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Fantasy and Fairy Tales

In a famous but misunderstood quotation, Marx wrote: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation." It is, he concluded, "the opium of the people." Opiates hide the pain of physical disease without curing it. Religion, which promises divine forgiveness and a better life in the next world, conceals the pain inflicted by poverty, hunger, and the other social diseases of this world. It consoles the exploited and oppressed and justifies exploitation and oppression here-and-now with the promise of retribution and justice for exploiters and oppressors hereafter. It justifies suffering on the basis of sin. The material roots of suffering are hidden behind a spiritual facade. Suffering is presented not as an alterable product of this world, but as unalterable punishment by God or karma for our moral transgressions.
Present-day society is wholly based on the exploitation of the vast mass…

The Godly Scots

A Freedom of Thought report, published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) criticises Scotland for the religiously privileged position afforded to three “religious representatives” who are required by law to be appointed to all 32 local authority education committees.
These positions require at least one Roman Catholic and one Church of Scotland representative, but non-religious people are excluded. The report also highlighted the disparity of sex and relationships education, and religious education between Roman Catholic faith schools and others in Scotland.
Douglas McLellan, Chief Executive of the Humanist Society Scotland said:  “Many commentators in Scotland still seem unable to mention humanists or atheists without adding the term ‘militant’ or ‘aggressive’. I hope this report will make them reflect on how hurtful that is to the many millions of Scots who wish to lead an ethical and fulfilling life without reference to religion.”

Orange Pith

From the August 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Orange Myths

It is Sunday 7 July. In Portadown this morning a riot took place and working people, including policemen, were hurt; some were arrested. Another battle  . . . another myth . . . another contribution to the bitterness and hatred that divide the working class in Northern Ireland.

The government and police and wanted to ban this morning's march through the exclusively Catholic Obins Street district. The marchers, Orangemen going to church accompanied by bands playing sectarian tunes and flaunting sectarian symbols, refused to obey the Government, the police and the law despite their vociferous protestations of loyalty to all three. The police - probably working on the assumption that they could cope more easily with the Catholics than they could with the loyalists - gave in and the march took place. The holy men of the Orange Order marched defiantly through Obins Street to communicate with their god.

The Orange Order in…

Religious Intolerance

A severely mentally ill British pensioner sentenced to death in Pakistan after being found guilty of breaching the country’s blasphemy laws is being denied independent legal advice to help him appeal against the threat of execution.  The retired grocery shop owner was found guilty by a judge after state-appointed counsel failed to raise vital expert medical evidence proving he was unfit to stand trial for allegedly claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed in a series of unsent letters which were handed in to police by a man with whom he was embroiled in a property dispute. He had travelled to his birth country when he was released from hospital after being sectioned in Edinburgh. Among his grandiose symptoms, which included claiming to be a holy man, were delusions that he was being bugged by the British, Pakistan and United States secret services.

Lawyers representing Muhammad Asghar, 69, from Edinburgh, were told they could not see him in prison this weekend in defiance of his constitut…

News we like to hear.

Up to half the Catholic churches across swathes of Scotland face the prospect of closure as another diocese warns of a crisis of clergy numbers and falling congregations.

The Diocese of Galloway has released figures showing the number of priests has more than halved since 1990, with the fall in churchgoers nearly as steep. The number of regular Catholic church-goers in the Galloway diocese has dropped by half since 1990 while the number of priests has fallen from 55 to 23.  Across the diocese, which covers most of south west Scotland, there is currently one priest for every two churches.

A similar tale is to be told in the Netherlands. One of the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands, told Vatican Radio they are facing the closure of hundreds of churches and an ongoing exodus of the faithful. “The number of practicing Catholics is diminishing very quickly,” Willem Jacobus Eijk Cardinal and Archbishop of Utrecht and chairman of the Dutch bishops’ conference said. “In the 1950s 90 percent…

Nasty Nationalism

Myanmar's Muslim minority, demonised and persecuted for decades, is facing a fresh wave of violence amid media silence. Rohingya Muslims  number 1.3 million out of the country's 60 million people.

 The Oxford-educated, daughter of a General,  Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi,  characterises the waves of organised violence and  hate campaigns currently being committed by her fellow Buddhists - monks and non-monks alike - as violence of two equal sides, claims that Burmese Buddhists live in the perceived fear of the rise of great Muslim power worldwide.

The Rohingya and other Muslims make up more than 90 percent of the victims of violence, which has displaced more than 140,000 in Rakhine State. Anti-Muslim violence spread to 11 different towns elsewhere in the country, resulting in 100 Muslim deaths, displacing 12,000 Muslims, and destroying 1,300 Muslim homes and 37 Mosques. Since the 1990s, Rohingya Muslims of northern Arakan state have been confined within a web of…

Facts of the Day

A global poll on religion and atheism has found that 59 percent of the people in the world think of themselves as religious and 13 percent see themselves as convinced atheists. The study found that worldwide the number of atheistsincreased by 3 percent in the same time period that the number who said they were religious dropped off by 9 percent.

