While working out today, I found myself engrossed in a classic episode of Firing Line featuring a conversation between William F. Buckley and his friend Malcolm Muggeridge. Though the episode dates from the early 1970s (a few oppositional Cambridge students sported caustic Nixon Knows buttons), it was still invigorating to listen to the rapier-like minds thrust and parry over matters of socialism, capitalism and the Christian Faith.
While Buckley consistently has incisive wit and penetrating insight, it was Muggeridge, in my estimation, who really shined. No, Muggeridge said, Nixon is not the devil, but he is a tenth rate politician.No, he answered, I can’t give you a glowing example of a twentieth or nineteenth century politician who we should look at as the standard because they all have warts and follow their age as opposed to lead it. No, he retorted, anti-Communism is not the best answer to Communism because it too risks becoming shrill, unbalanced and ideological.
And then he said this about Socialism:
[Socialism] is an inevitable accompaniment of [a] materialistic attitude to life. That if men could live by bread alone, then they must organize the production of their bread on more collectivist and intelligent lines. And then they would live by bread alone more successfully, but that would seem to me to be in a sense a detail. The fallacy is to suppose that they can live by bread alone.
Muggeridge, mildly exasperated, pointed out that all this talk about Communist or Capitalist economic policies and political ideology misses the larger point of what really matters in the debate. These disputes go deeper. These are questions of culture and civilization. They are concerns about the nature and destiny of man. When Christ rebuffed the devil’s temptation to turn stones into bread, he punctuated his refusal by saying,
It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone,but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’
A Godless approach to economics and politics (be it Communism or Capitalism), Muggeridge reasoned, is a doomed attempt to live on bread alone. In the end, it can’t be done. Every human being knows deep in their heart that Christ was right: there is something more than bread we are seeking. We are seeking purpose. We are craving meaning. We are hungry for dignity. We yearn for salvation. Just consider the millions who chanted at St. John Paul II’s 1979 Mass in Communist-oppressed Poland, “We want God.” St. Augustine’s God-shaped hole is sitting at the center of our restless souls waiting to be filled. And yet, history shows (and our wayward daily lives testify) that we are constantly trying to wedge some sad, ill-fitting surrogate into that hole. A collectivist paradise. A capitalist hedonism. A Hefner mansion. A drug-fed party. A state-run security. All the channels you want. All you can eat. A lottery funded sloth. Your name up in lights. Power. Honor. Pleasure. Wealth. Get your fix. And then come crashing down afterwards. The high never lasts. As Bishop Barron says, these are surrogates for God. And whether we know it or not, we will be sated by nothing but the real thing.
Muggeridge knew. We should too.
The fallacy is that we can live by bread alone.
Do you know what?
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