How about Catholic defenses of slavery, Nazism, and pornography?

Why did Dettloff and America Magazine think that a system—an anti-Christian religion—that has been condemned repeatedly by the Church should be promoted in such a sophistic, sophomoric, and insultingly stupid article?

Memorial of the German revolutionary socialist Karl Marx (1818-1883) on the Teatralnaya square in Moscow, Russia. (Image: Subcomandantemarcos | us.fotolia.com)

“At any given moment,” wrote the author, translator, and publisher Frank Sheed in The Church and I (1974), “one or other special problem looms to complicate things for the Church, looms and fades. But throughout my life two have shown no sign of fading—Marxism and Nationalism…” (He later notes that the third problem that has been a constant for the Church is “Sex”, but that’s something for another time.) In a chapter titled “Karl Marx and I”, Sheed wrote about his father, “a true believer in Karl Marx,” who “turned every meal into a monologue on Communism.” Sheed discusses several aspects of Marxism and Communism, but of particular interest is his observation that the Communist speakers he listened to in person in various places employed a consistent technique, in a way similar to “medicine sellers”:

Each lavished all his skill on the disease to be cured—cancer, Capitalism—with a minimum of talk about the remedy. … Certainly most of the Communist propaganda one actually met was about Capitalism. By the time the speaker had dealt faithfully with all that the poor suffered, he felt no need to show the values of Communism—it had the one all-sufficing virtue, it was not Capitalism.

And, he further noted, that “any criticism of Communism, any questioning even, was taken as proof that one was pro-Capitalist.” I thought of Sheed’s remarks while reading a July 23rd article in America Magazine titled “The Catholic Case for Communism” and carrying the humble descriptive: “What Catholics (still) don’t understand about communism.” The author, Dean Dettloff, is a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, and the host of a podcast dedicated to “Christianity and leftist politics”. His defense of Communism essentially comes down to a couple of points: Capitalism is bad, Communists are really good people, Capitalism is really bad, and Dorothy Day thought Communists were good people. So, for example, Dettloff writes:

• “Communists are pursuing the good when they are dangerous; they are opposing an economic system based on avarice, exploitation and human suffering, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.”

• “Communism has provided one of the few sustainable oppositions to capitalism, a global political order responsible for the ongoing suffering of millions.”

• “Communists are attracted to communism by their goodness, Day argued, that unerasable quality of the good that can be found within and outside the church alike, woven into our very nature.”

• “What communists desire is an authentically common life together, and they think that can only happen by relativizing property in light of the good of everyone. Radical indeed, but certainly not all that shocking to people who remember when the Virgin Mary sang that God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty (Lk 1:53).”

Dettloff acknowledges that Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Co. were atheists, but assures readers that atheism is not really a key component of Communism. To hear Dettloff tell it, Communism is an earnest and beautiful system of justice and love that has, unfortunately, been smeared by the Capitalists, who oppress, ruin, destroy, and exploit nearly everyone with a raw and evil abandon. Communists,” Dettloff confidently assures those of us who don’t really understand the innate loveliness of a system responsible for killing 60-100 million people in the past century, “think we can build better ways of being together in society.”

Well, I have no interest at all in defending Capitalism. But I am curious why Dettloff and America Magazine think that a philosophical system—an anti-Christian religion, in truth—that has been condemned repeatedly by the Church should be promoted in such a sophistic, sophomoric, and, yes, insultingly stupid article. It’s obvious that Dettloff is committed to the cause, so his disregard for, say, the clear and incisive criticisms put forth in 1937 by Pope Pius XI in Divini Redemptoris, are understandable. After all, not only did Pius XI understand Communism, he understood Dettloff, as this passage readily demonstrates:

