me talk about it and ask, “Aren’t those two perspectives diametrically opposed? Didn’t Marx call religion ‘the opiate of the people’? Aren’t the Christian churches opposed to Marxism?”
The most fundamental disagreement between the two schools of thought is that Marx based his theory on an economic foundation, while the basis of Christianity is spiritual.
Nonetheless, Marx unintentionally provided spiritual leaders with an ideal of what they should be striving for.
The rise of Marxism in the 19th and 20th centuries coincided with mainstream religions not only ignoring the plight of the downtrodden, but also supporting the political and economic institutions that brought about these injustices.
The Soviet empire, which was Marxist in name, faced its greatest challenge from the Catholic church in Poland, leading to the collapse of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990s.
Upon closer examination, one can see that the ideals of Marx and those of Jesus of Nazareth are surprisingly compatible. Marx stated, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” This was indeed the practice of the earliest Christian communities.
One of the most valuable things we can do in life is to express our ideals and allow others to challenge us. I recall insisting to a friend that I was a Christian-Marxist because of what I believed. He looked at me and said, “Why don’t you just call yourself a Christian? Marx didn’t really espouse anything Jesus didn’t already say and he lacked any spiritual basis.”
My friend was right. What I believed in was an uncompromising interpretation of love of one’s neighbour. I also began to notice this form of radicalism in many movements, some of them Christian, some of them not, but all of them deeply spiritual.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist preacher and a human rights advocate, but he was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu who understood the power of passive resistance. What many don’t realize about Gandhi, however, is that he was deeply influenced by the Quakers, a Christian group known for their passivism and respect for all humanity.
These same ideals are embraced by the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist leader, and in Indigenous North American spirituality, to name but two.
Regardless of the opposition they face, these movements always endure because they embrace equality and justice, an honest and humble pursuit of truth, along with a deep respect for each person with no exceptions.
In addition, the people involved in these movements recognize the inevitability of their success. Some may call this faith and others see it as wisdom. Perhaps it’s both.
Any movement that strays away from these ideals, however is doomed to fail. They may obtain wealth, power and influence for a time, but they’ve never endured. The once influential and zealously anti-communist Catholic church in Quebec, for example, has become more and more irrelevant in the lives of people since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.
After decades of growth and strong alliances with right-wing governments, evangelical Christian churches are beginning to experience a similar decline.
In truth, the message of radical respect and love of our neighbour isn’t that radical at all. It’s simply the statement of a very deep truth that we so often try to ignore. We’re all equal and we’re all put on Earth to make life better for one another.
Regardless of the creed that resonates within us, if we embrace this sacred aspect of our humanity with integrity, everything will turn out well in the long run.
If we choose to fight against it, we’ll bring about our own demise. There really is no getting around it.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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