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Religion – Thy Name Is Superstition

Banish Gods from the Skies, and Capitalists from the Earth!

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 want and poverty.

Religion has been around for a long time. The traditional answer is that humans evolved religion as a means of coping with death of loved ones, which is true, as religion preys strongly on personal crisis in helping cope with the deaths of loved ones by promising that they will see their loved ones again. Another reason often put forward is for a means of explaining the world around us as being created by an all powerful deity, because it was only until quite recently that we have had any real clue as to the nature of the forces at work around us that have crafted our environment and state of existence.

As humans discovered agriculture and started to settled down, populations tended to grow far beyond the small hunter gatherer groups. Human societies started to independently evolve religious ideas as a means of controlling the behaviour of members of society of how people should behave which were said to be laid down by an all knowing and powerful deity, the creator, rules such as thou shall not kill, steal, and one man one wife, and of course to pay homage to the creator and follow the teachings and instructions of the deities prophets and priests, that were to be repeatedly recited and ingrained in all members of society.

All religions seek to exert total control over every member of society as it was/is believed that all events that happen are as a consequence of the pleasure or displeasure of the Gods such as natural disasters in which respect societies even went so far as to sacrifice fellow humans to please their gods, and sacrifice remains at the fundamental core of all religions i.e. that humans sacrifice independent free will in this life for freedom in the next life, and to a achieve entry into the afterlife humans need to obey the will of the Gods as set down by those that purport to represent the deities such as kings and queens and priests under the fear of what would happen to them if they did now obey the will of the Gods as their representatives on earth. Complete religious control even up to the point of self-sacrifice (martyrdom).

Science cannot prove the non-existence of God. It cannot, either, prove the non-existence of pixies at the bottom of the garden. But it does not seem very likely that God has a place as part of objective reality, although, it obviously exists as an idea in society. It’s true that belief in God is not synonymous with belief in a particular religion. But the fact remains that there is no concrete evidence for God’s existence. If you believe in god, doesn’t it follow that you believe that it has some influence in human affairs? If there’s no such influence, there can’t be any evidence for God’s existence. If there is such an influence, then are we supposed to pray, or what?

As materialists, we apply the laws of thermodynamics (that neither energy nor matter can be created nor destroyed). Now, in the cases of God or the soul they all imply things existing beyond matter and energy – which is fine enough, although utterly unprovable and thus irrational. The point though, comes, when claims to interaction between this spiritual world and the material world occur, that is, that a non-matter, non-energy “entity” may be able to cause effects in the material world. Such an intervention would require, to all intents and purposes, the creation of energy.

And as scientific knowledge grows, God is relegated more and more to the background. The God of the modern capitalist is a different God than the slave owner’s of ancient times. And the “role” that God plays in the explanation of the working of the material world has changed. The role of God has changed from that of belief in predestiny, to God as a personal God, from God as the first creator of the world and the “cause”, to God as an afterthought (agnosticism) who has no control and the question of belief in him as irrelevant.

The point being in this is that religion, belief in God and our own beliefs as socialists arise from the material world, how we produce it, how we interact with it. And the primacy is the material world, of matter, yet as matter and mind (spirituality as some say ) that interact. Socialism, as the science of society, is an essential part of a scientific view of all phenomena regarded as an interdependent whole; and such a monistic view of the universe, with each part in inseparable causal relation to the rest, can leave no nook or cranny for God.

Religions are not deserving of respect just because they are religions; they must be subject to the same scrutiny as any other belief and cannot hide behind the defence that they are personal and private beliefs. Religion keeps the gaze of the masses fixed upon the sky, the ideal world where they cannot see how they are robbed and oppressed; do not let them investigate the material world, where they would soon find the way to material salvation. Socialists no longer looks to heavens for a supernatural saviour, or to the class above it for a Moses to lead it out of the house of bondage, but have become conscious the strength that resides within ourselves as a class.

The World Socialist Movement holds that religion is incompatible with socialist understanding. For socialists the struggle against religion cannot be separated from the struggle for socialism.

