World Christianity and Marxism

World Christianity and Marxism

World Christianity and Marxism

World Christianity and Marxism

Synopsis

Denis Janz argues that the encounter with Marxism has been the defining event for twentieth century Christianity. No other worldview shook Christianity more dramatically and no other movement had as profound an impact on so many. Now the Cold War is over and as we approach the end of the century we need, Janz says, to ask ourselves what happened. This book is the first unified and comprehensive attempt to analyze this historic meeting between these two antagonistic worlds of thought and action. The intellectual foundation of this antagonism is to be found in Karl Marx himself, and thus the book begins with an account of Marx's assault on Christianity. All the diverse philosophical and political manifestations of Marxism were ultimately rooted in Marx's thought, and supporters based their greater or lesser hostilities toward Christianity on their reading of his critique. Janz follows this with an overview of Christian responses to Marx, extending from the mid-19th century to the onset of the Cold War. He argues that within this time frame Christianity's negation of Marx was not absolute; the loud "no" to Marx bore with it an important, if muted, "yes." With this intellectual groundwork in place, Janz turns to an examination of the encounter as it unfolded in specific national contexts: the United States, the Soviet Union, Poland, Nicaragua, Cuba, China, and Albania. The experiences of these countries varied widely, from Poland where Christianity maintained its strongest independence, to Nicaragua where a Christian alliance with Marxism contributed to revolutionary change, to Albania where a Stalinist government attempted to abolish religion entirely. From this survey emerges the evidence that world Christianity has clearly internalized some of the prominent features of its antagonist, suggesting that the "Marxist project" is not as utterly defunct as many have assumed.

Excerpt

The Christian religion, from the time of its birth in the ancient world until today, has repeatedly struggled through monumental encounters with alien worlds of thought and action. in every case, the final outcome has been a significantly transformed Christianity. One thinks, for instance, of the earliest Christians' encounter with rabbinic Judaism--a process in which the very self-definition of this religion was hammered out. Then, too, Christianity's engagement with the Hellenistic worldview made it in important ways what it had not been before. in the thirteenth century, the strange world of Aristotelian thought challenged and eventually deepened the Christian self-understanding. in the Renaissance, humanism and the wisdom of pagan antiquity forced a rethinking of traditional Christian belief and practice. the Enlightenment introduced a new challenge-- that of rationalism and modern science, with which this religion has had to come to terms. So the meeting with the stranger is not new in the story of Christianity.

Of course, everything has not always gone smoothly in these encounters. Sometimes this religion began with a vehement no and ended up centuries later with a qualified yes. Often an initial abhorrence has eventually given way to accommodation, even to partial acceptance. in fact, over a century ago, Adolph Harnack brilliantly documented early Christianity's struggle with the Greek spirit and then hypothesized that the genius of Christianity--its survivability in world history-- is due to its propensity to absorb its most dangerous enemies into itself. Perhaps Harnack was right. But before we can say so, his hypothesis must be tested against the hard reality of the twentieth century.

When future historians look back at the history of Christianity in our century . . .

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