Yesterday (Nov. 7): the 90th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin's Communist Revolution. Last week (Oct. 31): the 490th anniversary of the beginning of Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation. That numeral 4 indicates a key difference between the two: The 490 glorified God, while the 90 attempted to deify man -- and some men in particular.
Luther was a theological revolutionary but not a political one. In 1521, he wrote "A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians To Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion." The following year, as political unrest intensified, Luther preached about effecting change through patience, charity and reliance on God's word rather than violence. He portrayed the devil enjoying religiously based class warfare: "He sits with folded arms behind the fire of hell, and says with malignant looks and frightful grin: 'Ah, how wise these madmen are to play my game! Let them go on; I shall reap the benefit.'"
When one of the madmen, Thomas Muntzer, led a communist uprising in 1524 and 1525, Luther argued that "the Gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who do of their own free will what the apostles and disciples did in Acts IV. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others -- of a Pilate and a Herod -- should be common, but only their own goods."
For nearly five centuries, many Protestants have followed Luther's distinction. It's good for Christians to be charitable by voluntarily selling property they don't need to help those in need. But kissing up to envy by instituting government-forced theft is sleeping with Satan. Communism always works out poorly in practice because people work hardest when they get to keep for themselves and their families most of what they have earned. Those who provide valuable goods and services deserve their profits, and government should not seize it. Government can tax it, but countries prosper the most when taxes are low.
Why, when the historical evidence is so clear, does communism periodically rear its exceptionally ugly head, sometimes in profile as "Christian socialism" and sometimes in full-monty flare? Part of the appeal lies in the thrill of overturning God-given patterns of family and enterprise and substituting our own. Part is power seeking. Part is satanic.
It all comes back to the difference between 490 and 90. In his 1952 book, "Witness," Whittaker Chambers wrote that Communism "is not new. It is, in fact, man's second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: 'Ye shall be as gods.' It is the great alternative faith of mankind. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God."