Christmas and capitalism

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Wed Dec 27 18:06:38 MST 1995


Some thoughts:

(1) The tendency under capitalism is, wherever possible, to convert 
objects of nature and spirit which inherently don't have a price into the 
commodity-form. So too with Christmas. Regardless of its historical 
origins and ideological content, it has _become_ a commercial holiday -- 
an opportunity for capitalists to produce and sell commodities. I would 
suggest that this has become the *dominant* characteristic of this holiday 
in bourgeois culture and is epitomized by the desire to give and receive 
material gifts and rewards.

(2) The above, however, is a one-sided view of the process because the 
ideology of Christianity still remains (in perhaps inverted form) part 
of the consciousness of the masses.  This ideology itself has both 
socially progressive and reactionary components which vary by sect 
and culturally and internationally. In a similar vein Marx's statement 
that "marriage is a legalized form of prostitution" has some validity, 
but is also one-sided to the extent that it fails to incorporate the 
other (non-economic) reasons for that institution.

(3) So is religion the "opiate of the people"? Yes and no. It is an opiute 
to the extent that it can be a narcotic that inhibits the realization of 
human self-potential. It is a means for persons in bourgeois society to 
avoid confronting the material realities of their lives and is, 
consequently, an obstacle to change. Yet, it can also be more concretely 
a vehicle for change where religious institutions get their heads and 
ideology out of the clouds and begin to confront the reality of poverty 
and inequality. There are examples certainly of where Christianity today 
has both progressive (e.g. liberation theology) and reactionary social 
roles. The commemoration of Christmas is also an opportunity for those 
institutions to reinforce these elements of their ideology in the minds 
of their followers.

(4) [tying this thread to another]: If we can say that religion is a 
narcotic, what position should we take on it in terms of bourgeois legal 
rights? I would say that we should oppose any state repression against 
the useage of that narcotic just as we should oppose the state's 
outlawing of the useage of cannabis. This is a question of _right_. Do 
individuals have the right to be religious or get high? The state 
formally supports the former but opposes the latter. We should in 
principle support both -- even if both might be viewed in some ways as 
self-destructive (BTW: I also believe that we should support the right to 
suicide).

(5) Marx, like myself, was an atheist who came from a Jewish family (in his 
case, both of his parents were descended from long lines of rabinical 
families). Just as we can not forget the birthing process of capitalism, 
the original accumulation of capital, we can not forget or excuse those 
periods of Christian history which were replete with blood and suffering 
at the hands of Christians and their quest for religious hegemony. Even 
today, Christianity is used by some to justify the most outrageous 
horrors against humankind. This, as well, should be remembered during the 
holiday season. All in all, I'd say it is more progressive to commemorate 
Hanukkah which can be viewed as a holiday remembering the struggle of an 
oppressed people against Roman occupation.

Jerry


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