Religion, capital and the man in the moon
Assure, Believe, Convert: religions assure salvation; religions believe in a precise theology; and religions convert nonbelievers …
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
As an atheist, but one who spends much of his life making a living out of typesetting religious tosh for a major publisher I hope this does not read as ‘biting the hand that feeds’ but, dipping into the occasional book as I go along … really, what a load of fudge organised religion is. And, even though I have no objection to those, who in a world of uncertainty, accept this fudge as salvation, or use it as a balm to soothe the troubles when struggling with life … we don’t all have to swallow it – do we?
In July 2003, at the time of my father’s death, I wrote,
Death, a concept of sweet taboo, not to be talked about too openly, but can be written about surely – Anne [my sister], who claims to be a born again christian, will believe dad is in heaven, with mom and Brian, and all his brothers and sisters, and so on, and thats fine… whereas I find it very difficult, with all the inconsistencies thrown up by humans trying to explain the unexplainable, to believe in a higher being so cruel and merciless and consequently believe you live and then you die, in between you procreate like all species, giving encouragement to your offspring and making a mark in the history of some – and in that way you live on… I think dad thought the same way, but we never discussed it. I also think in life, because we humans have an ability– however feeble and narrow – to imagine and also reason methodically and intellectually, we will use whatever we need to get through this life, and if you need a crutch because you cannot face the fact that we are just a minute, and probably insignificant, part of the 4,600 million year evolution of the gaseous third planet of a minor sun in an infinite universe… then go for it! Reel me in, I’m done.
from ‘Wee Timerous Beastie’ in Writing Some Wrongs, 2007
It is still my explanation for life, for how I reason that although my father is dead … he lives on in mine and others’ memories, and it is still my explanation for the series of similar mystical and unproven belief systems which exist and pervade human societies the world over. It is this series of similar belief systems that have their set texts repeatedly quoted and mis-quoted to give comfort to those with ‘faith’, or to silence disbelievers. So-called holy texts are interpreted to suit and used to authorise superstition, slavery, racial segregation, racial subjugation, oppression of women, homophobia, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, self-sacrifice and suicide, war, rape, slaughter, genocide and holocaust, pogroms … and man’s dominion over all else on this planet … when, in a parody of blinkered ignorance, most religious people would argue their religion promotes caring and tolerance, love thy neighbour and a moral code. Almost without question, core elements of a country’s adopted religion are accepted as part of that country’s culture and employed as a form of social control. On the one hand, a religious dogma, pomp and ceremony is used to shore up a corrupt system of ‘don’t do as I do – do as I say’, sometimes to be exercised by a ruling elite as the final and ultimate boot at the throat of a questioning population, but more often wheeled out occasionally to give a moral authority to some ruling class dictate in the guise of binding a nation. But then on the other hand, also, in a bizarre twist, it is often openly ridiculed and were anyone to follow the plot and ever dare to say out loud ‘God has told me to do this’ – they could be declared insane if it does not fit with the dominant ideology. Yet, this is what a lot of organised religion is based on – long gone ‘mad’ people pronouncing on this or that after hearing ‘voices’ or seeing ‘visions’.
That there are similar (but slightly different) organised religions and that they have grown up in different countries, or regions of the world, is purely the result of small groups of people (almost exclusively men) who seek either personal power, or to suggest a code for living usually beneficial to a dominant class of society. They do this by hijacking those ‘mad people’ and claiming them to be the conduits for remarks credited to an all seeing and knowing, powerful god (or gods). Certainly these remarks, when imbued with some canny timing, logic and mysticism, can, in a world of confusion, give those who believe them feelings of security, a sense of purpose and a reason for being … when in reality there is no security, purpose or reason that we actually know of. One of the consequences of slightly different religious leaders claiming a hegemony in different parts of the world and looking to increase their influence and power for their brand of organised religion is a friction which has led to some of the most pointless horrors perpetrated by human beings on other human beings. This competition for hearts and minds is now mirrored in human relations living under capitalism – a religion of sorts – where the fetishism of money, property and more wars are the result, and where different nations compete and jostle for markets, land and control of raw materials such as oil, water and minerals to appease their profit-god. Under this system, the savage immediacy of the fist when dealing with a group of people, a nation, or a country when they fall foul of the world’s ruling elite is contrasted in the darkest, cruel irony by the awfully slow hand of assistance to any natural tragedy by the rich and powerful nations. The red tape and logistical complications that seem to hinder any relief effort to human suffering is noticeably missing in the speedy dispatch of troops or high grade munitions to bludgeon an erring nation bucking the system.
