I want to talk about Dorothy Day and Communism. This was the original post I wanted to write about her, but I felt it needed to be prepared by the two I’ve already shared.
Dorothy Day’s stalwart both/and-ness—and the fact that she WAS a Communist before her conversion to Catholicism–gave her a unique perspective on communism, which of course was THE issue that shaped the world during much of her ministry.
And with all the talk of “socialism” today, it’s still relevant.
As I shared before, Dorothy Day believed in personal responsibility. She had no faith in changing things through the political process–she thought transformation could only come by changing hearts and minds. And she was worried about regulation because of the danger of fascism (she wrote strong words about it in the 1930s, in the era of Hitler, Mussolini, and FDR). Yet despite her antipathy, she DID speak up on political issues, and those words have deep resonance still today:
“I do not think, however, that we are guilty of envy or begrudging a rich man his wealth if we point out the abuses of the capitalist system which allows one man to accumulate the most of the world’s goods while other families suffer year after year, the aching pinch of poverty if not of actual destitution.” (All The Way To Heaven, Kindle edition, 86).
Stop and read that quote again. Let it sink in. Not a whole lot has changed since then, has it? In the past 40 years, since Reagan redefined for the entire country (left AND right) our fundamental approach to taxes and government, total wealth in the U.S. has grown by $77 trillion, but almost all of that went to the richest 10% and especially the richest 1%, while the poorest families among us are all but flat.
How can anyone deny that capitalism serves the rich, not the poor?
Here’s another quote.
“The Bishops of the Catholic Church have stated that many of the social aims of the Communists are Christian aims and should be worked for by Christians. We feel that Communism is gaining in this country, because Christian people do not protest against injustice as they do.” (Ibid., 95).
Communism gained BECAUSE Christians didn’t stand up against injustice. There’s a lesson in that for us in 2022, too.
One of the major messaging points of today’s conservative movement is that America needs to “return to its traditional Judeo-Christian values.” Or, “the Judeo-Christian values on which this nation was founded.”
I see the connection between modern conservatism and traditional Christian values on sexuality. But outside of that I don’t see much connection at all. In preparation for my letter to the bishops on the Eucharist, I read the entire Pentateuch. One of the things that struck me most profoundly was how the early nation of Israel dealt with issues of social security.
Israel was, in fact, a religious nation… unlike the U.S., which was explicitly founded on freedom of religion—James Madison viewed it as THE fundamental liberty, without which the others meant nothing.
And unless I’ve profoundly misinterpreted, in proto-Israel, religion WAS government—until they rebelled against God and demanded a king. But in those early generations, there was a tithe whose express purpose was to support the livelihood of the priests and provide for the “widow and the orphan and the resident alien.” A nationwide tax, in other words, that everyone paid in order to take care of the most vulnerable among them.
Fast forward to early Christianity. In Acts of the Apostles, no one held any property in common; they all laid it at the feet of the Apostles and it was distributed according to need.
Was it really that easy? I have my doubts. People are people, after all. Still, that was the intended foundation of Christian society.
And, um… pretty sure we can all see that that’s the literal definition of communism.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. It is eminently clear that communism, and all its lingering forms of government (cough-cough-Putin-cough-cough), are unequivocally Bad News.
But anyone who legitimately wants to claim a desire to return to Judeo Christian principles is being intellectually and morally dishonest if they ignore the parts of Judeo-Christian history that don’t line up with their worldly values. Because values of low taxes and small government are not, in fact, Judeo Christian at all, but secular ones.
In her lifetime, Dorothy Day called out capitalism AND communism, because they’re both fundamentally in conflict with Christian world view.