Marxism and Religion

Marxism and religion"Early on, humans have sought an imaginary communion with a non-material spirit world where — it is believed — a part of me will live on. This was indeed one of the most powerful and enduring messages of Christianity: 'I can live after death'. The problem is that the life that is led by most men and women in present-day society is so hard, so intolerable, or at least so meaningless, that the idea of a life after death seems the only way to invest it with any meaning." — From Marxism and Religion

“Religion is the opium of the masses” is one of Marx’s most quoted phrases. However, the full quote is almost always neglected, which explains the position of Marxism far more adequately. Marx explains that religion fills the soulless void found in class society, and, in a sense, even indicates the need to protest against the injustice of this world. However, by seeking mystical and otherworldly explanations and solutions to the injustices of the real world, it plays the key ideological role in maintaining class society.

Marxism is about achieving the full realisation of humanity’s powers, the unfolding of our nature without diversion into obscurantist fetishism, be that the fetish for money or for religious symbols. But we can only cast aside these illusions when we directly control our fate, and to do that we need to put the productive forces of society under social control. In other words, we need socialism and a revolution. Religion cannot be overcome by recourse to pure, rational arguments; we must instead attack its social foundation.

Marxists are in favour of religious freedom and do not set up barriers to religious workers joining in the struggle for socialism. However, we are irreconcilable atheists and materialists in our own world outlook, and we are in favour of the radical separation between religion and the state.

All religions have their fundamentalists; there are Christian fundamentalists, Hindu fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, Buddhist fundamentalists and so on. They all play a reactionary role, and they are all growing in number. All of them believe they are the holders of the absolute truth, while all others are heretics or even the work of the devil himself. They are all used to sow division among toiling people around the world. The phenomenon affects all countries to one degree or another.

On Friday 25 May, Ireland went to the polls to decide whether to repeal the 8th amendment of the constitution, which denied women the right to abortion as long as the unborn fetus had a heartbeat. Under these laws, which are part of the legacy of the Catholic Church’s domination of Ireland, abortion was illegal, even under the horrific circumstances of rape, incest or fetal abnormalities. The repeal of the 8th amendment is an epoch-making slap in the face against the Catholic Church and the establishment in the Republic.

Polish women staged magnificent demonstrations and strike action all over the country on Monday 3 October. They are fighting against a proposed law that would ban abortion under all circumstances, even in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s life. Even in this country where the Catholic Church is so powerful, and where the right-wing Law and Justice party won power just a year ago, the spirit of struggle is alive and explosive.

Mother Teresa (1910-1997) has been beatified by Pope Francis I, after a series of miracles (where the role of modern medicine was conveniently swept under the rug) were fished out from her lifelong record running clinics for the poor in India. These years of crisis and revolution have been a lean period for the Catholic Church, which is forced to churn out saints to maintain its appeal.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the capitalist counter-revolution in China, an immense political vacuum opened up in ideology and politics on a world scale. In these conditions there was the resurgence of political Islam and religious fundamentalism.

The British press are raging about the number of British youth who may have joined ISIS, the Islamic fundamentalist organisation, supposedly a break-away from Al-Qaeda, which is fighting in Syria and Iraq. Alarms are ringing about the political consequences of having these young men, radicalised and hardened by war and military training, returning to political activity in Britain. It has been estimated that the number of Muslim youth from Europe who have travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq number at least in the hundreds.

John Pickard’s book delves into the history of the three most important religions in the Western world, and this has profound political implications. If you think about it, religion dominates so many people’s lives from their birth to their death and yet, incredibly, so little is known about how religion, in particular Judaism, Christianity, and Islam really came about.

The election of Pope Francis marks a turn in the prolonged crisis of the Catholic Church. It is important for revolutionaries to understand the reasons for the ongoing struggle within the Church. Far from moving to the left, Francis is trying to entrench the Church in defence of the present system and shield it from revolution and the class struggle. Francis is calling for the Church to renew itself and to move towards the poor. This is raising expectations within the popular masses of the Church but will inevitably collide with the brutal reality and the vested interests of the Vatican apparatus.

The resignation of Pope Benedict and the global furore around the selection of Pope Francis, demonstrated the grip the Catholic Church still commands in the minds of the masses in many areas of the world. Cain O’Mahoney looks at the origins of Catholicism in the Dark Ages, and how the ‘Universal’ Church - unconsciously - acted as the ‘subjective factor’ in the transition from the slave based society of the Roman Empire to feudalism in Western Europe.

In a period of crisis and decline of capitalism, to many people religion is the one certainty to cling on to. But if the Pope himself is no longer convinced he can keep his position until his death, this illusion of solidity begins to break down. The effect of the surprise announcement of his retirement by Pope Benedict XVI on the consciousness of over a billion Roman Catholics is going to be that of a spiritual earthquake, and it is surely going to have political consequences too.

