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"Christianity is Socialism"

from Socialism and Christianity, by Percy Dearmer. London, The Fabian Society, 1907.

"I seriously believe that Christianity is the only foundation of Socialism, and that a true Socialism is the necessary result of a sound Christianity." - Frederick Denison Maurice, 1849.

An old agricultural laborer once admitted to me that Socialism was "all backed by Scripture"; and I need hardly remind anyone who reads his Bible, that if I were to put down every passage that makes for Socialism, I should want a pamphlet several sizes larger than this. But nothing is more futile than the unintelligent slinging of texts; and I shall therefore confine myself strictly to the central features of Christianity, and not pick out chance sayings here and there, since that could be done with the writings of every great moral teacher that has ever lived. Christianity is different. It does not only provide a few noble sayings that Socialists would welcome. It is Socialism, and a good deal more . . .

How Christ Came

How did Christ come into the world? That is the most important point of all, the most central. We Christians believe that God the Son became man. He could have come in any class He chose, and the Jews expected the Messiah to appear as a great Prince. If Christ had come thus, as an Oriental potentate, in pomp and luxury, with a crowded harem and troops of soldiers, the influential Jews of the day would have welcomed Him. But He was born in a stable. He came as a working man. He worked at His own trade until He was thirty: and then, choosing other working men as His companions, He tramped about the country as one that had not where to lay His head; doing innumerable secular works of mercy, besides preaching spiritual regeneration; and blessing the poor, while He condemned the rich and denounced the proud teachers and leaders of the national religion; and, after three years, He was executed by the law of the land, because He preached revolutionary doctrines, which the common people "heard gladly," but which were detested by the religious authorities of the day.

This was not only a reversal of all that the Jews expected, but it was also a new phenomenon in the world's history. No one before had ever thought of setting on such a basis the message of social regeneration. Nay, even the noblest of Greek philosophers, the constructors of ideal states, had utterly failed to take account of labor, and had based their ideal republics upon slavery. To Plato, even, the masses had but "half a soul"; while Aristotle, who regarded slaves as "living machines," and women as nature's failures to produce men, wrote: "Certainly there may be some honest slaves and women; nevertheless it may be said that a woman generally belongs to an inferior species, while a slave is an utterly despicable being" (Polit. i,13). And in Athens, B.C. 309, the slaves are said to have numbered 400,000 out of a total population of 515,000.

But by the Incarnation not only was labor given its true position, but the unity of the whole human race was proclaimed. Humanity in its solidarity was taken upon Himself by the Divine Word, and every human being declared to be an infinitely sacred and precious thing, with transcendent rights to the fullest development.

Everybody Knew It

Nor was there any doubt about it from the first. Christ's Mother knew it as soon as she knew that He was to be born of her; and she sang that revolutionary hymn, the Magnificat, which is still, curious to relate, repeated every day at Evensong in church: "He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He hath put down the mighty from their seats, And hath exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He hath sent empty away" (Luke i, 51-3). John the ForerunnerAt at His Nativity there was a similar demonstration of social fellowship as inseparable from true religion: "Glory to God in the highest," the angels sang, "Peace on earth; Goodwill among men."

The man who was sent as Christ's forerunner, to prepare the way before Him, knew it also. "Every valley shall be filled," he cried (Luke iii, 5), "and every mountain and hill shall be brought low," putting the levelling principle in a nutshell. And when the people asked him what to do, he just told them to practice Communism: "He that hath two coats let him impart to him that hath none, and he that hath food, let him do likewise." (Luke iii, 11, R.V.) 1 Is it not just what Socialists are trying to do -- to level up the valleys, to scatter the proud, to fill the hungry by an equal distribution, -- and to change an unchristian state of society, under which it is the poor who are sent away empty?

The first public utterance of our Lord Himself proclaimed that same social revolution. On that solemn occasion when He began His mission, He went into the Synagogue at Nazareth; He took the roll of the Hebrew Scriptures, and, out of all the sayings therein, He chose this one: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind, To set at liberty them that are bruised, To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke iv, 18, R.V.). Could anything be more significant?

