In my first column for this series on Frank Marshall Davis, Obama's mentor, I noted Davis's upbringing and faith -- and his break early on from Christianity.
Significantly, among the rancid fruits of this separation was communism. Therein were seeds of Davis's eventual turn to Marxism-Leninism, a totalitarian ideology and the god that failed.
In the last column, I quoted from Davis's memoirs. Here, let's take a look at some of his writings from Communist Party publications in the 1940s and 1950s. They are quite eye-opening.
In some of these writings, Frank Marshall Davis attempted to argue that devout Christians ought to be devout socialists and communists. In columns for the Chicago Star in July and August 1947, Davis wrote back-to-back pieces insisting that, "The evidence of logic and history should align the deeply religious with believers in socialism and communism." And given that most Christians in America were anti-communist and anti-Soviet, he questioned whether America was really a Christian nation.
True Christians, Davis declared, "should be working together as one" with communists.
Obama's mentor was particularly at odds with the Roman Catholic Church, which more than any institution had fiercely opposed communism spiritually and intellectually since the mid-1800s, including with a blistering recent encyclical that defined communism as a "satanic scourge." At this time, leading American Catholics like Cardinal Francis Spellman and Bishop Fulton Sheen were annihilating the communist philosophy in churches, in print, on radio, and on TV -- with Sheen's weekly TV program not only among the most widely watched but earning him an Emmy.
Communists were not happy about this. "The Catholic hierarchy," sneered Frank Marshall Davis, had launched a "holy war against communism."
And how wrong this was, judged Davis; communism and Christianity were natural friends, not foes.
Notably, Davis did not bother with any of the innumerable infamous remarks on religion from Marx and Lenin and communists generally, who described Christianity as everything from silly superstition to a form of venereal disease that must be eradicated. The Soviet Union was, of course, officially atheist. Marx dubbed religion the "opiate of the masses," and opined that, "Communism begins where atheism begins." Vladimir Lenin said far worse. Speaking on behalf of the Bolsheviks in his famous October 2, 1920 speech, Lenin stated matter-of-factly: "We do not believe in God." He insisted that "all worship of a divinity is a necrophilia."
"There can be nothing more abominable than religion," wrote Lenin to Maxim Gorky in January 1913. Along with Trotsky, Lenin created groups like the League of the Militant Godless, which was responsible for the dissemination of anti-religious propaganda. This institutionalized hatred and bigotry continued to thrive under Lenin's disciples.
Frank Marshall Davis, however, was not going there. He wanted American Christians to pay reverence to the greater glory of the USSR, which, in his mind, was not a nation blowing up churches, gulaging the religious, shooting priests, locking up nuns with prostitutes -- declaring nuns "whores to Christ" -- and pursuing what Mikhail Gorbachev later correctly described as a "war on religion." To the contrary, for black Americans, Davis upheld Soviet Russia as their true guiding light. The USSR, he persisted, had "abolished racism and color prejudice." Just as Christian Americans should look to Soviet communism for religious salvation, black Americans should look there for racial salvation.
And while Soviet communism was deemed good by Obama's mentor, American anti-communism was deemed heinous. More than that, by Frank Marshall Davis's reckoning, anti-communists were downright un-Christian -- betrayers of Jesus Christ. In several columns he wrote for the Chicago Star and Honolulu Record, Davis hammered anti-communist Christians for their sin of being anti-communist: their anti-communism and, worse, anti-Sovietism, was judged simply un-Christian.
In the process, Frank Marshall Davis made handy use of left-wing "social justice" Christians. In fact, muddying the waters, some of these Christians were actual closet communists, a truth Davis concealed to appeal to progressive Christians. Davis skillfully worked both sides to attempt to advance the fundamental "change" that he spoke and wrote about.
In a July 7, 1949 column, for example, Davis applied the case of the Rev. Thomas S. Harten. He described Harten as "for many years one of the most noted Negro pastors." Davis neglected to mention that Harten was a member of the general assembly and board of the radical, communist-infiltrated National Council of Churches.