In a world of constant misery and suffering, Christianity promises happiness in the "afterlife." Instead of the promise of plenty in heaven, Marxism wants to build a paradise in this life. This is a recording of a festive debate where Alan Woods, leading member of the International Marxist Tendency and author of "Reason in Revolt: Marxist philosophy and modern science" debate Peter D Williams, Catholic writer and apologist (Catholic Voices) about which body of ideas offers a way forward for the world today.

A cheap, crude, anti-Islamic film entitled The Innocence of Muslims, produced and promoted by reactionary Christian fundamentalists in the United States and posted on the internet in July, has led to demonstrations in many countries around the world, including attacks on US embassies and in the case of Libya to the killing of four US diplomats at the US Consulate in Benghazi. We look into why all this is happening.

Religion is not the motor-force of history but great social changes are expressed in changes in religion. In his book Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy Engels explained that great historical turning-points have been accompanied by religious changes in the case of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. The mass movements that were aroused by these beliefs in the early period of both Islam and Christianity shook the world.

As the twenty-first century progresses, there has been an increasing interest and not a small amount of debate on the role of religion in society and particularly on advances in secularisation. Richard Dawkins’ book , ‘The God Delusion,’ was a best-seller in the UK and novels like ‘The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ’ by Richard Pullman have touched raw nerves in Church hierarchies.

As the last Russian soldier crossed the Oxus River going back from Afghanistan into the Soviet Union in 1989, the Japanese-American philosopher at St. James’s University, Maryland and a CIA operative, Francis Fukuyama, came out with his iniquitous thesis on the “end of history”. However, although the Berlin Wall had fallen and the Soviet Union had collapsed, this thesis was soon refuted by history itself as the first Gulf War broke out in 1991.

On Tuesday December 7th the University of London Union Marxist society concluded its autumn term programme of discussions with a special 'festive debate' will on the philosophies of Marxism and Christianity and their ability to further the human race.

The Pope’s visit to Britain comes in the midst of the most serious crisis of capitalism since the Second World War, with a growing mood of discontent among the workers. No doubt a little help for the British Establishment in times like these from the Almighty will always come in handy. The Pope is also hoping to boost the fortunes of the Church after it has been shaken by scandals in one country after another.

Many of us know that the origins of Christianity have nothing to do with silent nights or wise men. So what are its true origins? John Pickard looks at the reality of how this religion came about - from the standpoint of class forces and the material developments of society, rather than by the pious fictions fed from church pulpits.

Christianity has played a pivotal role in shaping the modern world and continues to hold considerable influence over many people's lives and even many countries' governments. Understanding the roots of such a phenomenon, dating back 2000 years, provides great practical significance when it comes to understanding the development of religion and society in general.

A recent survey shows that the United States may be becoming both less religious generally and less Christian specifically.  This may come as a shock to some, as over the past decade, the Religious Right has for many people come to represent the public face of the country.  This has been spurred on and encouraged by the cries coming from many liberals over the past few years of an impending “theocracy.”  However, the facts on the ground are quite different, as the American Religious Identification Survey, performed by Trinity College in Hartford, CT, recently proved.

Alan Woods talks at the IMT Winter School in Berlin on the topic of 'Marxism and Religion'. Alan explains the materialist conception of the world, integral to the theory of Marxism, and contrasts it to the idealist perspective that gives rise to religion. Alan explains the nature of religion as a means of consoling the oppressed with a life after death.

With Christmas just around the corner we present the final meeting of the ULU Marxist Society, which celebrated the end of a successful first term of meetings on December 4th by hosting a debate on Marxism and Religion. Under the heading Christianity - Capitalist or Communist? Dr Peter Hatton, Methodist Minister, debated Fred Weston, co-editor of In Defence of Marxism and leading member of the International Marxist Tendency.

The Egyptian Medical Union proposes to ban organ transplants between Moslems and Christians. This decision was undoubtedly prompted by the Moslem Brotherhood, a reactionary fundamentalist organization that originated in Egypt, and which dominates the Union. This decision has aroused a critical response from many quarters. But these criticisms will have no effect, since the criteria of blind religious fanaticism cannot be affected by rational argument of any sort.

The late Pope John Paul II reconsidered the Catholic Church's treatment of Galileo. That was several hundreds of years late. But better late than never! However, what about all the other scientists and freethinkers who were martyred by the Church?

For those following US electoral politics right now, it is clear that the big business candidates are presenting their respective religiosities as credentials of a sort to prospective voters. The open pandering to the "faith vote" displays the cynical depths the representatives of the ruling class are willing to go to win votes. This is not simply a harmless phenomenon but a noxious indication of the rottenness of the system.

