William Morris. Commonweal 1890

Correspondence: Christianity and Socialism

Source: “Christianity and Socialism” Commonweal, Vol 6, No. 217, 8 March 1890, p.77;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Mr Rickarby’s letter, though written in a friendly and conciliatory spirit, requires, I think, some answer. Let it be admitted that Christianity, like all religions which include a system of morality, has something in common with socialism. Let it also be admitted that many of the ‘sneers and unjust charges’ of which Mr Rickarby writes, are aimed at the stupidities and hypocrisies of the Christianity of the day, which no doubt men of Mr Rickarby’s stamp sincerely condemn; granted this, yet if Christianity is ‘a revelation addressed to all times’ it can not be neutral as to political and social institutions, which, if they are to be binding on men’s consciences, and not merely pieces of arbitrary coercion, must be founded on a system of morality; and that morality must not be founded on explanations of natural facts or a theory of life in which people have ceased to believe. At the risk of offending ‘real Christians’, however well-meaning or honest they may be, we must ask ‘Is this true?’

Mr Rickarby’s contrast between real and actual Christianity evades the point of difference; that real (I should call it ideal) Christianity has never existed at all. Christianity has developed in due historic sequence from the first, and has taken the various forms which social, political, economic circumstances have forced on it; its last form moulded by the sordid commercialism of modern capitalism being the bundle of hypocrisies which, as I have said, Mr Rickarby with other Christian Socialists condemns. When this beggarly period has been supplanted by one in which Socialism is realized, will not the system of morality, the theory of life, be all-embracing, and can it be other than the Socialistic theory? Where then will be the Christian ethic? — absorbed in Socialism. No separate system of ethics will then be needed; there will be no protest needed against the theory of life which will then be commonly held, we shall only have to guard the freedom which we have won.