From the July 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the eyes of the class that is supreme in society, religion is for the people, as Napoleon once pointed out, but not for the rulers. It is something to stupefy or drive into a frenzy the mass of the people, as the needs of the governing class demand.
Since the days of the native medicine man religion has been a prop and a handmaiden to each ruling class, and a priestly group has evolved parallel with the growth of government. So much has this been so that each social revolution of the past has had a religious glamour cast over it and has involved modifications of the creeds of the defeated rulers.
Apart from its philosophic unsoundness, the success and the curse of religion has been its propagation of the myth of another world.
When the oppressed are weary from the hopeless struggle for existence, and might be moved to rise and throw off the yoke of oppression, the deadening hand of religion stretches out to them, bids them to be of good cheer and be patient, all will be well in the hereafter, where “all good people” will live in a heavenly rose garden. Many rise to the bait, as it is so comforting to think that this vale of tears is but a path to paradise. And so places of worship have arisen, palatial, beautiful and impregnated with incense; their pulpits have resounded with the mocking cry, “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The promise has meant a good deal to those who looked for no rest on this side of the tomb, and has helped to blind them to the possibilities of rest in their real life.
Religion has not been a giver of rest but a scourge to drive the masses on to toil unresistingly. The demonstrations of scientists that religion is, on the one hand, an attempt of the ignorant to explain natural forces —of whose workings they are ignorant, and, on the other hand, a weapon in the hands of a ruling class to help to keep the workers in subjection—have made little progress in the workers’ minds in the past, because knowledge has been the privilege of the rulers and their henchmen, and the masses have lacked time and opportunity to learn.
In the later Middle Ages the ruling class in their own circle ignored the precepts they preached and permitted a considerable amount of scepticism in the writings of the professional groups, cynically conscious of the fact that it would never reach the understanding of the "lower orders.”
Of late years a change has gradually come, and from two directions; both of which are due to the profit-making root of present society—and are beyond the power of capitalism to cope with.
One cause is the mighty machine industry of to-day, which has demonstrated to workers, without the need of books, the natural source of supernatural phenomena, and, at the same time, the power of human capacity to harness the forces of nature. The oil engine, wireless, and the aeroplane have been among the remarkable educators of the average man during recent years.
The other cause is the cheap and wholesale production of literature which brings within reach of all, often in a very handy form, the very latest results of scientific investigation in all fields of thought, and also lays bare the method of scientific research.
Books are articles of commerce, like other commodities, and money invested in printing yields just the same kind of profit as money invested in oil production or any other ware. Consequently, newspapers print scientific reports and works of a scientific nature are written because the sale of newspapers and books is profitable. Workers read and learn, and their growing wisdom is reflected in a gradually clearer understanding of the world and their particular place in it.
Thus the blind scramble after profit leads the capitalist to dig the grave of his system, and, as the hold of superstitions weakens, the worker loses his reverence and respect for the things that; he has been taught to regard as the eternal institutions of divine wisdom. Religion, like a cloak, is thrown off when it is worn threadbare. In similar fashion, the system whose evils it has been used to cover is subjected to scientific examination, and failing to provide for the needs of the majority is displaced by one that does so.