Thomas Molnar: A Christian Scholar for Our Time
Part 11: The Confluence of Pantheist and Atheist Utopianism
In his masterful Utopia, The Perennial Heresy Thomas Molnar begins by pointing out that utopian thinkers throughout history have never been content with mere mending or improving of that which falls short of perfection in existing reality and is on biblical Christian premises the result of man's fall into sin. A fallen world in which God's people must humbly work out their salvation in moment by moment trusting, faithful dependence upon God and His grace and mercy is intolerable to the proud utopian who thinks he knows (better than God) what the world ought to be like. Hence "utopian thinkers fully deserve to be called 'radical' because their reconstruction of society and man demands total re-thinking about God and creation."
Utopians demand absolute perfection and purity in society, a seemingly attractive trait until we realize that their goal and "perhaps [their] main motivation" is an unnatural, anti-human perfection and purity of their own invention which "would so de-nature man that it would have to be enforced." This accounts for the totalitarian suppression of any and all "dissidents "once a utopian movement comes to power. Modern Communism with its purist demand for the totally "classless society," and Nazism obsessed with its delusion of evolutionist-Darwinist "racial purity" are classic examples.
Molnar rightly emphasizes that "Christianity...taught that man transforms the world for the glory of God and for his own contentment." In the biblical Christian framework each individual man and woman is a unique person, and responsible to God as His steward entrusted by virtue of man's original creation with dominion over God's handiwork. Marx, on the other hand,
asserted that work... was not an activity of man as a subject, but an action of nature manifesting itself through man. In fact, Marxist man is not a subject at all, but the locus (scene) of objective natural forces. In his Nationalokonomie und Philosophie Marx contended that man creates objects because the objects create him, because, according to his origin, he himself is nature.
Here is a flagrant instance of monism (nothing exists outside the universe; there is no transcendent Creator God), atheist-materialist as it happens yet quite compatible with pantheist-idealist "religious" monism in its denial of man's meaningful personhood. Hegel also considered man a mere locus of the activity of the universal World Spirit. Another monist denying real meaning to individual man was the famous Russian symbolist author Andrei Belyi ( 1880-1934). A devotee of a gnostic-Pantheist-occult branch of theosophy known as "anthroposophy. he believed that man is merely the meeting place of "forces" and intelligences which may even think their thoughts in his brain, appearing to him as "self-thinking thoughts.'' Significantly Belyi longed for an apocalyptic new world which would replace the old Russia, and he considered himself a good Communist citizen when he died. Another example of the monistic reduction of man to a locus of outside forces is the behaviorism of B. F. Skinner, who described the utopian new Society of behaviorism in his notorious Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Here Skinner baldly agreed with C. S. Lewis that autonomous man, the man defended by the literatures of freedom and dignity," was being abolished in the Skinnerian world, but that "His abolition has long been overdue...To man qua man we readily say good riddance. This book appeared four years after Molnar's Utopia. fully confirming Molnar's thesis of the unnaturalness to man, and hence totalitarian enforcement policy, of social-political utopianism.
Another essential feature of utopian thought is its globalism. Modern transportation and communications have greatly accelerated and reinforced the utopian assumption that we are about to see "a global melting pot to which each man brings his own unique contribution and receives the imprint of communal consciousness." It is not an entirely new assumption, as it was already held by the famous and prolific French feminist novelist George Sand (Aurore Dupin, Baroness Dudevant, 1804-1876), "Friend and patron of the French utopian socialists," and by the Communist Manifesto of 1848. Globalism is, of course, compatible with both communist internationalism and pantheist mystical dreams about the "coalescence of all mankind" as the next evolutionary stage. Both envision a one-world government to enforce the "new order," the coming higher stage of history as emergent evolution. It can be made to sound quite heroic and attractive, as Molnar shows in quoting the Soviet philosopher A. Bogdanov:
The third main stage in history is that of the collective self-sufficient economy and the fusion of personal lives into one colossal whole, harmonious in the relations of its parts, systematically grouping all elements for one common struggle — the struggle against the endless spontaneity of nature.... It demands the forces not of man but of mankind— and only in working at this task does mankind as such emerge.
