1970s >> 1970 >> no-796-december-1970

A Socialist on Religion

Religion, in all its varieties, whether Christian or pagan, Jewish or Mohammedan, rests on and stems from the belief in a supernatural Being or Power of some sort. It is precisely a belief because no scientific, objective facts or even logic has ever been satisfactorily advanced to support this theory.

No atheist, however, can prove the non-existence of a God, for, as Madalyn Murray, American atheist and social worker, has said, “You don’t have to negate what no one can prove exists”. However, the sceptic can go a long way towards discovering the truth by closely examining the origin and historical development of religious belief.

If someone accepts the Biblical account of Man’s beginning; if he is so unscientific as to be convinced that the earth, sun. moon and all life was created by divine will within seven days some six thousand years ago. then there is hardly any basis for discussion with him and no purpose would be served in trying to pursue a futile argument.

If, however someone can reason logically, he would wisely discard the Bible as a less-than-useful source of historical enlightenment. The fact that the universe. earth and life were in existence millions of years before our ‘‘first parents” should be sufficient to start an investigation. There is little to dispute in the theory of evolution — by now more fact than theory — so our point of departure is that Man evolved, developed a brain, used tools, altered his environment. and formed societies.

As Man became conscious of himself and his surroundings, and ceased to be wholly led by animal instinct, in short, as soon as Man became capable of thinking, he must have wondered from where he came, to where he was going? How baffled must have been early Homo Sapiens at seeing his reflection in a pool of water, or, whilst in slumber, dreaming of a colleague, dead and decomposed years before. A primitive logic could concoct powerful beings or Gods behind the sun, stone, thunder, and other natural happenings.

These early beliefs could have laid the foundations upon which later religious consensus developed. Differing religions developed in societies with differing geographical, economic and social foundations. It is by examination of these material factors that an understanding of how basic belief developed into definite bodies of thought can be acquired.

The earliest records of the Jewish people disclose that they were nomad tribesmen herding flocks from pasture. The social unit was essentially patriarchal, the eldest usually assuming leadership of the clan. Under such conditions, the religion of Yahweh developed, symbolised by a ‘father in heaven guarding his flocks’, and clearly reflecting their economic and social mode of production.

Similarly, the Scandinavian Vikings of a thousand years ago, possessed the Gods of Odin and his son Thor, two allegedly brave and violent warriors who reflected the social system under which the Vikings lived, i.e., mainly that of plundering sea farers.

To achieve Vahalla (a celestial feast) one had to try to emulate the deeds of the great warrior Gods.

In short, the peculiar forms of religion have developed and flourished on differing modes of wealth production and social life in different geographical areas. They initially arose from Mankind’s prehistoric ignorance in his attempts to unravel the forces of Nature surrounding him, e.g., death, storms, shadows and dreams. It is indeed paradoxical that in our epoch of such remarkable scientific advances many people cling so doggedly to ancient fables evolved in an era of intellectual infancy.

Besides being scientific, religion is also blind faith in an unproven and unprovable concept, presupposes that religious dogma excludes understanding and knowledge. We all know of Galileo’s fate before the Inquisition for supporting Copernicus’ theory that the earth was not the centre of the universe. We all know of the brutal methods that the “agents of God” have employed in the past in their efforts to stem the tide of learning. There probably remain many sections of the religious personnel who would unhesitatingly resurrect such methods given the chance. One of the main grievances of some churches today is that the State is monopolising all education, and one can understand these churches’ consternation at being robbed of their young sheep by another competitor.

More realistic members of the clergy, however, are trying to swim with the tide; conceding more and more to the march of knowledge, compromising at every turn, and jettisoning one by one the more ludicrous of their assorted dogmas. It is interesting to speculate on how many moons will pass before they eradicate God himself.

Now is there any usefulness or practicality that religion holds for us under our present system of society?

Before attempting to answer this question, a brief expose of capitalism, our present system, is desirable.

Capitalism is a private (sometimes State) property class society, divided into owners of the means of production (under 10% of the population), and non-owners (90%), where the non-owners have to work for wages or salaries in order to live. Through the wages system, the class of non-owners (working class) are exploited by the class of owners, i.e., the capitalist class.

From this basic foundation, the whole paraphernalia of capitalist relations arise with all their complex workings. There is competition in various fields and in various stages, from “keeping up with the Jones” to colossal global warfare; there is poverty, both of a modest and extreme nature, resulting in numerous and tragic conflicts within the working class itself; there is frustration and mental anxieties wide in scope — from nervous and psychiatric ‘hang ups’ to murder and suicide. Capitalism is, in short, as poet N. B. Brock wrote, “a masterpiece of crucifixions”. (The Wayward Mind, 1970).

Where does a religion, e.g., Christianity, fit into all this? Some religious principles like ‘Thou shalt not steal’, stem directly from a system of private property. Stealing is quite unknown in primitive communal societies, as you cannot steal what you have, only what belongs to someone else. Stealing as concept and practice can only die out in a Socialist society as all wealth (abundant wealth to be sure) will be freely available to all. Not being denied access to the means of production and its products, people will simply not be motivated to steal. Anti-stealing ideas, therefore, are nothing but props to exploitative class society.

On the other hand, principles like ‘Thou shalt not kill’, though quite admirable in themselves, are that much idealistic dreaming in an insane society, because the economic, social and political environment compels such regrettable behaviour. Many of US bombing crews hideously destroying Vietnamese women and children with napalm are honest ‘God-fearing’ chaps who would go to church and even pray for peace! And taking Northern Ireland as a further example, no religious principle, (of either flavour) has in any way discouraged some brutal violence between workers there.

In short, capitalism, and the ignorance that goes with it, simply makes wishful thinking out of some quite admirable principles. Religion, at best, has been totally ineffective in compelling Man to live in peace, happiness, prosperity and freedom.

To conclude our analysis, the question arises “Has religion any relevance to Socialism”?

To begin with, its theoretical basis (of superstition and blind faith) is difficult, nay impossible, for a scientific socialist to accept. From the fact that an overwhelming majority in Socialism will be socialists, it follows that any remnants of superstition will be upheld by only a tiny, even insignificant minority of the population.

As to the ‘practical’ principles’ as ‘loving thy neighbour’, the futility of pushing such concepts under Socialism should be obvious, as the social conditions obtaining there will freely permit their development. In a sane society, such behaviour will become part and parcel of all human social relations.

Religion, therefore, is one of the more retrograde concepts which many men have yet to jettison. It has constituted a shackle upon the brain of Man for generations of time. It has been utilised in the past to perpetrate and exonerate the most barbaric slaughter and cruelty of Man by Man : to defend the throne of the aristocracy as well as the money bags of the plutocracy.

Reciprocally, it has also been seized by the ignorant masses upon which to lean, and into which to escape. To quote Marx, “it is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” (Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).

But also, like Marx always said, capitalism produces its own gravediggers. The flourishing of science and education under capitalism has led to a steady decline in organized religion in the ‘advanced’ countries. Although it can be argued that other phenomena are replacing religion as the ‘opium’, it is nevertheless a sign that at least one mental shackle is being expunged by the working class. It can only be conducive to the spread of the socialist idea.