1. I quote from the Revised Version when it seems to bring out best the meaning of the original.

Wanted, Orthodoxy

And now I come to the question, What did Christ Himself teach? He taught much about God, but He also taught much about men. 2 Religion has these two sides, and both are of immense importance. 3

We hear, and we need to hear, a great deal about our Duty to God; but how about that other Duty which our Lord declared to be "like unto it" -- the Duty to our Neighbor? The Church Catechism teaches all its little children that it is just as imperative to love our neighbor as ourself as to love God. And surely what we have to show Christian folk is not that we want them to embrace some strange new form of Christianity, but that we want them to be faithful to the old; not to give up their faith, but to hold it in all its fullness; not to be unorthodox, but to be really orthodox -- orthodox about this Duty to their Neighbor, which St,. John, the most profoundly spiritual of all the Bible writers, declares to come before the Duty to God: "For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (I John iv, 20) . . .

2. Let it be clearly understood. This Tract is not written to belittle the Godward side of religion, or to condone that lack of spirituality which is too common already. But its subject is the Duty to our Neighbor which is as much neglected as the Duty to God.

3. It is noteworthy that the great Pagan writer, Lucian, was as much struck by the social as by the theological side of the new religion. In the passage where he noted the existence of Christianity, he remarks: "It was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment they are converted . . . All this they take quite on trust, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property." Lucian's Works (H.W. and F.G. Fowler's translation), vol. iv, p. 83.

Christ's Signs

Very often when we go to into church we find the congregation singing some hymn which expresses the utmost weariness of life and the keenest desire to die and pass on to the "better land." Stout old gentlemen and smart young women sing it lustily; and we know that they are singing a lie; for if they were told that they were to die tomorrow, Raising the deadthey would not find it at all weary "waiting here." That is an instance of the heresy of modern popular religion. Christ taught exactly the opposite. The vast majority of His miracles restored men to health and life, and enabled them to go back to their work, and to enjoy the measure of life which God allots to mankind. Death in old age, when a man's work is done, is not a sad thing; but death in youth, or in the prime of life, is piteous, horrible, abnormal; and so are sickness and deformity.

Christ, then, devoted a large portion of His time to fighting against disease and premature death, and He wept when a friend had been carried off in his prime. Our English Bible calls these acts miracles; but this is a mistranslation of the original Greek, which calls them signs -- that is, significant acts. If we, then, realize their significance, if we are imitators of Christ in this, too, according to our power, we shall heal sickness, and fight against disease and death, in the workshop and in the slum dwelling; since all sanitary and social reform is but carrying out on a large scale the signs which our Lord wrought for our example. 4 For instance, of the children that are born to the working classes, about one half die 5before they are five years old. And yet, if we even offend or despise one of these little ones, He tells us (Matt. xviii) it were better for us that we were cast into the sea with a millstone about our neck! It is surely no empty form that to the most respectable congregations it is said from the altar Sunday after Sunday, "Thou shalt do no murder." For we are all sharers in this ghastly holocaust, and the blood is on our hands, unless we are laboring to prevent it.

But, further, we learn from the signs of Christ not only to save life and health, but to increase its comfort, as He did at the feeding of the multitudes -- and its merriment, as He did at the Cana marriage feast.

4. "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father" John xiv, 12)

5. According to Dr. Playfair, 55 per cent, as against 18 per cent among the rich.

Christ's Parables

Many of the Parables, too, deal with social questions. Many are terrific attacks upon money-making, and one was the inspiration of that epoch-making treatise on economics, Ruskin's "Unto This Last." Another was commonly supposed to be difficult only because people did not see that money, the "Mammon of unrighteousness," must be used so as to make friends -- not of Mammon, but of men, 6 and not enemies -- a Socialist moral, as Archbishop Trench himself explained in his standard work on the Parables. . .

