Friday, December 09, 2016

Religion 3

Banish Gods from the Skies and Capitalists from the Earth 

The Socialist Party has been castigated for insisting that socialism and Christianity are incompatible. To us, it is obvious that "render to God what is God's and Caesar what is Caesar's"; "servants be subject to your masters", together with the focus on the "better life hereafter" are totally at odds with the emancipation of the exploited. Everyone knows about the tortures and burnings of so-called heretics by the Inquisition and the selling of "Indulgences" and that the Crusades were not about the freeing of the Holy City of Jerusalem but rather the pillage, subjugation and rape not only of the Infidel but any Christian on the way.

This is how religion works. You generalise from real conditions, keep the generalisation and discard the reality. The generalisations are now an ideal world, to which reality must conform. As our knowledge of the real world changes, the generalisations become outdated. At first, this seems to mark them as eternal truths, a divinely simple and regular account of a disordered and chaotic world. As time goes on, those people who live in the new, more complex world express their lives in new generalisations, and a new system confronts the old. The scientific worldview attempts to overcome this; it is, at least in principle, the permanent revolution of ideas. The generalisation process is continually subjected to experimental testing: does the theory match up with the real world? You can generalise as much as you like, as long as you can verify or falsify the idea, i.e. that you test it with relation to the real world. The post-modern retreat from reality denies this faculty of judgment; it says that there is no way to compare ideas against each other. Each person comes up with their own way of generalising the world; their “narrative”. So someone who thinks that the Earth is flat and the moon is cheese has just as much claim to a correct account of reality as, say, an astrophysicist. The logic of our existence as real, capable men and women who need no gods and masters to rule us is denied.

The socialist case against religion is a simple one. We understand that, as ideas are the result of the historical movement of society, and the premises of religion thus concur with specific forms of society, religion is a social matter and not, as protestant sectarians would have it, a matter of individual conscience. Religion, as we know it today, is a part of a social process of acquiring and understanding knowledge left over from a bygone age, one in which the imagination of humanity outstripped its capacity to understand and control the world. Knowledge is inextricably linked with the process of acquiring it, with the practice of thinking. Since we, as workers, live in a world that has acquired the capacity to control its own material environment, we must reject those guides to behaviour and analysis based upon premises of human powerlessness, and the practices of thinking that go along with them. Belief in religion – any religion – warps and handicaps the ability to think objectively, particularly about social and political issues. Socialism is the application of science to the relations between men, in effect, a branch of natural history.

There has sprung up a set of ideas, loosely related in content but closely tied by form, referred to collectively as the "New Ageism", crystal healing, aromatherapy, holistic remedies, along with a host of offshoots from the more conventional religions. These themselves are associated to a general "change of consciousness", in the main anti-technological and pro-"spiritual". We as Socialists often appear alone in standing against this seeming tide of goodwill, good vibrations, and wholesomeness. Our position on organised religion is that religion is debilitating to the mind of the worker and thus to the progress which we wish to make as workers in advancing our interests. But the New Age? What could be bad about "healing"? Who could protest against the benefits of goddess worship in empowering women? Surely this New Age is at worst harmless fun and at best a route to a new, gentler society? Our answer is that the New Age religion is merely the old age religion in a new, modern form. New Age's powers are all developed on the side of "spiritual energy", "psychic transformation", etc. If the old religion was the opium of the people, then this is the heroin; no longer extracted by chance from nature but refined, even artificially manufactured, and all the stronger for the process. The chants and prayers of the old religion have become commodified into tarot cards, crystals, and psychic healing workshops with incense burners, and scented candles. New Age is not different from religion; it is the perfection of it. The old religions are dying in the West because actual experience of the modern world has ripped them asunder, and as dogmas they must break instead of bowing to this change. The Pope cannot end the Catholic Church's stance on abortion, for example, even though every Catholic with a rudimentary scientific education knows that there is no divine spark at conception. Rather than obeying a priest, we choose the form of our own mental domination.

 The pagan backdrop of Catholicism is filled by that of Hinduism or Buddhism removed from their own social contexts of native exploitation; all generating a thousand and one cults and sects. What all these have in common is the flight from reality into a magical world where the evils of the material world are transcended in thought. They are not revolutionary, as some might suppose, from their content of peace, love and contentment; they are escape, the only escape of the life prisoner staring through the bars of a jail cell window.