Human society in its development unfolds the secrets of the Universe but at no time has this been so accelerated as in the capitalist mode of production. New discoveries and inventions plus mankind’s experience have a direct bearing on all ideas that are held in society.
We are in part of an age when religious ideas, having already undergone changes in the past, are once more moving to a new field. The wide adherence to old dogmas held by the masses has now weakened, particularly in the spheres of Protestantism. Ruling classes nowadays tend not to appeal to their workers in the name of God but rather rely on slick and earnest appeals that are spiced with economic theories and plans. Apathy and small congregations along with dated theology present the churches with an almighty headache and much heart searching. The clamour for reform and ’’modernism” in order to get organised religion back in the groove again comes from the clergy of every well known sect. It is in fact largely a ’’Palace Revolution”. The South Bank rebels led by the Bishop of Woolwich startle the orthodox with their New Reformation. Rebellious Rabbis and matrimoniously minded Catholic Priests cut across the age long rules of their orders.
It is something of a jolt to find in the midst of so much unbelief and uncertainty the old biblical dogmas resisting, and often by using very modem techniques.
Two bodies both having their roots in the religious peasant-communist theories of the 16th century Anabaptists present themselves to us. The first, the Christadelphians, were founded in America by John Thomas in 1848. They rejected the Trinity along with the idea of a personal devil. Death must occur and a physical resurrection at the return of Christ is the divine plan for man. The new kingdom on earth will be ruled by Christ and the elect with the evils of our time removed. Those who still reject this paradise and who sin are punished by death, there being no hell. The Christadelphians base their ideas on a correct and literal reading of the Bible. Their numbers are small and are not growing. They are not so often met with and certainly lack the organising capabilities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
This body has ideas so similar in form to the Christadelphians that the uninterested may be forgiven fur not appreciating the differences. Again they have modern roots in America and were originally known as Russellites. They proclaim the return of Christ and the physical resurrection of the dead. A great battle or struggle (Armageddon) will result in the control of the Devil. For a thousand years mankind will live under the rule of Christ on earth under extremely good conditions with no poverty, illness or death. After this period the Devil and all those who refuse to fit in to this Paradise just die whilst the rest go on living on earth for ever unmolested. The Witnesses are zealous and argue closely around biblical interpretation. They boldly proclaim their faith at your front door and have an efficient literature sales technique. In fact membership hinges around the willingness to sell and witness the faith.
The leaders arc rather like a self nominating Executive Committee and all interpretation of current events in the light of biblical prophecy rests with them. The Witnesses are found in most countries but have been viewed with suspicion by dictatorships and were executed en mass by the Nazis. They probably number several million and unlike the more orthodox Christians they are not worried by a remorseless fall out of congregation. Though there must be a ceiling on their growth rate some success in the newer types of industrial communities has caused flutterings in the hearts of the more orthodox Christians.
The third fundamentalist group that has of recent years secured a foot hold in Britain is the Mormons. They are probably the only hundred per cent all-American religion. Joseph Smith, the founder, claimed to have been shown the gold tablets of the Book of Mormon that were secreted in America. This theological work claims that America was at one time peopled by the Jews and the hand of God was much in evidence there in ancient times. The motive force behind this movement was tied to the opening up of the Golden West. As is to be expected America became the Mecca of every non-conformist and radical group, religious and secular, for here the virgin soil awaited the plough of the disciples of dissent like the Mormons.
Founding Salt Lake City after their great trek they established a community far more advanced in social graces and modern techniques than those surrounding them. Principles of welfare were embracing and well organised as a result of a tithe levy on members. From this place in Utah they have sent their preachers throughout the world.
The book of Mormon and the bible are the foundations of the faith; the former must be accepted without any qualification. They have a lay or supervisory priesthood with apostles and a President who control the church. The President is in office for life and the apostles elect the new one on his death.
These strong dogmatic creeds seemingly flourish in an environment of waning belief. They offer a strong sense of identity in a world of class and personal segregation. The struggle for jobs, position, homes and profits keeps mankind well splintered. A weekly religious gathering bolstered up by feeling that one is part of the elect of god helps to quieten the smouldering sense of isolation. Some workers can be expected under these general social conditions to seek a haven inside a mental wall of unassailable religious faith.
Knowledge of the natural world however destroys and makes inroads into these beliefs and the adherents are forced to spend fruitless hours trying to square the impossible. Workers should try to come to grips with the material and social causes of the problems that beset and worry them and not seek for answers by juggling with quotes and extracts from ancient and modern versions of the so called ’‘Words of God”.
Mankind has been pondering over these scripts for some thousands of years and very little, if any, good has it done them.