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And here I would point out the meaning of a whole series which are called the "Parables of the Kingdom." They expressly confute the common notion that the Kingdom of Heaven is something only in the next world, and that men are set only to save what Kingsley called "their own dirty souls." For these parables are quite unintelligible unless we believe that our Lord came to found a great human Brotherhood, a kingdom which He called His Church, here on the earth. He came expressly to found this society, of which the New Testament is so full; He came thus on a social mission to bind men together in love, as well as to purify their individual souls. And so He said that this "Kingdom of Heaven" was like a draw net (Matt. xiii, 47), not consisting only of converted persons, but of every kind; and like a field (xiii, 24) where the tares and wheat grow together; like a grain of mustard seed (xiii, 24) in the way it should grow; and like leaven (xiii, 33) which should spread till it had made the whole world good.

But the last parable He ever uttered is the most important of all; because in it He told men by what they were to be judged at the Last Day. If we know how we shall be judged, then we know what we have to do -- how we are to be true Christians. And what does this great Parable of the Judgment (Matt. xxv, 31-46) tell us will settle our fate in the next world? Extraordinary to relate, it is just the opposite to what the professedly religious world has been saying and just the very thing that the Socialists teach. We shall be saved or condemned according to our acts of social service, Christ tells us, saying nothing about church-going, or conversion, or orthodoxy; for these latter are nothing unless they are so genuine as to have a practical result. "Faith without works is dead" (James ii, 14-26). We shall be placed on His right hand if we have fed and clothed and helped others -- not merely our own friends, for sinners do that 7 but those who cannot help themselves; and our Lord, in a magnificent passage, asserts the solidarity of all mankind in Him, by identifying Himself even with the poor wretch in an unspeakable Eastern prison. Then, turning to those on His left, He says: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire," not because you were heathens or agnostics, but because "I was an hungered and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited me not . . . Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of these least, ye did it not unto me." 8

6. "Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon" (Luke XVI, 9, R.V.)

7. "For if you love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. (Luke vi, 32-4)

8. St. Basil, in his Homily on Riches, shows the feeling of the early Church about this parable when he says: "The robber is not even arraigned [at the Day of Judgment], but the unsocialist [ho akoinonetos] is condemned [katakrinetai]."

Christ's Sermon

And this great principle, that what we do is of far more importance than what we profess, is made the clinching passage of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. vii, 16-26) -- "By their fruits ye shall know them. Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of the Father" . . .

Besides this, the following principles are also taught in the Sermon on the Mount: Love of our enemies, anger being a form of murder (Luke vi, 26; Matt. v, 21-44); affirmation instead of oaths; avoidance of capital punishment, and of all litigation and retaliation (Matt. v, 33-41); a denial of the "rights of property," even in personal things (v, 40); a command to give to every one that asks our help (v, 42); a command to lend without asking interest or even the principal back (Luke vi, 34, 35)' the wrongfulness of all forms of "making money" (Matt.vi, 19-21), and the consequent impossibility of serving God if we serve Mammon (vi, 24); that "thrift" is not the right way to abolish poverty (vi, 25-34). But that God wishes all men to have good food, drink, and beautiful clothes (vi, 29-32), without either the grinding worry of poverty or the deadening lust of riches (vi, 24, 31, 34); and that this happy state of things is to be obtaining by our seeking, first of all, two things -- the holy brotherhood and the justice of God. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (vi, 33). Seek ye first the divine society and the divine justice, and all these things -- clothes more beautiful than Solomon's, and good food and drink -- shall be added unto you. Be social, godly, just, and you shall have Utopia. But the modern world is anti-social, selfish, unjust, and we have -- London!

It may be urged that some of these precepts of the Sermon are ideal, and not practicable under present circumstances. This is true. But it proves that a social system under which the precepts of Christ cannot be carried out is not a system which Christians can be content with. Christianity is in fact far ahead of us; and we have to assist in developing society in the direction of this ideal. So far as we can see, that direction is also the direction of Socialism; although as man develops from his present rudimentary condition to the glorious future which evolution and the Gospel foretell, he may pass beyond the ideal of present-day Socialism to something vaster and more sublime. . .


