Letter: About Catholicism


The Editor,
Socialist Standard,

Dear Comrade,

For the first time I have had the pleasure of reading in Socialist literature an acknowledgment of the working-class foundation of the Catholic Church, when your contributor. Robert Coster, in his April article on the Catholic Church Today, states: “The majority of Parish priests are working-class boys who were attending the altar, etc ” (and are from the best taggers). To enlarge upon this encouragement I venture to contest some of his premises.

If God did not make him, will he name his Maker, and why he is not subject to the law. That is—if his parents are his creators, why does he survive them; if the elements are responsible for him. how does the variation enter: if he is just a lump of material, why is he not static. Will he give me the authority of his “supernatural dictum” (one part body, nine parts soul). 1 have yet to learn this. While he is disputing the Spirit I notice he does not categorically state it does not exist. Will he therefore name any civilisation, empire, regime, nation, organisation, family or partnership (including Marx and Engels), which has come into existence or been maintained without the spirit.

Further, will he explain, as an adherent of Marxism, the phrase attributed to Marx in his famous Opium paragraph the last sentence: “It is the heart in an heartless world ” (i.e„ religion). Would he also deal with the last few words in one of Engels prefaces wherein he refers to the “Revolution which began nearly two thousand years ago.” I hope he will not attempt to pity the old age or youthful exuberance of Marx and Engels.

I should also like him to give me quotations of either Marx or Engels where they definitely state there is no God or Spirit. In spite of them being exponents of Materialism (not Atheism), I have a faint recollection that they prove God to be the Theo or Thesis, and therefore behind and responsible for all society. Is this not also the conclusion of Frazer’s Golden Bough. Perhaps he will deal with and dispose of this monument of priestly defence.

Finally, of all the contradiction in Materialism, will he tell me why reference is made to the Materialistic Conception of History. I can never get at the back of that word Conception. Why don’t Materialists stick to Materialistic History without any Conception.
Yours fraternally.


Mr. Doherty asks a number of questions which are. in effect, points of argument against the Socialist attitude to religion, with special reference to the Catholic Church. For clarity’s sake, these can be dealt with one by one.

(1) Mr. Doherty should read again the paragraph about priests being working-class boys. The passage in full is:—
“Most of them are as ignorant as those they preach to and believe it all themselves. Every good Catholic family hopes for one of the boys to become a priest. The majority of parish priests are working-class boys who were attending on the altar when they should have been playing tag, who went to Catholic schools, where they learned the Catholic view of history and the Catholic view of science (which, put briefly, is that most science does not exist), and finished off reading devotional works in a bachelor college full of others like themselves.”
It is hard to see how Mr. Doherty has inferred from this an “acknowledgment of the working-class foundation of the Catholic Church,” unless he thinks that a working-class membership means a working-class foundation. If this is so, he should consider that practically every organization of any size has a working-class membership— simply because most peoole are workers. The basis or foundation of an organization is the purpose for which it is in being and I note that Mr. Doherty does not contest the statements about this in the article The Catholic Church Today.

(2) Who made man, if not God? The evolutionists have answered satisfactorily most of the questions about man’s emergence. On the other hand, if Mr. Doherty means. “ What is the origin of life? ” I claim to know as much about that as he or any other Christian—i.e., nothing. What I do know, however, is that mankind has had innumerable gods of all kinds, from the Catholic one to Siva and Bacchus, and they have all been the embodiments of man’s social needs at various times and in various circumstances. Of God making man there is not a scrap of evidence, but man making God out of his social consciousness is on every page of the history books.

(3) “One part body, nine parts soul.” This was a simple indication of where the Catholic Church lays the emphasis when it talks about man. Vide the Catechism: How is your soul like to God? My soul is like to God because it is a spirit, and is immortal. Of which must you take most care, your body or your soul? I must take most care of my soul, for Christ has said, etc. I think my phrase represents the position fairly enough.

(4) Will I name any civilization or organization of any kind which has done without the spirit? Mr. Doherty’s talking mystical gibberish. What does he mean?

(5) Will I explain Marx’s “heart in a heartless world,” and quote some definite repudiation of religion by Marx or Engels? Marx’s actual words are: “Religion is the sigh of the hard-pressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, as it is the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people.” (On Hegel’s Philosophy of Law.) This hardly needs explaining: it points simply to the rôle of religion in making the working class endure the unendurable. I should say it indicates not old age or youthful exuberance, but maturity and power of thought

There are several quite clear statements by Marx and Engels on Mr. Doherty’s question of “no God, nor spirit.” On page 35 of Ludwig Feuerbach, Engels says: “The material, sensuously perceptible world to which we belong is the only reality.” Marx in Volume I of Capital: “The religious world is but the reflex of the real world” (p. 51, Swan Sonnenschein edn.). Incidentally, Mr. F. J. Sheed, a Catholic apologist, has no such doubts as Mr. Doherty’s. On page 30 of his Communism and Man (Sheed & Ward, 1946), he writes: “Marx’s Materialism thus means two things: Realism and Atheism.”

(6) Why the Materialist Conception of History? In fact, Engels often—e.g., in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific—called it Historical Materialism. The important thing, of course, is not the title but whether Mr. Doherty finds Marx’s analysis of history correct or not.

Though if Mr. Doherty is a Catholic, as his letter implies, I’m surprised that he wants to stop a conception.

Yours fraternally

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