War and Religion. By “The Times”

“The Times” (4.10.14), lifting itself above the mere economic advantages we are supposed to gain by the war, endeavoured to prove spiritual gains as well. “No feature of the war has been more striking than the religious feeling it has evoked,” they said. War, which increases the uncertainty of life, has so unsettled the minds of the workers that their doubts and fears of the future have intensified. Without a philosophy based on science man becomes an easy prey to priestly ties. Regarding his own physical anatomy as something amazingly wonderful, and far beyond his poor understanding, he is easily persuaded that he has a soul that transcends even his physical possessions ; and the eternal existence of that soul in peace or torment depends upon his conduct while crawling about the earth in subjection to those who have taken possession of it.

Life is the only state that human beings can know, because it is only in life we possess consciousness and can know anything at all. The scientific mind accepts nothing without evidence, and neither science, religion, or philosophy has yet produced one shred of evidence to prove even the likelihood or possibility of consciousness, spirit, or any other known or unknown force existing apart from the substance or matter to which it belongs.

Scientists—in the laboratory-are practically agreed that the Cosmos is Matter in Motion, and nebulae, constellations, systems, geological and biological periods, and even the existence of different substances, are but changing manifestations of Matter in Motion. “Every living creature,” said a recent president of the “International Science Association,” “is, after all, merely a chemical mechanism,” and anyone that has read an intelligible work on physiology, explaining the functions and interdependence of organs, can appreciate that statement. An acquaintance with evolution, showing how both organs and functions have developed simultaneously, is sufficient evidence of its truth for anyone whose income is not affected. Consciousness or thought is the function of the brain, just as digestion is the function of the stomach. Digestion is impossible without digestive organs and food—though the wage-slave is often forced to try the experiment without the latter. Neither can consciousness exist without nerve ganglia, or brain and so nothing external to be conscious of. Science thus establishes the oneness or Monism of the Cosmos—but only for the cultured ruling class of society: the ignorant superstitions of the dark ages, slightly modified, are good enough for the workers.

In the supreme anarchy of a capitalist war events seem more than ever to be the result of chance, and gods, mascots, and oracles are brought out, dusted, and worshipped; and “The Times,” with characteristic hypocrisy and satisfaction, remarks that the “War has evoked religious feeling.”

“Nothing in man is more real than the instinct that urges him to sacrifice himself for an ideal which to him is dearer than life itself,” says “The Times.” We pass over the obvious error that, there can be any sacrifice where something dearer than what is given is the objective, and the equally obvious admission that man does not always act according to intelligence—even in important matters—but proves himself allied to the rest of the animal world by virtue of the fact that he still acts from instinct—when intelligence fails him.

Bat is it not characteristic of capitalist hypocrisy that the actions of their dupes should bs attributed to instincts and ideals, when it is common knowledge that necessity has compelled the vast majority to enlist. True, they sing and laugh as they march, but that does not prove that they have acted with either freedom or intelligence. It proves only that they have caught the war fever and are incapable, for the time being, of understanding or realising the actual situation—so aptly described and forcibly denounced by Israel Zangwill: “That they are food for powder, so coarse in texture ; carcasses so gross and sub-human, that their best use is to be thrown to the guns—a providential fire screen for the finer classes.”

The business of the ink-siinger to-dayis to manufacture high-sounding phrases that appear to be loaded with importance, yet when analysed mean little or nothing. “War is a supreme test of reality,” says “The Times.” All the nations bluff, but only the contact of forces determines which is really the strongest—just as the opponents of Socialism can always destroy it any where but in debate. If there is sense in the statement, then the following from the same source obviously contradicts it. “Faith in force is a poor substitute for faith in right. Force is a sorry god” ; and the sentences that immediately follow are a reversion to the original statement that it is force that rules: “For, when a stronger strength arises to shatter it, nought but despair and doubt remain.”

But twice is not sufncient for “The Times” to contradict itself, so it throws over the first and third position and once more takes up the second: “When as we are firmly persuaded, the Allied Armies shall have overthrown the German’s divinity, the German people itself may learn the futility of trust ‘in reeking tube and iron shard,’ and turn again to the higher trust which their greatest teachers have inculcated upon them and upon the world.”

Next “The Times” says: “Faith and the spirit of sacrifice are the essence of religion, just as scepticism and selfishness are its negation.” The above definition of religion we might dispute, were it not that the word “essence” is not so clearly defined in capitalist politics and philosophy as in chemistry. The essential belief, and therefore the essence of religion, is belief in the supernatural. A code of morals, even including the “spirit of sacrifice,” without such a belief cannot be called a religion, no matter who imposes it. But this “spirit of sacrifice,” is undoubtedly a tenet of the Christian dogma, and eminently suits it for the capitalist system.

First let us see what is its actual meaning. To labour for others ; to risk life, or even to die, for others. Under this heading comes the whole of the working class. They live in poverty while they produce fabulous wealth for an idle class. They risk their lives daily and die in thousands for them on the field of battle. What we see then, is that the “essence of religion” so-called is really the purpose or object. So long as religion induces millions of workers to continue their life long sacrifice, the capitalist will generously permit them to think of themselves as sheep bled on the altar of civilisation, i.e. , capitalist idleness and luxury.

Bat what of the other side: “Scepticism and selfishness are its negation.” Every shareholders’ meeting, of evary concern, at home or abroad, is evidence of capitalist greed. One eighth of tha population takes two-thirds of the national wealth, and leaves one-third for the other seven-eighths. Avarice has been the watch word of the commercial class since the break-up of the guilds. How to get more out of their wage-slaves while reducing their rations has been, and is still, their most engrossing problem. Vultures snarling over raw flesh are less repulsive than capitalist governments quarelling over markets and using the working class—after exploiting them—as “a providential fire screen.”

So much for their selfishness. It is unnecessary to marshall evidence to prove their scepticism, they show their contempt for the promises of future happiness and threats of punishment every day of their lives. They have no use for a religion that instructs them to “sell all they have and give unto the poor” ; nor do they care a tinker’s anathema for a “place on high,” if it is to be obtained by sacrificing a “place in the sun” here below. The capitalist has no “faith” in another life, and the “spirit of sacrifice” is not “business.” He is the embodiment of the ” negation of religion,” “scepticism and selfishness.”

“War,” concludes “The Times,” “with all its horrors and suffering, has at least this bright side. It lifts mankind out of its daily self, and suffuses the drab life of the multitude with a spiritual glow. In such an atmosphere the still voice of the divine spirit of the universe may be clearly heard, despite the clamour and clash of arms.” The colour has changed from drab to crimson. Poverty has intensified, and the mur­ders committed annually on the industrial field, for profits, are being augmented by thousands daily ; yet mankind has gained something, ” a spiritual glow”—searchlights. But what does the “still voice” say ?—we are not told. Possibly the black-coated hypocrites are waiting for their orders from the representaties of that class in whose interests they teach and write such lies and rubbish for the confusion of the workers.

F. F.

Leave a Reply