How is it possible that such a system, long since rejected scientifically and now proved erroneous by experience, how is it, We ask, that such a system could spread so rapidly in all parts of the world? The explanation lies in the fact that too few have been able to grasp the nature of Communism. The majority instead succumb to its deception, skillfully concealed by the most extravagant promises. By pretending to desire only the betterment of the condition of the working classes, by urging the removal of the very real abuses chargeable to the liberalistic economic order, and by demanding a more equitable distribution of this world’s goods (objectives entirely and undoubtedly legitimate), the Communist takes advantage of the present world-wide economic crisis to draw into the sphere of his influence even those sections of the populace which on principle reject all forms of materialism and terrorism. And as every error contains its element of truth, the partial truths to which We have referred are astutely presented according to the needs of time and place, to conceal, when convenient, the repulsive crudity and inhumanity of Communistic principles and tactics. Thus the Communist ideal wins over many of the better minded members of the community. These in turn become the apostles of the movement among the younger intelligentsia who are still too immature to recognize the intrinsic errors of the system. The preachers of Communism are also proficient in exploiting racial antagonisms and political divisions and oppositions. They take advantage of the lack of orientation characteristic of modern agnostic science in order to burrow into the universities, where they bolster up the principles of their doctrine with pseudo-scientific arguments.

Ouch. Meanwhile, the editor of America Magazine, Matt Malone, S.J., felt the need to write a note of explanation for Dettloff’s apologia, stating “you should not assume that America’s editorial position on communism has changed very much. It has not. What has also not changed is our willingness to hear views with which we may disagree but that we nonetheless think are worth hearing.” Consider, then, that the Catechism summarizes the Church’s stance about this view “worth hearing” in this way:

The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. (CCC, 2425)

But, of course, we know the Catechism can apparently be changed, so perhaps America Magazine should consider some more pieces making a “Catholic case” for this, that, and the other thing. For instance:

• “The Catholic Case for Slavery”: Sure, slavery is horrible, but at least slave owners tend to keep their slaves alive, unlike Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Castro, and others, who tended to slaughter their own people, often in the millions, or even tens of millions. Besides, St. Paul referred to himself as a slave of God (Rom 6:15-23, etc.), so slavery is arguably a way into a deeper form of Christian spirituality.

• “The Catholic Case for Nazism”: Yes, we know Hitler was evil personified and National Socialism was bloody as heck, but Stalin and Mao each was responsible for more deaths. And, besides, the Nazis loved their homeland and also hated the Allied Powers—that is, the evil Capitalists. And, as we’ve seen, Capitalism is the worst evil of all, so a case is there to be made.

• “The Catholic Case for Pornography”: It’s true that porn is not for everyone, but we must first recognize that porn stars are good people, and are even attracted to making porn by their inner goodness. They have a lot of love to give; also, they have rejected the sort of uptight attitudes and puritanical mores that hold people back from being true to themselves. Besides, sex is a beautiful gift from God, and who are we to judge how some people decide to receive and share that gift.

The stupidity and nastiness of these farcical ideas, I trust, are obvious. So why does Communism continue to get a pass?

There are a variety of reasons, without doubt, especially when people buy into the false notion that Communism and Capitalism are the only choices available. One reason is that Communism is not, at its core, a political or economic system, but a religion—a religion of anti-religion. As such, it is both deceptive and strangely (even demonically) attractive. Marx believed that religion—that is, Christianity—is self-alienation, “an illusory happiness” that keeps the people away from true happiness. “The struggle against Religion,” asserted Marx, “is the struggle against the world of which Religion is the spiritual deodorant.” Religion, in short, is “a holy mirage”.

Or, as Abp. Fulton Sheen put it, “The human being who pays worship to a Creator is, in the eyes of Marx, separated from his own completely sovereignty and aseity.” In other words, Communism is a form of the ancient temptation to be god without God, to see and address creation without any reference to the Creator. It promises to set right what has been damaged; it proffers a messianism disguised as economic justice and simple equality.

So, as many authors have argued quite convincingly, Marx (and his various disciples) didn’t just try to destroy Christianity but established a religion with its own sacred texts, dogmas, saints, and prophets. “It is a religion,” wrote Fr. Charles J. McFadden, O.S.A., in his 1963 book The Philosophy of Communism, “which teaches its followers that your State is an evil weapon in the hands of an exploiting class and, therefore, stands in the way of progress for humanity and social justice for all.”