"Hallowed be thy Name"

from Socialism and Christianity, by Percy Dearmer. London, The Fabian Society, 1907.

And no one can say "Our Father which art in heaven" unless he has first said "Our brethren which art on the earth."

How, then, is God's Name to be hallowed here upon the earth? Certainly not by a state of things under which in London alone 1,400,000 are living in want! If blasphemy in word is wrong, how about blasphemy in deed? Whenever we make any earthly matter the mirror of the love and justice of God we are hallowing his Name, for we are vindicating His righteousness; but where is the love or justice in modern trade, or politics, or diplomacy? Ask a City man, and he will reply, with a smile, that business is business; by which he means that selfishness must be supreme, untinctured by any thought of mutual love or justice. Indeed, a few years ago, before the Socialist protest, every political economist would have told you that men can only be reckoned with as "covetous machines." Now, this is the real blasphemy, the real atheism and materialism. It has driven thousands of working men into revolt against God, because they felt they could not believe in a loving Father when they saw the blank misery and oppression around them. Yet God made the country, God places men amid lovely surroundings, which are the glory and delight of poet and artist; and man, modern commercial man, has made the hideous modern town, which shuts out every ennobling influence from those who have to live in it. In fact, it is generally admitted by the most conservative people that "the devil made the town" -- that prince of jerry builders! To hallow God's Name, then, we must make the world a mirror of His love and beauty and justice.


The Holiness of Beauty

from Art and Religion, by Percy Dearmer. London, Student Christian Movement, 1924.

Beauty is a quality of God, just as goodness is, which is imaged in man, and to which man responds. In its simplest form, dancing and rhythmic sound and singing, art is in fact man's applause to the glory of God -- "Praise him in the cymbols and dances." These are the practical arts, all of religious origin, and still used in religion, because they can be practiced by all.

But the more difficult arts require long training for the necessary technique, and therefore become more individual, ordinary folk becoming spectators or audience instead of participants. And there is loss in this, as well as gain; art, like religion, has always to struggle against the severance between priest and layman; critics, like theologians, tend to narrow away from life; and both lose their health when they drift from the fellowship of ordinary men and women. The more the people are participants the better it is for art. That is why our old parish churches, built and adorned by the village carpenters, were of such exquisite and wholesome beauty. A church whose architecture, carving and painting is owned and shared by all, and where all help in singing and taking part in the ceremonial by joining the procession and acting as singers, clerks, chanters, readers, servers and assistant ministers generally (where, in fact, the service is cooperative and not a sacerdotal affair of the priest or pastor) -- such a church is as healthy for art as it is for religion. . .

Saint Mary the Virgin, Primrose HillBy art . . . I mean not only what are rather stupidly called the fine arts. I include music; I include costume and gardening at one end; and at the other, architecture, the most essential, and literature, the most exalted of the arts. For is not gardening the expression of spiritual values in terms of beauty? Are are not millions of people, supposed to be inartistic, enthusiastic about their gardens? . . . And do not literature and dancing, costume, oratory, and the production of hymns, or of some hymns (for a good hymn is the wedding of real poetry to noble music), come under the same category -- the expression of spiritual values in terms of beauty? . . .

How artistic then must the churches be! Yes, the world of art has no quarrel with them, except that they so often debase their art -- reading the Bible badly, for instance, or producing sermons that are inadequate specimens of the art of oratory, or singing bad hymns, or displaying an unreal theology in atrocious stained glass. So many arts! These, and also architecture, sculpture, painting, printing, bookbinding, weaving, costume (for every minister dresses up, more or less, for his part -- even if only in a dismal and unchristian customary suit of solemn black), ceremonial (which is the manner in which services are carried out, and in its more elaborate forms, such as the procession, is a stately descendent of the scriptural religious dance) -- these, and others, and a dozen minor arts and crafts. No church, however simple, can do without several: even the dear Quakers and the Salvationists, have made a specialty of costume; the latter, I fear, unsuccessfully, but they have at least revived the procession, with some elements of religious dance. . .

