Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

An Alphabet of Religious Ignorance

Socialists do not criticise any one religion in particular. We are very egalitarian. We criticise all religions as having no basis in scientific fact and whose origins derived from a primitive explanation of natural events for which early human societies could find no other explanation for. Later religion became to be used as a means of social and political control both in nomadic tribes and urban settlements.

Today, organised mass religion in European capitalism is in decline and has been replaced by other “opiates” principally the pursuit of a vulgar consumer fantasy world with its obsession with celebrity, money, designer labels and buying – “commodity fetishism” Marx called it. Elsewhere in the world religion still retains a strong presence exercising social control and conformity either by binding the working class to the State and its theocratic ruling class or to a particular political party as in the US.

Unlike other political parties, the Socialist Party of Great Britain is not prepared to compromise its position and embrace superstition, faith and ignorance. Socialists do not canvas the religious vote at elections or support radical Islam like the capitalist Left, notably Respect and the SWP or court the support of Christian fundamentalists like the Republican Party does in the US.

The SPGB has had a long tradition of opposing religion as a set of ideas and beliefs just as dangerous to the working class as Nationalism. As we wrote in our 1942 pamphlet QUESTIONS OF THE DAY:

… religion depends upon faith – blind belief. It is, on the one hand, the hopeless wail of the slave across the ages. The despairing cry of the poor. On the other hand, it is a weapon in the hands of masters to keep the slaves resigned to their chains, in the belief that life is a vale of tears, opening to a glorious paradise after earth” (Religion and the Workers p. 97).

Religion: A Useful Fiction

Religion is a fiction but a useful fiction for keeping millions of workers throughout the world tied to spiritual leaders who then tell them what to read, how to act and how to think. An important Socialist principle is that workers do not need leaders, either political or spiritual. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, having no leadership, is unique in not allowing someone holding religious beliefs to join the SPGB.

And the actions motivated by superstition, faith and ignorance have been at play in the recent demonstrations and riots allegedly against a film portraying the Prophet Mohammed as an adulterous psychopath and fraud. Those leading the groups who attacked the US Embassies in Yemen, and Egypt and the Islamic terrorists who murdered the US Ambassador and three other diplomats in Libya were merely carrying out the orders of professional politicians manipulating events from somewhere safe and secure in the Middle East.

The political and religious leaders in so-called Islamic States have an agenda against Western capitalism, particularly the US with its support for Israel, an agenda which those they manipulated and organised into rioting and killing just do not share. The class system and the division of the country into rich and poor exist in Iran, Iraq, and Tunisia just as it does in any other capitalist country. Egypt and Iran have high levels of unemployment, poverty and social alienation. And Saudi Arabia is a feudal theocratic dictatorship whose exports include many of the September 11th bombers, Osama Bin Laden and the anti-Semitic tract, THE ELDERS OF ZION. And of course these States also export the oil so desperately need by the West.

Few, if any of the demonstrators had ever seen the US-made film "THE INNOCENCE OF MUSLIMS” just as only a few Salmon Rushdie critics had ever read (and understood) the passages “blaspheming” Islam SATANIC VERSES before a copy of the book was unceremoniously burnt by a mob in Bradford on 14th January 1989. The demonstrations and riots were not spontaneous but organised. The ruling class in Middle Eastern countries has long learnt the value of religion and has used it ruthlessly to pursue its own interests.

For Socialists, workers in the Iran, Iraq and Palestine have identical interests with workers in Europe, the US and Israel. What unites all workers is their exclusion from the means of production and distribution by a capitalist class and their resultant class exploitation by being forced to produce more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries. Whereas religion and nationalism divides and pits worker against worker, the struggle for Socialism should unite the world’s working class with a common aim and purpose; the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all society.

The Socialist challenge to Religion

Socialists are not naïve. In many countries of the world religion is the main conduit through which vested political interests take place and are played out. A similar situation took place in 17th century England during the Civil War where politics and class interests were fought out through religion; the Divine Right of Kings defended by the Royalists, appropriation and interpretation of the Bible by religious sects, the God-given commons of the Diggers, the theological liberty pursued by the Levellers expressed in the Putney debates and so on.

