Ross Ahlfeld: A christian socialist reflection on Donald Trump, Paul Nuttall and Fidel Castro

02/12/2016
angela

CommonSpace columnist Ross Ahlfeld offers a perspective from the christian left on recent events in the UK and across the world

IT'S been a perplexing last few weeks for those christians on the left with a special calling towards matters of social justice and peace making. 

We’ve peeked through our fingers in horror as large numbers of American christians voted for Donald Trump, and we’ve nervously watched as Ukip elected the rightwinger and practising catholic Paul Nuttall as leader.

Equally, many conservative catholic and other christian social media outlets have been very quick to remind us of the dangers of Communism in the wake of Fidel Castro’s recent passing. 

I feel that it’s vital for us christians who like to talk about non-violence to be consistent if we are to retain any credibility whenever we criticise the actions of western governments. 

One popular website even posted reasons why the church condemns communism as "intrinsically wrong" by simply reiterating that which Pope Pius XI had taught about communism many decades ago: that it was full of errors, contrary to the good of the social order, and incompatible with the christian religion.

All of which is entirely correct, Castro was indeed responsible for countless deaths after the revolution and there are still an estimated 30,000 christians being detained as political prisoners in North Korea. 

Communism is, of course, incompatible with the teachings of the church, even if we do admire Cuba's healthcare system, mortality rates and education compared with the rest of South America, all while under a strict US-imposed trading embargo.

More so, I feel that it’s vital for us christians who like to talk about non-violence to be consistent if we are to retain any credibility whenever we criticise the actions of western governments. 

In truth, no amount of American imperialism, social injustice, the use of the death penalty or politically motivated incarcerations, will ever justify or legitimise Castro's own crimes.

In truth, no amount of American imperialism, social injustice, the use of the death penalty or politically motivated incarcerations, will ever justify or legitimise Castro's own crimes. 

Neither will any definition of what is sometimes described as "christian socialism" ever include the belief that murder is politically expedient in order to acquire and maintain power. 

The idea that someone has to kill someone else for the common good in the name of Jesus is a lie and it will always be a lie.

However, there is something missing from the list of reasons why the church condemns communism. We are missing an equally stinging criticism of the worst excesses of free market capitalism, which the church also condemns in the same manner through its various papal encyclicals.

For example, we are told that private property is a natural human right which is true, but this does not mean that the church is opposed to other forms of consensual common and shared ownership.

But at its worst extreme, capitalism dehumanises and commodifies human life in the same way communism does.

Nor does it mean that christians should be happy to stand by and watch big business throw indigenous people off their own land. This is why many christian denominations have become involved in the opposition to the construction of an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.

Secondly, we are told that communism violates subsidiarity and this is correct, it does indeed violate one of the most important principles of catholic social thought. 

Yet, so does capitalism since subsidiarity is not achieved through globalisation and huge multinational corporations dominating the movement of capital.

Similarly, it is also true to say that communism is explicitly atheistic in its denial of the existence of God and therefore seeks to build a society around this denial. But equally, we can also describe atheism as "living our lives as if God does not exist". 

The easiest way to do this is to succumb to the superficial culture of consumerist greed and materialism which quietly rots our spiritual lives far more so than any gulag.

It is not the forces of communism which are destroying community and family life in the western world; it’s the forces of capital.

At its worst extreme, capitalism dehumanises and commodifies human life in the same way communism does. The culture of death we currently see is a result of a liberalism which springs not from communism but from capitalism. 

It is not the forces of communism which are destroying community and family life in the western world; it’s the forces of capital.

In the same way, it is also fair to say that the class warfare of communism encourages the sin of envy. Yet, even so, class warfare is a result of injustice and exploitation, communism is an extreme reaction to it. 

In reality, it is a lack of solidarity which leads to class conflict. It’s also worth pointing out that the same papal encyclicals which condemn Marxism also commend us to join trade unions.

With regards to Paul Nuttall’s recent Ukip leadership victory, my own personal opinion is that Paul Nuttall does not represent the best interests of socially conservative working class people as has been claimed elsewhere. 

For me, Maurice Glasman’s Blue Labour tendency offers far more hope in restoring a Labour movement rooted catholic social thought than Ukip ever will.

For me, Maurice Glasman’s Blue Labour tendency offers far more hope in restoring a Labour movement rooted catholic social thought than Ukip ever will.

I also have to confess to having at least some concerns about a politician who has been consistently hostile to Scottish interests. I hold even more concerns about any politician whose anti-immigration rhetoric may impact negatively on the many Polish, Czech and Lithuanian families in our parishes here in Scotland. 

But most of all, I have reservations about a catholic politician who is anti-abortion but also pro-death penalty and pro-nuclear weapons. To my mind, Nuttall cannot be considered pro-life while seeking to restore the death penalty, there is such a thing as a consistent life ethic. 

It’s been argued that the church has never formally condemned the death penalty. In reality, there's been no real place within catholic social teaching for the death penalty for many decades. 

Pope John Paul II spent 25 years calling for an end to the death penalty, as has every modern bishop’s conference since. Pope Benedict XVI also encouraged all nations to end the death penalty, as does Pope Francis.

Christians who were pleased with Trump’s recent victory should consider the fact that we now have a highly erratic president in the White House who is on record as having said that he would use nuclear weapons. 

Finally, christians who were pleased with Trump’s recent victory should consider the fact that we now have a highly erratic president in the White House who is on record as having said that he would use nuclear weapons. 

This is against a backdrop of a crisis brewing in Eastern Europe and North Korea being about two years away from developing a nuclear-tipped missile, capable of hitting the west coast of the US. 

Yet none of this changes the fact that the direct killing of an innocent human being is intrinsically evil, it is never morally legitimate to target innocent civilians.

Picture courtesy of Marcelo Montecino

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