Tag Archives: Religion

Communism is not a religion

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Misunderstanding Communism

One argument that I tend not to hear very often but occasionally stumble onto, is the accusation that Communism or Marxism is akin to a religion, that is, something based on faith.

The reason this is used strikes me more like a way to hit a soft spot on an Atheist or skeptic, rather than an attempt at true argumentation. Indeed, such a claim does not tackle any of the core tenets of Communism such as the labour theory of value, the explanation of capitalist shortcomings etc, but rather takes a generic shallow look at the history of attempted Communism and draws conclusions from that.

So let’s see what the arguments might be.

It is not based on science

Communism as any other socioeconomic system is not based on the scientific method. The scientific method requires an observation to happen before it can create a theory but you cannot observe a system that does not exist yet.

Capitalism is not based on the scientific method either. It did not come about because some scientists sat down and observed the current feudal system and found out that capitalism is a more optimal choice. No. It first came about and then the pseudo-science of economics set out to find out the rules that control it.

If anything else, Marxism is a absolutely materialistic philosophy and considers that only science can discover the truth about the world. In this regard, it is diametrically opposed to any other religion.

It is based on faith

As a completely faithless person, such an accusation seems absurd to me. For something to be based on faith, it needs to be believed regardless of conflicting evidence. But no such evidence exist against Communism.

This is doubtly untrue since things based on faith tend to be hammered onto the minds of children in order to stick. The enemy of faith is reason. Certainly it is possible that someone is brainwashed as a child to be a Communist, but such a person would be a very poor example of one as for Communism to work, it requires conscious, skeptical, critical and active people who can take action into their own hands and be willing to cooperate with others democratically. A passive, brainwashed follower might be fitting for a Stalinist regime but can never be considered a Communist unless he starts accepting the theory based on reason instead of faith.

Personally, I was always very critical of Communism for the same reason everyone else in the world is. Misunderstanding of what it really is. I only started accepting it once I dug a bit deeper and started criticizing my own preconceptions.

It is evangelising

This is the accusation that, like any religion, Communism requires people to spread the knowledge of it to others before they can accept it.

Like any idea before it, there is no way to spread it except through discussion with people who know about it. The idea of Capitalism, markets and merchants did not spread itself. Humanity did not begin with a part of it being merchants or capitalists. These classes of people were created when someone thought of the concept and then started spreading it to others, thought words and actions.

If this is a definition of a religion, then any idea is a religion.

It has a holy book, prophets and apostles.

This is absolutely untrue by the common definition of those terms. The Communist Manifesto is simply the expression of the part of an idea and as such it is subject to improvement as any other idea. It is not a dogma. The people who accepted Communism and spreaded the word can no more be called Prophets than Adam Smith who spread the idea of Capitalism. Nor can leaders who accept one idea over another make that idea a religion.

Finally

It is very easy to stretch the meaning of words in order to make a term less positive to the people who might embrace it. But this is a dishonest tactic. If one wishes to tackle Communism, the best way to do so is through rational dialogue on the actual points it proposes. Like any philosophy and idea, there will certainly be people who are dogmatic about it, but that does not describe the philosophy as a whole.

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On the decline of Theism and the effects of fear

I feel cold as razor blade
CC - photo credit: confusedvision

I just read this excellent article (hat tip: Pharyngula) about the last century’s trends in religiosy and, for a non-theist like me, it certainly perks up the ol’ optimism. Even though theists in the recent years have been claiming that theism is on the comeback while secularism and irreligiousness was just a passing fad, the cold hard data once again, forms the proverbial thorn in their soft underbelly of wishful thinking.

While this post is partly to advertise the article, I also wanted to comment on part of it that triggered a long standing wish of mine, which is to start talking about my own philosophy of life, but I’ll try to avoid getting into specific labels at this point.

In the article then, it is explained how religion’s drop in popularity is more closely related to socioeconomic reasons rather than being the result of proselytisation from the “New Atheists”. It is shown how most European countries see their religious population percentage drop with a positive correlation to socialism or socialistic policies. Indeed, some of the more socialistic Countries of Europe seem to have, for the first time, a majority or non-religious people.

I will not go into detail on this, as the article makes the case much better than I ever could, however it did raise a very interesting point. That US high religiosity has much to do with the lack of a social net for the population, and the easy way with which one can go bankrupt and never recover. Indeed this constant fear that the population lives with, is what drives so many people turn to religion or spiritualism for comfort. It is no wonder that the larger percentage of religious people resides in the poorer rural areas.

Of course this is a result of the rabid anti-socialism that is prevalent in the American society ever since the First Red Scare. Because of the huge negative emotions and reactions that being labeled “left” carries, socialist policies like universal health care, have failed to become reality which, among others, rightly earns U.S. their label as the aberrant example of a developed nation.

But what does this have to do with my own philosophy? Well, the correlation between non-theism and social safety reminded my of one of the building blocks for it, Epicurism.

As a philosophy, Epicurism was one of the first1 who explicitly espoused materialism and a form of deism as a method to reduce fear and personal suffering. Especially because this kind of materialism instructed a radical reduction of human needs to the bare necessities, it allowed people to reduce their anxiety and fear which further chipped away at their theism.

It strikes me as brilliant then2, that in the U.S., where the exact opposite of this materialism is promoted, (namely crass commercialism) the fear and anxiety increases and leads to even stronger theism. Indeed, theism itself quite often wraps itself around commercialism (or is it the other way around?) and takes away a sizable amount of money from the “flock” in exchange for blissful uncertainty. It’s like a drug who’s withdrawal symptom is fear.

I can’t help but wonder at the masterful mental construction this has created in the minds of U.S. Americans today.

  • Greed → Commercialism / Consumerism.
  • Consumerism → Fear. (“You have to buy more stuff, or the society will collapse“)
  • Commercialism → Fear. (Lack, or reduced, social security keeping people scared of sudden mishaps)
  • Fear → Greed. (“You have to have wealth or power to be happy“)
  • Fear ↔ Traditionalism / Conservatism. (“We must return to our old values to save our society“)
  • Fear ↔ Nationalism / Xenophobia. (“We must protect the homeland in order to survive and prosper“)
  • Fear ↔ Authoritarianism. (“We need to reduce freedom in order to prevent societal problems and terrorism“)
  • Fear ↔ Theism. (I don’t think I need to explain this.)

It’s a vicious cycle. It is no wonder that all these values and beliefs go together most of the time and generally, if someone has one, it is quite probable that he will have at least some of the others as well. All of them feed the fear, and fear feeds them all.

Does it surprise anyone that most Clergy have authority? Does it surprise anyone that most Clergy are conservative and most Conservatives crave authority? Does it surprise anyone that pure capitalists tend to be religious3.

Finally, does it surprise anyone that fascism embodies all of these together in a nice round package?

Fear is the common denominator, and any philosophy that is designed to reduce fear is bound to reduce the person’s attachment to these values. This is why so many atheists seem confident, progressive, liberal and socialistic. They all lack the necessary levels of fear to be anything else4.

What we need to do, is not attempt to convert people to atheism or non-theism. What we need to be doing is to change the society in ways that reduce fear. As that happens, slowly these values will start retreating due to lack of empowerment.

  1. if not the first. Not absolutely certain on this []
  2. In a bad way []
  3. Even Objectivists who exhibit the most pure form of Capitalism display a certain religiousness []
  4. I would also like to mention here that one can repel fear with anger as well, but only until his anger subsides. This is why atheism based on “anger at god” never lasts []