On Pope Francis’s recent visit to La Paz, Bolivia, he received an unusual—and many would say, offensive—gift. Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, presented Pope Francis with a wooden crucifix made of a hammer and sickle. A video shows Pope Francis considering the gift with some hesitance, before reportedly remarking “That’s not right.” Though he accepted the gift, he quickly handed it off to an aide.
President Morales, an ardent socialist, no doubt intended his gift to represent the joinder of Communist and Roman Catholic values. But the juxtaposition of Christ’s suffering and the hammer and sickle takes on deeper meaning in the context of Marxist-Leninist communist history. Communist regimes in the Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China, Cambodia, North Korea, and other countries were responsible for an estimated 94 million deaths in the twentieth century. The death toll of Marxist humanism is tragically large.
The image of Christ nailed to a hammer and sickle may seem to represent a new vision of communism: Christ as the deliverer of the poor. President Morales, leader of the Movement Towards Socialism party, often talks about helping the poor, and he advocates greater political involvement among Bolivia’s poverty-stricken indigenous communities. His “communist crucifix” was a copy of a crucifix owned by Fr. Luis Espinal Camps, a politically active Jesuit missionary who was killed by paramilitary agents in 1980. Given the bloody history of communism, though, that crucifix seems to be more the outworking of the Marxist fantasy of ending religion—God killed on a symbol of supposed human progress.
On a trip to the Czech Republic last summer, I happened upon a curious monument. Tucked away in a small park at the foot of Prague’s Petřín hill is a nondescript flight of stairs climbs into the woods. On a bronze strip embedded in the cement, there is a long list of engraved names and numbers—places and people who died in mass killings perpetuated by the Soviet regime in Czechoslovakia. As you ascend the steps and the dates near the present, you encounter six bronze men in increasing states of decay. Each statue is progressively degraded and broken, and less recognizable as a man. On the top step, there simply stands a pair of damaged feet: humanism has triumphed; humanity has been destroyed.
Prague’s memorial to the victims of communism highlights the destructive nature of Marx’s positive project. The hammer-and-sickle crucifix, on the other hand, illustrates the result of secular humanist philosophy: an innocent man, crucified on an altar of human progress—just like the 94 million victims of Marxist humanism.
Matthew H. Young is a summer intern at First Things. His writing has been published in Civitas Review, the Carolina Journal, The University Bookman, and other publications.