religion

James Miller jamiller at igc.apc.org
Thu Dec 7 19:44:51 MST 1995


LIBERATION THEOLOGY

   Peter Burns posted some news analysis about Catholic
involvement in the land occupation struggle in Brazil.
This has been going on for a long time. I said before
that I thought that the church has to go along with these
struggles, even providing leadership, or risk being
bypassed, left out in the cold.
   If they want to maintain their base in the towns and
villages of the countryside, they have to bend to the
desires of the masses. This takes complex forms and leads
to internal struggles within the church. But this doesn't
mean the church can lead the struggle against capitalist
or landlord exploitation. To the degree that the church
is able to impose its pro-capitalist philosophy on the
mass movement, this movement will be crippled or derailed.
   As the struggle becomes more revolutionary, there will
probably be a split in the church, or a series of splits,
in which the most left elements will learn to understand
the reactionary political role of religion and leave the
church. Although many of them will create a lot of internal
dissension before they get up the nerve to walk out. At the
same time, the church itself, which is both a capitalist
institution as well as a promoter of respect for the social
domination of the capitalist class, will not abandon its
political role.
   Re: the distinction between theism (God is unconditioned
being) and deism (God as passive after the creation). This
analysis is something for idealists to debate. There is no
evidence either way. There was a recent "Beliefs" column
in the NY Times about the atheistic character of science.
Most scientists bow to the social power of religion by
saying that religion and science are separate and equally
valid spheres of human endeavor. But some scientists (and
one was quoted in the column) argue that science is
inherently atheistic because divine intervention has to
be ruled out for lack of evidence. If you don't have some
facts to talk about, you don't have science. With God, you
have no facts.

BOURGEOIS IDEOLOGICAL INSTITUTIONS

   Peter says, "Jim ...thinks religion is hostile to the
formation of working-class consciousness. But surely the
same is true of every aspect of contemporary culture--law
academia, TV, literature, comic books, etc, etc. ...But in
each of these areas, including religion, class struggle is
possible, and there are some lawyers, academics, writers,
cartoonists and priests who side with the socialist cause."
   While this is true, it sidesteps the most important
point. And that is that these cultural forms and agencies
function to maintain the social power of the exploiting
classes. They do this, in part, by absorbing themes which
arise in the class struggle and reflect them back to the
masses in such a way as to blunt the struggle, confuse the
working people about the class issues and conceal the deeper
meaning of all these questions.
   As I pointed out before, religion, which comes down to
us not only through the churches, but through families, the
government and the media, tends not only to "befuddle" the
workers (Lenin's word), but also tends to rob them of the
self-confidence they need in order to wage a sustained
struggle for their class aims. In fact the two religious
tasks of obfuscation and mortification go hand in hand. The
more debased, sinful and humble the workers feel themselves
to be, the less they are inclined to seek after knowledge.
Likewise, the more naive and provincial the intellect of
the workers, the easier it is to fill them with feelings
of shame and self-contempt. These are the traditional tasks
of religious institutions. 
   As we look forward to the kind of social crisis that will
accelerate class polarization, we will expect to see a lot
of shake-ups in the various communities of the bourgeois
intelligentsia. We will see not only splits in the church,
but also defections from bourgeois culture of academics,
entertainers, lawyers. They will learn to despise what they
have been doing to themselves and to others. And this is
already happening today, mostly in an embryonic form. Many
of these people will be drawn to the side of the working
people, particularly when the latter show themselves capable
of leading a massive battle that can win. But they will not
be the central leaders of the working class. The working
class needs a "Bolshevik" type of party, with devoted,
experienced and clear-thinking materialist leaders.
   The leadership of the working class need to maintain
the distinction between communism and religion as representing
opposing class interests. In the long run, the religious
intellectuals and workers who come over to the party of
socialist revolution will appreciate the fact that the
Marxist leaders stuck to their guns and didn't coquette
with the ideology of the ruling class. 

Jim Miller
Seattle



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