Back with the more spiritual, the kerfuffle caused by Charles Darwin and his book ‘Origin of the Species’ which developed the theory of evolution is ignored by most organised religion, or can, with some trickery be incorporated into their belief systems … well, they have to try to explain where dinosaurs, etc fit into the scheme of things. Various theologists either dismissed evolution when it came to discussing the ‘creation’ and ‘Adam and Eve’, or cleverly fudged and misdirected their flocks by saying the early Bible texts are merely moral tales. However, central within the evolution theory is the idea of all species evolving, including humans, and this is the hard pill to swallow for organised religion. By saying humans are also just a momentary blip on a constantly adapting and changing earth, who will eventually, over years, either destroy themselves or evolve into other species, challenges and undermines that very security, purpose and reason religion promises when it says we humans are ‘God’s chosen’, created in his image and put here to exploit all else on this planet, and given the authority to do this by God.
Religious bigots and venture capitalists have long used this God-given ‘authority’ to recklessly and ruthlessly push through their agendas – in their attempt to both dominate and plunder our planet for their own short-term gain. A special planet, I would argue, that rather requires the so-called intelligent species to act as guardians of the earth’s precious sliver of atmosphere. An atmosphere so fragile that our robust pollution of it must surely be the height of incredible stupidity – this 18km envelope of life supporting gases supports the only life that we know of in an infinite universe. Precariously clinging to the crust of this spinning molten ball an ape with half a brain might have developed the chaos we now find ourselves in – on the brink of catastrophe. The point then, is to engage the brain’s other half, cooperate in the planet’s maintenance and, in the words of someone or other, truly make this a ‘heaven on earth’.
For a number of years now there has been a trend where human beings seem to be backing away from progressive ideas, regressing to a ‘safe for some’ world where ‘thought’ is overwhelmed by feeling and ‘logic’ is trumped by faith. Those that help to engineer this mood are attuned to another agenda – that is, to enslave humankind to base animal instincts, a blinkered worldview and unquestioning acceptance of the status quo. Wake up! there is another way to organise humanity in fairness, equality and harmony, its called Socialism … its a truism not made any the easier by being so, but come on, we have to start somewhere…
This chapter instigated by the previous one and a need to focus. Often I am stifled in discussion by a clever-arsed ‘Of course socialism is a wonderful idea but with human nature (wrongly labelled as greed) its just unattainable…’ I am then deflected into arguing that human nature (if there is such a thing) is a very changeable commodity, and what is true of today’s fetishism with individualism and private wealth amongst a minority of the world’s population was and will not always be the case.
The dynamics of capitalism have developed the means to meet the needs of every person on the planet – but because it is rooted in the anarchy of the market, it fails millions of people with its accompanying waste, wars and unfulfilled promises. Because capitalism is geared to profit it has a tendency to over-production and product placement where the money is and not where its needed, resulting in a glut of products and services in the rich wasteful west and a paucity in so-called destitute third world countries. Violence and wars developed in feudal times for the acquisition of lands and peoples for a monarch and/or landed gentry, are now much more sophisticated and an integral part of capitalism. Violence and economic sanctions are used by nations with the clout to pacify, dictate, acquire … and generally speaking, the threat of violence is developed, glorified and paraded, much as any playground bully would, to dominate and/or preserve the status quo.
