E. Belfort Bax

Christianity and Socialism

(14 January 1905)

Christianity and Socialism , Justice, 14th January 1905, p.6. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


In his International Note on Holland “S.A.R.” has chosen to raise this question in a somewhat aggressive and one sided way. That Socialism does not “in all respects exclude religion,” may be true since from one point of view Socialism itself maybe regarded as a religion, But I submit that none the less Socialism, as a doctrine based on the modern scientific conception of the universe – i.e., on reasoned truth – is radically incompatible on that ground alone with all and every traditional religion, Christianity included, based as they are in the last resort on supernatural sanctions. And hence (pace “S.A.R.”), one of the truths of Socialism is “to oppose religion” (in this sense)” to the utmost.” Our friend “S.A.R.” further contends that “we” are not “hostile to Christianity itself, “ but only in so far as it lends support to the present “un-Christian system.” But is the present system un-Christian? I fail to see it. The Roman world of the Augustan era, in which Christianity grew up, was no less than our own a class society (only that the classes were somewhat different), but Christianity did not propose to abolish classes – quite the contrary. Society as given was ordained by God. What Christianity proposed to do was to point out to the individual man a pathway for his soul out of the troubles of this world to his God, at the same time enjoining upon him the duty of charity and almsgiving, if he were rich, as an act well pleasing to God. Now, methinks to have heard of many a wealthy manufacturer who has become anxious for his soul to find its way to its divine source, and of the gentle stockbroker who even on weekdays (on Thursdays, isn’t it?) seeks God in the City Temple. Then as to charity. Have we not on all sides of us evidences of the vast amount expended by the better-off classes in almsgiving? Have not within the last fortnight the funds opened by the Daily Mail and the Daily Express been generously, nay, lavishly, responded to. Altogether it seems to me inaccurate to describe present society as in any special sense un-Christian, so far at least as the well-to-do classes are concerned. What “S.A.R.” means, probably, is that modern capitalistic society is un-Socialistic, “but that’s another story.”

What has “S.A.R.,” after all, to say as against the perfectly just contention of “our Christian opponents?” He points to certain clergymen (in Holland) who, he alleges, preach Socialistic doctrine. Now it so happens that I was speaking to Troelstra in Amsterdam about at least one of these, and Troelstra, while conceding to the gentleman in question every credit for his sympathy and sincerity, gave me plainly to understand that his Socialism, as such, didn’t amount to much. The same I understood to apply to others in similar case. This, however, by the way. Without for a moment denying that men may pass through a phase in which they hold Socialistic and Christian views side by side, just as they may hold other mutually incompatible beliefs at the same time, I contend that this is only a passing phase, and that, in a shorter or longer time as the case may be one of two things inevitably happens – either their Christianity ousts their Socialism, or their Socialism ousts their Christianity. Dr. Clifford, years ago, was said to be a convert to Socialism. Doubtless the discourses on which this report was based were genuine enough at the time, but where is the rev. gentleman’s Socialism now? Petered out into Nonconformist, Christian passive resistance – eh! The suggestion that a devout Catholic can be a Socialist (in the modern sense) and remain a devout Catholic, I regard as a positive danger to the movement. We have had an illustration of this in Switzerland. Let “S.A.R.” wait a year, at least before crowing too much over his new found hero. Probably by that time Mynheer van Den Brink will have either left or been driven out of the Church and be working as an undivided member of the Social-Democratic Party, or be will have made his peace with the Church and his Socialism will trailing behind him – a very tame rat indeed.

I should be sorry to choke off anybody from the movement an the grounds of his theological belief, or even to unnecessarily emphasise to the Christian seeking the light of the Socialist gospel the logical necessity of an immediate surrender of his creed. Men are, I am perfectly well aware, guided in the first instance by their feelings. They shake themselves down, or are shaken down by circumstances, into a measure of consistency later on. But for all that, I feel bound to protest against the perversion of an issue as regards Socialist principle on the part of “S.A.R.” which might almost lead one to think he was seeking to qualify for the position of an I.L.P. leader. – Yours,


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 9.7.2004