Sheen in his book The Cross and the Beatitudes, written the same year as Pius XI’s encyclical, stated bluntly: “In contrast to this Christian philosophy of forgiveness, there exists for the first time in history of the world a philosophy and a political and social system based not on love, but on hate, and that is Communism.” Now, it could be that Sheen, the author of several books on Communism (as well as philosophical works addressing the roots of Marxism/Communism), simply didn’t understand what he was criticizing. Perhaps he and Pius XI—not to mention Solzhenitsyn, Robert Conquest, Whittaker Chambers, Leszek Kołakowski, St. John Paul II, and so forth—falter before the wisdom of a doctoral student in Toronto.


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About Carl E. Olson 1120 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

33 Comments

  1. As I recall, Jesus did not condemn slavery, so I think that could be another part of the Catholic Case for Slavery.
    .
    I don’t get that he condemned polygamy either, so there ought to be a Catholic Case for Polygamy. Polygamy would certainly solve the divorce crisis issue in the West and make it easier for Muslims and some African tribe member who practice polygamy to convert. See? A man need not give up his secondary and tertiary wives.

      • Yes, I know He said that, but the Jews had practiced polygamy in the past, although the practice had fallen from favor. Did Christ believe his ancestors and ancient countrymen to have been adulters?

        • Did Christ believe His ancestors and ancient countrymen to be adulterers? Most likely, yes. That is why He restored marriage to what God had intended it to be at the creation of ONE man and ONE woman. God tolerated polygamy but it was not His intended plan for marriage. Who would know that better than the Son, Who is one with the Father?

          The OT patriarchs were faithful… most of the time. King David ended up being exiled from his own kingdom for failing to act as he was supposed to as ruler of all Israel. He had his son that he’d conceived with Bathsheba taken from him by God as a punishment for his adultery with her. Don’t think that Christ came to soften that teaching; if anything, He crystallized it.

          There are some passages in the OT that make it sound like God willed multiple wives and concubines as a positive good, but bear in mind that the revelation was not yet fully revealed. The people of the old covenant were muddling along with enough truth from God to prepare them to accept the final covenant offered by God with the Incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He came to give us a restoration and a renewal, and left His Church here to teach and give the Sacraments on His behalf. She thinks with His mind and does His will. Whatever case could have been made—and the Mormons used to use the King James Bible to make theirs—for polygamy, it evaporated with the teaching of Christ in the Gospels.

          • A very solid defense of the Truth Patti. Augustine followed by Aquinas taught the patriarchs were aware of the primacy Natural Law principle of sexual relations exclusively between Man and Woman thereby presuming concubinage acceptable, unaware of the more difficult intellectual grasp of the secondary Natural Law principle monogamy to be determinately revealed by Christ as inviolable.

        • Most unlikely Kathryn and Patti. If polygamy and concubinage were adultery in context of the time that would need include Abraham, Jacob, King David, King Solomon, some of the prophets and so forth. St Thomas Aquinas as well as St Augustine held that the Jewish patriarchs were aware of the 1st Natural Law principle of sexual intercourse as exclusive between male and female. They were not aware of the secondary Natural Law principle of monogamy which was more difficult to grasp. Both Augustine and Aquinas were convinced they were consequently not guilty of adultery. It was not until Christ made it clear and raised marriage to the level of an inviolable sacrament, that relations between one man and one woman is inviolable until death.

          • ” It was not until Christ made it clear and raised marriage to the level of an inviolable sacrament, that relations between one man and one woman is inviolable until death.”

            Please cite the specific passage in Sacred Scripture where Jesus “raised marriage to the level of an inviolable sacrament.” You can also detail where Jesus made anything a “sacrament.”

            Paul’s specific instruction that Bishops be the “husband of one wife” implies that polygamy was a common practice even in the early church.

    • My first thought on reading the headline is probably what the editor at America thought….
      hmmm, Catholics defending slavery, fascism, capitalism, pornography, abortion and sodomy has been tried before….but, communism!? This is NEW!…let’s run with it!!

  2. The time has come for Amerika Magazine to close down. They have lost all semblance of being an authentic voice of Catholic truth. And the Jesuits need a proper purging of all heterodox (read Marxist and homosexualist) elements from their leadership and membership.