Readers, however, could have easily discerned Davis's reasons for not disclosing Harten's political preferences. He wanted Harten to preach to Americans about their (allegedly) unwarranted, un-Christian anti-Sovietism. Davis quoted the leftist pastor: "I say to America that before she preaches to Russia or to any other nation, she must remove the mote from her own eye, and clean up the dirt in her own backyard." When Harten gazed from his pulpit in the direction of Stalin's state, he saw no mote there at all.
Sadly, said Davis, Harten was another victim sacrificed at the altar of anti-communism. Anti-communists were no less than modern-day Pontius Pilates seeking to crucify poor Rev. Harten. Harten, however, was ready for martyrdom -- if necessary to stop Christians from criticizing Stalin's utopia. According to Davis, the likes of the good Rev. Harten, "feel their cause is just and are ready to face crucifixion, if need be, for what they believe in. They have no fear of the Pontius Pilates."
Washington's anti-communists had washed their hands, and now Rev. Harten would carry his cross all the way to Golgotha.
In resurrecting Harten's case, Davis was bidding for the biggest dupes of all: the Religious Left. For Davis, it was easy picking, sheep easily led astray. Another painful illustration was his column of September 29, 1949, titled, "Challenge to the Church." He doubled down, not only posing anti-communism as un-Christian, but postulating that communism is friendly to Christianity.
Davis imagined Judgment Day, where anti-communist Christians would be called to account for their transgressions: "On your Judgment Day, when the Lord will ask you for an account of your stewardship, will you have to say, ‘Lord, they were a pack of wolves'? If God will then ask you, 'My son, did, you do all you could to humanize these wolves, to Christianize them, to teach them My Way?' will your answer be, 'Lord I was too busy Redbaiting?"
And the Catholic Church especially deserved a good scourging. "The Christian churches, and the Catholic church in particular," preached Obama's mentor, "are making a grievous error in their shortsighted belief that the major enemy of Christianity is Communism."
Not a communist in Moscow would have agreed with Davis, and the late Lenin would have laughed him out of the country-or thanked him for his efforts.
Not only was Soviet Russia not anti-religious, said Frank Marshall Davis, but it had saved the world from Hitler's "anti-Christian paganism." Really, Christians worldwide should pay homage to Stalin. Instead, they were blinded by their anti-communist bigotry.
In so many of these cases, Davis, not unlike Barack Obama, was a man of the far left making appeals to the "social justice" Religious Left for support. In The Communist, I give many examples of this, from Davis's WWII work with the American Peace Mobilization -- a horrible Hitler-accommodating communist front rightly described as "seditious" by Congress -- to his 1947 efforts to rally Religious Left ministers against the Truman Doctrine, which sought to stop communist takeovers in Greece and Turkey.
There's so much more to the Davis story, and it's very troubling.
So, in sum, how much of this rubbed off on a young Barack Obama, who often met with Davis throughout the 1970s during long, late-nights together, and who Obama quotes throughout his memoirs? It's hard to say. But the similarities are often striking, if not chilling. Consider:
As noted, Davis was skeptical of preachers and their effect on God-and-gun clinging Americans. He viewed the Catholic Church as an obstacle to his plans and vision for the state. Nonetheless, he insisted that Christians should support his ideas and enthusiastically sought the support of the "social justice" Religious Left for his various causes and campaigns. Moreover, many people were unclear about his personal religious beliefs, including whether he was a Christian.
Either way, regardless of whether we can make crystal-clear connections between say, a Frank Marshall Davis column for the Chicago Star in July 1947 and a Barack Obama policy in July 2012, Davis's story certainly merits our attention. In the past, for every other president, journalists and biographers didn't dare ignore mentors; no, they started with mentors. So why, only today, with President Barack Obama, do we suddenly have the bizarre spectacle of liberal/mainstream journalists and biographers ignoring the president's mentor, a man who had been a literal card-carrying communist under surveillance by the federal government for decades?
I think the answer is obvious. Don't you?
This is part two of an exclusive two-part series written adapted from the author's newly released book, The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor.