Debate: Socialism versus Religion

A debate was arranged under the above title between the Socialist Party, represented by Comrade Jarvis, and the Catholic Evidence Guild, represented by Mr. Barr. It took place at Head Office on Sunday, March 31st, with Comrade Kersley in the chair. It started promptly at 7.30 with all seats taken, and subsequently more people arrived and packed the hall. About half the audience were non-members.

Comrade Jarvis opened with a 20-minute speech, in which he said that it was agreed between the opponents that there were problems in the world waiting to be solved—the problem of war, poverty, hunger, misery, unemployment, crises, etc. It was the Socialist Party’s view that these problems could only be solved by changing the social system from Capitalism to Socialism. His opponent, however, claimed that religion (or Catholicism) was the answer to the world’s problems.

Comrade Jarvis then outlined the Party’s case as given in the pamphlet The Socialist Party: Its Principles and Policy. He stated that there was no room for religion or any form of mysticism in our policy. Religion was defined as man’s knowledge of God, or “ the mental faculty enabling men to comprehend the Infinite.” There can be no religion without God, although there can be religious ritual and paraphernalia without God. Religion consists of five things, and all the necessary emotional trimmings accompanying them. These are:—

Belief in God or gods.
Belief in Holy or Inspired writings (Bible, Koran, Zend Avesta).
Belief in after Life.
Belief in the Efficacy of Prayer.
Belief in Miracles.

If God does not exist it would follow that the last four of these fundamentals of religion are of no consequence. (To this Mr. Barr nodded approvingly.) The existence of God could not be proved, maintained Comrade Jarvis. Belief in God had declined in proportion to the growth of education and freedom of speech, whilst in the centuries of Catholic domination, when no opposition was permitted, the majority believed in God. Atheism and materialism had therefore grown with increased knowledge. This debate could never have occurred in the heyday of Catholicism, with its ruthless tortures and death penalties for all who questioned its authority.

After dealing briefly with the usual arguments offered for the existence of God, Comrade Jarvis went on to state that the problem of evil in the world, the existence of wars, poverty, unemployment, crime, crises, etc., made it clear that no Supreme Being existed. Nor could it be claimed that evil, cruelty and barbarity are just man made, for barbarity exists among the animals. The cat plays with a mouse until it has been slowly tortured to death and the jungles are filled with ferocious beasts who live by tearing to pieces smaller and weaker animals. If God could make herbiverous animals why not make them all like that instead of creating carnivorous ones. Everywhere the law of the jungle dominated human life under capitalism.

Since the discovery of the laws of Evolution, it was possible to trace the evolution of the idea of God in primitive society, and now that we know the origin of the God idea, this cuts the ground from under the feet of the theist. “The heavens no longer proclaim the glory Of God, nor does the firmament show his handiwork.’’ God who could reveal himself at any moment has now to be searched for. The time has come to conduct God to the frontiers, thank him for his services, and ask him not to call again and trouble us with his diversions, as we wish to change the economic basis of society, and for this purpose do not need spirits, spooks or ghosts (whether holy or otherwise).

Comrade Jarvis finished by challenging Mr. Barr to prove the existence of God, for upon this his whole case must rest, since if no personal God existed, no value could come out of religion which could help the working class to solve the problems which confront them.

Mr. Barr opened by declaring that he had heard all this before—years ago—but that he obviously had too little time at his disposal to deal with all the questions raised. He stated that he had no intention of dealing with the political issues raised in the opener’s remarks, firstly because he accepted many of them, and secondly because even former Popes had similar views. He never criticised the party’s cause in any way. He then went on to try to prove the existence of God, and declared that it could be inferred from the existence of mind and of order in the universe. He referred again to the shortness of time, and said each part of the debate contained sufficient material for a whole debate. He ended by stating that these debates get nowhere, and he knew in advance that it would be the case.

In Comrade Jarvis’s second speech he commenced by saying that Mr. Barr should not have complained of shortness of time, because he had 20 minutes just the same as himself, and as he declined to deal with the political issues, he had the whole of his time to deal with religion and show that it had something to offer mankind to help to solve the world’s problems. Mr. Barr, however, had one question to answer—the existence of God—for on that the whole case rests, since if no God can be proved to exist, the edifice of religion crumbles.

Instead of God creating man in his image, man had created his God or gods and always in his own image. He instanced that the gods of the African tribes were black, with short black curly hair, and the gods of the Eskimos were fat and covered with thick furs, etc. In his reply to this Mr. Barr said that Jarvis knew full well that these gods were man-made and false, and consequently had nothing to do with the debate. Jarvis replied by stating that he agreed that they were all false, and therefore it would appear that the only real difference between himself and Mr. Barr was that he believed in one god less than Mr. Barr did, which was a very small difference to argue about.

Comrade Jarvis then read from a number of Catholic pamphlets: “This is the aim which Our Predecessor urged as the necessary object of our efforts: the emancipation of foe proletariat.” (The Social Order, Pius XI). For towards the close of the nineteenth century new economic methods and a new expansion of industry had in most countries resulted in a growing division of the population into two classes. The first, small in numbers, enjoyed practically ail the advantages so plentifully Supplied by modern invention; the second class, comprising the immense multitude of working-men, was made up of those who, oppressed by dire poverty, struggled in vain to escape from the difficulties which encompassed them.” Comrade Jarvis suggested that Pope Leo XIII (the author of this statement m Rerum Novarum, re-quoted in The Encyclical Quadragesima Anno of Pius XI), had been reading some, of the banned books, as this passage had a strange resemblance to the writings of Karl Man.

Another pamphlet quoted from was Cyril Clump’s A Catholic’s Guide to Social and Political Action, which contains a collection of extracts from the writings of the Holy Fathers—who. by the way, are not supposed to be fathers.

After the first two speeches were made on each side, the debate was thrown open to the audience and a special appeal was made from the chair for Catholics or other opposition to take part in the discussion, but these were conspicuously absent. The debate concluded with the two participants winding up, in which Comrade Jarvis again requested proof of God’s existence, and Mr. Barr, who in the meantime had received a host of questions from the audience, again pleaded the impossibility owing to lack of time.


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