Thursday, December 02, 2021



As we begin to approach that time of year where Christians celebrate the birth of the man they call the Christ, perhaps it is an apt time to reflect upon religion.


Primitive mankind was surrounded by natural forces that manifested themselves both to their detriment and benefit. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed, splitting the rocks and trees. Floods, fires, droughts, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes gave testimony to the existence of great destructive power, always near, never seen, yet omnipotent and was beyond mortal comprehension. Early mankind depicted these terrors and malignant forces often into a human-like form, making God in its own image.  This super-being took delight in causing sorrow and distress. It was the Evil One, who needed to be appeased by offerings of good things. Other forces manifested themselves in an opposite direction. The warmth of the sun, the fruitfulness of the earth, the cooling breeze, the rain refreshing the parched earth, and numberless other agreeable effects could only be the results of the activity of an opposite nature to that of the Evil One. This Good One had to be thanked, and when storms calmed and famine gave way to plenty, what was more natural than to ascribe it to the victory of the Good One over the Evil One? The former was to be prayed to for success in the hunt and for protection from the Evil One, while the latter had to be appeased by sacrifices.


 Thus arose the ideas of God and the Devil, Light and Darkness, founded on mankind’s ignorance of the laws that govern the forces of nature. Religion is a manifestation of humanity’s ignorance of Nature’s workings and its mastery over mankind. As rites and ceremonies, it is a legacy of the relatively changeless forms of ancient society, and of the supreme importance of mysterious and venerable custom to the existence of the primitive community.

The socialist point of view rests solidly on the materialist conception of history. Religion divides the universe into spiritual and physical realms and all religions offer their adherents relief from their earthly problems through some sort of appeal to the spiritual. Socialists see the problems that wrack human society as material and political, and their solutions as likewise material and political, not supernatural. 


A materialist is someone who understands the world by discovery and observation and does not postulate things without any bearing in fact. Some religious leaders may rebel against what they deem injustice, even suffering imprisonment or worse for their efforts. But where this means they seek their solutions within the framework of the system socialists aim to abolish, they demonstrate a lack of understanding of the development of social evolution, and socialists cannot endorse their views.


More importantly, membership of formally defined religious denominations (or adherence to their beliefs) can defeat people's best intentions unawares. The doctrines of organised religions traditionally locate the solution to society's problems in the individual's salvation and remain fundamentally indifferent to the fate of the human social community. At their most progressive, they seek only to modify the existing institutions of a class-divided society, and at their most reactionary they openly obstruct even that desire. Such confusion over goals in an organisation claiming to practice scientific socialism would sooner or later undermine its revolutionary character, for the tendency of such thinking is to confine discussion of capitalism's problems to the horizon of existing society, blindness fatal to the socialist viewpoint. 


One cannot understand the development of social evolution by resorting to religious ideas. Socialists do not hold beliefs. They have an understanding of the world based on the evidence available. Socialism isn't a dogma, it is a correct way of thinking about the world, and socialists learn to think correctly and accept the logical results of their own arguments.


The Socialist Party is a materialist organisation, that is we believe that ideas, etc. have no independent existence from human beings, and that ideas are determined by the material world in which we live. This is an important idea for our case, and its refutation would amount to the annihilation of our case.

Science cannot prove the non-existence of God. Neither can it prove the non-existence of pixies at the bottom of the garden. But it does not seem very likely that God has a place as part of objective reality although, it obviously exists as an idea in society.


It's true that belief in God is not synonymous with belief in a particular religion. But the fact remains that there is no concrete evidence for God's existence. If you believe in god, doesn't it follow that you believe that it has some influence in human affairs? If there's no such influence, there can't be any evidence for God's existence. If there is such an influence, then are we supposed to pray, or what?

The history of humanity and the growth of scientific thought through the ages has changed religious conceptions. And as scientific knowledge grows, "God" is relegated more and more to the background. The "God" of the modern capitalist is a different "God" than the feudal lord or slave owner of ancient times. And the "role" that "God" plays in the explanation of the working of the material world has changed. The role of "God" has changed from that of belief in predestination to God as a "personal God", from "God" as the first creator of the world and the "cause" to "God" as an afterthought (agnosticism) who has no control and the question of belief in him as irrelevant. The point being in this is that religion, belief in "God" and our own beliefs as Socialists arise from the material world, how we produce it, how we interact with it. And the primacy is the material world, of matter, yet as matter and mind (spirituality as some say ) that interact. 


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 monist view of the universe, with each part in inseparable causal relation to the rest, can leave no nook or cranny for "God".

As materialists, we apply the laws of thermodynamics (that neither energy nor matter can be created nor destroyed). Now, in the cases of 'God' or 'the soul', they all imply things existing beyond matter and energy - which is fine enough, although utterly unprovable and thus irrational. the point though, comes, when claims to an interaction between this spiritual world and the material world occur, that is, that a non-matter, non-energy 'entity' may be able to cause effects in the material world. Such an intervention would require, to all intents and purposes, the creation of energy.

