Sunday, August 28, 2016

To Atheists, Secularists, Rationalists, Humanists and Freethinkers (2/4)

Religion inherently anti-working-class because:
A. It offers salvation from externally
B. Its 'truths' are illusory
C. It teaches discredited non-scientific methods of inquiry
D. It pretends to piety
E. It divides the working-class

As a belief, religion is a manifestation of man’s ignorance of Nature’s workings. Today the spread of atheism is inexorable but much slower in some parts of the world than to be expected. The working class, although not as yet hostile to religion, are nevertheless becoming increasingly indifferent to it. It appears there has been a recent proliferation of books published on the subject of defending or promoting atheism or giving the case against religion and an even greater number of words written about them in reviews, newspaper articles, and journals. It is not the case that men and women first stopped believing in God and in the authority of the church, and then subsequently started behaving differently. It seems clear that people, first of all, lost any overall social agreement as to the right ways to live together, and so ceased to be able to make sense of any claims to moral authority. Social change happened prior to the loss of religious belief. The atomisation and shattering of community (and the education) which result from capitalism forbid the existence of any widely-accepted and consistent view of the world in terms of human values.  Thus, the staying-power of religion can be attributed to the lack of any alternative. Some religions are providing a retreat from the harsh conditions of secular life. Religion is the ideological expression of a long-gone world and its ancient social conditions, a world of superstition, slavery and little education. Far from providing an answer to today’s problems, it tells us to put our faith in the supernatural hopes of a past age. The history of religion is a deeply interesting subject, for the association of certain phases of religion with certain political interests is by no means accidental.

Socialism traces all the phenomena with which it concerns itself to natural causes, and relies on purely secular forces for its realization, while religion cannot combine with any system in which the belief in God does not rank as an essential feature. Socialism is the application of science to the relations among mankind. Socialism, as the science of society, is an essential part of a scientific view of all phenomena regarded as an interdependent whole; and such a Monistic view of the universe, with each part in inseparable causal relation to the rest, can leave no nook or cranny for God. The consistent socialist, therefore, cannot be religious and socialism implies the rejection of superstition cannot be disputed. Those whose standpoint is that of the welfare of the working class can make no appeal on the grounds of religion; for religion is an instrument of domination which cannot be used as an agent of emancipation at this stage of social development. The great theoretic weapon of the workers in their fight for emancipation is science, not religion; and religion and science are as incompatible as oil and water. Religion tends to live on through newer conditions in so far as it serves some interest. So the successive modifications of religion have been the response to changed conditions and interests.

Atheism is gaining in popularity and that their criticism of religion has struck a chord with so many people becoming converts. Atheists have been coming out of the closet in recent years. Atheists have pointed out the ill effects of religion on society and exposed the errors and outright stupidity of religious thought. But will these freethinkers also embrace the “heresy” of criticizing capitalism? Many atheists extend their criticism to the point that religion seems to be the fundamental cause of many—if not most—of the society’s ills, effectively detaching religion (evil) and science (good) from the society in which they exist and function. They overlook capitalism and the role that religion and science play within this system of production for profit. Neither religion nor science exists in a vacuum, isolated from society at large. The pursuit of science, for instance, is hardly exempt from the life-or-death struggle to accumulate capital that is all around us. Indeed, the main force that is narrowing the directions that scientific research can take is not religion but the capitalist system of production itself. Under capitalism, the development of science and technology is driven forward by the unceasing competition to raise the productivity of labour as a means of augmenting profit—not a desire to better satisfy human needs—so the potential of science to improve the quality of our lives is severely curtailed. Atheists thus do science no great favour in letting capitalism off the hook and presenting religion as the primary obstacle to the free development of science. To abolish religion is not to end exploitation. The supreme aim of the workers must be their emancipation from wage-slavery, and the fight against superstition is but one phase of this great fight.

Rather than pointing out for the thousand-and-first time that religion is bunk, or describing its negative impact on society, socialists would pose the more interesting question: Why does religious thought continue to exist (and even flourish) in modern capitalist society? That is to say: Why does “God”—who has been declared dead on so many occasions—keep cropping up in people’s imaginations? To answer that question we need to consider the relationship between religion and society. More specifically: What is the usefulness of religion as far as capitalism is concerned, and what aspects of life in capitalist society make religious thought appealing to individuals?

In a class-divided society, religious thought comes in handy for those in positions of wealth and power. It promises workers—who happen to form the bulk of the population—that we will get some pie in the sky (after we die), as a reward for our suffering here on earth. Religious leaders encourage their working class “flock” to stoically accept their existence as wage slaves, going on about how “the meek shall inherit the earth.” The benefits to the ruling class of inculcating workers with such a masochistic outlook goes without saying. Granted, the rich are lambasted in most “Holy Books” and told that they should give up their wealth if they hope to enter heaven. In reality, the religious criticism of the rich and powerful, far from threatening their social position, only serves to reinforce their rule. Religion may promise that the filthy rich will be punished but the court date is in the hereafter, not the here-and-now. While religious ideology is no doubt a useful means of dampening social discontent it would seem safe to say that the key ideology propagated by capitalists is not religion, but nationalism, which is more effective in blinding workers to their class interests and chaining them to a system that turns their blood and sweat into profits. Capitalists, however, do not have to choose between religion and nationalism. Both come in handy as far as distorting the nature of the problems we face and offering false solutions. They also complement each other nicely: religion encouraging patient suffering, while nationalism offers a way to channel frustrations. The point to note here is simply that one important reason why religion continues to exist and to be enthusiastically propagated, is that a religious outlook—particularly its focus on a better life after death instead of here on earth—serves the interests of the minority ruling class.

Explaining the benefits of religious ideology for the capitalist class, however, does not account for why individuals actually believe in religion. Religion can diminish the frustrations we experience in class society, offering the hope (illusion) of divine reward and retribution in an afterlife. Perhaps some souls do invest in religious faith in the hope of later gain, or out of fear of eternal damnation, but that does not adequately explain the stubborn charms of religion in modern-day capitalism. More than the temptation of immortality it offers, much of religion’s power seems to come from its view of the real world in which we live and the answers it provides to baffled and worried minds. By offering a criticism of the status quo, and suggestions for social improvements, religion is able to attract some of the vast majority of people who are frustrated with life under capitalism. But the superficial criticism that religion offers only serves to bolster capitalism, suggesting that the problem is our “sinful” behaviour rather than a social system that encourages and rewards such behaviour. Religion holds out the hope that life on earth could be better.

As long as its social foundation remains intact, religion will continue to exist—no matter how many times it has been refuted. Atheists who only fight against religion—turning a blind eye to the hell of capitalism—thus ironically end up prolonging the life of their bĂȘte noire.

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