Excerpt from The New Creation: Marxist and Christian? – José María González Ruiz (1969)

José María González Ruiz

[The following text is incredibly dated (and in my opinion, largely incorrect–though not entirely.) Nonetheless, it is a useful piece of history and provides one with a glimpse of the problems (and the proposed solutions) that emerged during the Christian-Marxist dialogue of the last century. For more information on José María González Ruiz, consult Gerd-Rainer Horn’s The Spirit of Vatican II: Western European Progressive Catholicism in the Long Sixties (pp. 50-59).]

I

If the reader is to put this book into its proper perspective, we must begin by defining accurately the terms in which its questions and propositions are framed.

“Marxism” and “Christianity” are, both of them, ambivalent words, each carrying very different historical overtones and awakening deeply divergent feelings.

By way of entering fully into our major theme, we must observe that the comparison we are making between “Marxism” and “Christianity” is strictly between the two as “ideologies.” For, historically speaking, Christianity and Marxism have been, and continue to be, authentic ideologies.

We shall pass over the various other senses in which the word “ideology” is used and adhere to the usual Marxist acceptation of it. Louis Althusser provides a definition that we shall take as our starting point: “An ideology is a system (with its own logic and rigour) of representations (images, myths, ideas or concepts, depending on the case) endowed with a historical existence and role within a given society.”

Althusser goes on to say:

In every society we can posit, in forms which are sometimes very paradoxical, the existence of an economic activity as the base, a political organization and “ideological” forms (religion, ethics, philosophy, etc.). So ideology is as such an organic part of every social totality. It is as if human societies could not survive without these specific formations, these systems of representations (at various levels), their ideologies. Human societies secrete ideology as the very element and atmosphere indispensable to their historical respiration and life. Only an ideological world outlook could have imagined societies without ideology and accepted the utopian idea of a world in which ideology (not just one of its historical forms) would disappear without trace, to be replaced by science. For example, this utopia is the principle behind the idea that ethics, which is in its essence ideology, could be replaced by science or become scientific through and through; or that religion could be destroyed by science which would in some way take its place; that art could merge with knowledge or become “everyday life,” etc.

Louis Althusser, For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Random House, 1969), pp. 231-232.

Following the logic of his position, Althusser admits that the inevitability of ideology applies to Marxism too: “I am not going to steer clear of the crucial question: historical materialism cannot conceive that even a communist society could ever do without ideology, be it ethics, art or ‘world outlook.'” (Althusser, For Marx, Ibid)

We may note, finally, that Althusser stresses the necessary consequence of his positions: that if we are really determined to defend an existing science against the ideology that threatens it, it is important to determine what really forms part of ideology; otherwise we may end up by mistaking something genuinely scientific for part of an ideology. (Althusser, For Marx, p. 172)

II

The confusion between the scientific and the ideological is a constant danger, according to Marxism, in the various kinds of thinking that claim to offer a comprehensive view of reality. Felice Balbo provides a penetrating analysis of this confusion. He notes that “in such religious formulations as are most influenced by mythology the lack of critical distinctions and, more generally, of a developed critical awareness, allows religion to give a mythical explanation of the world, nature, and history; this aspect of religion has made it vulnerable to attack by all forms of historicism.” (Felice Balbo, “Religione e ideologia,” Opere 1954-1964, p. 233.) In other words: “Religious visions of the world and history confuse mystery with problem, and all reality with all that is known or proved.” (Felice Balbo, “Religione e ideologia,Ibid)

It is true enough that religion has, quite typically, passed from the ideological order into the scientific and that it has been replaced by a kind of theological rationalism. More specifically: God has been turned into “God” or a fetish. “God” (the quotation marks indicate that we mean a corrupted version of God) was, at bottom, a hypostatized projection of human frustrations and as such provided a false explanation of these frustrations and prevented any scientific, objective search for a solution to them. Balbo continues:

When God is used as a “working hypothesis,” he is no longer God but simply a word turned into a hypostasis, a fetish that, in the judgment of the contemporary world, simply makes a mystification both of God and world. When the human being believes in God as a working hypothesis, he hypostatizes, fixes, and absolutizes this hypothesis so that it becomes incapable of verification, criticism, and development, or, in a word, of any dialectic. It is thereby rendered useless as a means of interpreting and transforming the world and history.7

Felice Balbo, “Religione e ideologia,Ibid

When religion has so degenerated, the charge of “‘religious alienation” levelled at it by Feuerbach, Marx, and all schools of Marxist thought is basically justified. “God” becomes a barrier to human self-development and must be removed. In the first stage of the dialogue between atheistic Marxists and Christian believers it became clear that believers have ceased to accept “God” as the object of their faith. They have admitted that the authentic content of their religious awareness forces them to reject a “God-of-the gaps” or “God-the-immanent-explanation-of-evolution,” and to admit only the transcendent God who is not part of the world, although he is freely present in the world and readily apprehended by faith.

