Friday, October 29, 2010

What’s wrong with religion?

Occasionally we get a membership application from someone who has a rough idea of what we stand for. They may have read few Socialist Standards and perhaps been to a meeting or two. They’re fired up and want to get involved so they ask for an application form, fill it in, - and suddenly they’re puzzled. - Why do we ask them their views on religion? (It’s not just religion we ask them about of course but their understanding and agreement with our case generally but it’s often a religious view that proves to be a sticking point).

‘Wasn’t Jesus a socialist’? They may ask. And if they do or if they hold the view that the stars or other mystical forces hold the key to our lives we have to politely ask them to find out a bit more about the Socialist case and then come back and talk to us again.

So why are we opposed to religious beliefs? Well the socialist or materialist opposition to religion differs slightly from the usual atheist position. The non-socialist atheist argues that there is no evidence and thus no rational grounds for believing in supernatural beings or in life after death. While we accept that that argument is fine as far as it goes, from a socialist point of view it just doesn’t go far enough. It’s all very well to point out the lack of logic in religious beliefs but religion is not simply a collection confused and erroneous views.

Our case is based on a materialist view of history. That our consciousness and ideas arise from our material conditions. Religion is the ideological expression of a long gone world. Of ancient social conditions. A world of superstition, limited education and primitive productive forces that were dependent on slave labour. Far from providing an answer to the problems of today religion tells us to put our faith in the supernatural answers of a long gone age. Instead of uniting as a class to face our common class enemy we are to become like little children, meek and mild and to submit (via the Priest, Rabbi or Mullah) to the whims of imaginary gods.

And incidentally, No, Jesus wasn’t a socialist. The material conditions required for socialism simply didn’t exist two thousand years ago. Nor, because of the material conditions that did exist, would he - (even if he existed himself which is doubtful) have been able to envisage a world of common ownership and free access. In spite of God’s supposed benevolence and Jesus’ magic tricks with the loaves and fishes the bible insists that poverty must be accepted as a fact of life. In Deuteronomy we are told ‘For the poor shall never cease out of the land’ and Jesus’ view in Mark’s gospel is that ‘ye have the poor with you always’. This view, although it was the reality of the ancient world, is simply not compatible with today’s world of potential abundance.

Two thousand years on our material conditions present us with new ideas and force new problems onto us to be solved. A materialist understanding of history shows that its not the whims of invisible gods that causes poverty and unnecessary suffering but capitalist class ownership of the means of production. We take the view that our history and problems can only be understood, explained and solved with an understanding of Marx’s materialist ideas. And the solution to today’s problems - widespread and totally unnecessary hunger, poverty and suffering, are not found in faith and prayers but in a clear understanding of our class position, and the action that we as a class must take.

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