Socialist” has more than double the letters of the average expletive and, for generations now, has packed a corresponding punch in American public life. To hurl the word at someone has been to mark that person not just outside the mainstream but dangerously so. What reasonable person could espouse such a “godless” political philosophy, not to mention one so prone to nightmarish consequences on this side of the veil?
For many Americans, the very mention of socialism evokes dystopian visions of totalitarian rule and endless breadlines, whether in the old USSR or in contemporary Venezuela. Certainly such associations lurked behind Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore’s June declaration on Twitter, “I hate socialism. I’ve seen its wreckage up close. It’s based on a faulty view of human nature. Plus, it doesn’t work.” Just last month, Prestonwood Baptist pastor Jack Graham put an even finer point on the matter, tweeting, “No serious Christian can support socialism.”
And yet many serious Christians have, as Vaneesa Cook underscores in her thought-provoking new book, Spiritual Socialists: Religion and the American Left. Cook finds in the past ample evidence that the intersection of Christianity and radicalism in the modern United States has in fact been quite bustling.
The heart of her story lies in the half-century between World War I and the Civil Rights movement, a time when “spiritual socialists,” as she calls them, stretched the boundaries of Christian social and political imagination, even as they helped reorient the American Left away from doctrinaire Marxism. As that latter point suggests, for Cook, as for her characters, socialism is a far more ...1
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