As Marx said of religion; one religious group holds that only their religion and their religion alone emanates from God while all the other religions are man-made. In fact all mass movement religions are man-made; and we use “man” with no care for “political correctness” for few if any organised religions have been established by women (a few micro-religions like the shakers and Theosophy spring to mind) but who usually end up being repressed by them.

The challenge to religion and religious texts began in the 18th century when a non-religious position regards the Bible could be held without fear of imprisonment, torture and execution. And this has increasingly caused defenders of religion a problem. Free and critical enquiry into “sacred texts” like the Old and New Testament and the Qur’an has shown them to be inconsistent fables with no supernatural foundation. Instead of mounting a rational defense of their belief system, theologians have increasingly resorted to ad hominen attacks against the person.

So the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, accuses Richard Dawkins of anti-Semitism for criticising the Hebrew God of the Old Testament while the historian Tom Holland is accused of “Islamophobia” for calling into question the historical origins of Islam in his book In THE SHADOW OF THE SWORD and CHANNEL 4 is forced to cancel a private screening of the film, ISLAM: THE UNTOLD TRUTH after receiving “specific and credible” threats. One angry young man, The Al Haque, wrote on his blog against Holland: “the base of our religion is not history. Our base is revelation from God”.

Well, The Al Haque might be entitled to his view, uninformed as it is, but what he is in effect saying is that no criticism of Islam should be allowed because it “emanates from God”. Well, all religions would like to say they and they alone should enjoy this special privilege. And there are some opportunist politicians with votes to harvest who would lose no sleep in banning a secular critique of religion on the grounds of causing social disorder, although it would be amusing to see how such legislation would be carried out in practice.

Instead of mounting a defense against the baseless attack on Richard Dawkins, the INDEPENDENT, bastion of “Liberal values”, passed over the Rabbi’s comment in silence while the newspaper dispatched journalists to carry out a particular nasty hatchet job on Tom Holland without once criticising those groups whose threats stopped the showing of the CHANNEL 4 film. A new generation of “useful idiots” who see their role as uncritical apologists for the economic and political interests of Islamic States appear to make the same mistake as a generation of liberals and Left-wingers did in the 1930’s when their hatred of US capitalism made them willing apologists for the atrocities carried out by Stalin and his followers.

Socialists are of course on solid ground when it comes to a scientific and historical critique of religion. Darwinianism long ago kicked away the theological foundations from under all religions. There is no teleological (first cause) explanation for human existence. No wonder that the Christian and Islamic fundamentalists so despise and fear Darwin’s theory of evolution and want creationism to be taught to school children in its place. Untenable ideas always want special pleading; or need the special protection of the State; a cry for intellectual ring-fencing and the imposition of no-go areas to their own faith.

There is, however, no God in the “God particle”. The underlying reality of the universe is natural not supernatural. As the scientist and mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace once remarked to Napoleon who asked him where God was in his science: “I had no need for that hypothesis”. There is more in Laplace’s partial differential equations for an understanding material existence than anything to be found in religion.

A Socialist Critique of Religion

Socialists do not accept self-censorship and if our Socialist criticism of religion offends then so be it. In politics where different class interests conflict there is always going to be a battle of ideas. And the best way to win that battle is for ideas to be analysed, criticised, accepted or rejected through open debate and reasonable discussion.

Nothing should be off limits and that includes religion no matter how hard and painful it happens to be to those who hold religious beliefs. Religion is not a private affair. Religion is a social construction and a social institution which turns attention away from the world’s working class consciously and politically solving social problems here on Earth and instead to look to peace and tranquility in some “after-life”.

The establishment of Socialism is the only course of action to resolve the social problems facing workers no matter where they live. This does not exclude the possibility that some religious practice might exist in Socialism just as there might be those who will still believe the Earth is flat. Nevertheless the overwhelming majority of people in Socialism will not be burdened with religious ideas. They will be enjoying fulfilled and creative lives in a social system in which exploitation, poverty and ignorance will not exist.

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