Bogdanov was among the small faction of Russian communists which included Lenin's Commissar of Education Anatoly Lunacharsky and, for a while, the famous writer Maxim Gorky and which called itself the "god-builders." The "god" they wished to build was socialist mankind. In 1908 Gorky wrote an entire book, Confession, on this theme, but left off "god-building" pursuant to Lenin's displeasure with any notion of "god". However, Molnar perceptively points out that utopian perfectionism in general "is actually a conscious and concentrated form of self-divinization.... In fact, mankind and nature ascend the path of progress together until the cosmos will be indistinguishable from God." Again we see the fundamental agreement, even sameness, between atheist and pantheist world views, regarding belief in the essential divinity of mankind and the cosmos as a whole. Molnar draws upon his prodigious research of French literature and philosophy to show us yet another example of an ostensibly agnostic utopian thinker with notions of human divinity, Ernest Renan ( 1823-1892). Renan is best known for his efforts to present Jesus Christ as a mere man, and the gospels as historically false. Yet for all that, Renan too had a religion and looked forward to a god:
In Caliban, Renan expressed the opinion that in the indeterminable future everything will become one single center of consciousness in which all human beings will participate... In the same way as mankind has emerged from animality, Renan continues, the divinity will emerge from mankind. In their turn, the superhuman gods will become one single god.
Renan's evolutionist belief in the emergence of man from animality is a common modern denominator of both pantheist "religious" and agnostic-atheist "secular rationalist" utopianism. This belief is shared by the French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (d. 1955), a pantheist-religious thinker who has become the "patron saint" of the Western "New Age" movement of the 1980s, and by the atheist, stridently anti-Christian Julian Huxley (grandson of T.H. Huxley, "Darwin's Bulldog"). Huxley wrote a preface to Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man in which he stated that "the incipient development of mankind into a single psycho-social unit, with a single noosystem, or common pool of thought, is providing the evolutionary process with the rudiments of a head." Molnar is forthright in his condemnation of Teilhard de Chardin (whose writings were forbidden by the Catholic Church to be disseminated, a prohibition ignored by the apostate Jesuit's adoring followers):
Teilhard de Chardin [rendered the idea of God meaningless] by ingeniously combining contemporary admiration for science, socialism and irrationality with their respective vocabularies. The result, condemned by every line of the Old and New Testament, is the very content of the original sin.... His public forgets ... that man cannot step out of the human condition and that no "universal mind" is now being manufactured simply because science has permitted the building of nuclear bombs, spaceships and electronic computers.
In addition, Molnar states, "[Teilhard's] terminology, which mixes archaeology, sociology, biology, astronomy and a vulgarized theology, can, in fact, be translated at every turn into the language of collectivism and of totalitarian policies.'' Molnar fully understands what is at stake in this unified emergent evolutionist, radically anti-biblical drive for power:
If only matter and its evolutionary forms exist, then man, too, is only matter . . . If he is not a reflection of the divine being, then he is in no sense sacred and final, and new forms of evolution may supersede him.... Whether explained through Teilhard de Chardin or the Russian and Chinese communists, the solution is this: Man as we have known him is now being overcome by the new evolutionary form. This is not a new species, but coalesced mankind...
Both Teilhard de Chardin and the Communists speak of an indefinite evolution . . . Yet, the imagination of the one and the efforts of the others go only as far as "totalized" or totalitarian society... everything else is figure of style or outright fuzziness.