Poor People More ReligiousThe bottom income groups are 17 percent more religious than those in the top income groups. Ghana leads the way among religious people with 96 percent of its respondents saying they think of themselves as religious. Nigeria was second at 93 percent, followed by Armenia and Fiji, which both came in at 92 percent. Macedonia rounded out the top five at 90 percent. 60 percent of the United States population considers itself to be religious, while 5 percent think of themselves as atheists. China leads the way among atheist countries by far as 47 percent of the nation’s respondents think of themselves as convinced atheists. J…

No God-given right to a country

The Church of Scotland denies any special privilege for the Jewish people in the land of Israel. In fact it went further and declared "Christians should not be supporting any claims by Jews, or any other people, to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to possess particular territory." [our emphasis]
In its report the Church of Scotland refutes claims that scripture offers any peoples a privileged claim for possession of a particular territory. Promises about the land of Israel were never intended to be taken literally, or as applying to a defined geographical territory. The ‘promised land’ in the Bible is not a place, so much as a metaphor of how things ought to be among the people of God. This ‘promised land’ can be found – or built – anywhere.








Saudi Arabia back-pedals on women's freedom

Women in one of the West closest allies are still banned from driving cars or travelling alone but it is good to note that the British demands for more women’s rights in the Islamic fundamentalist state is being heeded and having an effect.

 Women can now ride bicycles! But only in parks and recreational areas, not as a means of transport, just for entertainment and pleasure. Of course, a male relative or guardian must still accompany them.

Socialist Courier spots a potential market and business opportunity in selling Saudi Arabia tandem bikes.

One or None

It is 200 years since the birth of David Livingstone, perhaps the most famous of missionaries. One biography describes David Livingstone as "Africa's Greatest Missionary".

An interesting claim considering that estimates of the number of people he converted in the course of his 30-year career vary between one and none. Livingstone himself later wrote off his sole convert as a backslider within months of his baptism.

Preaching revolution

The only reasonable position to adopt towards any religion is one of unbelief. For secular humanists, criticism of religion is a process towards the eventual "triumph of reason". But they ignore the material circumstances which give rise to superstition. The socialist analysis of religion derives from our basic materialism that traces how religions have evolved, from their possible beginnings in ancestor worship in primitive societies to established social institutions. Under capitalism people feel, rightly, that they are governed by forces they can't control but attribute this, wrongly, to forces operating from outside the world of experience. Churches of all types are then at hand for the sustaining of fear and superstition. For the socialist alternative to our lives being controlled by impersonal forces we must bring about a society in which humans consciously control the forces of production.
Humans made God in their image and attributed to him the powers which they…

Religious Belief

Readers of Socialist Courier may find this article by Jeff Schweitzer on religion of interest.

The human brain manages to make sense of a chaotic world by picking out patterns from the noise bombarding our senses. We don't see the trillions of photons coming into our eyes as pointillist smears of colors; we see trees and forests. We process all of that incessant sensory input and come up with a familiar scene filled with grasses, animals, lakes and mountains. In addition, we are extraordinarily good at matching cause to effect so that we can quickly learn the behaviors necessary for survival. Burning your hand quickly teaches that fire causes pain. Understanding patterns, combined with correlating cause and effect, will save your life.

Unfortunately, this incredible talent for seeking patterns and linking cause to effect has a dark side, too. Humans see patterns where none really exist and cause where only chance reigns supreme. We cannot seem to turn off our pattern-seeking or cau…

Victimised atheism

The latest census reveals that in the UK respondents with no religion was up 10 points to 25%. A detailed survey in 2012 revealed that religious people make up 59% of the world population, while those who identify as “atheist” make up 13%, and an additional 23% identify as “not religious” (while not self-identifying as “atheist”).

Many countries criminalize manifestations of atheist convictions or skeptical thoughts. In prosecuting these “crimes” it may not be necessary to accuse the person of atheism. Many states prosecute people who express their religious doubts or dissent regardless of whether those dissenters identify as atheist. More commonly, secular people experience discrimination when they manifest their conscience by acting against the dictates of the religion of their family, community or country. In some societies allegations of religious dissent are manufactured for use against minority belief communities, or vulnerable individuals, or to settle personal vendettas. A ha…

God and the Socialist Party

The quest for the supernatural does not stem from an excessive imagination but from a limited one constrained by years of exploitation and oppression.

