Sunday, October 08, 2006

Opium of the Masses: Religion and Sectarianism

Religion has been a powerful tool with different dimensions. We can start with Marxism 101 by saying that "Religion is the Opium of the Masses". This is the simplest form of oppression. Religion is a tool played by the elites to control the masses. It plays on fear and feeds on isolation. The "dozes" of faith blocks a person from looking at the world as it is and forces the individual to look at the "methaphysical realm" to avoid the problems of the earth, and worse, the power of the individual to self-emancipate as well as trigger a domino effect of a progressive wave.

History and Evolution of Ideas

Nietzsche, the legendary atheist philosopher, argued that faith in the icons of religion is "projections of fear into the unknown. He made it clear in his book: "Thus Spoke Zarathustra". A major climax in his various attacks on religion, specially in this book, is when the clown fell from the ropes and tells the prophet that the devil would take his soul by the ropes and dies. Fear of the unknown has been a major factor to say the truth. The easiest proof to look from that dimension is to look at the human civilizations 7000 years ago, and now. In the past, one of the oldest known societies, the Sumerians (used to be present in the current Iraq), worshipped plenty of Gods. The oldest script "Epic of Gilgamesh" reflected the fear factor of a civilization whereby anything that changes in an environment without any explained excuse, the phenomena was given a God or Goddess. Actually, the people at that time, they believed that Gods controlled every thing whenever those immortal mighty beings gathered up in an a Divine Assembly, and decided every single event in the course of humanity. Actually, they were so strong, that the Gods themselves hid on the tip of the highest mountain in heavens to hide from the great flood which they created because at a certain stage human noise gave them headaches.

As knowledge progressed, things became different. You would find Zeus, at the Greek mythology, telling Athena (the Goddess of Wisdom) that why humans blame the Gods for everything that happens to them (Homer: The Odyssey: Book I). Human will entered to influence the fate of an individual. This is to reflect that sciences evolved during the Greek times. Thales would invent a major mathematical theorem, while his ancestor Euclid's would invent Math. Pythagoras based everything on numbers (including the heavens) while Aristotle attempts to prove that the universe always existed and dared to apply the sciences of logic and philosophy on God (theory of the unmoved mover: where by God moves everything but never moves or else there is a stronger being that moves God). Democritus discovers the tiny particles that makes the whole universe, and discovers Atoms. Eventually, Epicurus invents the concept of "living for the moment" and "pleasure is the absence of pain" principles. With the Romans, the Gods remained powerful, but some thinkers dared to limit the role of the Gods as non-intervening in human affairs, such as Lucritius. Lucritius dared to merge Epicurus and Democritus to argue that there is no after-life since "spiritual atoms" would leave the bodies through the space volume of the atoms of the physical body, and the first wind would scatter those "spiritual atoms" into nothing. Best solution for the Roman philosopher, to enjoy life as much as possible since a person lives once in a life time.

Going to the Present

It can be noted that the effects of Gods declined as science progressed. You always had a Virgil to write an "Aniad" where the Gods would battle each other. Yet, it was a very well known fact that people like Virgil, despite their remarkable ability to write epics, wrote for political reasons. Virgil for example was a great friend of Emperor Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Caesar.

With the Revolution of the Christian Ideology, materialism was fought. The rise of Christianity threatened the Materialistic world, especially when a story of Jesus entering a Jewish temple and attacks the business merchants on it. Alan Woods called Christianity as Naive Marxism. He concluded that in his article "Marxism and Religion", that the first "Christians" of the Christian revolution failed to link their "anti-materialism" ideology with their means of productions, and hence the elites transformed the ideology into a much more advanced institution of dominion of the elites on the masses. Even though Christianity started different than probably the Codes of Hammurabi of "thou shall obey" whereby the ruler is the defender of principles but only he enjoys life, it ended as a means of oppression. For a Marxist, of course, directing attention to the metaphysical world rather the real world is wrong, but at least there was an attempt to break away from Materialism. Again Alan Woods' "Marxism and Religion" is a great source.

Impacts of Religion

As a role of using Religion to dominate the society, the ruler was always portrayed as the defender of the Sect. Whether we are talking Christianity' Judaism, Islam or any religion, the ruler was the divine defender of the Sect. People were always looking up to the skies in order to forget their problems on earth.