More universal than any other art except that of building, more forgotten in the last century, and more urgent even than architecture in their need of recovery, are the arts of daily life, the arts and crafts, as it has become the fashion to call them. They concern our tables and chairs, our cups and cupboards and ink pots -- all the things which impinge upon our waking existence, and continually enhance or depress our mental condition. All these things have to be made; they form the workman's arts, and range from the finest jewelry to carpentry or even bricklaying -- for the best bricklaying belongs to the realm of art, and is not the mere product of a trade. That our shops and homes should be filled with trumpery, heartless and superficial objects is one of the strange results of the modern era; until modern times, all objects of domestic use were universally interesting and beautiful, even if in the humblest way. They expressed in fact the joy of the working-man in his labour. To make things freely and thoughtfully, with a touch of something over and above the minimum of utility, is the natural way of man; it is the daily solace of his work; it is the element which gives worth to labour, and the lack of which reduces labour to a replusive slavery. Machinery properly used would not destroy this element, which fell away only when men were dominated by a plutocratic view of life. . .

hallu forte

William Morris, finding that there was no one left in England who could make him a decent chair for his house, began to design his own furniture, and thus inaugurated the recovery of the crafts, which is still in progress, though not yet by any means achieved except in a comparatively few cultivated homes. Morris carried on the prophetic work of Ruskin, who had shown that what we call by the light name of ugliness is a moral as well as an aesthetic evil -- corrupt, sinister, and polluting. He found by his own practical experience that the loss of craftsmanship was a social question, and he became one of the pioneers of social reform, because he saw and revolted against the joyless labour and discontent of his age. Civilization had given place to greed. Art had formerly flourished because the main object of the craftsman was to do good work, whereas now he had to work for the capitalist, and the object of the capitalist was not that he should do good work, but that he should make a profit for capital. "We think," he said, "of commerce, not as a means, but as an end itself; and that is our error."

There are, of course, many sides to industry, and some are less amenable to the principles of handicraft than others. But it is true that a wise civilization will bring more honour, happiness, and chance of individual expression into all forms of work. In a properly organized society, machinery would enormously reduce the time spent in unattractive labour. The rougher work that remained could, Morris thought, be relieved by shortness of duration, intermittency of recurrence, and the sense of special usefulness, and therefore honour, in the mind of those who performed it freely. But --

Once more I say that for a man to be the whole of his life hopelessly engaged in performing one repulsive and never-ending task is an arrangement fit enough for the hell imagined by theologians, but scarcely fit for any other form of society.

More than ever we need to remember that wholesome labour is the secret of all happiness in work: --

"The pleasure," said Morris, "which ought to go with the making of every piece of handicraft has for its basis the keen interest which every healthy man takes in healthy life, and is compounded, it seems to me, chiefly of three elements, variety, hope of creation, and the self-respect which comes of a sense of usefulness; to which must be added that mysterious bodily pleasure which goes with the deft exercise of the bodily powers."

The question of art is in fact intimately bound up with all our hopes of social reform; and if we forget the vital element of the dignity and joy of human labour, to which craftsmanship so much contributes, we cannot hope to establish the Kingdom of God upon earth. . .

If the artist needs us, we also need the help of the artist to get us straight, to restore our balance, to help us in the attainment of the complete image of God. We cannot even come together to worship God without his help; and if he is to help us -- he, and not his unworthy substitutes -- we must desire everything about us in church to be beautiful, every hymn we sing to be poetry, every tune and every anthem to be noble music. The churches must be the place where all that is best is to be found -- beauty complete, truth passionately sought and courageously set forth, and goodness -- individual, social, international -- ceaselessly proclaimed.


[Percy Dearmer was vicar of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill. He was a champion of "the English Use" and a rich choral liturgy, traditions which continue, with appropriate modifications, today.]

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"For the man that loves much is a Socialist, and the man that loves most is a Saint, and every man that truly loves the brotherhood is in a state of salvation" -- Percy Dearmer

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