Balbo is right in saying that this elimination of “God,” which Marxism brought about in its struggle against religious alienation, is the result of a strictly scientific process. Up to this point the behavior of scientific reason, which underlies all the analyses carried out by historical materialism, is quite justified. But there comes a moment in which an illogical passage is made from scientific reason to absolute scientific reason. Concretely, not only is “God” eliminated (by a strictly scientific process capable of justifying itself), but it is also maintained, in an a priori fashion, that the elimination of God is required if the self-realization of humankind is to be asserted in theory and in practice. This illogical jump Balbo calls “atheistic alienation” or “worldly alienation.”

From a scientific standpoint, it is true that the person must be defined by his economic relationships. But it is also true, and from a no less scientific point of view, that these economic relations do not exhaust the reality of the person.

It is a historical fact that people look to God for a fulfillment beyond the real limits they now experience. Scientific reason may pass only an after-the-fact judgment on this fact of religion; it has no right to an a priori pseudometaphysical judgment that God has definitively died at some given moment in the evolution of humankind.

In other words, when belief in God claims to take the place of scientific reason, it is trespassing. But the same thing happens when scientific reason moves outside the limits set by its own kind of verifiability and makes statements that are both unjustified for it and pseudometaphysical as well, while acting as though it were making scientifically verifiable claims.

A religious ideology that gets itself accepted as scientific profanes God’s transcendence by reducing it to the level of reason. But, by the same token, a purely sociological ideology that includes among its supposedly verifiable statements a denial of the transcendent unduly sacralizes its strictly scientific presuppositions, which belong to the secular order.

III

At this point, we must recognize the fact that scientific theories have been preceded by and have even originated in prescientific ideologies.

The Italian Marxist Lucio Lombardo-Radice makes a profound and penetrating distinction in this area between philosophies, understood as “working hypotheses,” and scientific theories, which historically have sprung from the philosophies. At the moment when the scientific theories are formulated, there is a close connection between science and ideology. But once a science has achieved a sufficient measure of verification, it must break the umbilical cord that connects it with the originating prescientific intuitions and become a wholly secular tool, that is, one that is now independent of the hypothesis that led to its existence. Lombardo-Radice believes that all science is secular in nature and therefore compatible with philosophies different from those that played a determining role in the origin of the science itself.

The Italian thinker courageously draws the inescapable conclusion from his basic distinction; Dialectical materialism served as the general philosophical hypothesis that enabled Marx to make his own great discovery of the “law of the movement of history.” Once the discovery was made, it became a secular truth that imposed itself on people who accepted the most varied philosophies, as a valid description and key to understanding of a real process, or as knowledge that has its intrinsic value and is independent of the philosophical hypothesis that triggered its discovery. The scientific principle, despite its strictly secular character, of course, cannot but continue to be related to the philosophical hypothesis from which it emerged, but its validity in no way requires acceptance of the philosophical intuition. (Lucio Lombardo-Radice, Socialismo e liberta, pp. 21 7ff)

In a discussion with the German Communist Max Friedrich (who demanded a strict kind of Marxist “confessionalism”), Lombardo-Radice urged Friedrich and others of like mind to face up to new facts like good revolutionaries and good Marxists.

Camilo Torres has a Weltanschauung or view of the world that derives not from dialectical materialism but from Christianity, the latter being understood along the lines of a particular theology (‘Move of God coinciding with love of neighbor,” to use Karl Rahner’s words). It was the conception of the world that led him to become a revolutionary; since adopting this new position he has lived (and died!) as a wonderfully integrated man, being both Christian and revolutionary.

Ibid., p. 204.

IV

The frame of mind expressed by Lombardo-Radice, which is a strictly correct one in the Marxist universe of thought, corresponds to a similar outlook which we Catholic theologians are now adopting in absolute fidelity to the essential reference points of the Christian faith.

Lombardo-Radice himself quotes the following words from an earlier book of mine and sees expressed in them an outlook quite parallel to his own position as a Marxist: “‘Our God, the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, never presents himself to us in the Bible as an immanent key to cosmic and human reality; on the contrary, he is always an immense question mark over our lives and never becomes a concrete, exhaustive answer.” (Jose Maria Gonzalez-Ruiz, El cristianismo no es un humanismo: para una teologia del mundo, p. 213.)