Being opposed to religion is not the same as trying to prevent people from practising religion. We're not interested in setting up an enlightened dictatorship. Socialists don't want to police peoples thoughts - rather, we seek to change peoples ideas by engaging with them. It would be stupid to think that, in a society based on the endless oppression and coarsening of the worker masses, religious prejudices could be dispelled by purely propaganda methods. To put it another way, rational argument alone will not convince people to abandon religion because religious conviction is not primarily arrived at through a rational process (people don't generally become religious because they've sat down and thought through the issues but due to indoctrination, spiritual experiences, etc.) We understand that ideas and consciousness…

God and Class

"The religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish, when the practical relations of every-day life offer to man none but perfectly  intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature."Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I

It is too often overlooked that economics is inextricably mixed up with religion. The economic order is a reflection of the religious order. The linkage is utterly central to religion as a cultural and political forc - the connection between religion and class inequality. Because there are no remedies for social inequality within the present system of society the great masses of humanity are best kept sedated by pious delusions.

Reliable findings from the United Nations show that the wealthiest 10% of adults and the poorest 50% possess 85% and 0.01% of the world’s total wealth respectively. The World Bank reported last year, women own just 0.01% of the world’s wealth. In the United States, 400 American…

Religion – Thy name is superstition.

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. Religions locate the solution to society’s problems in the individual’s salvation. Socialists see the problems that wrack human society as material and political, and their solutions as likewise material and political, not supernatural. Socialists do not hold beliefs. They have an understanding of the world based on the best evidence available.

Ideas have no independant existence from human beings, and those ideas are determined by the material world in which we live. God only exists as an idea in society. Gods are products of the human imagination given powers to dominate the lives of those who create them.

Religion perform 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…

Keep on walking

46 parades of up to 8,000 Orangemen will march through Glasgow's city centre today with a number of them converging on Cathedral Square. In all, 174 parades taking place throughout the Strathclyde police force area. Henry Dunbar, Grand Master of the Orange Order, said: "The annual Glasgow Boyne Celebrations is the city's biggest street event" An impressive event, perhaps, but highly divisive and sectarian in character. 

The Orange Order warned that Scotland is a "nation in turmoil" and raised concerns over the "separatist campaign". Grand Master Henry Dunbar urged members to back the Union. The Orange Order called on the Church of Scotland to stand up for the country's protestant heritage. "We are dismayed by the dismal failure of our national church, the Church of Scotland, to exert influential leadership in matters of faith and morality. It is a sad reflection that in today's society, many protestants now consider that the Orange O…

It's beyond belief !

Thousands of American school students in Louisiana attend private religious schools that teach from a fundamentalist christian curriculum that suggests the Loch Ness Monster is real and disproves evolution.

"Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the `Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? `Nessie,' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur."explains an Accelerated Christian Education science textbook
It goes on to declare that "True science will never contradict the Bible because God created both the universe and Scripture...If a scientific theory contradicts the Bible, then the theory is wrong and must be discarded."
Politically, the religious school curriculums denounce trade unions as "... plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise syst…

Give the Orange Lodge their marching orders!

 “Cathy cats eat the rats, Proddy dogs eat the frogs”

As part of the Queen's 60th Jubilee the Protestant, pro-monarchist Orange Order staged numerous parades and held street parties to commemorate the day.

The Orange Order has its origin in Ireland, where in the 18th century Protestant and Catholic farmers banded together in defense of each other in secret societies and informal militias. The structure of the Order was modeled after the Freemasons, and the name was chosen to show support for William of Orange, the man who had replaced James II in 1690. Early in their history, the Order was mostly an agrarian movement, and was not particularly popular with the gentry. They were seen as a potential problem. It was feared that they would turn on the aristocracy. This changed when the United Irishmen entered the scene in Ireland in the 1780s, with their revolutionary ideas, and posed an even greater threat to the gentry. The reality was that the Orange Order became a counter-revoluti…

The Scottish Taleban - The Covenanters

Over 18,000 and possibly as many as 30,000 Presbyterian Covenanters gave their lives for their beliefs during the seventeenth century.

Were the Covenanters essentially Protestant theocrats? Or were the Covenanters really democrats challenging an absolutist regime?  Presbyterian beliefs meant an opposition to the King`s claim of supremacy in church matters, although they acknowledged his supremacy in civil matters. Yet to safeguard their religious rights  required a clerical  influence on the civil government. Covenanters stood up to the powers of the Crown but never, at any point in time, challenged the Crown's right to rule. The best known events of the Covenanters tend to be the National Covenant (1638), the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) and the horrors of "The Killing Time" (1684-5).

Religion and politics have been interwoven throughout Scottish history. There was the Calvinist Reformation where John Knox was able to bend much of Scotland to his will and contro…