This is the 21st century and someone asked me recently why are you writing so much about communism- that is so 20th century. Well, they have a point or do they? The time I grew up- it was easy to say no to communism in the United States. Today our young people are being taught how great communism is and how bad capitalism is- this a real problem. To get a better idea of what we are facing in our society today we should review the warnings Bishop Fulton Sheen told his audience over 60 years ago. To Monsignor Sheen, the crux of the problem of communism is not economic, not political, but religious. Religious? How could that possibly be? Bishop Sheen laid out three salient points.
First, communism has many of the attributes of a religion, but with two fatal defects that make it anti-religious, a counter-religion. It leaves no room for God and no room for the man as a person. Man is a person only as a collective and not as an individual. There are no individual rights in this system simply because there are no individuals. Religion bases their ideas on the individual. He explained it was private enterprise against collectivism, the Western democracies against Soviet Russia are temporary, secondary antagonisms in his eyes. The real conflict was between a moral and spiritual world and an amoral, material world. Today’s struggle is something no less than for the human soul.
Second, Monsignor Sheen calls for a unity of all religious people—Catholic, Jewish or Protestant—to oppose the dynamic antireligious force of communism.
He insisted on a distinction between communism and communists. Communists are brothers misled but reclaimable, while communism is essentially an evil philosophy of life. Monsignor Sheen’s great following among men of all faiths gave his views force. They carry weight with religious people of all persuasions and are of interest even to the followers of communism.
Third, the Venerable and Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen was an advocate of American Catholic patriotism and opponent to the spread of totalitarianism, especially communism. He grounded the two positions in what might be called the “ecclesial foundation” in which one would define American citizenship in terms of membership in religious institutions. In Sheen's view, religious institutions provided the ultimate, spiritual ends for humankind. Therefore, the American government had to protect, above all, religious liberties at home and abroad. Totalitarian regimes, which Sheen believed sought to replace spiritual with material ends of the state, violently deprived their subjects of religious liberty and, therefore, embodied the spirit of the anti-Christ. Only the Vatican had the spiritual and moral authority to identify this spirit, and—especially after the Second World War—only America had the military and economic power to confront it. Ironically, this argument was an appropriation of the old Nativist arguments against the Vatican itself. The Nativist argument was that religious liberty of Protestant churches was the source for the political authority of the American state to use against the absolute, arbitrary, foreign dictator in Rome. Sheen's appropriation and redeployment of the old narrative persuaded millions of Americans to oppose totalitarian ideologies and view, after centuries of distrust, American Catholics as loyal citizens.
Communism and the Conscience of the West
The title of this book has been carefully thought out and it describes exactly what Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen has taken for his subject. Communism and the Conscience of the West is about communism, yes, but it is also a stern indictment of the shortcomings and evils of our Western civilization, out of which communism has grown and with which it is akin.
In his many books and even more with his radio speeches, Monsignor Sheen, the Catholic thinker, is accustomed to addressing not only Catholics but multitudes of all faiths. Here he is reaching out to all men still capable of responding to conscience and religious feeling.
As the world takes sides again let us look back to the world as it was 70 years ago, as Russia and the United States head up rival groups of nations, it is easy for us to see nothing but evil in the East, nothing but good in the West. Seventy years ago that meant that the USSR was Godless and the USA was with God. However, today is that the same? Who has more Church attendance today: Russia or the USA? Who practices more Christian ideals today the East or the West.
Metropolitan Hilarion, who is the ‘foreign minister’ of the Russian Orthodox Church, who is the ‘foreign minister’ of the Russian Orthodox Church recently issued in September of 2019, a challenge to the West, “The historical catastrophe of 1917 embroiled Russia in a fratricidal civil war, terror, exile of the nation’s best representatives beyond the confines of their homeland, and the deliberate annihilation of whole layers of society – the nobility, the Cossacks, the clergy and affluent peasants. They were declared to be “enemies of the people,” and their relatives were subjected to discrimination and became the “disenfranchised,” which forced them to the edge of survival. All of this terror took place under the banner of a communist ideology that fought ferociously against religion. Millions of believers were subjected to the cruelest of persecution, harassment, discrimination, and repression – from mockery and dismissal in the workplace to imprisonment and execution by firing squad.”
One of the greatest voices against communism was Bishop Sheen. Even before he became a Bishop he explained it this way. A very young Monsignor Sheen told Americans that we as Americans will not purge ourselves of our sins by making Russia and communism scapegoat for all evil. He was unalterably opposed to communism. He was almost equally opposed to laissez-faire liberalism, the relativism, and materialism of our own society.
These attitudes, all Western in origin, are all intensified, carried to extremes and given dynamic force under communism. Thus the philosophy of communism unifies and strengthens all the disintegrative forces present but less obviously apparent in the West. We are told in our political theater that capitalism is bad and communism can be good. It is good to take things from individuals and give them to the collective. Together we can make a better society.
Against this philosophy, therefore, Monsignor Sheen directed his chief attack. It will be a shock to many readers to find a book about communism so little concerned with politics and economics. Just like Metropolitan Hilarion statement said-communism ruined his country and almost destroyed his Church.
To Monsignor Sheen, politics and economics are of secondary importance. “The basic struggle today is not between individualism and collectivism, free enterprise and socialism, democracy and dictatorship. They are only superficial manifestations of a deeper struggle which is moral and spiritual.”
What makes communism formidable is its attraction as an inverted religion. It is a religion that takes away God and inserts the government.
When nineteenth-century liberalism discarded the absolutes of religion and morality it left men with nothing fixed to cling to. The human craving for an object of faith, for absolutes in a changing, the shifting world went unsatisfied. Communism offers new absolutes, new dogma, new infallibility, new objects of faith, all on an entirely material and immediate plane. Millions embrace communism as a substitute for religion, as a counter-Church and counter-religion. Their fervency and zeal give communism its dynamic power and make it a formidable enemy of Christianity and of all true religion.
Monsignor Sheen had charity in the religious sense. Although he regarded communism as execrable on many strong grounds, he urged everyone not to hate Communists (the people). He took particular pains to make this distinction clear and to insist that no Communist be excluded from the brotherhood of man.
“Do battle with communism we must and should,” Monsignor Sheen plead earnestly, “not for unity of religion, but for the unity of religious people. Only through our own moral resurgence can we hope to save ourselves, let alone build a peaceful world. Only in a moral world, a world of responsibility, can a man be free and live as a human being.”
Communism and the Conscience of the West is aimed directly at us. All Monsignor Sheen’s points are strongly reinforced by the testimony of Communist leaders and of anticommunist leaders both Catholic and non-Catholic. Here is a heroic effort to touch the sluggish conscience of the West. We do not want to meet the fears of Sheen or the truths of Metropolitan Hilarion first hand. Amen