Sociologists acknowledge that Christianity, as a working hypothesis or vision of the world, has as a matter of historical fact generated a whole series of values and methods for social change that are now fully naturalized in the world of the humane sciences. There is, for example, the sense of universal brotherhood, of democracy, and of the one human adventure shared by all. Such values, though springing from Christian intuitions, had to acquire full autonomy and become secular realities. It was not always so. The Middle Ages gave birth to a system of human relations within whose frontiers a person had to profess the Christian faith if he was to be a first-class citizen. Non-Christians could only be tolerated as second- or third-class citizens; this was the lot of the Jews who were locked in their ghettos and prohibited from exercising public office and owning real estate.

This aspect of medieval fanaticism can exist in a new form today, according to Lombardo-Radice, but on the non-Christian side. If it does, it will seriously hinder the universal spread of “historical materialism” or “Marxist sociology.” The danger is in requiring an antecedent “Marxist faith” (the acceptance of dialectical materialism or its vision of the world, which includes atheism) as a condition for being a first-class citizen in a revolutionary country or a front-rank revolutionary in the effort toward human liberation.

It is clear then that neither valid and stringent self-reflection on the part of Marxism as a science nor a valid Christian theology will allow us to turn scientific value systems or scientific methods of social change into “confession.” This is so even though, historically speaking, the values and methods arose out of philosophical intuitions.

V

The point we are making is that militant scientific atheism is no less alienating than militant scientific theism. Neither the profession of faith in a transcendent God nor the rejection of this faith can claim to be a necessary premise for total integration into a revolutionary movement. An atheistic revolutionary has no scientific basis for claiming in an a priori way that the believer who may be accepted into a revolutionary movement must cease to be a believer if his adherence to the revolution is to deepen and become permanent. Such a claim is not scientific at all, but an arbitrary piece of metaphysics that has no place in the area reserved for reason and verification.

But, in the same way, a revolutionary who is also a believer has no scientific basis for the a priori claim that the atheistic revolutionary must inevitably cease to be an atheist by reason of the intrinsic demands of the revolutionary process itself. In other words, confessionalism (be it theistic or atheistic) is the great obstacle to human coexistence in the near future. Coexistence necessarily requires pluralism.

In building the new “secular city” for which we all yearn, people cannot be subject to discrimination because of their belief or disbelief in God. Moreover, believers should have no difficulty in collaborating in social, political, and economic movements, even when these originated in a philosophical vision that was atheistic and that they find thoroughly unacceptable. Here we have one of the major intuitions of Pope John XXIII: “It is perfectly legitimate to make a clear distinction between a false philosophy of the nature, origin and purpose of men and the world, and economic, social, cultural and political undertakings, even when such undertakings draw their origin and inspiration from that philosophy” (Pacem in Terris, no. 1 59). This is precisely the thesis I am defending; for dialectical materialism gave rise to historical materialism or Marxist sociology. The pope leaves Catholics free to embrace such movements on condition that they do not accept the philosophical doctrines that gave rise to the movements. The only further condition the pope sets down is that such political, economic, or cultural movements should not impede or smother the spiritual values that the Church regards as essential for the preservation of Christian belief; this amounts to saying that the movements should not become “confessional” in the direction of militant atheism.

VI

We now have the starting point for the reflections offered in this book. It can be expressed by saying that, even though all take for granted a genuinely pluralistic practical behavior that is exempt from any taint of confessionalism, the ideology that gave rise to such a praxis exists and will continue to exist.

In other words, believers and nonbelievers may have reached full accord in a unified praxis aimed at social change, but there is still a difference between them, and the difference is not reducible to something private and intimate within each but affects the way they coexist in a group.

The human being is not reducible to the reality (unmistakably primordial though it is) of his social relations and rational verifiability. Ileana Marculescu, professor of Marxist philosophy at Bucharest, recently admitted to the Christians at a Christian-Marxist meeting in Geneva: “We Marxists have sold short the element of mystery.” She said this, not in order to induce us to “rationalize” the element of mystery, but simply that we might share with her the existential reality of our experience of this mystery.

Within the consciousness of all people living today there is a conviction concerning, and a preoccupation with, the “new person” who is being brought to birth amid the birth pangs caused by a tremendously accelerated change from one historical epoch to another. What will the “new person” be like?

