Sunday, August 04, 2013

Sunday Sermon - religious freedom

 The worst of religions, the religion of capital!

 “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” - Marx

Opiates hide the pain of physical disease without curing it. Religion, which promises divine forgiveness and a better life in the next world, conceals the pain inflicted by poverty, hunger, and the other social diseases of this world.

The Marxist interpretation of the cause and rise (and demise) of religion is materialist. For those repelled by the exploitative capitalist system and beginning to explore socialist ideas, organisations claiming the mantle of Marxism might seem a bewildering assortment.

The issue of religion, in all its many and varied forms, again seems to be pushing its way to the center of the social stage. The question of the socialist attitude to religion is now assuming an importance it has not had in most of our lives for many decades. Out of capitalism's social conflicts and alienation has come an endless stream of cultist sects. The French philosopher, Voltaire wrote,  “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.”

Poverty and misery give birth and sustenance to religion. Solace for an empty stomach is often found by the wretched in the adoration of an icon or idol. Religion can express the alienation and degradation of class exploitation and oppression in contradictory ways — as submission or as protest. It can be the downtrodden “sigh” of the defeated and enslaved, giving consolation and comfort in a “heartless”, “soulless world”, but also express a form of social protest against oppression. Nevertheless, it always represents a fantastic, distorted or upside-down vision of world. That’s why Marx refers to it as an “opiate”, as “illusory happiness”.

The earliest religions, reflecting human powerlessness over nature, projected spiritual powers onto natural phenomena that they did not understand. So stars, planets, rivers, mountains, animals, etc., all took on magical powers and were feared and worshiped. However, a new power arose that was not understood — class-divided society. Gods started to appear instead in human form, with all of humanity’s individual and social powers. With the highest development of religion — monotheism — gods became the singular God, representing all the vast alienated powers of humanity in one omnipotent spiritual entity.

Despite the apparently secular nature of  much of modern life, religion is a long way from being a spent force. Unless we overthrow class society and its exploitative social relations, religion will persist as “the heart of a heartless world”. However, that does not imply that socialists don’t carry out a theoretical struggle against religion and its false understanding of the world. The Socialist Party cannot be indifferent to the lack of class consciousness which religion represents. As Marxists we defend a scientific, materialist view of the world, a view that is completely at odds with religion. Some people can be won from religion to a Marxist or materialist view of the world through theoretical argument. But for the vast majority of society, it will take a radical overthrow of existing social conditions, enabling them to exercise to the full their own creative powers, to undermine their belief in a supernatural power.

Religion may be said to be a "private matter," meaning simply that no society can coerce its members into adopting any official set of beliefs. It is impossible to police thoughts. But socialists cannot blind themselves to the class interests that religious beliefs has generally served.  Countless charlatans have peddled idealist delusions and individual "salvation" to the working-class, diverting discontent and sowing confusion about social reality.  Religious illusions lead people to accept the status quo of class oppression and undermining  them in their own ability to change society. Religion argues that people are not the main force for change. It attributes change to a divine power, offering hope for change in an afterlife. But dialectical materialism shows that both notions are false.The Socialist Party knows that it is essential for the working class to understand its own potential and power. Any perpetuation of religious ideas, which must by definition conflict with the scientific view of socialist materialism, ultimately works to keep the proletariat enslaved. Religion enshrines mind-numbing delusions, to lessen the pain of existence and religious institutions serve as a prop for the capitalist system of private property.  Religion has been of little use in explaining why society operates the way that it does, beyond "that's what God wants." In fact, since the rise of class society, the major religions of the world provide justification for what the ruling class wants: support for its privilege to exploit.

 A scientific Marxist outlook can't be forced on anyone against their will. In a classless socialist society, with full democracy guaranteed for all, no one will be persecuted for their beliefs but nor will there be any ruling class using the pulpit to protect its interests or domination. The Socialist Party does not believe that the answer is to try to stamp out religion, but to make the revolutionary changes in society that will liberate and uplift humanity in the here and now.

1 comments:

Mike McDade said...

This is an excellent piece. All I need to do now is throw off the obvious shackles of belief in true Christian teachings (from the Bible, I mean, and not some blood-stained pulpit), then I can move forward in active support of the otherwise excellent political ideology of real socialism.

Easier said than done. Any help would be appreciated.