Last week, I returned from a few days in Catalonia. My holiday reading included Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. I thought I’d share a few extracts from this first hand account of Marxist/Anarchist revolution, accounts which concern the fate of the church in the midst of the turmoil. This is how Orwell saw things in Barcelona at the end of 1936:
Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen.
From his time fighting with Marxist militia at the front at Alcubierre:
The church had long been used as a latrine; so had all the fields for a quarter of a mile round. I never think of my first two months at war without thinking of wintry stubble fields whose edges are crusted with dung.
What to think of this? It would be too easy to take a simplistic view: Reds versus Christianity. Orwell offers his own observations, commenting on the approach of anti-Fascist papers in Britian:
Some of the foreign anti-Fascist papers even descended to the pitiful lie of pretending that churches were only attacked when they were used as Fascist fortresses. Actually churches were pillaged everywhere and as a matter of course, because it was perfectly well understood that the Spanish Church was part of the capitalist racket. In six months in Spain I only saw two undamaged churches, and until about July 1937 no churches were allowed to reopen and hold services, except for one or two Protestant churches in Madrid.
Obviously the Spanish Church will come back (as the saying goes, night and the Jesuits always return), but there is no doubt that at the outbreak of the revolution it collapsed and was smashed up to an extent that would be unthinkable even for the moribund C. of E. in like circumstances. To the Spanish people, at any rate in Catalonia and Aragón, the Church was a racket pure and simple. And possibly Christian belief was replaced to some extent by Anarchism, whose influence is widely spread and which undoubtedly has a religious tinge.
How sad that the church could be so readily identified with the cause of the rich and wealthy, and with the injustice that is present in every society, rather than with the cause of justice, especially for the poor. It happens too often. This speaks to our own times, when the world is crying out for clear, balanced and constructive Christian critiques of our own Western economic systems.