Second, Religion divided the Proletariat. Whether in the Past, where the masses were divided into hundreds of Gods, or now, to hundreds of thousands of Sects of the same Religion, the leaders depended on the isolated sect and promoted their defense since each individual is what he/she is based on their Sect on their identification card. Lebanon, the host of 18 official sects, got political leaders for most of those sects who are supposedly defenders of such a Sect. In the United States, a president can't be a Greek Orthodox since the system is not based on merit (actually racism here plays a nice role as well). The Zionists fought with the Socialists to push their sectarianism into racism by imposing the Jews as a race rather as a Sect. This led Karl Kautsky to wonder if the Jews are a Race and Marx attacking them in "On the Jewish Question."

Third, Religion became an imperialist tool as well as a path to racism. We had a Rasputin dominating the whole Tsarist Russia due to his healing abilities of the Tsar's son, something that pushed the Nicholas Second to assassinate him in the end. The Pope of Rome waged Imperialist wars through the Crusades , while Europe used the Middle East sect minorities as an excuse to invade it (like wise with the United States on a later stage). Several nations choose minorities in Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine to protect in order to maintain imperialistic interests (a process that started in the late 18th Century). Currently, the United States with the absence of an enemy ever since the Cold War ended, relied on Sectarianism to invent a new enemy, which was radical Islamism (something they created in the face of the Soviets, for the record). Bin Laden and his radicalism was the perfect excuse to trigger a chain reaction series to despise the Arabs on a larger scale (actually this perspective of racism to the Arabs always existed, but not to this extent... Edward Said discusses this in his book "Orientalism").

Fourth, Religion depended on Faith. A lot of scientific people are believers; the point is how much they are controlled by religion as an institution. I already mentioned how Religion is a tool to block self-emancipation, but the reliance on superstition is a strong argument. This would lead to the next section: the Solution.

Revolution Against Religion

Probably the most radical article to depict the formula mentioned In point four was Leon Trotsky's article, which he wrote for Pravda in 1914, "Vodka, the Church, and the Cinema" He clearly expresses the formula that the religious clerks extensively depended on superstition not only to impose faith, but to control the individual. The more the person is superstitious, the more he/she were controlled by the Church (or whatever equivalent institution). The logic to face that syndrome is not by force, like Stalin followed by closing down the religious institutions. What Stalin did in his "Soviet Empire" (rather Union) enforced religion among the individuals in a secret manner. Trotsky's formula stresses on the theme that the "faithful" or "superstitious" should be pushed away from Religion through education. The example back then in 1914 was the Cinema, in order to educate the Proletariat and impose the Cinema and its documentations away from Religion. This of course is not a tool by itself, but a means to a greater end. This end is of course the unification of the Proletariat despite race, gender, nationality, and RELIGION. This end can't be approached without the emancipation ideology of why it is needed to break away from superstition. The internationalist aspect of Marxism for example is a binding factor against the divisions of the different sects of Religion.

Just as the Cinema is a tool to assist the spread of secularism back in 1914, currently, for example, in locations of spread different religions, Civil Marriage is a wall-breaker to open the route of at least different sects can marry and making it possible without the interference of the religious institutions. Lebanon, for example, is in desperate need of such a mechanism, since it hosts 18 Sects. Love, again, is personal and not a religious belief. People who are basing their "traditional marriages" based on the same sect are indirectly committing Sectarianism. Religion is meant to remain at home, among oneself.

Some may argue that this is a Utopian process. It is not true, no goal as large as this can ever take place so easily. There is always a long route. Some may consider Atheism as an option. This also is not true. Atheism is also a form of belief. I am an atheist myself, but attacking people for simply believes is wrong and evolves to become reverse atheism (or simply a Sect on its own). Marx always argued, especially in his book "The German Ideology" that the base of change is through social interaction. The real solution to the problem of Sectarianism is a progressive revolutionary ideology which binds the Proletariat against their oppressors. The elites have different tools to dominate the Proletariat; the current religious institutions are part of them. In the end, people are people, and it is the culturals of the elites that divide the Proletariat. Lenin always argued that the ruling ideas of the societies are the ideas of its rulers. I agree, the idea is to smash those ideas and unify the masses. For me, there is no war but class war, other reasons which include religion wars are just curtains to hide the real wars, meaning class wars.



Thaer Daem said...

That's a big issue you tackle here. What do you make of liberation theology?
Also would it be possible to write a similar account but focused on the region (say, the Eastern Mediterranean)?

GraemeAnfinson said...

Nice work. i have always thought that religion's ability to be distorted by man is a dead give away that it is man made.

It is like the "clash of civilizations" nonsense that people talk about. The only clash is between the poor and rich.

(also, thanks for the link. I put one up for you)

Renegade Eye said...

That was really good. I know Maryam would like that post.

I believe the idea of God, came with the fact human beings are the only life, that is aware of its own mortality. You said that actually in more words.


MarxistFromLebanon said...