Socialists oppose religion for its anachronistic premises, for the barrier it presents to scientifically examining and controlling our own lives and destinies. Religion starts by placing humans outside the natural world – with anthropomorphic deities shaping the world and people’s free will allowing them to obey and believe. Humans are part of the world, and are amenable to scientific behavioural study, and it is understanding that that will allow us to liberate ourselves, and control ourselves and our destinies. The socialist case against religion is a simple one.

 We understand that, as ideas are the result of the historical movement of society, and the premises of religion thus concur with specific forms of society, religion is a social matter and not, as some would have it, a matter of individual conscience. Religion as we know it today is a part of a social process of acquiring and understanding knowledge left over from a bygone age, one in which the imagination of humanity outstripped its capacity to understand and control the world. Knowledge is inextricably linked with the process of acquiring it, with the practise of thinking. Since we, as workers, live in a world that has acquired the capacity to control its own material environment, we must reject those guides to behaviour and analysis based upon premises of human powerlessness, and the practises of thinking that go along with them.

Belief in religion – any religion – warps and handicaps the ability to think objectively, particularly about social and political issues. Socialism is the application of science to the relations between men, in effect, a branch of natural history.

Rationalists, humanists, secularists, atheists, see themselves as defenders of Reason against its traditional foe, religion. But they see nothing wrong in capitalism, thus they do science no great favour in letting capitalism off the hook and presenting religion as the primary obstacle to the free development of science.

 For humanists, criticism of religion is a process towards the eventual “Enlightenment”. But they ignore the material circumstances which give rise to superstition attributing miraculous powers to the figments of men’s brains. It isn’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.

The socialist point of view rests solidly on the materialist conception of history. Religion divides the universe into spiritual and physical realms and all religions offer their adherents relief from their earthly problems through some sort of appeal to the spiritual. Socialists see the problems that wrack human society as material and political, and their solutions as likewise material and political, not supernatural.

Some religious leaders may rebel against what they deem injustice, even suffering imprisonment or worse for their efforts. But where this means they seek their solutions within the framework of the system socialists aim to abolish, they demonstrate a lack of understanding of the development of social evolution, and socialists cannot endorse their views. More importantly, membership in formally defined religious denominations (or adherence to their beliefs) can defeat people’s best intentions unintentionally. The doctrines of organised religions traditionally locate the solution to society’s problems in the individual’s salvation and remain fundamentally indifferent to the fate of the human social community. At their most progressive, they seek only to modify the existing institutions of a class-divided society, and at their most reactionary they openly obstruct even that desire.

Such confusion over goals in an organisation claiming to practice socialism would sooner or later undermine its revolutionary character, for the tendency of such thinking is to confine discussion of capitalism’s problems to the horizon of existing society, a blindness fatal to the socialist viewpoint. One cannot understand the development of social evolution by resorting to religious ideas.

Socialists do not hold beliefs. They have an understanding of the world based on the evidence available. Socialism isn’t a dogma, it is a way of thinking about the world, and socialists learn to think and accept the logical results of their own arguments. The Socialist Party is a materialist organisation, that is we believe that ideas, etc. have no independent existence from human beings, and that ideas are determined by the material world in which we live. This is an important idea for our case, and its refutation would amount to the annihilation of our case.

In many parts of the world, traditional religion still retain a strong sway. Where social and economic development has not provided a practical impetus to challenge the teachings and presumptions of religion, it has remained strong. Gaining a further power as a means of giving a sense of identity and community to ways of life that are under apparent external threat – as in parts of the Muslim world and their reaction to western economic domination. Also, people in politically marginalised and powerless communities – like much of the rural United States – are turning to religious fundamentalism in the face of their own lack of control over their own and their communities’ lives.

Despite occasional public pronouncements that the West had no quarrel with mainstream Islam, there is no doubt whatsoever that, with help from the media and repeated insinuations from various officials, the widespread impression has been created that opposition to, hatred of and terrorism against the West is essentially “a Muslim thing” and that the Islamic faith itself carries the seeds of violence and terrorism. Thus we see that a difference in religion has offered the opportunity for capitalism to denigrate as scapegoats the Islamic world: and to drive a wedge of suspicion and distrust between western workers and their eastern counterparts – a good present-day example of the old imperial dodge of “divide and rule”.

While religious ideology is no doubt a useful means of dampening social discontent, it would be mistaken to exaggerate how effective it is today, at least in the urban areas where most people live and work.

It seems safe to say that the key ideology propagated by capitalists is not religion, but nationalism, which is more effective in blinding workers to their class interests and chaining them to a system that turns their blood and sweat into profits.

In religion, gods are products of the human imagination given powers to dominate the lives of those who create them. Throughout the history of class society religion performs two essential functions: it buttresses the established order by sanctifying it and by suggesting that the political order is somehow ordained by divine authority.Its sanctification of the existing social order makes it a counter-revolutionary force. Yet it consoles the oppressed exploited by offering them in heaven what they are denied upon earth. By holding before them a vision of what they are denied, religion plays at least partly a progressive role in that it gives the common people some idea of what a better order would be. But when it becomes possible to realise that better order upon earth in the form of communism, then religion becomes wholly reactionary, for it distracts men and women from establishing a now possible good society on earth by still turning their eyes towards heaven. We invent religions which denigrate our humanity, and which offer a solution in the promise of a mythical, never-never land of the future.

This is how religion works. You generalise from real conditions, keep the generalisation and discard the reality. The generalisations are now an ideal world, to which reality must conform. As our knowledge of the real world changes, the generalisations become outdated. At first, this seems to mark them as eternal truths, a divinely simple and regular account of a disordered and chaotic world. As time goes on, those people who live in the new, more complex world express their lives in new generalisations, and a new system confronts the old.

The scientific world-view attempts to overcome this; it is, at least in principle, the permanent revolution of ideas. The generalisation process is continually subjected to experimental testing: does the theory match up with the real world? You can generalise as much as you like, as long as you can verify or falsify the idea, i.e. that you test it with relation to the real world.

The post-modernist retreat from reality denies this faculty of judgement; it says that there is no way to compare ideas against each other. Each person comes up with their own way of generalising the world; their “narrative”. So someone who thinks that the Earth is flat and the moon is cheese has just as much claim to a correct account of reality as, say, an astrophysicist. The logic of our existence as real, capable men and women who need no gods and masters to rule us is denied.

Should socialists really worry about fundamentalist religion wiping out all scientific progress and knowledge, plunging the world into the long night of ignorance and another dark age superstition? Religion has had to do all the hard work of accommodating more and more scientific progress, which is why mature religions tend to become ever vaguer and more metaphorical. Successive modifications of religion have been the reflexes of changed conditions and interests.

Argument alone will not suffice to remove religion and religious strife from the world, it will take the material interest of a common cause and a common struggle to build a democratic society where people stand in real relation to each other. For the socialist alternative to our lives being controlled by impersonal forces we must bring about a society in which humans consciously control the forces of production. It is on this basis that we can say, rather than being abolished, religion can be expected to (as Engels put it in another context) “wither away”. There is no need to use force to end of religion, when it is already dying a natural death.

The decay of religion is, indeed, a measure of the advance of humanity, for the height of mankind’s superstition is at the same time the depth of his ignorance. The socialist can see, accompanying the decline of religion, humanity emerging from the darkness of ignorance and fear into the clear daylight of science and power, spurning the priests who had duped them, dispossessing the class that had robbed them, and moulding society to their needs, ordering and perfecting the social forces they have inherited. Socialists can picture the people, no longer slaves, but free: no longer in fear of phantoms of their own creation, but looking proudly out upon a harmonious and rational social world, harnessing giant natural forces to industry, and intensifying their relationship with Nature by a wider knowledge of Her laws. Socialists see a social organisation adapted to give all people health and happiness by freeing them from wasteful drudgery and by stimulating healthy emulation in a new birth of science and the arts. And so the community of brothers and sisters, that Christianity professed but could only hold back, becomes at last a reality through the complete harmony of interests brought about by the co-operative commonwealth; a made inevitable, because the social organisation makes the highest welfare and happiness of each immediately dependent upon, and producible only by the promotion of the like well-being of all.

Neither God, Nor Master!

Recommended Reading:

Causes of the Belief in God, Paul Lafargue, 1906

Socialism and Religion, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1910

How The Gods Were Made, John Keracher, 1929