    If I want good Jesuit commentary on the state of the world and Church, I would go to the Bellarmine Forum, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Ignatius Insight and, or course, Catholic World Report.

  3. #1. This Dean person writing at America is proof positive that having a doctoral degree is indicative of nothing.
    #2. Let’s face it, Communists (and all Leftists) cannot believe that there is a God who created the world, is personal and ought to be obeyed and worshipped. Why? Because THEY are god and there is no room for another. Ever notice how authoritarian and dictatorial these Leftists are? They epitomize all that is the antithesis of who God is – they try to lord it over others. The true God doesn’t do that. The true God has taken our human nature so as to die for our sins that we might live. What Communist lays down his life for others?

  4. Yes, Dettloff is indeed wise. First, based on one of his other articles…one in particular… he sees the Jesuits handling of their provinces in Canada as leading the way towards an example of greater “unity” in Canada. So he’s got that right: the Jesuits are pretty much THE best. No bias there. And yes he highlights “unity” just like the merciful Bergoglio receiving a sacrilegious hammer and sickle crucifix from the Bolivian president (but it isn’t sacrilegious…because Bergoglio and the Jesuits are among those who “get it”) Yes, nothing serves up “unity” quite like Communism. No “elites” in the former Soviet Union, China or Cuba or Cambodia. And the Jesuits are certainly not elitist…they are open to alternate views…and will accept $20 Million from a member of the Saudi family to start a Muslim-Christian Center at Georgetown.

    The only threat in Dettloff’s universe is ‘the right” and so, please Google his regard in another article for an organized “Antifa” opposition to “the right” in another one of his essays in America.

    But let’s not forget that in Trudeau’s Canada…the “right” may even include a mother or father who does not want to get their gender confused child put on a regimen of puberty inhibiting meds etc.

    Aside from the millions killed under Communism along with freedom and faith…a fair amount of reason and science got tossed under the bus by folks like Stalin….

    “For what it’s worth, my general view of economics begins with the fact that markets, for all their downsides, are the greatest force for economic empowerment that the world has ever seen. But that is just my opinion and, therefore, not the point. Mr. Dettloff’s piece is in this issue not because I agree with it but because I think it is worth reading, just as I did with Arthur Brooks’s article in defense of free markets that we published in February 2017 and just as we did when we published Dorothy Day in 1934.” (Malone, SJ America)

    The quote below may provide a slightly different angle on “worth reading”:

    “Georgetown reported that China provided $5.5 million in contracts since 2012, including $500,000 from the Agricultural Bank of China, $1.6 million from the China Construction Bank, and $1.2 million from the Government of Guangdong. Georgetown also received a $500,000 gift from the China-based Spring Breeze Foundation.” (Washington Examiner, July 27, 2019)

  5. CORRECTION: that quote from the Washington Examiner was from an article by Jerry Dunleavy on June 28,2019

    “Georgetown reported that China provided $5.5 million in contracts since 2012, including $500,000 from the Agricultural Bank of China, $1.6 million from the China Construction Bank, and $1.2 million from the Government of Guangdong. Georgetown also received a $500,000 gift from the China-based Spring Breeze Foundation.” (Washington Examiner, June 28, 2019)

  6. America magazine… Didn’t they called Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Speech “a reactionary claptrap”?

    By the way, “Nazi” is censured term for Nationalsozialismus. If we consider some of the questionable U.S. involvements in south or eastern Europe it is highly probable (read: quite sure) that America magazine has presented really sound “Catholic Case for Nazism”. And even more, some earthly brown tones of Nationalsozialismus can be found in various New Age “authorinen”. It is highly probable (read: quite sure) that America magazine presented really sound “Catholic Case for Nazism” – given the popularity of these New Age stuff between nuns (think of Leadership Conference of Women Religious investigation).

    Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

  7. Yes, Our Lady was sent by the Holy Trinity and Lamb in Fatima to warn us of the evils of communism if we would do the evil of not corresponding to the graces Heaven was Offering, living our Baptism as members of Her Blue Army… and so ‘communism has spread its errors everywhere’, even into the Church….Come Holy Spirit through Your Immacualata! Come quickly!! Amen. Alleluia!

  8. “America” “Magazine” should be careful.

