Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Off to Hell on a Hand Cart?

One of the major barriers preventing the working class from having a clear understanding of Socialism and socialist ideas is religion. This is more so in the United States, with its creationism and religious cults, than elsewhere in the world.

In the US, religion is used to denounce science and in particular Darwinism. Creationism is a dominant ideology. It corrupts and enfeebles human thought. And its leading proponents decry any criticism of the profit system as "Socialist", "Marxist" or "Communist".

Religious pastors tell their congregation that the Bible is a fact. They say that evolutionary science is the work of the Devil, and their pulpit sermons tell the congregation to place their trust in ignorance and obscurantism.

In the USA, religion is a "free market" business and hence the plethora of rich, or would be, rich conmen and snake oil salesmen claiming to be pastors whilst fleecing their flocks in order to live luxurious lives. It seems they have forgotten that Jesus urged his followers to give everything away and follow him into the desert! There are also plenty of current "prophets" speaking with God and predicting Trump's return to the White House before 2025! Holy men with big pockets.

Like the Seventeenth century Puritans they favour the Old Testament with its revenge, authoritarianism, violence and hate. No compassion from the creationists. Unbelievers go straight to hell along with gays, feminists, and woman seeking an abortion where pregnancy has been caused by incest, rape or social circumstances. And of course there are the "evil", socialists and Marxists. The Jehovah Witness, disappointed at not making a convert from someone barely awake on a Sunday morning, hand out a card with an image of a train full of heretic's on the way to eternal damnation.

However, there is some light. More and more workers in the United States are walking away from religion. They have rejected "God" and are now thinking for themselves. Reason rather than irrationality: experience and fact instead of faith.

"What's Your religion?" is a common question asked in surveys and opinion polls and is increasingly being answered by "None" (AP NEWS 14 December 2021). Elizabeth Drescher, an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University has recently written a book CHOOSING OUR RELGION: THE SPIRITUAL LIVES OF AMERICA'S NONES (2021). She has set out to study the belief systems of those who are increasingly rejecting institutional religion.

In her interview with APS News she said:

"If the unaffiliated were a religion, they'd be the largest religious group in the United States,"

She went on to say:

"The religiously unaffiliated were once concentrated in urban, coastal areas, but now live across the U.S., representing a diversity of ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds"

Yet most people interviewed by Professor Drescher held "spiritual" beliefs. So Religion is still a dominant force even among those who do not subscribe to any organised religion.

Socialist Materialism or Religion

If more and more people in the United States are shaking off religious belief, embracing science and thinking for themselves then that is a positive step. But it is not a step towards becoming a socialist. No one interviewed by Professor Drescher gave a socialist reason to dismiss religion organised or not. More's the pity.

A few people interviewed by Dershcer were atheists in the tradition of the philosophers David Hume and Bertrand Russell, the late journalist Christopher Hitchens and noted evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins. However, socialists do not share the same rejection of religion as atheists.

Most atheists support capitalism. There have been atheist governments. The absence of religion does not guarantee socialism, although it helps.

Atheism is a negative attitude towards belief in the "Gods" whereas the materialist view of history held by the socialist leaves no room for gods or "spirits" in our outlook on the world. We explain the rise as well as the demise of ideas and beliefs of "Gods and Ghosts" by the changes in the conditions under which men and women work and live.

The Catholic Church once supported Feudalism and had its power and wealth to go with this support. Protestantism once held the working class in its grip: now Church of England congregations are empty, Wesleyan chapels in the country-side have been converted into homes and who cares what the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks.

Notwithstanding the irrelevance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the present incumbent was once "something big" in the City. And, although the Church of England is spiritually a dead horse, it is still a major player in British capitalism. As Marx put it in the 1st Preface to CAPITAL: "The Church of England would rather part with 38 of its 39 Articles, than part with 1/39 of its income".

Socialists take our view of the world from Marx and Engels. These two revolutionary socialists held that socialism, a distinct social system that has never existed, was not the same as atheism. To become a socialist is to have a positive and constructive attitude towards life and society involving recognition of the material basis of social relations and institutions. We live in a class divided society and, given a socialist majority, we could establish a socialist society around the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by everyone.

Socialists are hostile to all religions. Yet there is a difference between the socialist attitude towards religion and that of the secularist or atheist. In his book THE GOD DELUSION, Richard Dawkins treats treat religion simply as a set of beliefs which he seeks to demolish by rational and logical criticism. This gets us nowhere.

Unlike Richard Dawkins socialists apply Marx's theory of history (more popularly known as the materialist conception of history) to religion and religious ideas. Socialists do not see religious ideas as an aberration but deriving from specific historical conditions and either sustained by an intellectual immaturity or usefulness as ruling class ideas to control a subject class.

We show how and why religion came into being, how it was used by the ruling class as a means of ideological control and why its promise of "heaven" gives hope to millions who lives are marked by poverty, homelessness and misery.

Religion is not a private affair. You cannot be both a Socialist and hold religious beliefs. And, as the Socialist Party of Great Britain said in its 1910 pamphlet on religion:

"Under its multifarious forms the modern mission of religion is to cloak the hideousness and injustice of social conditions and keep the exploited meek and submissive" (Socialism and Religion 1910).

Explaining Religion to Avoid Religion

The socialist does not set out to destroy the idea of God - that is the idealist strategy pursued by Dawkins et al. Our policy is to recognise the cause of social beliefs and to work for the establishment of a global system whose social conditions men and women can understand and take part in, without believing in the need for someone to kick start the universe.

Socialism, the science of society, is based upon reason, facts and experience. It is a recognition that the working class has independent and diametrically opposite interests to the capitalist class and its political agents.

As a class we do not have control and ownership of the means of production and distribution. Our needs are not met. We are unable to flourish and fulfil our abilities as human beings. We cannot produce to meet our needs and neither can we have direct access to meet the needs of ourselves and our families. Our creativity is stunted and unrealised.

The Socialist opposition to religion over the decades has not in any way changed. The case for Socialism is built upon a materialist understanding of history, the fact that men make history through class struggles which are the motor force of historical change from one system of society to another.

Socialism is scientific in that the evidence of men and women's experience in social production supports it. The social relationships entered into to produce goods and services in order to survive and reproduce ourselves show that social production must be harmonised with social ownership and class antagonism abolished. Socialism is sustained by knowledge of the instability bred of conflicting class interests under capitalism. Socialism is the only resolution of class conflict and harmonising production with social need.

Religion, on the contrary, has no basis in knowledge or science; it is built upon myths and superstition, and sustained by poverty, fear and ignorance. The study of religion reveals more than anything the seemingly infinite capacity of the human mind to fantasise and to believe the unbelievable - think of the current QAnon conspiracy theory which has seen many die of COVID-19 through their fundamental Christian faith.

We live in an age of mathematics, science and technology yet the Catholic Church has exorcists whose function is to drive out the devil from the human body. And in taking the Bible literally creationists have been forced to perform intellectual gymnastics by arguing that dinosaurs got onto the Ark before the flood, as eggs!

Establishing Socialism means ending the pernicious grip of Religion

The sheer diversity of religion both historically and currently throughout the world really goes full cycle and cancels itself out. They cannot all be right but they can certainly all be wrong. The myths of creation, of almighty spirits, the immortality of the soul and the efficacy of prayer have trapped believers in the grip of predatory ruling classes whose interest it is to perpetuate their submission and servility. Religion, along with nationalism chains the working class to the profit system and class exploitation.

The appeal of Socialism is of such a fundamentally different order that, when it is asked why, after a hundred years of SPGB and Socialist propaganda, so little progress has been made, a major part of the answer is that the lack of progress has been on the part of those who live on their knees or fight in capitalism's wars.

Before Socialism can be established a majority of the working class must reject the pernicious ideology of capitalism which includes religion and nationalism. To look at the persistence of religious myths and primitive superstitions gives us a sobering realisation of the distance we have yet to travel before the exploited class of capitalism prioritise their emancipation.

Poverty and religion have always been bedfellows. Capitalism guarantees the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and deprivation for the class that sells its labour-power for wages. Those who have freed themselves from religion still have a long way to go. They have to free their minds of the need for leaders, of blaming members of their own class, of supporting capitalism's wars, of the unnecessary world of commodity production and exchange for profit and for the urgent need of abolishing world capitalism and replacing it with world socialism.

It is as futile to yearn for a form of capitalism without religion as it is to imagine capitalism without war. They are an integral part of the same degenerate society. When the world's workers abolish capitalism, religion and war - together with the other ill effects of that system - will be consigned to the past.

We would recommend 'Socialism versus Religion, War, and Capitalism' produced by the Reconstituted SPGB

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