Of course not. And yet the claim is often heard from groups that otherwise agree on very little. The neo-pagan and neo-reactionary Right say that Leftism is just the working out of noxious elements present in Christianity from the beginning. Some say that these were temporarily offset by other, positive, elements of Christianity; others are under the impression that Christianity itself is pure Leftist drivel but only seemed otherwise because of its “Germanization”, i.e. a borrowed veneer of pagan virility. (Remember, most people don’t know anything about the pre-Constantinian Church or the Christianized Roman Empire, so the idea that Christians were a bunch of pacifist, egalitarian hippies until the conversion of the Germans actually sounds plausible to them.) On the other hand, we have all encountered Christian apologists eager to claim that, on balance, Christianity has been on the side of “progress”, that democracy, female equality, and anti-racism really are in some profound sense our ideas and could never have taken hold without the Gospel.
Is Leftism a heresy, an outworking, a secularization of Christianity? Let us first make the question more precise. It is insufficient to show that Leftism came after Christianity, or else everything would be everything else: Leftism is the outworking of Christianity is the outworking of paganism is the outworking of animism… What must be shown is that in Leftism some distinctively Christian idea is being seized upon, made a distinctive part of Leftism, and turned against its parent ideology. Note two things. First, the key word is “distinctively”; ideas that Christians or Leftists share with most other groups (e.g. “the sky is blue”) should not be called “Christian” or “Leftist”. Thus, to identify Christian beliefs, we must have in mind a “control group” of non-Christian beliefs. Since neo-pagans and Christian apologists both tend to include Judaism within the orbit of “Christian” ideas (e.g. “Judeo-Christian morality”), the only sensible control group is paganism, which fortunately comes in many different varieties. Second, the question is ideological rather than historical. How ideas do or don’t match is all that matters, so we can appeal neither to the Left’s post facto appropriation of Christian millenarian or Protestant rebellions nor its vigorous persecutions of real Christians. JMSmith has addressed the historical question of Christianity’s role in the rise of Leftism earlier on this site, so I will say no more about that.
The claims of continuity between Leftism and Christianity are pretty flimsy. Just consider a few of the ones I’ve heard:
- Christianity taught that all men are brothers, which is the basis of liberal universalism. Except that the brotherhood of man is a Stoic belief, not a Christian one.
- Christianity taught that all men are equal before God, and liberalism just shifted this equality to this life. All are certainly not equal before God, as His distinct treatment of predestined and reprobate, baptized and unbaptized makes clear. Even in the Church, a diversity of roles is explicitly affirmed. One might say that in Christianity one’s true spiritual worth is unconnected to one’s social status, but would any pagan deny this?
- Christianity preached individual judgement, reward, and punishment after death, which promotes individualism. Such beliefs are also common among the pagans.
- Medieval Christians invented the social contract by saying that government exists for the good of the governed. This belief is commonplace among all peoples and is neither distinctively Christian nor distinctively liberal.
- Christianity taught the existence of a single God Who should be believed in by all, which implies that cultural particularity is bad. Except that it doesn’t. At least, Christians are in no different position from anyone else in this regard. Anyone with a belief regards that belief as true, which means it’s true for everybody, which means that people who deny it are wrong. People who don’t like this have a quarrel with logic, not Christianity.
- Christianity teaches that it’s wrong to love kin and countrymen more than foreign strangers. No, it doesn’t, and it never has. It’s true that Christianity teaches that we have duties to strangers, but would any pagan deny this?
- Leftism has its own clergy, dogmas, and proscribed heresies. As must any belief system that finds itself in the role of legitimating a community’s authoritative structures and customs.
- The doctrine of Original Sin teaches us to mistrust people, which justifies separating the branches of government so that each will check the other. Again, there is nothing distinctively Christian here, since pagans were well aware that power could be abused, and the distinction of government roles can be found in Aristotle’s Politics millennia before Montesquieu. During most of the intervening time, the sense of man’s fallenness was thought to justify limiting individual freedom rather than hampering the State’s capacity for unified action. (Even Christians like Thomas Aquinas who favored “mixed” forms of government didn’t do so in the hope that the different forms would counteract each other.)
In fact, none of the above even attempt to connect a distinctly Christain belief (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement) to a distinctively liberal belief (private autonomy via public neutrality).
More plausible would be a negative connection between Christianity and Leftism, in that the latter understands itself in terms of its opposition to the former. Thus, one could say that the ideals of Leftism and liberalism are in themselves too vague to be meaningful guides until the contrast of Christianity specifies them. Thus, the modern regime is one of freedom despite the obvious restrictions imposed by its administrative-therapeutic state, because people are not constrained by an established Christian Church or according to historically Christian morality. The modern regime is one of equality despite the obvious hierarchies in business, government, and academia because these are not the historically Christian hierarchies of fathers and priests. Understood this way, Leftism and liberalism owe their existence to Christianity only in the sense that antisemitism owes its existence to Judaism.
There are, then, two possibilities.
- Left-liberalism is a rival ideology, independent of and incompatible with Christianity. That it first emerged in Christendom (if indeed it did–remember that class warfare was endemic in pagan Rome, and decadence has been the fate of many pagan peoples) is a historical accident.
- Left-liberalism simply is the rejection of Christianity. It cannot exist without Christianity, not because it is in any sense an interior development of Christianity, but just because the rejection of a belief is necessarily consequent to that belief itself.