Letter: Confusion about religion

It appears that there is a lot of confused thinking amongst socialists on the subject of religion. It is not necessary here to go into the evidence there is to show that God exists, but if this is so, as millions believe, then He must exist forever—even under Socialism. Now, essentially religion should be an expression of this belief at all times regardless of what type of system we live under. It is grossly unfair that socialists should attempt to link up religion with capitalism by exaggerating, as your December 1965 issue does, examples from the history of religion in order to shake beliefs of people. And the sad thing about it is that these instances have no relevance at all to the true purpose and meaning of religion. Many traditional concepts and practices of religion may have to be reviewed, reinterpreted, condemned or even discarded without in any way affecting the real significance of religion.

Furthermore, if the existence of God is a reality, then how can you say, as you did in your December issue, that “socialism involves a rejection of leadership” which I suppose includes religious leadership? Surely, religious leadership must exist even under socialism because the need for religion will not disappear then. It appears that socialists are determined to keep religion out of socialism. It is amusing to think that this is analogous to aeronautical engineers engaged in designing a plane but determined to disregard gravitational forces!

Socialist theory in relation to religion is based solely on certain practices in the name of religion in the past. In doing so they overlook the relevance and significance of the essentials of religion. This I think is the reason why socialism does not appear to be gaining momentum in certain European and many non European countries.

It is unfortunate that religious sentiments have been exploited at times for the ultimate triumph of capitalism, but need this be so, and need socialism and religion be incompatible?

Or, does the answer lie in the fact that socialists themselves have not really understood the true meaning of religion perhaps because their knowledge of religion is confined to Christianity only and hence they tend to regard religion as something dispensable.

Capitalism may be an abominable system, but then, to me, Socialism with its exclusion of religion from its theory is totally outdated and irrelevant.
N. J. Verjee, London. NW11.

If Mr. Verjee wants to convince us that God exists, and will exist under Socialism, he really must do better than airily say that it is “not necessary here to go into the evidence . . .” For if there is no adequate evidence, there is no reason to say that God exists, and Mr. Verjee’s case falls.

It is worthwhile, then, for us to go into this ‘‘evidence”. The case for religion is expressed entirely in terms of man’s material environment and therefore reflects that environment. Thus as our knowledge of our environment has developed religious “evidence” has been forced to change its ground. This is why the Church in many parts of the world is now in turmoil, with prominent clerics challenging some of its most cherished beliefs and dogmas.

In any case, religion is nothing if it is not a faith; it should not rely on material evidence. To use Mr. Verjee’s own example, a religious person should accept that, if God wills it, he could fly. It is the materialist who argues that man must first learn about gravity and all the other essentials of aeronautics. It is not faith, but material knowledge, which keeps men orbiting in space.

Socialists reject leadership of all kinds because Socialism can only be established by a politically conscious working class. When the workers in the mass have gained the knowledge needed to bring in Socialism they will know how to act and will not need leaders to tell them how to think and what to do. This includes religious leaders, who cannot be seen in isolation from the world in which they operate. It should be remembered that, when they are not too busy making “infallible” statements on doctrine, men like the Pope and Aga Khan are mainly concerned with wielding the enormous political power which they have.

Religion has always supported property society, with all its oppressions, in one shape or another. Mr. Verjee asks “. . . need this be so . . . ?” but the fact is that religious leaders have always thought that it should be so. He should really be arguing with them, and not with us, on the point.

Mr. Verjee also mentions the “true meaning” and the “real significance” of religion. These are confusing and meaningless phrases, typical of much religious thinking. Almost every religious person has a different idea of the “true meaning” of his faith; and who is to say when we have come upon the ‘real significance” of religion? Hitler had his ideas on the subject and so did the millions of Protestants. Catholics, Muslims etc. on both sides who were busily killing each other during the World Wars.

Socialists do not reject religion because of what Mr. Verjee calls ” . . certain practices in the name of religion in the past.” We reject it because it does not fit the facts; it does nothing to explain man’s environment; it offers a blind faith in the workings of a supernatural being in place of the materialist’s scientific analysis which goes to the roots of social development and which stands up to practical examination.

Religion supports capitalism, as it supported other properly societies, because it encourages people who are oppressed to suffer their burdens humbly, living in hopes of the after world. This is a confusing and misleading philosophy, and one which diverts the working class from what should be their first object—gaining the knowledge needed to set up a Socialist society of freedom, plenty and brotherhood.


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