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Our Attitude to Religion

Our Attitude to Religion

The World Socialist Movement is opposed to religion. Why is that?            

There are many religions. Many more existed in the past. What they share is a belief in one or more powerful supernatural beings, usually called gods or goddesses, who demand that human beings should revere, fear, obey, and worship them.[1]  

Unlike science, which in principle relies on observation, experimentation, and logical reasoning, religious belief rests on blind faith alone. Theologians may try to buttress faith with reasoning, but the conclusions that have to be reached are set in advance. 

Comparative study of religions and their history leads to the conclusion that religious beliefs are products of the human mind and imagination. It was not the gods who made human being, but human beings who made the gods.[2] 

Our species cannot hope to extricate itself from its current perilous condition without engaging in rational thinking on the widest possible scale. Religion is one of the main barriers to the expansion of rational thinking.

Religion may undermine people’s confidence in their individual and collective capabilities. It diverts their attention from the material problems of life in this world. 

Religion is one of the main forces that divide the global working class, setting one group of workers against another. The divisive effect is heightened when religion combines in a toxic mix with nationalism – a phenomenon observed in recent times in countries as far-flung as the United States and Poland (Christianity), Israel (Judaism), Iran, Iraq, Arabia, and Pakistan (Islam), India (Hinduism), and Myanmar and Sri Lanka (Buddhism).

In all these and other ways, religion impedes the growth of global working-class and human consciousness and also therefore of the movement for world socialism. 

We realize that religion can have positive as well as negative effects on the life of the believer. On the one hand, it fetters and humiliates the human personality. Especially harmful is the terror inspired by fear of divine punishment. On the other hand, religious beliefs are often a source of solace and consolation. They may give purpose and meaning to a life that would otherwise seem chaotic, cruel, and absurd. However, participation in the struggle for a better society can also provide these benefits. 

These words of Marx still ring true today:

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.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.[3]

While we are opposed to religion, we are also opposed to any persecution or harassment of people on account of their religious or philosophical beliefs. We stand for complete freedom of religious belief and practice, except in those instances where it violates human rights, especially the rights of the child. We stand for the freedom safely to leave as well as join any religious community and the freedom safely to give public expression to religious as well as anti-religious views. 

Our criticism of religion does not apply to belief in the existence of an impersonal cosmic power (deism) or all-pervasive essence (pantheism) that demands nothing from human beings, even if such a power is called ‘God.’ Nor does it apply to beliefs in ‘spiritual energy’ or to harmless practices like ‘communing with Nature.’ We do not consider beliefs and practices of these kinds to be religious and we take no position on their value or validity. 

Notes

[1] In some religions, such as Confucianism, spirits of ancestors are worshipped. Some religions demand that God be loved as well as feared. Many require the performance of rituals. In the past it was common to make sacrifices to gods; this is rarer today.    

[2] See: John Keracher, How the Gods Were Made (1929).

[3] From the Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843).