Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Communism and Christianity – “They are Fundamentally Incompatible.”

–An excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s book Strength to Love

In the words of Dr. King:

Few issues demand a more thorough and sober discussion than that presented by Communism.  For at least three reasons every Christian minister should feel obligated o speak to his people on this controversial theme.

The first reason recognizes that the widespread influence of Communism has, like a mighty tidal wave, spread through Russia, China, Eastern Europe, and now even to our hemisphere.  Nearly a thousand million of the peoples of the world believe in its teachings, many of them embracing it as a new religion to which they have surrendered completely.  Such a force cannot be ignored.

A second reason is that Communism is the only serious rival to Christianity.  Such great world religions as Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Mohammedanism are possible alternatives to Christianity, but no one conversant with the hard facts of the modern world will deny that Communism is Christianity’s most formidable rival.

A third reason is that it is unfair and certainly unscientific to condemn a system before we know what that system teaches and why it is wrong.

Let me state clearly the basic premise of this sermon; Communism and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible.  A true Christian cannot be a true Communist, for the two philosophies are antithetical and all the dialectics of the logicians cannot reconcile them.  Why is this true?

First, Communism is based on a materialistic and humanistic view of life and history.  According to Communist theory, matter, not mind and spirit, speaks the last word in the universe.  Such a philosophy is avowedly secularistic and atheistic.  Under it, God is merely a figment of the imagination, religion is a product of fear and ignorance, and the church is an invention of the rulers to control the masses.  Moreover, Communism, like humanism, thrives on the grand illusion that man, unaided by any divine power, can save himself and usher in a new society—

I fight alone, and win or sink,

Need no one to make me free

I want no Jesus Christ to think,

That He could ever die for me.

Cold atheism wrapped in garments of materialism, Communism provides no place for God or Christ .

At the center of the Christian faith is the affirmation that there is a God in the universe who is the ground and essence of all reality.  A Being of infinite love and boundless power, God is creator, sustainer, and conserver of values.  In opposition to Communism’s atheistic materialism, Christianity posits a theistic idealism.  Reality cannot be explained by matter in motion or the push and pull of economic forces.  Christianity affirms hat at the heart of reality is a Heart, a loving Father who works through history for the slavation of his children.  Man cannot save himself, for man is not the measure of all things and humanity is not God.  Bound by the chains of his own sin and finiteness, man needs a savior.

Second, Communism is based on ethical relativism and accepts no stable moral absolutes. Right and wrong are relative to the most expedient methods for dealing with class war.  Communism exploits the dreadful philosophy that the end justifies the means.   It enunciates movingly the theory of a classless society, but alas!  Its methods for achieving this noble end are all too often ignoble.  Lying, violence, murder, and torture are considered justifiable means to achieve the millennial end.  Is this an unfair indictment?  Listen to the words of Lenin, the real tactician of Communist theory:  “We must be ready to employ trickery, deceit, lawbreaking, withholding and concealing truth.”  Modern history has known many tortuous nights and horror-filled days because his followers have taken this statement seriously.

In contrast to the ethical relativism of Communism, Christianity sets forth a system of absolute moral values and affirms that God has placed within the very structure of this universe certain moral principles that are fixed and immutable.  The law of love as an imperative is the norm for all of man’s actions.  Furthermore, Christianity at its best refuses to live by a philosophy of ends justifying means.  Destructive means cannot bring constructive ends, because the means represent the ideal-in-the-making and the end-in-progress.  Immoral means cannot bring moral ends, for the ends are preexistent in the means.

Third, Communism attributes ultimate value to the state.  Man is made for the state and not the state for man.  One may object, saying that in Communist theory the stat is an “interim reality,” which will “wither away” when the classless society emerges.  True—in theory; but it is also true that, while it lasts, the state is the end.  Man is a means to that end.  Man has no inalienable rights.  His only rights are derived from, and conferred by, the state.  Under such a system, the fountain of freedom runs dry.  Restricted are man’s liberties of press and assembly, his freedom to vote, and his freedom to listen and to read.  Art, religion, education, music, and science come under the gripping yoke of governmental control.  Man must be a dutiful servant to the omnipotent state.

All of this is contrary not only to the Christian doctrine of God but also to the Christian estimate of man.  Christianity insists that man is an end because he is a child of God, made in God’s image.  Man is more than a producing animal guided by economic forces; his is a being of spirit, crowned with glory and honor, endowed with the gift of freedom.  The ultimate weakness of Communism is that it robs man of that quality that makes him man.  Man, says Paul Tillich, is man because he is free.  This freedom is expressed through man’s capacity to deliberate, decide, and respond.  Under Communism, the individual soul is shackled by the chains of conformity; his spirit is bound by the manacles of party allegiance.  He is stripped of both conscience and reason.  Te trouble with Communism is that it has neither a theology nor a Christology.  Confused about God, it is also confused about man.  In spite of its glowing talk about the welfare of the masses, Communism’s methods and philosophy strip man of his dignity and worth, leaving him as little more than a depersonalized cog in the ever-turning wheel of the state.

Clearly, then, all of this is out of harmony with the Christian view of things.  We must not fool ourselves. These systems of thought are too contradictory to be reconciled; they represent diametrically opposed ways of looking at the world and of transforming it.  We should as Christians pray for the Communist, but never can we, as true Christians, tolerate the philosophy of Communism.

Yet, something in the spirit and threat of Communism challenges us.  The late Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, referred to Communism as a Christian heresy.  He meant that Communism had laid hold on certain truths that are essential parts of the Christian view of things, although bound to them are theories and practices that no Christian could ever accept.

The theory, though surely not the practice, of Communism challenges us to be more concerned about social justice.  With all of its false assumptions and evil methods, Communism arose as a protest against the injustice and indignities inflicted upon the underprivileged.  The Communist Manifesto was written by men aflame with a passion for social justice.  Karl Marx, born of Jewish parents who both came from rabbinic stock, and trained, as he must have been, in the Hebrew Scriptures, could never forget the words of Amos:  “Let judgment roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”  Marx’s parents adopted Christianity when he was a child of six, thus adding to the Old Testament heritage that of the New.  In spite of his later atheism and anti-ecclesiasticism, Marx could not quite forget Jesus’ concern for the “least of these.”  In his writings, he champions the cause of the poor, the exploited, and the disinherited.

Communism in theory emphasizes a classless society.  Although the world knows from sad experience that Communism has created new classes and lexicon of injustice, in its theoretical formulation it envisages a world society transcending the superficialities of race and color, class and caste.  Membership in the Communist party theoretically s not determined by the color of a man’s skin or the quality of blood in his veins.

Christians are bound to recognize any passionate concern for social justice. Such concern is basic in the Christian doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.  The Gospels abound with expressions of concern for the welfare of the poor.  Listen to the words of the Magnificat:  “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.  He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”  No doctrinaire Communist ever expressed a passion for the poor and oppressed such as we find in the Manifesto of Jesus, which affirms:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Christians are also bound to recognize the ideal of a world unity in which all barriers of cast and color are abolished.  Christianity repudiates racism.  The broad universalism standing at the center of the gospel makes both the theory and practice of racial injustice morally unjustifiable.  Racial prejudice is a blatant denial of the unity that we have in Christ, for Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, Negro nor white.

In spite of the noble affirmations of Christianity, the church has often lagged in its concern for social justice and too often has been content to mouth pious irrelevances and sanctimonious trivialities.  It has often been so absorbed in future good “over yonder” that it forgets the present evils “down here.”  Yet the church is challenged to make the gospel of Jesus Christ relevant within the social situation.  We must come to see that the Christian gospel is a two-way road.  ON the one side, it seeks to change the souls of men and thereby unite them with God; on the other, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so that the soul will have a chance after it is changed.  Any religion that professes t be concerned with the souls of men and yet is not concerned with the economic and social conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is the kind the Marxist describes as “an opiate of the people.”  –end of excerpt

For the rest of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this subject and more, I recommend his book, Strength to Love.

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