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Religious communism is a form of communism that incorporates religious principles. Scholars have used the term to describe a variety of social or religious movements throughout history that have favored the common ownership of property.
The teachings of Jesus are frequently described as communist by religious Christian communists. Acts 4:35 records that in the early church in Jerusalem "[n]o one claimed that any of their possessions was their own", although the pattern would later disappear from church history except within monasticism. However, critics of socialism, including Catholic social teaching propounded by several Popes, argue that Christ was more communitarian than communist.
Christian communism is an early form of socialism and pre-Marxist communism based on Christianity. It is a theological and political theory based upon the view that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support communism as the ideal social system. Although there is no universal agreement on the exact date when Christian communism was founded, many Christian communists assert that evidence from the Bible suggests that the first Christians, including the apostles, established their own small communist society in the years following Jesus' death and resurrection. As such, many advocates of Christian communism argue that it was taught by Jesus and practiced by the apostles themselves. Some independent historians confirm it.
There are those who view that the early Christian Church such as that one described in the Acts of the Apostles was an early form of communism and religious socialism. The view is that communism was just Christianity in practice and Jesus as the first communist. This link was highlighted in one of Karl Marx's early writings which stated that "[a]s Christ is the intermediary unto whom man unburdens all his divinity, all his religious bonds, so the state is the mediator unto which he transfers all his Godlessness, all his human liberty". Furthermore, Thomas Müntzer led a large Anabaptist communist movement during the German Peasants' War which Friedrich Engels analysed in The Peasant War in Germany. The Marxist ethos that aims for unity reflects the Christian universalist teaching that humankind is one and that there is only one god who does not discriminate among people.
In the 16th century, English writer Thomas More, who is venerated in the Catholic Church as Saint Thomas More, portrayed a society based on common ownership of property in his treatise Utopia, whose leaders administered it through the application of reason. Several groupings in the English Civil War supported this idea, but especially the Diggers, who espoused clear communistic yet agrarian ideals. Oliver Cromwell and the Grandees' attitude to these groups was at best ambivalent and often hostile.
Criticism of the idea of private property continued into the Enlightenment era of the 18th century through such thinkers as the deeply religious Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Raised a Calvinist, Rousseau was influenced by the Jansenist movement within the Roman Catholic Church. The Jansenist movement originated from the most orthodox Roman Catholic bishops who tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century to stop secularization and Protestantism. One of the main Jansenist aims was democratizing to stop the aristocratic corruption at the top of the Church hierarchy. The participants of the Taiping Rebellion, who founded the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a syncretic Christian-Shenic theocratic kingdom, are viewed by the Communist Party of China as proto-communists.
T. M. Browning described religious communism as a form of communism that "springs directly from principles native to a religion" and Hans Hillerbrand defined religious communism as religious movements that advocated the "communal ownership of goods and the concomitant abrogation of private property". Browning and Hillerbrand have distinguished the religious communism from political communism and economic socialism. Additionally, Hillerbrand has contrasted religious communism with Marxism, an ideology that called for the elimination of religion. Donald Drew Egbert and Stow Persons have noted that "[c]hronologically, religious communism tended to precede secular [communism]". However, other scholars have also suggested that the traditional "political communism" or Marxism has always been a variety of religion.
In Christian Europe, communists were believed to have adopted atheism. In Protestant England, communism was too close to the Roman Catholic communion rite, hence socialist was the preferred term. Friedrich Engels argued that in 1848, when The Communist Manifesto was published, socialism was respectable in Europe while communism was not. The Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France were considered respectable socialists while working-class movements that "proclaimed the necessity of total social change" denoted themselves communists. This branch of socialism produced the communist work of Étienne Cabet in France and Wilhelm Weitling in Germany.
The term religious communism has been used to describe a variety of social or religious movements throughout history. The "commune of early Christians at Jerusalem" has been described as a group that practiced religious communism. The teachings of Mazdak, a religious proto-socialist Persian reformer, have also been referred to as early communism. According to Ben Fowkes and Bulent Gokay, Bolshevik Mikhail Skachko stated at the Congress of the Peoples of the East that "the Muslim religion is rooted in principles of religious communism, by which no man may be a slave to another, and not a single piece of land may be privately owned".
Some scholars have used the term religious communism to describe a number of 17th-century Protestant movements that "disavow[ed] personal property". Bhabagrahi Misra and James Preston described the "religious communism of the Shakers" as a "community in which all goods are held in common". Larry Arnhart described "religious communism in the Oneida Community" as a system where "[e]xcept for a few personal items, they shared all their property". In fact, Albert Fried wrote that "American religious communism reached its apogee" in the 1850s "[w]ith the rise of the Oneida community".
According to Rod Janzen and Max Stanton, the Hutterites believed in strict adherence to biblical principles, "church discipline" and practiced a form of communism. The Hutterites "established in their communities a rigorous system of Ordnungen, which were codes of rules and regulations that governed all aspects of life and ensured a unified perspective. As an economic system, Christian communism was attractive to many of the peasants who supported social revolution in sixteenth century central Europe" such as the German Peasants' War and "Friedrich Engels thus came to view Anabaptists as proto-Communists".
Other scholars have used the term religious communism to describe a communist social movement that developed in Paris in the 1840s which was organized by "foreign-born, primarily German-speaking, journeyman-artisans who had settled there". In the early 20th century, prior to the rise of Bolshevism in Russia, some intellectuals advocated for the implementation of a form of communism that incorporated Christian ideology "as an alternative to Marxism". Additionally, some Catholic theologians in the late 20th century also organized groups to create a dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Communist Party of Italy.
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