I do not think that Christianity, as such, must enter among the competitors in the marketplace and offer a rational, scientific model of the”new person.” That is not the mission of Christianity. Believers, after all, are people like others, and their faith does not lead to a special type of humanness. We Christians, says Vatican II, “are witnesses of the birth of a new humanism, one in which man is defined first of all by his responsibility toward his brothers and toward history” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 55).

On the other hand, we Christians would fall victim to a silly inferiority complex and serve humankind very badly if we were to be bashful and hide the tremendous riches that our religious consciousness represents.

As believers, we must ask pardon for the times we have profaned the ideological (prescientific) aspect of our faith by trying to make of it a rational, scientific factor in the autonomous search being carried on in the human mind. At the same time, however, we must strongly criticize the illogical and illicit claim of those who have turned scientific reason into an absolute scientific reason.

In this contest of humility, believers and nonbelievers now confront each other. We believers cannot but humbly communicate to our brothers and sisters the riches contained in our faith experience. At the same time, we are aware that God alone can enter the sanctuary of the human conscience; for this reason we dare only approach the vestibule in a gentle way and knock respectfully on the door of all our human brothers and sisters, whatever their color.

VII

The following reflections on the Christian meaning of human development claim only to be the reflections of one Christian. Their point of reference is the theology of the New Testament, and especially the splendid views of St. Paul on the “new person.” An attentive reading of the Pauline letters will once again bring light into many darkened sectors of our ancient Christian communities, where alarming symptoms of division are now being manifested.

Unfortunately, many former Christians experienced their crisis because of a falsified, even caricatural presentation of the real message of salvation that Christ brought and proclaimed to the world. That message we find in the deathless pages of the New Testament, which expresses the reflective awareness of the first generation of Christians.

In the unassuming pages which follow we intend to stand before the Truth as humble disciples. For, in point of fact, the main reason why the Truth eludes us is that we attempt to imprison it and cut it to fit the narrow limits of our own private world. But the Truth utterly transcends any single person, and the only way to properly direct ourselves toward it is to admit this transcendence unreservedly. The Truth cannot be cut down to size by attaching a possessive adjective to it. It belongs neither to me nor to you, neither to the wise nor to the elect. It is beyond and above any one of us, and all of us alike are its servants.

For this reason it would be a sacrilege for any of us to claim a monopoly on the distribution of the Truth, for no person is big enough to pocket the immeasurable greatness of Truth. There are, of course, people who proclaim the Truth. But to carry out their sublime task takes an almost infinite humility. Such people must tremble with fear at having been chosen, without any merit on their part, to tap their brothers and sisters gently on the shoulder and point out to them, in all modesty, the point on the horizon where the light is breaking.

The person who proclaims the Truth must not come as a superior being and mount the professor’s dais, there to call for the attention of the passing human throngs. No, he must be part of the immense caravan of life, share its fortunes, rejoice in its victories, feel anguish at its tragedies, be humble before its greatness. And when he offers Truth to his companions on the journey, he must do so with a gesture of humility, as one who from the heart asks their pardon for his loving boldness. Above all, he must try to be one with his fellows in their purpose of pursuing the Truth. He must link arms with them and set out as their equal on the road that leads to the light.

Atone point in history, the Truth became flesh in a man and was called Jesus of Nazareth. He told us, his disciples, how we are to proclaim the Truth:

The scribes and the Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teachers; therefore, do everything and observe everything they tell you. But do not follow their example. Their words are bold but their deeds are few. They bind up heavy loads, hard to carry, to lay on other men’s shoulders, while they themselves will not lift a finger to budge them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels. They are fond of places of honor at banquets and the front seats in synagogues, of marks of respect in public and of being called “Rabbi.” As to you, avoid the title “Rabbi.” One among you is your teacher, the rest are learners. Do not call anyone on earth your father. Only one is your father, the One in heaven. Avoid being called teachers. Only one is your teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest.

Matt. 23:2-11

Our great contemporary poet, Antonio Machado Ru iz, was able to condense this teaching of the Gospel into a short stanza:

Your truth? No, the Truth,
come now with me to seek it.
As for your own, keep it.

Proverbs and Songs, no. 85, trans. in Alice Jane McVen, Antonio Machado, p. 203.

[Original source: Marxismo y cristianismo frente al hombre nuevo by Editorial Fontanella, Barcelona, and Ediciones Marova, Madrid] 
[Translation found in New Creation: Marxist and Christian? byJose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz (translated by M.J. O’Connell) pg. 1-11]