Saturday, August 20, 2016

Confidence trick (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

No socialist can be a christian, for the former’s ideas are based upon material knowledge and the latter’s upon idealist belief. The rational ideas which materialists have about the world can be verified by philosophical methods which can themselves be verified. That is not to suggest that materialists can establish scientific, unchanged and absolute truths but that we can make statements capable of scientific testing which can lead us to believe that a statement is probably factual. Thus, materialists argue that ideas are responses to matter and we can demonstrate our claim by analysing history. Christian beliefs are of a different kind. Faith is the central feature of Christian thought and need not be tested by external criteria. It is true that the Catholic Church once laid down the dogma that the existence of God can be proved by unaided reason, but there are few Christians who have survived for long when they have tried to verify their beliefs by rational means without the assistance of faith. Faith cannot be disproved because its criterion of truth is not material, but supernatural. Belief in the supernatural force can only itself be verified by accepting the supernatural force as the means of verification. So the circularity of the Christian argument is that A is true because A says it is true and we must not doubt the word of A because A informs us that it is sinful to do so.

Socialists are not atheists, insofar as we are not concerned to deny the existence of a phenomenon of which there is no proof, but materialists; our purpose is to explain the nature of the world and the position of human beings in it by means of reason and not faith. Socialists are not in favour of the banning of Christianity or other religions simply because they conflict with our ideas, although we note that Christians have not been so willing to extend such democracy to their opponents. What the Socialist Party of Great Britain is against is the well organised and costly propaganda of Christian faith through the schools, the churches, the media and all of the major institutions of capitalism. We recognise that capitalists do not pay out money for Christian propaganda unless it is going to be of use to them in their struggle to maintain ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution. Christianity is a political force which is supported so as to condition workers to support the social system which exploits them. As socialists wish to see the working class establish a fundamentally different system of society, based upon the common ownership of the means of living, the equal standing of human beings, free access to all wealth and the absence of leadership, it is in our political interest to expose the pernicious nonsense of Christian faith.

The first clause of the christian Declaration of Principles states “That human behaviour patterns are inherently sinful and they can only be changed by seeking forgiveness from an unprovable supernatural deity”. Humans, we are told, are naturally greedy, aggressive, selfish, uncooperative, prone to base temptations and in need of strict discipline. Left to themselves, people will kill, rape, torture and plunder without a moment’s consideration for other people. Christians tell us they are sure that this is so because they all are aware of their own sinfulness and feel sure that if it wasn’t for their faith they would all be going about raping women and mugging the aged. The reason for this sad state of human nature, incidentally, is that the first man ate a forbidden apple and the all-loving god of the Bible has since punished the entire human race.

The irrational idea that humans are inherently nasty is one which will not conform to the experiences of most people and is certainly one which is disproved by the numerous anthropological reports of primitive communities which survive without the anti-social behaviour patterns of modern capitalism. If humans have one natural characteristic it is that which motivates them to survive, and human beings will work to survive either socially or anti-socially, depending upon the way in which society is organised. In the rat-race of the profit system people will behave like rats; in a socially harmonious society, where the system is based upon securing the survival and comfort of all, there will be no need to behave anti-socially. The mind is a response to material phenomena; a new-born baby is not inherently anti-social. Christians try to overcome this point by claiming that the most important part of the human anatomy is not the mind, but the soul. For two thousand years Christians have failed to locate the soul.

The “human nature” argument is a very useful defence of the reactionary suggestion that human beings cannot cooperate, so we have to have bosses and governments and imposed morals. Christianity tells workers to be humble, to conform, to obey and never to question that which they cannot understand, for there are some things which only God and the capitalist class must know about. The carrot at the end of the stick is that if workers stick to the guidelines of Christianity while they live, they will go to Heaven when they die instead of being eaten up by maggots like the rest of us. The present writer would like it to be known to the powers that be that, if there are such places as Heaven and Hell, he is eager to be sent to the latter where he can enjoy some stimulating discussions with his comrades, instead of being stuck for eternity with a crowd of creeps.

Clause two of the Christian catechism is “That the first cause of matter and energy was a supernatural force called god”. God, we are informed, was the creator of everything, such as starvation, cancer, earthquakes, wars and, of course, the Devil. Opponents of the idea of god point out that energy is infinite and that it was never created and cannot be destroyed. (This is known in scientific circles as the first law of thermodynamics). But Christians are not satisfied by such an explanation and insist that everything must have been created by something. When they are told that if God is the something which gave rise to everything, there must have been a something which gave rise to god, they tell us that god is infinite. If there was a gold medal in the Olympic Games for philosophical acrobatics, then the church would have even more gold to add to its treasures.

The philosophical con-trick of the god-idea is of great political significance. For if god is omnipotent, and humans are merely his (or her?) creation, then humans are relatively powerless to change that which god has made. In short, if you are a Christian you must acquiesce to the design of god. The materialist conception of history teaches that people have made their own social environment, without the assistance of supernatural phenomena. The social revolution from capitalism to socialism will be created by conscious human beings. When they have established the new social order, the majority of humanity will abandon the gods which they had made in their own image.

The third and final clause of the Declaration of Ignorance is “That there was once a man called Jesus Christ, who was the son of a virgin, died and was born again, and whose moral virtue should be an example of perfection to us all”. We can ignore the fact that there is not a scrap of historical evidence for the existence of this legendary guru. Even taking the legend at its face value, who will not conclude that Jesus Christ was not an incomparably intolerant, fanatical, revengeful, illogical, superstitious, arrogant madman? It was Christ who said that those who do not believe in him will be “eternally damned”. Eternal damnation means that they will be sent to burn in the unceasing fires of Hell, not only for twenty years, but for infinity. Even Adolf Hitler only sentenced his opponents to the cruel fate of the gas chambers where they would die, and then feel no more pain, but this mad messiah of the ancient world threatened a fate which, to the innocent and ignorant people who accepted him, make the crimes of Hitler seem kind. It is the morality of such a man which millions of impressionable children are being taught in schools all over the world. It will come as no surprise to readers to learn that religious education is the only subject which British schools have a statutory obligation to teach.

People become Christians because of fear and ignorance. Schopenhauer wrote that “religions are like glow worms; they shine only when it is dark”. It is easy to force children to swallow the hateful customs of the property system by telling them that it was created and is presided over by a wise old man in the clouds. Christian morality creates repressed individuals who are taught to hide their natural and pleasurable instincts; it has led to innumerable lives of unhappiness because of its self-hating morality ; it has justified wars in which millions have been killed.

The Christian who is impressed by the idea of socialism must make a political decision. Is he to organise with the fellow members of his class to work for human self-emancipation or is he to continue to defend the submissive idea of humanity which serves to keep the workers on their knees? Those who lose sleep worrying about passing through the eye of a needle when they're dead reap the rewards of the Christian intellectual enslavement which will be ended by rational consciousness and not idealistic fantasy.
Steve Coleman

No comments: