The 490th anniversary of Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation arrives on Oct. 31. The 90th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin's Communist revolution comes up on Nov 7. That numeral 4 indicates a key difference between the two: The 490 glorified God, the 90 attempted to deify Man, and some men in particular.
Luther was a theological revolutionary but not a political one. He wrote, in 1521, A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion. The following year, as political unrest intensified, Luther preached about effecting change through patience, charity, and reliance on God's Word rather than violence. He portrayed the devil enjoying religiously based class warfare: "He sits with folded arms behind the fire of hell, and says with malignant looks and frightful grin: 'Ah, how wise these madmen are to play my game! Let them go on; I shall reap the benefit.'"
When one of the madmen, Thomas Müntzer, led a communist uprising in 1524 and 1525, Luther argued that "the Gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who do of their own free will what the apostles and disciples did in Acts IV. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others-of a Pilate and a Herod-should be common, but only their own goods" (Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants).
For nearly five centuries many Protestants have followed Luther's distinction. It's good for Christians to be charitable, voluntarily selling property they don't need to help those in need. But kissing up to envy by instituting government-forced theft is sleeping with Satan. Communism always works out poorly in practice, because people work hardest when they get to keep for themselves and their families most of what they have earned. Those who provide valuable goods and services deserve their profit, and government should not seize it. Government can tax it, but countries prosper the most when taxes are low.
Why, when the historical evidence is so clear, does communism periodically rear its exceptionally ugly head, sometimes in profile as "Christian socialism," and sometimes in Full Monty flare? Part of the appeal lies in the thrill of overturning God-given patterns of family and enterprise and substituting our own. Part is power-seeking. Part is Satanic.
It all comes back to the difference between 490 and 90. Whittaker Chambers in Witness (1952) wrote that Communism "is not new. It is, in fact, man's second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: 'Ye shall be as gods.' It is the great alternative faith of mankind. . . . The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God."
Chambers eloquently continued: "It is the vision of man's mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man's liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man's destiny and reorganizing man's life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man's mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals."
London journalist Richard Spencer put it well two years ago in The Telegraph: "Christianity and communism are fundamentally incompatible-one a spiritual creed, the other materialist. Christianity lays down that a man's responsibility to his neighbour is personal, a matter for his individual conscience, while communism decrees that all duties are collective, to be enforced by the state."
Spencer noted, "At first glance, communism may look like the fairer system, and Christianity the more selfish. In fact, of course, communism and its blood-brother, fascism, have been responsible-in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America-for more human misery over the past century than any other systems of belief thought up by man. By denying human beings their individuality, all totalitarian systems brutalise the human condition, reducing everyone in their sway to the status of ants, or cogs in a machine."
A crucial difference between 490 and 90: "Christianity teaches that each of us is a moral being, responsible for our actions to our Maker, and individually bound to love our neighbour as ourselves."