Because the perennial ideal of utopians is a radically "new" age and mankind in which all shall be one, utopians are egalitarian to the core. Hence they "are necessarily antagonistic to money and all its functions I (trade, savings, investment) because possession of money allows for individual choice which, in turn, confuses centralized planning." Molnar cites J.K. Galbraith's well-known and influential book The Affluent Society and Thomas More's Utopia as examples of such egalitarian utopian thinking. Utopians must also do away with individualized education and upbringing of children, which entails their desire to remove children from the care of their parents and, indeed, their implied or open hostility towards the family. This hostility can be observed in all socialistic systems, especially Marxism. For an invaluable confirmation of this fact, see Igor Shafarevich's comprehensive study, The Socialist Phenomenon, in which he defines the contours of socialism as ( I ) abolition of private property; (2) abolition of the family; (3) abolition of religion, especially Christianity; and (4) communality or equality. Shafarevich refers to certain medieval heretical movements, such as the English Ranters or the German Anabaptists under Thomas Muenzer, also discussed by Molnar, and he shows that they were not only religious heretics but also socialist revolutionists in their leveling egalitarianism. The work of Molnar and Shafarevich has been fully confirmed and indeed anticipated by the British historian Norman Cohn in his authoritative study The Pursuit of the Millenium, which contains extensive excerpts from the writings of leading Ranters. Cohn also recognized and pointed out the ideological and practical affinity between these movements and modern Nazism and Communism. The careful and thorough scholarly research of Cohn, Molnar and Shafarevich leaves no doubt but that anti-Christian pantheist utopianism of past history and in today's "new age" movement, and anti-Christian atheist and socialist utopianism are not opponents but merely two sides of the same coin. This fact is also evident from the egalitarian goals and methods shared by the utopian novels of past and present, such as Thomas More's Utopia. Tommaso Campanellais City of the Sun, "The Law of Freedom" by Gerrard Winstanley, the numerous philosophical utopian novels written during the Enlightenment, socialist utopias like Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, and others.
Let us turn to an instance of actual cooperation between religious pantheists, assorted mystics, and militant socialists and Marxists. In the 1890s and 1900s there existed in London a far-flung, loosely connected network of groups and individuals calling itself the "New Life" movement. It included George Bernard Shaw, the witty author, a "vitalist" pantheist and socialist; Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the founder of modern theosophy, and her lieutenant and successor Annie Besant, a pioneer of birth control; H. M. Hyndman, a prominent British Marxist; Ermund Gurney, founder of the society for Psychical Research (spiritist); Havelock Ellis, the famous sexologist; and leaders of the socialist Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party. One of the movement's branches was the Fellowship of the New Life, founded in 1882, of which Ramsay MacDonald, the future labour prime minister, was secretary for ten years. This Fellowship in turn was closely linked with the Brotherhood Church, whose pastor John C. Kenworthy helped promote communes formed by the followers of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy was a member of the movement. His most famous disciple was none other than Mohandas K. Gandhi, a revered personality among adherents of the "New Age" movement now. Obviously religion, pantheism, occultism, or atheism was not at issue between supporters of the "New Life" movement. The Brotherhood Church even cooperated in facilitating the 1907 conference of the Russian Social Democrat (Communist) Party. When this conference found itself ousted from Copenhagen by the Swedish police, the delegates
eventually straggled across to London. Here Ramsay MacDonald, the British socialist leader, was of some help to them; he managed to obtain the use of the Brotherhood Church in Whitechapel in the east end of London. It belonged to a severe religious sect known as the Christian Socialists, and the agreement was that the Russians should hold their meetings in this odd place for a period of three days. Three weeks later the Christian Socialists were still pleading with their guests to leave the building just long enough for them to get in for their Sunday prayer meeting.
This instance of Communist "takeover" should be a warning to religious utopians collaborating with them, but will almost certainly not deter them as they overlook even the bloody record of Communism wherever it has "taken over" since 1917.
Molnar points to a far deeper lesson missed by socialist utopians, the invincibility of reality created by God as shown in human society:
Passion for equality blinds the utopian to the fact that society as a whole, is based on inequality among men in two respects: the inventor, the innovator, the exceptional man creates something new and insures continuous progress; the others emulate his work or merely improve their own lot by benefiting from his creativity. Now, to deny to this exceptional man the extra compensation...is to extirpate his inventiveness. The sorry state of socialist regimes shows that no amount of officially stimulated collective enthusiasm for the artificially defined common good is a substitute for individual incentive and reward. It is significant that in Communist societies "capitalist" advantages are granted to the few on whom rest the regime's spectacular achievements, such as space technology and aircraft production.
Elsewhere Molnar points to the pervading unreality or anti-reality of utopian thought:
When the utopian writers deal with work, health, leisure, life expectancy, war, crimes, culture, administration, finances, judges and so on, it is as if their words were uttered by an autoimaton with no conception of real life. The reader has the uncomfortable feeling of walking in a dream-land of abstractions, surrounded by lifeless objects...
