“It had been good for that man if he had not been born.” …Matthew 26:24
Karl Marx’s 200th Birthday was May 5. His hometown in Germany erected a Chinese statue whose primary purpose is to attract Chinese tourists. But even Chinese communist tyrants no longer truly believe in Marx’s economics, whose devotees are mostly confined to North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. His fans in Western academia may still admire his technique but aren’t willing to submit to his conclusions.
Mostly unmentioned on his bicentennial has been Marx’s impact on Christianity. Thanks to regimes Marx inspired, the 20th century was history’s bloodiest for martyred Christians. Marx was an atheist who of course identified religion as a chief obstacle to his vision of classless nirvana. Suppression of religion especially Christianity has been central to every Marxist regime.
It’s unclear how many people Marxism killed during the last century, in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Indochina, Cuba, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique and elsewhere. There were those directly shot by state agents, those tortured to death or dying in prison, those who died in concentration camps from disease or exposure, and those who died from state imposed famines. Some estimates say more than 100 million. Stalin and Mao were the biggest killers, followed by Pol Pot, Mengistu and the Kims. Hundreds of millions were terrorized by totalitarian police states requiring all to render homage to Marx’s delusions.
One estimate says 32 million Christians were killed by communism in the last century, out of a total 45 million Christians killed during that time, or 70 million over 2000 years. So maybe almost half of all martyred Christians since the time of Christ were killed by communism. Yet these victims are seldom recalled, especially in the West.
Also not recalled are how many Western church elites and thinkers were themselves bewitched by the allure of Marxism. It began from the start, after the Bolshevik Revolution, when even as thousands of priests and bishops were being killed by the Red Terror. Methodist and other Mainline Protestant prelates and activists hailed Bolshevism for its overthrow of medieval monarchy and religiosity in favor of liberation and modernity. They saw the Soviet Union as the egalitarian Social Gospel fully realized.
These Christian fans of Marxism later cooled on Stalinism but their enthusiasms reanimated with Mao, even as he shut down China’s churches and dispersed its Christians. In the 1960s and 1970s Liberation Theology imagined Christian social witness could fuse with Marxism. Mainline church curia and ecumenical councils, with Catholic dissidents, romanticized Third World Marxist revolution and prioritized friendship with the Soviet Bloc. The World and National Councils of Churches funded and lobbied for armed Marxist movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Castro and the Sandinistas were special favorites.
Meanwhile, these Marxist friendly Western church groups ignored or minimized persecuted Christians suffering under Marxism, whose plight was distracting from the larger peace with justice agenda. After Soviet communism fell, there were a few mild regrets expressed about this indifference, but there was never a full accounting for the Western church romance with Marxism. Western Mainline Protestantism became increasingly irrelevant and discredited as surging Global South Christianity embraced Pentecostalism not Liberation Theology.
This tragic history of Christian association with one of history’s most repressive and murderous movements remains largely unknown even to Christians. Even Evangelical social justice advocacy in America today will myopically focus on American and Western historical misdeeds while ignoring Marxism’s exponentially greater crimes, and American Christianity’s complacency while they occurred.
Some Western Christians were entranced by Marxism because it is a sort of Christian heresy, striving to construct God’s perfect Kingdom of human equality without God, and at gun point. Liberation Theology and its variants were impatient with God and sought to replace Him. The results were genocide and slavery.
Of course Marx’s war on Christianity and the human spirit were destined to failure, like all other Towers of Babel. But has American Christianity learned from this tragic history? Is there concern today for Christians who suffer under remaining Marxist regimes like North Korea? Is there much concern today for persecuted Christians anywhere? How committed are Christians in America to human rights for all premised on each individual as image bearer of God?
Jesus said of Judas that it “had been good for that man if he had not been born.” So also for Marx, whose demonic political and economic delusions inflicted more horrors on more victims than any other organized philosophy. The bicentennial of his birth merits grief, repentance and reflection.