Socialist Standard No. 1385 January 2020

September 2020 Forums Socialist Standard Feedback Socialist Standard No. 1385 January 2020

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 25 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #192566
    Matthew Culbert
    Keymaster
    #192642

    Head Office has received the email below commenting on Rear View:

    Dear Friends

    As both a Christian and a subscriber, and avid reader, of the Socialist Standard, I am always interested when you include an article about religion. Alas, I am usually disappointed by the content – whereas the majority of your articles are well thought out and intellectually stimulating, religious reference is invariably cliched and simplistic. Your ‘Rear View’ column (January) was a prime example. I think one of the problems is that atheists in general tend to have a rather simplistic view of what scholars mean by the word ‘God’, and they assume that what they are rejecting is what theists are accepting. (The supernatural, heaven, hell, miracles, virgin births etc., etc.) If I may, briefly, put my own views, it may enlighten fellow readers.

    I attend church because throughout my life I have had a sense that there is more to the physical world than ‘meets the eye’. Theologians give this otherness expressions like ‘the beyond in our midst.’ Or, as Paul the apostle suggested, ‘..that in which we live, move, and have our being’. Some call this otherness God, or Spirit, The Tao, life force. No, not a big man in the sky. Simply something underlying.

    I personally have no great views about heaven or hell, what happens (if anything) when I die. In, fact, I am agnostic about many things theistic. I occasionally pray, but whether I am talking to myself or not, I have no idea. But yes, I am spiritual – I have a sense of wonder, awe, fascination with the world, beauty, love. I question meaning and purpose. I have a sense of connectedness with something deeper. Purely phycological? Meta-physical? Who knows. I like church because I have a sense of mystery about this whole, strange state, of being human, and I like being with like minded people. I know enough about quantum physics to know that the physical world is far weirder than normal ‘reality’ suggests. I know enough about the debate on consciousness to know that the majority of scientists would say that the relationship between thought and matter remains as much a mystery as ever. And I am aware of the fact that whether light is observed as wave or mass appears, oddly, to depend to some extent on the observer. Bizarre indeed! None of this, of course, proves there is an underlying non-material entity to creation any more than it disproves it. But the whole thing really is too odd to suggest, as Rear View does, that everything can be ‘adequately explained…!’ A bold and rather premature statement indeed!

    My other point in writing is that I am interested in how you see a truly socialist world treating ‘religious’ people. There is no point in saying that, because everything would be so wonderful, people would have no recourse to ‘pie in the sky’ and gods. That would simply be regurgitating the old cliches. There will, I suspect, always be people, like me, who are more ‘spiritual’ than others, as there will always be people who are artists, musicians or sportspeople. But, just as an artist is unlikely to stop painting because they are told that a photograph gives a much truer sense of reality than oil on canvas, so why bother, a spiritual person won’t necessarily stop being ‘spiritual’ because the state says, ‘but can’t you see what science can do..’

    My question is, would people who want to meet together to meditate, ponder, ‘pray’, be forbidden, even persecuted (as in many places already.)? Would socialism want to wipe ‘religion’ off the face of the earth just because their ideology does not agree with it? Would the majority dictate what one is allowed to think (as ‘political correctness’ already does)? Worrying.

    Should you print or reply to my letter in any form, I hope that you will refrain from the usual list of historic (and present day) religious horror stories to make your point. Yes, we all know about the crusades, the Reformation, modern day ISIS, child abuse etc etc. Yes, we all know that organised religion is part of the establishment and the Churches have vast wealth and why should bishops have a say in parliament. And yes, I know the God of the Old Testament is hardly a role model for love and forgiveness. Socialists get very annoyed (quite rightly) when the media rubbishes socialism largely because they don’t understand that there has never been a true socialist state. In the same way, Christians would say that the horrors perpetuated in the ‘Christian’ name have never been truly Christian, and that the Christian vision of ‘the Kingdom of God’ (love, peace, goodwill, equality, brotherhood etc.,) have likewise never been achieved. We have that in common; socialists and Christians are both mocked and ridiculed in today’s Britain. Let’s at least try to understand each other.

    I will just finish by saying that I have written this from a Christian perspective. I am sure disciples of other faiths could say similar things. Finally, I think your journal is an excellent read. Capitalism and its feed consumerism is no way to run the world. There must be a better way.

    Kind regards,

    Stephen Murphy

    #192649

    Email received at Head Office on the article “Nativism: Covert Racism”:

    Many people’s issue with immigration is not racism as the article (“Nativism: Covert Racism” Jan 2020 issue of the SS) asserts. It is to do with management. The national health system needs to know in advance how many people it may potentially have to treat and also have an idea of the breakdown in age, for example, so that they can train enough doctors and nurses in the right areas of care to adequately meet the potential numbers of patients. It’s the same issue with state education in terms of numbers of schools that need to be built, numbers of teachers that need to be trained, and the language proficiency necessary to cope with the different languages spoken by pupils. Housing is another issue. All this needs to be organised well in advance. However, open door immigration means that from year to year overall numbers of people in the UK (or any region in the UK) may rise or fall and age ratios may also drastically change – meaning changes in resource allocation must be swift which is not possible as it takes years to train teachers and years to build hospitals, etc.
    In a socialist society the migration of people would be managed in such a way that the places of destination would be resourced adequately and timely to meet the demographic changes.
    The idea of a points-based immigration system (proposed by the Conservatives) goes some way to solving the immigration issue in contemporary UK society, though I’m well aware that in a socialist society many of the concerns we are confronted with due to national borders and regional wealth disparities will have largely disappeared and people will be free to decide where they want to live. It will just be a matter of accommodating those needs with the time constraints that those needs bring with them – and the idea of a points-based immigration system will be seen as nothing more than an anachronism. (And I say that even though I have a fear of spiders!)
    Louis Shawcross, N. Ireland.
    #192650
    alanjjohnstone
    Participant

    We can certainly agree that advance planning is required to provide social and community services. Demographic changes including estimated numbers of newcomers arriving can be projected with a fair degree of accuracy. But the determining factor for the provision of public services are not local needs but budgetary, hence the current crises in housing, class sizes and hospital waiting lists, etc. Central and local government spending restrictions is the main influence on the problems of access and availability, are they not? And ultimately those depends upon how much the capitalist class is prepared to pay.

    As you pointed out new arrivals can be located rationally. Presently that is not the case and it is adding to the pressure on local authorities and adding to the competition for resources increasing social tensions. Research shows that the poorest regions of the country are disproportionately carrying the burden of housing asylum-seekers with the wealthier parts of the country escaping the costs

    (See https://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2019/11/the-poor-carrying-burden-again.html)

    This also goes for European nations. The numbers of migrants and refugees in Italy and Greece can be contrasted with the relatively very modest UK intake while the nationalist governments in Eastern Europe are refusing to accept sharing any agreed quota whatsoever.

    Probably the overriding influence on migrant numbers is the economic climate. Eastern European numbers have dropped, not only because of Brexit, but also largely due to the fall in the exchange rate value of the pound. More than one million Mexicans and their families, including US-born children, returned to Mexico from 2009 to 2014 after living in the US due to economic insecurity and the Mexican population in the US is continuing to shrink.

    [See https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/mexican-immigrants-united-states%5D

    The UK already has a points-based system for non-European Economic Area migrants, based on various tiers, introduced not by the Tories but by the Labour government in 2008. Johnson intends to extend it in some shape or form to EU-born workers.

    For the employers there are pros and cons in a points system depending on the nature of the business. The quotas for unskilled farm-workers are already to be substantially increased. The points system also requires constant adjustment to match the ever evolving nature of the economy. In Canada and Australia accepted immigrants join the job market. The UK proposal is that a guaranteed job is required, AFAIK.

    Just to end, that while the socialists aspire to the end of frontiers, passports, work permits and visas, we do not advocate such as we are well aware that the capitalist nation-state will control its borders (albeit with relaxations in the EU Schengen) and a call for the end of that is unachievable without the creation of the socialist world cooperative commonwealth.

    #192651
    ALB
    Participant

    Our christian friend is moving too fast when he goes from positing the possible existence of some mysterious “underlying non-material entity” to concluding that, if it did exist, this would mean that christianity is true.

    Assuming for a moment that the existence of such an entity could be shown then there would be two further stages to go through. First, showing that this entity has intervened and still intervenes in the course of human history. Second, and even more implausibly, that it intervened and intervenes in the way that christianity teaches (had a son with a human, etc).

    How the solar system evolved and how life did on one of its planets, the course of human social evolution and history and what happens today, can be adequately explained without recourse to the intervention of some non-material entity. So if it did exist it wouldn’t exist in any meaningful sense since it would have no effects. It would be the same position as the ancient Roman philosopher Lucretius put the gods of his day — existing somewhere but having no effect on the world and humans.

    The claims christianity makes for it are patent nonsense and don’t need to be taken seriously and aren’t by most people, not even our friend it seems.

    The best human approach is to realise that this is the only life we are going to have and so work to make it the best we can. This does not rule out accepting that there is more than just you as an individual. We are part of a larger whole — other humans and life-forms — but there is no need to give this the form of a non-material entity and regard it as our “Lord” before whom we must bow down and subjugate ourselves.