Under capitalism key decisions over what is produced, how much is produced, how it is done and what happens to it after, are made by a small group of people commonly referred to as the ruling class. Those excluded from this elite group, that is, most people, the working class, feel alienated from the process of provision – like cogs in a machine. Capitalism, by suggesting that everyone has their place in the scheme of things and important decisions should be left to experts, trounces its own promise that everyone has an equal chance in life, that anyone can make it to the top. Of course then, if or when you fail – then its quite obviously your own fault. The point is, with a variety of inducements, threats and mind games, capitalism presents its main plank of competition (from cradle to grave) as a completely natural, useful and healthy ideal, when, in reality, it is a nurtured instinct based on a primitive pre-history survivalism which benefits only the few (the winners), it is wasteful, destructive and … decidedly unhealthy for anyone living outside the rich nations. And, insofar as it being natural, I suggest the Earth needs humans – an evolved social animal with the capability of controlling its environment, the first ‘intelligent’ species (probably) to exist on this planet – to develop their more natural caring instincts of helping, supporting and co-operation.
Flagrantly flying in the face of this base, selfish and pointless competition promoted by capitalism, truly inspiring examples of working people helping, supporting and co-operating with each other abound in abundance.
Because workers produce everything under capitalism, socialists want workers to plan and control the things they produce and democratically plan society to meet the needs of everyone. Socialists want a world that isn’t racked by war, poverty and oppression. Wonderful ideals, but how to achieve that situation.
Socialists come in many forms, the goal is roughly the same but there are disagreements about how to achieve socialism and ultimately a communist outcome. Valiant attempts so far have resulted in corrupted economies, the best and worst being neither capitalist nor socialist but an unsatisfactory middle-ground. The Labour Party claims a socialist heritage, originally hoping to bring in socialism by reforms of parliament, in practice – and although on occasion making life better for the working class and denying some of the ruling classes’ excesses – when in office the Labour Party is only allowed to tinker with the system. The fact is that a parliament of any hue can only make policies with the nod from a ruling class of wealthy businessmen, industrialists and bankers – they really do hold the power and purse strings in a capitalist society like ours. Unfortunately for us these ‘powerful’ people are corrupted by capitalism’s driving force – greed at any cost – witness the so-called media and banking scandals of late … top dog criminals looting with impunity while playfully accepting knighthoods and nepotistic accolades … all with complete disregard for the rest of us plebs.
Under capitalism a hard-fought-for element of democracy is allowed to exist in the development and maintenance of the state. The state’s role in all of this, with its police and armed forces, judiciary, its ‘education for work ideals’, social security and healthcare provision for the masses, is biased in capitalism’s favour and really is only allowed to exist to control, maintain and provide a capable, healthy and pliant workforce. I think the State in any civilised society should be for a provision to the whole population, so that all are nurtured, supported and cared for, however a capitalist state shrinks from this obligation. It fails miserably by negating its responsibility for those it sees as lame ducks, leaving it to opportunist ‘charities’ to squabble over this provision. This creates another negative legacy for our capitalist society, in that, along with being unable to provide full employment, it does not provide a means for living for us all. This leaves us with ‘charities’ taking on the role of the State, where truly natural human instincts, that is, caring and sharing, has working people donating away chunks of their earnings because they do care passionately about the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. This act of caring calls into question and exposes that so-called greed element inherent in the ‘human nature’ argument as a fabricated nonsense … the greed element more than likely to be an illustration of the values of those who hold and propagate this view.
Unable to see past the trough and playing to a popularist electorate, the Labour Party has consistently watered down its socialist rhetoric and squandered its’ founders ideals to such an extent, that today its policies are hardly distinguishable from the ruling class Tories and their sycophantic Liberal Democrat buddies. So much have the Labour Party strayed from their red roots that at the behest of a besieged ruling class whose greed has caused and perpetrated this latest crisis (and every capitalist crisis after crisis in the past) they also want the working class to pay for the failings of their capitalist system. In fact, all parliamentary parties, almost all governments in the rest of the world … and even the European Union, are in favour of working class people paying for the failure of capitalism … Time for a change?