Whose thoughts are you thinking?
Richard Dawkins, the biologist, has become something of a celebrity through his outspoken advocacy of atheism as in his new book “The God Delusion”. But his approach to religion is
still an idealist one.
The Dawkins approach to the question of religion is, like religion itself, an idealist one: religion is false, rationally unsustainable; morally enfeebling and a basis for hatred and division. Presumably Dawkins sees the death or meaningful diminution of religion by means of secularist persuasion just as religion hopes to resist secularisation by what it sees as ethical persuasion.
Dawkins looks into the biological evolution of homo sapiens for the origin and growth of the multiplicity of religious faiths. He is speculative rather than dogmatic on the issue but much more convincing when showing how the stringency of faith-based social morality has been softened over time by an intellectual response to the social development of society. He recognises this but, unlike Marx and Engels on the question of religion, simply reports it as a phenomenon under the label of moral Zeitgeist.
Unlike Dawkins, the pioneers of scientific socialism sought to show religion as a reflex of the social organisation of society. Marx, in the Introduction to his Critique of Hegel’s of Philosophy of Right, wrote:
“This state, this society, produces religion, a reversed world consciousness, because they are a reversed world. Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction. The struggle against religion is therefore immediately the fight against the other world of which religion is the spiritual aroma. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.” (original italics)
It wasn’t simply a question of religion being false, or brutal or divisive; it was a weapon of the ruling class, a bulwark in the way of the emancipation of the working class, a hurdle to be overcome in the progress to socialism nor could it be overcome while the conditions that nourished it continued to exist. Thus, the socialist sees religion as an integral part of the class struggle while the secularist sees it simply as a harmful, false premise on which to base a system of moral rectitude. As far as capitalism’s subject class is concerned, whether those who govern it or those who exploit it reject or accept faith is irrelevant; the morality of capitalism is not governed either by humanistic or religious considerations but by the constraints and compulsions of the marketplace.
Dawkins deals well, even poignantly, with the religious indoctrination of children pointing, for example, to the absurd practice of labelling young children with the faith identity of their parents or guardians. Even very young children, as young as three or four are referred to as, for example, ‘Catholic’, ‘Protestant’ or ‘Muslim’ children because society accepts the legitimacy of parents or guardians or clerics or teachers hijacking the innocence of children for the inculcation of beliefs more likely to be resisted if they were offered initially to an older person. Dawkins rightly calls it child abuse with ramifications sometimes even more devastating than the sexual abuse of children.
Obviously socialists agree that the indoctrination of children is a contemptible invasion of the rights of a child but, grave as it is, it is less socially heinous than the ruthless inculcation of the appalling precepts and values of capitalism – accompanied usually by the notion of a ubiquitous Divine Policeman – to which both children and adults of all ages are remorselessly exposed.
Science and the system
Indoctrination makes a nonsense of the claim that we live in a democracy. Democracy is about choice and choice is based on information and knowledge. But nowhere in the world of capitalism are the people offered the slightest hint that there could be a way of running our society that might free us from the appalling problems that are built-in, inevitable aspects of global capitalism. Instead we have intense conditioning and thought control to the extent were we look on the utterly absurd, like war and world hunger, as natural and as inevitable as the seasons.
Capitalism and its institutions rape our consciousness and rob us of the ability to think independently. Every situation must be reasoned within the paradigm of a world in which we are beholden to a class of owners not only for our daily bread but for every aspect of our life-functions from the cradle to the grave and unless our needs are consistent with the profit needs of the owning class they will not be met.
Richard Dawkins sings the praises of science and in a general sense socialists join in the
chorus. But science, possibly more than most other disciplines, is a prisoner of capitalism. The scientists have to beg at the table of the system for funding to pursue their projects; their sponsors are usually largely mammoth capitalist enterprises bent on discerning means of further enriching their directors and shareholders or capitalist governments dedicated to the overall concerns of national capitalism.
Just like the rest of us, the scientist is a prisoner of the crazy logic of the system and just like the rest of us if his or her dedicated function does not hold promise of profit for those who directly or indirectly employ them, irrespective of the potential
social benefits of their work, it will be denied funding.
The first phase in the struggle to end the political and economic exploitation of our class is to learn to question the thoughts we inherit from well-intentioned parents and teachers; to challenge the strictures of the priests, parsons, rabbis and mullahs and to question why in a world of potential abundance, where a parasite class of non-productive money shufflers and profit-takers are rich beyond measure, and the working class that produces all real wealth endure mere want or dire poverty.