Our case is that religion is not a personal/private matter, but a social and scientific matter. In religion, gods are products of the human imagination given powers to dominate the lives of those who create them. Throughout the history of class society religion performs two essential functions: it buttresses the established order by sanctifying it and by suggesting that the political order is somehow ordained by divine authority. Its sanctification of the existing social order makes it a counter-revolutionary force. Yet it consoles the oppressed exploited by offering them in heaven what they are denied upon the earth. By holding before them a vision of what they are denied, religion plays at least partly a progressive role in that it gives the common people some idea of what a better order would be. But when it becomes possible to realise that better order upon the earth in the form of communism, then religion becomes wholly reactionary, for it distracts men from establishing a now possible good society on earth by still turning their eyes towards heaven. We invent religions that denigrate our humanity, and which offer a solution in the promise of mythical, never-never land of the future.

This is how religion works. You generalise from real conditions, keep the generalisation and discard the reality. The generalisations are now an ideal world, to which reality must conform. As our knowledge of the real world changes, the generalisations become outdated. At first, this seems to mark them as eternal truths, a divinely simple and regular account of a disordered and chaotic world. As time goes on, those people who live in the new, more complex world express their lives in new generalisations, and a new system confronts the old. The scientific worldview attempts to overcome this, it is, at least in principle, the permanent revolution of ideas. The generalisation process is continually subjected to experimental testing: does the theory match up with the real world? You can generalise as much as you like, as long as you can verify or falsify the idea, i.e. that you test it with relation to the real world. The post-modern retreat from reality denies this faculty of judgement; it says that there is no way to compare ideas against each other.


Each person comes up with their own way of generalising the world; their “narrative”. So someone who thinks that the Earth is flat and the moon is cheese has just as much claim to a correct account of reality as, say, an astrophysicist. The logic of our existence as real, capable men and women who need no gods and masters to rule us is denied.

The socialist case against religion is a simple one. We understand that, as ideas are the result of the historical movement of society, and the premises of religion thus concur with specific forms of society, religion is a social matter and not, as protestant sectarians would have it, a matter of individual conscience. Religion, as we know it today, is a part of a social process of acquiring and understanding knowledge leftover from a bygone age, one in which the imagination of humanity outstripped its capacity to understand and control the world. Knowledge is inextricably linked with the process of acquiring it, with the practice of thinking. Since we, as workers, live in a world that has acquired the capacity to control its own material environment, we must reject those guides to behaviour and analysis based upon premises of human powerlessness, and the practices of thinking that go along with them. Belief in religion – any religion – warps and handicaps the ability to think objectively, particularly about social and political issues. Socialism is the application of science to the relations between men, in effect, a branch of natural history.

The Socialist Party has been castigated for insisting that socialism and religion are incompatible. To us, it is obvious that "render to God what is God's and Caesar what is Caesar's", "servants be subject to your masters", together with the focus on the "better life hereafter" are totally at odds with the emancipation of the exploited. Religion has always been used as an excuse for leaders' excesses. Everyone knows about the tortures and burnings of so-called heretics by the Inquisition and the selling of "Indulgences" and that the Crusades were not about the freeing of the Holy City of Jerusalem but rather the pillage, subjugation and rape not only of the Infidel but any Christian on the way.

There has sprung up a set of ideas, loosely related in content but closely tied by form, referred to collectively as the "New Ageism", crystal healing, aromatherapy, holistic remedies, along with a host of offshoots from the more conventional religions. These themselves are associated with a general "change of consciousness", in the main anti-technological and pro-"spiritual". We as socialists often appear alone in standing against this seeming tide of goodwill, good vibrations, and wholesomeness. Our position on organised religion is that religion is debilitating to the mind of the worker and thus to the progress which we wish to make as workers in advancing our interests. But the New Age? What could be bad about "healing"? Who could protest against the benefits of goddess worship in empowering women?


Surely this New Age is at worst harmless fun and at best a route to a new, gentler society? Our answer is that the New Age religion is merely the old age religion in a new, modern form. New Age's powers are all developed on the side of "spiritual energy", "psychic transformation", etc. If the old religion was the opium of the people, then this is the heroin; no longer extracted by chance from nature but refined, even artificially manufactured, and all the stronger for the process. The chants and prayers of the old religion have become commodified into tarot cards, crystals, and psychic healing workshops with incense burners, and scented candles. New Age is not different from religion - it is the perfection of it. The old religions are dying in the West because the actual experience of the modern world has ripped them asunder, and as dogmas, they must break instead of bowing to this change. The Pope cannot end the Catholic Church's stance on abortion, for example, even though every Catholic with a rudimentary scientific education knows that there is no divine spark at conception. Rather than obeying a priest, we choose the form of our own mental domination.


The pagan backdrop of Catholicism is filled by that of Hinduism or Buddhism removed from their own social contexts of native exploitation; all generating a thousand and one cults and sects. What all these have in common is the flight from reality into a magical world where the evils of the material world are transcended in thought. They are not revolutionary, as some might suppose, from their content of peace, love and contentment, they escape, the only escape of the life prisoner staring through the bars of a jail cell window.

Should socialists really worry about religion and New Ageism wiping out all scientific progress and knowledge, plunging the world into the long night of ignorance and superstition? Religion has had to do all the hard work of accommodating more and more scientific progress, which is why mature religions tend to become ever vaguer and more metaphorical. Successive modifications of religion have been the reflexes of changed conditions and interests.

To abolish religion is not to end exploitation. Since religion is ever used as a weapon by the ruling class against the workers, no socialist in the struggle for working-class emancipation can avoid refuting religion.

Banish Gods from the Skies, and Capitalists from the Earth 

No comments: