Sunday, January 03, 2010

ATHEISTS and atheists

Today's edtion of The Washington Post informs us that "atheists in Ireland are risking possible prosecution with an audacious online challenge to the country's new blasphemy law. Under the law, which went into effect Friday, a person can be found guilty of blasphemy if "he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion."

Adding, "the penalty is a fine of up to 25,000 euros, or more than $35,000."!

Readers of this blog and the Socialist Standard knowing that we are against censorship and do not permit those with religious beliefs to join the Party might think that we have much in common with freethinkers campaigning against the new blasphemy law. Well, not really - a position which is made clear in the article below.

In the course of their propagation of socialism scientific socialists inevitably are confronted with the question of religion and Marxists worthy of the name inevitably face up to the issue. Our attention to the case of the "prophets" has run the gamut from the highest of the high priests - regardless of affiliation - to the street corner bible thumper, and not forgetting the "God is dead" variety of "progressive" parson. Despite the protest to the contrary by a conspicuous percentage of those who bear the socialist or communist label, religion is definitely a social question, and, as such, is within the jurisdiction of socialists. Scientific socialists are, by very definition, atheists - providing the term is spelled with lower case, not capital, letters. As materialists (in the philosophical sense of that word), however, socialists are not to be classified with those upper case ATHEISTS, the camp followers of those vociferous, ego-driven militant and aspiring Elmer Gantrys-in-reverse who dedicate their lives to the cause of what is to them a new god - Science. They seem, indeed, to believe that science came into being and exists only for the singular purpose of supporting them in their refutation of theology and hence is to be enshrined. This may be less absurd than the worship of a noncreated creator but that is about all that can be said for it.


Socialists accept as valid the Materialist Conception of History and its manifold ramifications. In this sense, of course, we readily admit to being partisan. We are opposed to the whole vast school of idealism, the latter term being used purely in its phtlosophical sense - the solipsist, the objective idealist, the dualist-idealist, etc. We also stand opposed to the evasions and equivocations of the realist, the positivist, the pragmatist, etc., who despite their labels are idealistically oriented.

We reject the mythologtcal concept that we are the possessors of a spark of divinity and the equally socially harmrul biological concept that we are "animals"; we reject as anthropocentric the concept that only a personalized, highly intelligent spirit created as fine and orderly a piece of construction as the universe; we relject, in brief, the concept of God and its attendant mystique.

In direct antithesis to those who proclaim that spirit has existed forever we deny its existence independently of man and affirm that matter, the universe, the world has existed eternally. Not in its present state, to be sure, for we speak here not in terms of any given state of things, but in terms of flux, of processes. In the words of Engeis:

"The world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which things apparently stable, no less than their mind images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of corning into being and passing away." (Ludwig Feuerbach Chap, IV)

We affirm simply that matter, like motion, as the idealists would have us believe of spirit, never had a beginning; that, as averred, the universe has existed forever and that it has undergone and continues to undergo through its own inherent motion, infinite changes and transformations.


Quoting Engels again:

"Religion arose in very primitive times from erroneous, primitive conceptions or men about their own nature and external nature surrounding them." (Ludwig Feuerbach, Chap. IV.)

Religion, then, represents primitive infantilism, primitive rationalizations, or if you choose, the manifestation of science in its most primitive form. Needless to say, religion serves too as a guide for conduct. It is said 'needless' because, as well stated by Everett Knight:

"so accustomed are we to associating religion and conduct we forget that religion is primarily a means of making sense of the universe; it is a 'perception' before it is an ethic." (The Objective Society, P. 19)

Slowly, painfully, man emerged from his deep gulf of ignorance. With each forward step of mankind, with each advance in science, the realm left to "the unmoved mover," to the "universal spirit," to a Supreme Being, to Divinity, to God has been reduced. God has progressively lost one citadel after another and will, with the coming of socialism, quietly, peacefully, and naturally lose "His" abode in the minds of mankind, even as totemism has disappeared from the consciousness of modern man. Religion long age outlived its usefulness and has today become an incubus, has become the source of income for priestcraft and has historically been a powerful ideological weapon of reaction, a powerful tool of control utilized by ruling elasses to protect and retain the class structure of society.

There is, of course, no formal way of proving that there is no God. But all scientific studi es of the evidence negate any such existence. Gods exist only:

"in the minds of men, the results of wrong interpretatlons of the world and its phenomena. The gods will cease to exist when the mind of man becornes Iiberated from ignorance and enslavement." (W.S. No.2, 1964)

All socialists scorn idealism and its doubling of the world - spirit and mind - but do not the less see the role ideas play in the human activity of changing material conditions; we scorn the delusional, pathological standards of evaluation encouraged by religion and wish it speedy journey to oblivion if only for the reason, which is not alone the case, that it teaches servility, submissiveness, and reliance on faith, that it teaehes the subjection of man to man and belittles the power of humanity. Long ago Maxim Gorky beautifully expressed the materialist sentiments of socialists in these words:

"For me, there are no ideas beyond man; for me, man and only man is the miracle worker and the future master of all forces of nature. The most beautiful things in this world are the things made by labor, made by the skilled human hands, and all aur ideas are born of the proeess of labor, made by the skilled human hands, and all ideas are born of the process of labor.

"And if it is thought necessary to speak of sacred things, then the ane sacred thing is the dissatisfaction of man with himself and his striving to be better than he is; sacred in his desire to do away with greed, envy, crime, disease, war and all enmity between men on earth; and sacred is his laber." (Literature and Life ) ,


Since our world-view is all encompassing and positive we might do well to avoid the purely limited, negative appellation "atheist" and insist upon the more befitting, inclusive one "materialist." But materialist or atheist (small letters) we socialists, although not reticent or sophistical on the topic of religion, are never found active in the ranks of the holy crusaders against God and "His" followers. For well we know that to be so engaged is to be fruitlessly engaged in assailing and excoriating effect rather than cause. As Karl Marx put it:

"The religious world is but the reflex of the real world ... The religious reflex of the real world can ... only ... finally vanish when the practical relations of everyday life (a society free of commodity production) offer to man non e but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to nature." (Capital, pp. 91-92, Modern Library ed.)

But the professional anti-God, anti-bible. anti-religious outfits are not interested in advocating the abolition of the type of productive relations which give rise to religion and a host of other effects of varying degrees of evil. Another effect of capitalist society which has brought in its wake more anguish and murder in our times even than religion - nationalism, patriotism, chauvinism - is generally ignored by the ATHEISTS. In fact, they seem to expend much effort in identifying themselves with what they would proclaim as "true" patriotism. Their literature reeks with the so-called anti-religious utterances of American bourgeois revolutionary heroes such as Jefterson, Paine, Hamilton, etc. During the Eisenhower years in the White House when the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag they complained bitterly. The term "In God we trust" on American currency bothers them exceedingly. And one ATHEIST high priest, basically a nice chap but none the less wrong, opens his five-minute weekly radio program with a half-minute rendition of Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Angry as America's chief spokesmen of capitalism may become with these ATHEIST enemies of the religious superstructure they can feel, in the main, secure. For not only do the ATHEISTS either ignore or cooperate with the other elements of America's superstructure - patriotism, polities, law - but they are blissfully unconcerned with the structure, itself, class ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth. That school children are taught to regard capitalism as the best of all social systems is all right with them providing only they are not taught religion!


Recently, a member of the World Socialist Party was invited bv the chief spokesman of an ATHEIST or'ganization to write a five-minute radio script. We reproduce below his answering letter:

Dear....... :

Received your invitation to write a five-minute script. Thank you.

"I must decline this offer however since I believe, among other things, you and your followers to be wastefully engaged in attacking effect rather than cause (which is not to say that some effects should not be immediately dealt with, but most certainly not, in this instance).

"This crusade of yours is in a very real sense detrimental to the far larger social question, serving to misguide and channel one's constitutionally limited energy and attention away from the crucial issue of our day - the sanity of soclalism nowhere existing and the madness of capitalism everywhere existing.

"An astute old bird once wrote: 'There are a thousand hacking at the branches of eviI to one who is striking at the root." I'm a root digger, not a branch hacker.

Cordially yours,

As is our approach to other class evils, so our approach to gods and religions: we socialists strike at the root, we don't hack at the branches. It is possible (if not probable) to conceive of capitalism being operated without religion as a prop. Once one understands why religion occupies the mind of man, today, however, it is not possible to conceive of religion existing under socialism. We sincerely and cordially invite all non-myopic atheists to examine and study our program and join with us in abolishing social evils (including religion) by abolishing their cause -capitalism.

The Western Socialist, No.1 - 1968

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