    #192653
    rodshaw
    Participant

    Mr Murphy says he is a Christian but then also implies that he doesn’t believe in some of the traditional teachings of the faith, such as hell, heaven and virgin births. In other words, religious beliefs change with the times, which suggests strongly that they are all a product of their surrounding culture.

    Christianity may well preach love, peace, goodwill, equality and brotherhood, but these have nothing intrinsically to do with the metaphysical beliefs it also likes to profess.

    Anyone, including socialists, can have a sense of wonder and fascination with the world. But this does not mean that therefore there must be some underlying ‘otherness’ which is referred to variously as God, the Spirit or the life force. One can speculate on such matters, but as Christopher Hitchens (I think) said, belief without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    Mr. Murphy also asks about the possible suppression of religion in a socialist ‘state’. A world socialist society would be stateless, not some monolithic, coercive structure, and those who chose to continue their religious worship would no doubt be left to it.

    #192657
    hallblithe
    Participant

    Stephen Murphy writes as an ‘avid reader’ of our Journal yet his question suggests otherwise. The very idea of socialist society seeking to persecute people meeting to meditate, ponder, ‘pray’ or forbid them from doing so is anathema to us. Similarly, we can reassure him that there would be no active campaign to eradicate what remains of religion in a socialist world, or any attempt made to dictate majoritarian views. There is, of course, one caveat: do no harm. Thus a post-capitalist world striving to leave its primitive past behind is unlikely to accept circumcision for non-medical reasons, FGM, virginity tests, marriage to children, etc. Such practices should be thrown in the dustbin of history along with creation ‘science’ for example.

    Religion has been described as our first attempt at science. And with our increasing understanding of the world around us and beyond has been in retreat, relying on the fog of faith, eschewing evidence and reason. The concept of an all-knowing/loving/powerful creator god, which many religions share, just does not square with our ‘design’. Consider, we are made largely out of bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea, our eyes see less than 1 percent of the light spectrum, we have sub-optimal plumbing (breathing, eating, excretory and reproductive) and are programmed to die (yet Turritopsis dohrnii medusa, a jellyfish. is immortal!). Furthermore, at least 40 percent of animal species are parasites, and over 99 percent of all species that ever lived are extinct, the result of five mass extinctions prior to our arrival. This staggering series of creative cockups does lend support, however, to the idea proposed by some Christians, that their God has blessed us with Trump! Joking aside, there is good reason here to agree with Bakunin: “A jealous lover of human liberty, and deeming it the absolute condition of all that we admire and respect in humanity, I reverse the phrase of Voltaire, and say that, if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”

    #192658
    LBird
    Participant

    Stephen Murphy wrote: “I know enough about quantum physics to know that the physical world is far weirder than normal ‘reality’ suggests. I know enough about the debate on consciousness to know that the majority of scientists would say that the relationship between thought and matter remains as much a mystery as ever. And I am aware of the fact that whether light is observed as wave or mass appears, oddly, to depend to some extent on the observer. Bizarre indeed! None of this, of course, proves there is an underlying non-material entity to creation any more than it disproves it. But the whole thing really is too odd to suggest, as Rear View does, that everything can be ‘adequately explained…!’ A bold and rather premature statement indeed!

    Stephen, I think that Marx gave the most relevant answer: humans produce any ‘world’ that we know.

    Get rid of ‘social production’, and ‘quantum physics’, ‘the physical world’, ‘normal’, ‘reality’, ‘consciousness’, ‘scientists’, ‘thought’, ‘matter’ and ‘mystery’ all disappear.

    It’s been clear since Kant that the ‘subject’ is at the very centre of all this (indeed, this was clear to some ancient Greeks, but the insight had been lost from ‘mainstream science’, ie. bourgeois science). The German Idealists that followed Kant made this ‘subject’ an ‘active’ one, and Hegel made this ‘active subject’ an ‘historical’ one. Finally, Marx made this ‘active historical subject’ a ‘socio-historical’ one (ie. not an ‘individual subject’, as for Fichte and others).

    For Marx, humanity is an active, socio-historical creator of its own ‘reality’, a ‘reality-for-us’.

    As you say, ‘observation’ can’t be removed from any ‘reality’. The main issue, though, is to see this ‘observer’ as a creator of what it ‘observes’, by its own activity (rather than a passive ‘observer’ of what already supposedly ‘exists’ outside of any active production by the ‘observer’).

    Marx was ahead of his time, and Einstein showed that the bourgeoisie was only following in his footsteps, but is still lagging behind, even now.

    #192659
    Bijou Drains
    Participant

    “The main issue, though, is to see this ‘observer’ as a creator of what it ‘observes’, by its own activity (rather than a passive ‘observer’ of what already supposedly ‘exists’ outside of any active production by the ‘observer’).”