In practice, too, as the experience of Nazism, Communism, and also of socialist empires like ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China, or the Incas amply proves, egalitarian utopianism reduces real flesh-and blood individual men, women and children to less than human cogs in the monolithic state machinery. As Molnar rightly says, the utopian, while believing that he can compensate for man's finiteness and the world's flaws by building a new, collective society "succeeds only in depriving the individual of his limited freedom and, therefore, of the value of his action." In eliminating the Creator God of the Bible, man, the being created in God's own image and likeness is also abolished; and all this, ironically, in the name of ideologies promising man, or collective mankind, mastery of nature and being god himself. Finally and ominously, Molnar correctly points out that "the trend [toward a one-world collectivist, God- and man-denying utopian government] has been unmistakable for a long time now [written 1967!]: the mechanism is in place; small, concrete decisions are made daily; only the theoretical measures are still discussed."
We do well to come to grips with the premises and goals of utopian thought and practice. We need to understand that it makes little difference whether we are confronted with pantheist-religious or atheist-materialist movements;the two are but the twin blades of the pincers in which the perennial rebellion against God as sovereign Creator, which began with the serpent in Eden, seeks to crush us. Our answer must be to cleave more firmly than ever to our Creator Who established true reality by His unchanging, eternal Word, Who created us men uniquely in His own image and likeness, redeemed us from sin by His Son Jesus Christ, and Who holds us and all things and events in His hands. Nothing can come to pass without His will, and the timing is His as well. Reality itself in its fixed traits bears witness to the Creator, and exposes all utopian schemes as delusions. Biblical creation is the foundation of all Christian doctrine. To preach and defend it is to be in the front line of the perennial war between God's people and rebels against God who would be gods themselves. Because our God is Lord of all things, and because Christ is our Advocate and God the Holy Spirit our Intercessor, we also have the mighty weapon and ever availing comfort of prayer. Let us then boldly occupy and win others to the Lord of hosts, the Maker of true reality and the true Healer from sin and death as we await His promised and hence certain Coming Again in Glory.
- Thomas Moinar Utopro The Perennial Heresy (New York: Sheed & Ward 1967)' p. 9 (hereafter cited as Moinar Utopia)
- Ibid. p 22
- Ibid p 31
- Ibid. pp 37-38
- Vladimir E Alexandrov Andre, Bely (Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press 1985) pp 104-l lS Also see Andrey Biely St Petersburg (New York: Grove Press Inc Second Print ng 1959) especially p 229.
- B F Skinner Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Inc . 1971). pp 200 201. See also C.S.Lewis The Abolition of Mon (New York: Macmillan Fourth Printing 1968). especially Chapter 3 pp. 67-91
- Molnar. Utopia. p 46.
- Ibid. p 47.
- Ibid. p 104
- Ibid.. p. 45 p. 46.
- Ibid . p 122
- Ibid. p 125
- Ibid. p. 71
- Ibid. p. 128.
- Ibid. p 223
- Ibid pp. 140- 141
- Igor Shafarevich The Socialist Phenomenon (New York: Harper & Row Publishers. 1980) especrally pp. 194-201.
- Norman Cohn. The Pursuit of the Milleniium (New York: Harper TorchBooks 1961) especiall y Appendi x. p p 321 - 378
- These writings are well surveyed in Shafarevich The Socialist Phenomenon pp.80- 120 Also see H. Van Riessen The Society of the Future (Philadelphia PA: The Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co n.d. [probably 1952]). Chapter 3 ''Utopias." pp. 38-67.
- This information is found in Martin Green. Tolstoy and Gandhi. Men of Peace (New York: Basic Books. 1983) pp. 97ff This book is very friendly toward Tolstoy Gandhi and the "New Life''movement.
- Alan Moorehead. The Russian Revolution (New York: Bantam Books. November 1959). p 81
- Molnar. Utopia. p. 153.
- Ibid. p. 230
- See Shafarevich. The Socialist Phenomenon pp. 132- 189.
- Molnar. Utopia. p. 237
- Ibid. p 146