A Fusion of Theistic and Atheistic Religion
The fundamental value of human beings and the feeling of communal mission and purpose – often so strong that it is characterized by martial metaphors – are basic tenets of the Christian faith. These values become most clearly manifest in the general injunctions that Christ and the apostles gave us to be charitable to others and in more structured commandments regarding charitable donations, such as the law of tithing.
For anyone who believes the teachings of Jesus Christ, the inequity that exists between the rich and poor in virtually every country in the world is something that cannot be ignored or excused. To address the situation, a number of Christian leaders, especially in modern times, have come to identify what they see to be a number of Christian principles in the tenets of Marxism, moving to create states of Christian-based economic collectivism. The product is essentially a syncretic faith, selectively mixing Christian doctrines with the precepts of an economic philosophy that has developed into a religion of its own. Some of the leaders of said movements, such as Jim Jones of the People’s Temple, have gone so far as to identify Marx as a prophet or sanctified being, despite his adamant atheism. Specifically in my faith, a number of Latter-day Saints – either knowingly or not – have come to essentially be Marxists in the political sphere, and they have done so under the claim that it is their very faith that demands it. They do so by referencing accounts from both scripture and modern Church history, especially from the time of Joseph Smith. However, it is my view that such political ideologies not only consist of a collection of contradictory concepts, but actually tend to result in the exact opposite of the desired effect.
The Doctrinal Basis
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This basic tenet of Marxism is indeed something that can be generally connected to Christian doctrine. As we read in the New Testament:
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; (Acts 2:44)
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
This doctrine is emphasized with the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), who are struck down by God as a result of lying and holding back that which they had covenanted to share.
In the Latter-day Saint tradition, we read of the Nephites and Lamanites coming together after the miraculous visitation of Jesus Christ and forming a society in which ethnic and social distinctions were virtually non-existent:
And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift. (4 Nephi 1:3)
And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another. (3 Nephi 26:19)
The end outcome of a society that successfully follows such an economic model can be seen in the following verse:
And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. (Moses 7:18)
Among Latter-day Saints, this heavenly mandate for economic communalism is referred to as the Law of Consecration. The organizational structure that once executed it was called the United Order. While the Law of Consecration is still something that those attending our temples covenant to follow personally, the United Order no longer exists. This is because, despite a period of success with the economic model during Joseph Smith’s time, the United Order was ultimately unsuccessful. It has been replaced with the Biblical Law of Tithing, which we believe to be a lower law. (Instead of giving everything you own to God, you give 10% of your increase.) Even though we yearn for a higher economic communalism, though, it would be a mistake to label the modern Latter-day Saint movement as semi- or proto-Marxist and use that as an excuse to pursue Marxist economic policies.
Differences between Marxism and the United Order
Whether Marxists admit it or not, Marxism as a movement denies the value of the human being. With all the palaver about proletariat versus bourgeoisie, fighting for the working masses, and humanism, in the end, what Marxism does is ask every person to completely deny his or her own worth for the good of the Party. A million people who are all worth nothing, taken together, somehow embody a thing of ultimate importance. It is this denial of the value of the individual that has enabled so many Marxist overlords to rise to power on a wave of empowering rhetoric while simultaneously throwing their subjects into the meat grinder whenever it becomes convenient to do so. This fact has made Marxism the deadliest religion in the history of the world. The United Order, on the other hand, teaches that the value of the group is derived from its individuals: humans are not just pieces of meat or uppity, delusional primates, but children of God who can at some point become like God.