    The stupendous dumbness of this Detloff character seems somehow to have achieved insupportable mass. It may actually collapse into itself and suck nearby, less massive dumbnesses in and destroy them, like an intellectual black hole.
    .

  9. What about it, Mr. Malone?

    How about a Catholic defense of spousal abuse?

    Of believing in fairies?

    Of basing one’s own personal morality on the tweets of Chelsea Handler?

    If “America” “Magazine” is Catholic, then everybody is Catholic and the word ceases to have meaning.

      • Really?!? Sophomoric comments like this do nothing to elevate the conversation and much to demonstrate the puerile and narcissistic disposition of too many on the fringes of the left and the right.

  10. Christopher Dawson perceived Communism as an ideology assuming religiosity. Marx’s appeal to Catholicism is its origins in natural law, inherently common to all men. The Common Good is the gold standard that perforce drives political communism to empower the State with absolute authority to ensure the common good. Theoretically that should work for benefit of all, except that being the highest value the individual is merely a means to achieve that end. The revelation to this world of God in the Person of Christ reinstates the value of each person made in God’s image, thereby obliging the State to protect his rights. Insofar as the individual suffering inconvenience or death for sake of the common good the essential difference between Christianity and Communism is that the Christian may freely submit himself out of charity, whereas the latter takes that by force.

    • There’s no such thing as “the common good.” If I’m the one deciding what “the common good” is going to be, then everyone will have dogs rather than cats, be prohibited from riding motorcycles, and root for the Ohio State Buckeyes football team.

      And anyone who disagrees with my “common good” is a pawn of capitalistic bourgeois hegemoniacs and will be dealt with accordingly.

      • Are saying there’s no Natural Law? The Common Good is a primary natural law moral principle referred to by the Church for centuries. Whether it’s not adhered to is another issue. It’s like saying there no such thing as sacramental marriage because of Adultery.

  11. I recommend “Intellectuals” by Paul Johnson, and especially a chapter on Karl Marx (and Bertold Brecht, and others) for those who still have any illusions about communism.

  12. The hypothetical “Catholic Cases for…” effectively deflate Dettloff’s turgid twaddle with three swift pinpricks. Bravo, Mr. Olson!

  13. Wonderful article, Carl. It’s a shame we have to be reminded of the communist lie over and over again. It would help if our teachers were knowledgable and courageous enough to expose the lie, but alas…

  14. Back in mists of time, I was a steady reader of AMERICA in high school and college. Well do I remember why I stopped: their soft-voiced editorial after the Communist conquest of Cambodia. It described–but did not condemn–the event as “a remarkable attempt at total revolution.” I’ve no idea what they later said about the Killing Fields that followed.

  15. Another thing, if their abysmal human rights record isn’t enough, the environmental record of these communist utopias ought to be enough to horrify any “progressive”.

  16. I think there should have been full disclosure in the America article. Dettloff is a member of the communist party of Canada. He should have been transparent about that.

  17. We live today in an industrial society. However much clergymen and many others yearn for the pre-industrial agricultural past, we are stuck with an industrial economy because without industrialism, we could not produce enough food, clothing, and shelter to keep the present population alive. For this reason, free-market policies are a vital necessity because, as many economists have shown, only laissez-faire capitalism can run an industrial economy. Socialism and interventionism, if practiced long enough, will destroy our industrial system and throw us back to the Seventeenth Century.

  18. Since all western Christian Democracies ban formal institutional slavery the Church’s teachings on slavery are obscure and address a non-issue. But here is the skinny. The Church unequivocally condemns Chattel Slavery (i.e. any form of obligatory & or compulory servitude that regards the slave as at best having the moral status of a mere animal at worst an object) but has ruled in the 19th century Theoretical Slavery(i.e. any form of obligatory & or compulory servitude where the servant/slave’s rights as a human being under natural law where recognized and respected) was “not contrary to the natural or moral law”. Of course this ruling does not exclude prudent arguments against even theoretical slavery. For example Dictatorship and or absolute monarchys aren’t contrary to the natural or moral law but should we have that sort of government? I think not and thus we should never reinstitute theoretical slavery either.

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