Religion Crumbles Under the Burden of Proof
by Min Reyes
“The US takes pride in its separation of church and state, but the current political scene is “strangely” religious. Lately, there would seem to be a whole lot more people who have a direct channel to the Big Guy Upstairs than one could have humanly thought possible.” – Cliff Schecter, Truthout
There does not exist one uniform, universally accepted and shared world view. There are numerous competing world views, some of which can stand opposite to each other and be mutually exclusive of each others’ methods. This also applies to the world views of religion.
August Thalheimer identifies two main sources of religious conceptions: (1) Relation of the individual to nature: human dependence upon nature and their desire to mater the forces of nature they cannot master in material reality. (2) Relation of the individual to society: religious conceptions and fantasies also arise from the relations of individuals to the totality of social relations primarily determined by the mode of production, or the social way in which individuals produce their material livelihood.
How many religions are there in our world, each claiming a monopoly on truth? Religion can be argued as one the oldest world views containing fundamental conceptions from which all others emerged. Thus, scholars and academics agree that religion as a world view has developed alongside the development of society: “In most developed forms of religion there are not many spirits, gods, or demons, but only one god” – Thalheimer.
The analysis of the development of religion cannot be isolated from the analysis of how human beings organize their society: there is an “extremely close relation in ancient times between the development of ideas concerning gods and the development of social forms, social organizations.” Thalheimer, for instance, identifies the different stages of development from small feudal states to a centralized monarchy in China. These, according to the author, are marked by the simultaneous change in organization of religious hierarchy from spirits and ancestors to the eventual recognition of centralized gods.
Thus, religion should be contextualized within its own history. Religion as any other narrative, is and will always be a historical product, and as such its origin can be traced back to the individual.
In A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx argues that any given criticism of philosophy ultimately begins with the criticism of religion.
“The religious world is but the reflex of the real world. And for a society based upon the production of commodities, in which the producers in general enter into social relations with one another by treating their products as commodities and values, whereby they reduce their individual private labour to the standard of homogeneous human labour – for such a society, Christianity with its cultus of abstract man, more especially in its bourgeois developments, Protestantism, Deism, &c., is the most fitting form of religion. In the ancient Asiatic and other ancient modes of production, we find that the conversion of products into commodities, and therefore the conversion of men into producers of commodities, holds a subordinate place, which, however, increases in importance as the primitive communities approach nearer and nearer to their dissolution. Trading nations, properly so called, exist in the ancient world only in its interstices, like the gods of Epicurus in the Intermundia, or like Jews in the pores of Polish society. Those ancient social organisms of production are, as compared with bourgeois society, extremely simple and transparent. But they are founded either on the immature development of man individually, who has not yet severed the umbilical cord that unites him with his fellowmen in a primitive tribal community, or upon direct relations of subjection. They can arise and exist only when the development of the productive power of labour has not risen beyond a low stage, and when, therefore, the social relations within the sphere of material life, between man and man, and between man and Nature, are correspondingly narrow. This narrowness is reflected in the ancient worship of Nature, and in the other elements of the popular religions. The religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish, when the practical relations of every-day life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature.
Marx and Engles also proposed that originally, both Christianity and Islam were revolutionary movements of the poor: 2000 years ago the early Christians organized a mass movement of the poorest and most marginalized sections of society,
“The history of early Christianity has notable points of resemblance with the modern working class movement…Both are persecuted and baited, their adherents are despised and made the object of exclusive laws, the former as enemies of the human race, the latter as enemies of the state, enemies of religion, the family, social order. And in spite of all persecution, nay, even spurred on by it, they forge victoriously ahead.”
According to these authors, thus, the world of religion is a mystified world, a distorted impression of reality. However, like all ideas as produced by humans, these beliefs have their origin in the material world.
History of human and social development has proven the historical nature of religions.
Religion is an idea, product of the human imagination. It is based not on facts nor evidence of any sort. Religion is rooted in blind belief, faith, for it comes to be without prior experience. In the history of human kind, we have had societies that believed the world was flat or that the weather was manipulated by divine forces. Knowledge and science have proven otherwise.
From Religion to Politics
Marx argued that human beings created god and attributed to this creation all that was not possible to humankind. Humans then, allowed the creation of their mind to take moral control over their lives. Human beings bowed to their own creation. This, Marx refers to as fetishism.
The same fetishism can be examined in today’s politics. The very distinction between political right, centre, and left can be seen as ideas created by human societies seem to have acquired lives of their own. Conservatism, Liberalism, Labour, all have developed within the specific socio-politico-economic historical contexts unique to each political ideology.
Today, the right, center, and left have seem to have lost the historical contexts from which they emerged. Politicians today are hanging on to old ideas that are no longer relevant, no longer reflective our current world. We are allowing the creations of our ancestors determine our society, but we all understand that our present global society has surpassed the needs our forefathers have faced in their time. So why limit our choices to the same choices of our forefathers?
We need to move beyond old fetishized ideas and begin creating new ideas that reflect the complex nature of our society within the context of globalization. In order to do so, we need to forget labels and traditions and honestly examine the real material conditions of our society.
[iii] On Religion
Karl Marx image from MPHbooks.com
Editor’s Note: Min Reyes is a journalist and student of historical materialism and dialectics. Presently, Min is fully committed to the global movement of human dignity against neoliberalism. In addition to being a News Junkie Post contributor, Min can be found at her own blog, MinReyes.ca, and you can connect with her on Twitter @Min_Reyes