033: NO WAY JOSE! (i.e. Jose Porfirio Miranda)

“Welcome to Zingcreed, the only religious blog in the world with more questions than answers. I hope you get something from this Christian/Atheist polemic!” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

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Mexican Professor José Porfirio Miranda is not a man to be trifled with.
A mathematician, an economist, a liberation theologian and above all a man who has a better grasp of both the bible and the works of Karl Marx than probably anyone else alive (or dead for that matter). Naturally, being from the third world and bringing a biblical exegesis the west would rather not hear, the church in the west has marginalised him. His works are poorly translated and have low print runs, and in 3 recent SCM Press books on Liberation Theology he isn’t even mentioned at all.
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He spells out his message thus:  “Jesus was a communist.” and “Christianity is Communism.” (“Communism in the Bible” 1982) (i)
How could the church in the capitalist west  at the height of the cold war have responded other than to say:  “No way, José!”
   Now that the cold war has ended, Miranda’s books are out of print and liberation theology seems old fashioned. Other theologies are now “in”.
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However no-one has ever succeeded in refuting his thesis, and it’s high time it was taken off the shelf and dusted down because it is more relevant than ever. Let’s dust off  “Das Kapital” too while we’re at it, or at least some modern reworking of classical Marx. Preferably one that acknowledges his early works on alienation.
This blog will attempt to briefly summarise Miranda’s 3 main books, at least insofar as they relate to the Zingcreed Christian-atheist project.

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1971: “Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of  Oppression”

Freud, Marx, Marcuse, Proudhon – Miranda has read them all,  probably in their original languages. His grasp  is awesome and he can weave and plait ideas from many sources all at once, which is not to say it is a dense book. It has a clear layout and a good contents page. Basically he is challenging western theology. During the course of his studies he came to realise that it is blind to all those passages in the Hebrew (Old) Testament and the Greek (New) Testament which attack private property and take up the cause of the poor and oppressed. He claims to reveal the bible’s authentic message (“my conclusions are objectively verifiable”) and points to a God who fights the oppressors on behalf of the oppressed, while Christianity down the ages, on the other hand, has been an ally of so many structures of economic, political and social oppression.
The book goes through the bible, with a rigorous exegesis. Any parallels with Marx are noted in passing. Miranda is driven by a strong Jesus-centred moral sense. He does not hesitate to point the finger at western Christian apologists for capitalist exploitation, and accuse them of ignoring the biblical evidence, which he displays with clarity. The book is 338 pages long . The Main points are summarises with greater brevity (and greater anger, it must be said ) in his 85 page book “Communism in the Bible” written 11 years later.

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1978  “Marx against the Marxists: The Christian Humanism of Karl Marx”

In this exciting, easy to understand,  316-page book, Miranda contradicts everything I thought I knew about Marx. He appears (unlike Lenin or Stalin) to have read all 44 volumes of  the Collected Works of Marx and Engels  (over 600 pages each!). He claims that Marx has been misrepresented and that his  philosophy is far more Christian than is usually presumed.
Here are some other points I noted:

  • Marx’s criticism of capitalism centres around the fact that capitalism does not respect human beings as persons – an eminently Christian analysis.
  • The “Kingdom” is to be built on earth. It will be communist and classless. (p. 199,200,229)
  • In Miranda’s view Christianity has been disastrously corrupted by “Religion”. (footnote, p.262)
  • Jesus and Marx have the same values. (p. 132, 197)
  • Jesus taught ( and the West and Marx and indeed the world believed) that man is an end in himself. This is not a natural thing to believe – it comes from Jesus’ moral values. According to Marx “Under capitalism man is a mere means of production, not an end in himself.” (p. 197)
  • The system of justice and moral fabric at the base of civilisation are in fact totally betrayed by capitalism. The only way they will ever be brought about is under communism. (p. 250-251)
  • Marx’s humanism can be summed up as “Money/Capital  is a good servant but a bad master.”  (p.120-130)
  • The prophetic indignation of both Jesus and Marx was identical. (p.132, 197)
  • In 1883 in London, Engels remarked that “Middle class kids understand marxism better than the workers do!” (p. 134) Sounds like the Trots in London in 2013!
  • Revolution does not necessarily have to be violent – Marx. (p. 86)
  • Engels predicts the Russian Revolution!  (p.88-89)
  • Contrary to what is commonly believed, Marx claimed that important ideas had a force which could not be explained by socioeconomic circumstances. (p. 89)
  • Likewise the all important “base” in Marxist philosophy is not purely economic. (p.102-103)
  • Lastly, Miranda tells the story of Marx’s daughter Eleanor and her “religious doubts” at the age of five or six and how daddy put her right! (p. 225)

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A critique of Miranda comes from McGovern (iv), who thinks Miranda is extreme. He “imposes a marxist framework on the Bible”. The examples he gives are:
(1) He makes strong sweeping onesided statements about the justice proclaimed by ancient Israel, which is “fiercely punitive against the oppressors” of Israel; yet he ignores the many pasages which extol God’s great mercy;
(2) Paul is described as more subversive of the law than the Russian anarchist Bakunin; which overlooks Paul’s instructions to slaves to obey their masters and to women to obey their husbands!

DEFINITELY TO BE CONTINUED

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Related Zingcreed Posts:
Red Christian documents #24: Jesus’ Revolutionary Politics by Miranda
Red Christians #2: Camilo Torres
Red Christians # 3: Christians for Socialism Movement (Chile)
Red Christians # 9: Marighella’s Dominicans
Red Christians # 10: Christian Base Communities (Brazil)
Red Christians # 11: Revolutionary Christian Movement of Nicaragua
Liberation Theology, dead or alive
The Christian roots of Communism
Marx’s Christian roots
The opium of the people
Marx’s 3 criticisms of religion
Prophets attack profits
Jesus’s real political message
Jesus and the wealthy

Sources:
(i) Miranda, J.P. “Communism in the Bible” Wipf and Stock (1982)
(ii) Miranda, J.P. “Marx against the Marxists: The Christian Humanism of Karl Marx” SCM Press (1978)
(iii) Miranda, J.P. “Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression”  Orbis (1971)
(iv) McGovern, A.F. in Gottwald, N.K. & Horsley, R. “The Bible and liberation” Orbis/SPCK (1993)

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2 comments

  1. You write clearly and persuasively. I came upon your blog by chance, it’s simply fresh and clear!

    1. Hi Victor
      Thanks for your comment. I find a lot of theology incomprehensible so I either ignore those bits or think about them for a long time until I’ve simplified them in my head, then I write! I notice you were looking at “No Way Jose”. I reckon Miranda is a genius, and he’s just ignored today. He has so much to teach us that is relevant today if we want to make the world a better place.
      More comments, especially constructive criticism, will always be welcome.
      All the best. Peter Turner (Zingcreed)

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