    So by that logic, if I give you a good hard kick up the arse, it’s your fault for observing it, not mine for doing it. Finally something we can agree on!

    #192671
    LBird
    Participant

    Bijou Drains wrote: “So by that logic, if I give you a good hard kick up the arse…“.

    No, you’re misunderstanding Marx’s logic, BD.

    As I explained earlier, Marx’s logic revolves around an ‘active socio-historical producer’, not, as for example, Fichte, an ‘active I’, or, as for example, bourgeois science, a ‘passive I’, but a ‘social producer’.

    Further, for Marx, he defines classes as ‘social producers’, so whereas it’s possible to define a ‘mode of production’ as a ‘social producer’ (which might be the case in a non-exploitative mode of production), Marx further divides exploitative modes of production into classes, exploited and exploiting.

    So, your question, to make sense to Marxists, would have to begin:

    So by that logic, if the proletariat give the bourgeoisie a good hard kick up the arse…“.

    I know that you don’t use Marx’s logic, though – which is ‘your’ choice, and has nothing to do with ‘ruling ideas’…

    I can only presume you believe that ‘logic’ is asocial and ahistoric, and was created by a universal being, not humans.

    Perhaps you and Stephen Murphy share this wonderment, at a non-human creator.

    I obviously don’t.

    #192674
    Bijou Drains
    Participant

    Is there a discussion to be had within the party about our attitude towards those with what might be described as “spiritual” or other beliefs/views.

    Is religion, i.e. a set of organised beliefs, shared by more than one person, different to a set of  beliefs about things of a supernatural nature.

    My understanding is that party membership and religious belief are incompatible as religious belief implies a deference to a set of principles that are somehow ordained by some deity and which adherents of that religion are required to comply with. Our acceptance of Historical materialism — “that the origin and development of the universe, of life, of man, of human society and of religion itself can be explained adequately without recourse to the so-called supernatural — is an integral part of socialist theory. A socialist party is made up of fully convinced socialists. To admit people who merely want Socialism because they think it is morally right or because it fulfils “God’s plan” would be to run the risk of eventually ceasing to be a socialist party at all.”

    However is that religious belief the same as someone who thinks, without any adherence to a religious doctrine, that there might be some form of life after death or some kind of other supernatural forces at play in our lives.

    I do not believe that it is part of “god’s plan” that Newcastle United will win the league (it would appear if there is a god, he has no intention of ever letting us win the league), however after having a curry before the 1st match of the 95-96 season (3-0 win over Coventry), I thought it sensible to continue having a curry before each subsequent home match, just to be on the safe side. Sadly this didn’t work out as planned, but does this mean I should turn in my party badge?

    I do think there is a debate to be had in this area as formal religious belief makes way for vague notions of afterlife and spirituality.

    #192679
    Matthew Culbert
    Keymaster

    The thrust of article to which our reader objected was,

    “China is set to censor all translated versions of classic religious books to make sure that their messages reflect the principles of Socialism’ (dailymail.co.uk, 27 November). Such news concerning Emperor Xi’s regime comes as no surprise to socialists. Kautsky in his Foundations of Christianity shows how its teachings were turned from those of a rebellious sect into a state religion, suitably servile and cringing.

    All religions have been, in all phases of history, the allies of the ruling classes in keeping the masses bent under the yoke. Churches have crowned the peoples’ oppressors, and crucified our forebears. New Age religion is merely the old repackaged in a new, modern form.

    Rather than obeying a priest, they choose the form of our own mental domination and the flight from reality into a magical world. Socialists, by contrast are scientific materialists. We argue that the origin and development of the universe, of life, of society and religion itself can be explained adequately without recourse to the so-called supernatural, and that this is an integral part of socialist theory. “

    His convoluted response to the above does not address any of the piece’s points apart from inadvertently confirming the last paragraph.

    #192696
    rodshaw
    Participant

    “I do think there is a debate to be had in this area as formal religious belief makes way for vague notions of afterlife and spirituality.”

    If there is a debate to be had, maybe as well as god, the afterlife and an all-pervading otherness, we should push the boat out and include ghosts, clairvoyance, angels, reincarnation and astrology. Not to mention belief in the connection between unrelated events, e.g. eating a curry -> Newcastle United winning.

    #192749
    marcos
    Participant

    Religion never had a so-called spiritual origin, it is the opposite way, it had a materialist origin

    #192750

    The member of the Socialist Labor Party of America who visited our Conference this year has emailed to say he is in full agreement with the article on fascism, attaching a pamphlet he wrote in 1994 that takes the same anti-nationalist position:

    http://www.slp.org/pdf/others/nationalism.pdf

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 25 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.