The present Pope, Ratzinger or Benedict XVI as he has chosen to call himself, far from being a “transitional” Pope is not only following in the footsteps of John Paul II, he is putting his foot on the accelerator of Christian fundamentalism. While talking of reconciliation he promotes conflict, backs reactionary politicians of the Bush type and condemns anyone who wants to really change the material conditions of millions of poor and working class people.

Alan Woods talks to the ULU Marxist Society on the topic of 'Marxism and Religion'. Alan explains the materialist conception of the world, integral to the theory of Marxism, and contrasts it to the idealist perspective that gives rise to religion. Alan explains the nature of religion as a means of consoling the oppressed with a life after death, the tendency of the church to break down along class lines, as well as the trade union credentials of God.

This article written in 1945 analyses the relationship between the Soviet state and the Russian Orthodox Church. There was a clear dividing line between Lenin’s approach to this question and the zig-zag policy later adopted by Stalin. First published in Workers International News, October 1945.

On this Easter Monday we are republishing an article by Rob Sewell in which he analyses the real origins of the early Christians. Quoting at length from Kautsky's The Foundations of Christianity he reveals the real nature of early Christianity and how it emerged as a movement of the oppressed in ancient Roman society, an early form of Communism.

In the first part of this chapter Lal Khan looks at the role played by religion and fundamentalism in the subcontinent. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Kashmir was introduced by both the Pakistani and the Indian states to divide and weaken the movement of workers and students. In the second part he looks at the national question in Kashmir, and the position of the Marxists in relation to the struggle for national liberation in Kashmir.

Erik Demeester interviewed Remi Verwimp, who is an activist of a special kind. He is in fact a priest who belongs to a group called Christians for Socialism in Belgium inspired by liberation theology and Marxist ideas. As a lecturer at the Theology and Society Workshop (Werkgroep Theologie en Maatschappij) he has developed a critical view on the Catholic Church and especially on the latest pontificate.

On April 2, after long sufferings perfectly played out across the media, Karol Wojtyla, also known as the Pope, passed away. The media made an enormous spectacle of his death, allowing thousands to mourn and helping the Catholic Church enter a second spring – even if this may be only for a short period of time.

To justify their war in Iraq the imperialists have found so-called erudite and intelligent professors to come up with the idea of the  "The Clash of Civilizations". One of these is Francis Fukuyama and the other is Samuel P. Huntington. They have both worked in the US Foreign Office. Lal Khan's looks into their arguments and presents a class-based critique, a Marxist response.

In the light of the recent increase in anti-semitic activities in Europe and beyond, Yossi Schwartz in Jerusalem, looks at the origins of the Jewish people, separating myth from documented historical fact. This is a reply both to the racist anti-semites and also to the official myth constructed by the Zionists. 

It is not easy to be a saint, and least of all in the sinful world of the 21st century - or so one might think. But this opinion is definitely not shared by Pope John Paul II. In fact, he has already manufactured no fewer than 474 of them during his stint at the Vatican. So there can be no complaints about his level of productivity. He has become an enthusiastic market leader in the saint-manufacturing business.

On the eve of the war in Iraq, George W. Bush talked about a "crusade". He was obviously quite pleased with himself for having thought of such a catchy phrase. But he was quickly silenced by his advisers, who pointed out to him that the word "crusade" has very unfortunate associations for the Moslem world.

We have received quite a few e-mails from our subscribers asking about the attitude of Marxists to religion, relating not only to Marxism and Christianity, but also to Islam. For example, we have received several communications from sympathetic people who support liberation theology, in the Philippines. We are also in contact with groups who describe themselves as Islamic Marxists. This is clearly an interesting and important question, which deserves serious treatment. As an initial contribution, we are publishing an article by Alan Woods which is actually based on his replies to such letters.

In this post cold war epoch one of the most significant phenomena which has come to the fore is Islamic fundamentalism. But what is Islamic fundamentalism and what are its real prospects? Although it is not a new phenomenon, in recent times it has attained a vicious and virulent character. Modern fundamentalism in reality is a reactionary culmination of the trends of Islamic revivalism in an epoch of modern world economy and politics.

The collapse of the Soviet Union has resulted in one of the most turbulent and disturbed periods in human history. Instead of being the precursor of "The end of history," capitalism is enmeshed in a crisis yet unforeseen. There is not a single region of the planet which is not engulfed in social, economic or political crisis. Capitalism on a world scale has proved to be incapable of resolving this crisis, and develop society further.As a reaction to these crises new, and some not so new, phenomenon have emerged on the political horizons of most countries. In most of the "Third world," "Islamic" countries there is the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism. This article written in Octobre

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As people recover from the food and drink during the Christmas and New Year break we publish something from Lenin: "Those who toil are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward. But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven."

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