In the ideal Marxist state, personal property does not exist. The fact that one does not even own one’s own body contributes to the strength of the previous point. The United Order, on the other hand, does not go so far. Upon entering the covenant, members of the United Order give all of their property to the Church, and they are then given back whatever they need to live. Whatever they receive is their personal property: one man cannot enter another man’s house uninvited on the grounds that it is communal property.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev admitted that Soviet Communism was “pure propaganda.” This fact can be understood when we first come to understand the intrinsic weaknesses of various economic models. Under a capitalist model, “from each according to his ability” is relatively easy, but “to each according to his need” is relatively difficult. Under a Marxist model, the reverse is true: although even distribution of wealth occurs quite readily (exempting those who enjoy high government positions), it becomes difficult to motivate people to work according to their ability specifically because of this ensured even distribution. In a capitalist society, people are motivated by direct economic benefit. In a Marxist society, their motivation to work, improve, and innovate must come from somewhere else. In order to get people to contribute effectively, the state must give them some ideological motivation for doing so – and Marxist economies have always failed miserably at this. While Marxism is based on certain egalitarian humanist values, it is difficult to cause people to maintain these values when the philosophy’s stark atheism instills them with a belief that no ultimate justice will hold them accountable for their sins of excess or sloth and that humans are all ultimately nothing but a collection of organic compounds. The United Order, on the other hand, is based on a common sense of eternal purpose, ultimate justice, and shared primordial origin. Capitalist societies tend to work better than Marxist societies because a simple change in economic model does not result in any fundamental change in people: they are still human, and they will still act like humans. There is no hope of building a successful communalist society except by building it on common faith that imbues its members with a real ambition and ability to become better than human.
The Bible teaches us that “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). There are also numerous instances in which the Bible describes the human struggle as being a struggle to obtain freedom from the bonds of sin. Liberty is a fundamental principle of Christian faith. The Book of Mormon teaches the same principles, but it goes even farther by detailing the struggles of the Nephite Republic against both internal and external forces that would seek to overthrow its liberal government and subject its people to abusive monarchical rule. In the chapters relating the details of many battles fought on this principle, it becomes clear that Latter-day Saints believe that God expects us to kill and die in the name of liberty.
Despite the lip service that various Marxist movements have given to things like free speech, in reality, as a movement that crushes the individual for the good of the group, Marxism cannot brook real freedom. This can be seen most obviously in the fact that the formation of a Marxist state always results in coercive inclusion. On the pretext that anyone who has amassed more wealth than what the average person has is a thief, Marxism calls for the redistribution of wealth with or without the consent of those who hold it. Escape is rarely an option: it is a difficult thing to relocate one’s entire life to another country, and even then, Marxist states tend to erect barriers to keep that from happening – many of those being actual, physical barriers.
In the United Order, people enter the economic framework because they are believers, and they do so willingly. Even if one lives in the vicinity – in the very town – of a United Order community, he or she is not forced to take part in it. Also, even if one decides to withdraw from the United Order after having joined, he or she is returned the value of whatever was brought into the Order originally. In this way, as an undertaking of faith, the United Order can never be compared to Marxism, which uses the power of the state to compel individuals to become members of a religion they may not believe in. Indeed, Marxism has put many people to death for refusing to join its ranks.
The War of the Ages
As a Latter-day Saint, I believe that the war between liberty and tyranny is the very war of the ages – extending even beyond the mortal life in which we are currently engaged. In the beginning, before this world was created, all of us – you, I, your neighbor, your grandparents, Washington, Stalin – were gathered together in a great council and presented with two plans. One of these plans was championed by our Father and by Jehovah, who would later come to be known as Jesus Christ. In this plan, we would be placed in a mortal existence and given the ability to make choices for ourselves, with the hope that, through the process of growth that would come with this, we would be able to return to our Father and at some point become like Him – as is the natural journey of a child. The second plan, offered by one who fancied himself the equivalent of an opposition party leader, similarly consisted of entering a mortal existence, but it came with no freedom and no risk: we would all be kept under our leader’s tight control, to such a point that it would be impossible to sin. This leader was our brother Lucifer. Two-thirds of us chose the first plan and eventually came to Earth to carry it out. The other third rebelled, choosing Lucifer’s plan. A “war” ensued, and Lucifer and those who followed him were cast out.
That war between liberty and tyranny continues today, and the forces of tyranny promote their purposes by twisting labels and definitions to suit their needs.