Dear all

I apologize for disappearing a bit, due to different reasons, and partly because my internet was knocked out for 3 days.

I thank you all for the nice comments, and comrade Thaer Daem, when I am able to , I will.

In the mean time, I fixed the reference links in my article, so I hope when you read it again, check the references.

Best Regards

Renegade_Eye: as Marx said: "The rich will do anything for the poor except get off their back."

Puppeteer said...

"God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him."

"God is dead. And all we can say on his obituary is that He was a good man"
Me, cited from Essam

Jim Jay said...

Thanks for this, interesting post. But I want to argue that you've given a slightly one sided picture of Marx (and on the Jewish Question where Marx does not attack Jews, he attacks anti-semitism from what I remember of it)

I think part of this comes from only taking part of that excellent quote by marx that you began with. The full quote is, of course, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the soul in soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people" which turns something that sounds like a sneer - merely opium - into a rather moving description of why people hold religious faith.

And he also said that "Religion is the impotence of the human mind to deal with occurrences it cannot understand" He does not say its stupidity - and I worry that a focus on attacking religious ideas can lead to a position of looking down on religious people, when we should be working with them in practical struggles

In other words in order to remove religion from the world its necessary to transform society... [i]first[/i]... and until we do that 'converting' some to atheism is always going to be a never ending task

If you want to argue against people's religious ideas then fine - and in some political situations it is absolutely necessary - but don't let it cut you off from those people as agents of change.

Some of the greatest revolutionaries the world has ever known were religious people and we have to be careful not to confuse the symptoms of capitalism with its roots.

Sorry for the length of this comment

MarxistFromLebanon said...

Actually on the Jewish Question, Marx wrote that artistic piece prior to the organization of the Zionists.

It has different dimensions, He says:

"The most rigid form of the opposition between the Jew and the Christian is the religious opposition. How is an opposition resolved? By making it impossible. How is religious opposition made impossible? By abolishing religion. As soon as Jew and Christian recognize that their respective religions are no more than different stages in the development of the human mind, different snake skins cast off by history, and that man is the snake who sloughed them, the relation of Jew and Christian is no longer religious but is only a critical, scientific, and human relation. Science, then, constitutes their unity. But, contradictions in science are resolved by science itself.

The German Jew, in particular, is confronted by the general absence of political emancipation and the strongly marked Christian character of the state. In Bauer’s conception, however, the Jewish question has a universal significance, independent of specifically German conditions. It is the question of the relation of religion to the state, of the contradiction between religious constraint and political emancipation. Emancipation from religion is laid down as a condition, both to the Jew who wants to be emancipated politically, and to the state which is to effect emancipation and is itself to be emancipated."

The debate that Marx triggers is a religion as a whole. IE, bringing the clash of the Jewish Question to be part of the emancipation from Religion as a whole whether Christian or Jewish. A reminder for us today...

Anti-Semitism is a racist issue, On the Jewish Question, Marx adds: "In the Christian-German state, however, religion is an “economic matter” just as “economic matters” belong to the sphere of religion. The domination of religion in the Christian-German state is the religion of domination."

The topic was reflecting Jews in Germany, but again, he reflects how the elites benefit from Religion and wouldn't mind to take it one step further (specially the Drayfus affair was recent while the case of Mandhelsson was knocking through the Jewish sphere for translating the Old Testament from Hebrew to German. I chose this article in specific because it would lead to the next step, sort of an introduction to Kautsky's " ARE Jews a Race".

The final epitaph for the scenario (at least the one I am assuming) is Yosshi Schwartz's Origin of the Jews, which again shows Judaism like all religions is part of the political game which brings forth the use of religion for economical profits of the few on the expense of the majority.

To quote again Marx from this article, something I tackled through out the post: "It is, indeed, estrangement which matters in the so-called Christian state, but not man. The only man who counts, the king, is a being specifically different from other men, and is, moreover, a religious being, directly linked with heaven, with God. The relationships which prevail here are still relationships dependent of faith. The religious spirit, therefore, is still not really secularized."

Again, this point I focused on it a lot.

This leads to the final point (even though the article discusses different dimensions): which made me jump to Trotsky's article is what Marx said over here: "

Therefore, we do not say to the Jews, as Bauer does: You cannot be emancipated politically without emancipating yourselves radically from Judaism. On the contrary, we tell them: Because you can be emancipated politically without renouncing Judaism completely and incontrovertibly, political emancipation itself is not human emancipation. If you Jews want to be emancipated politically, without emancipating yourselves humanly, the half-hearted approach and contradiction is not in you alone, it is inherent in the nature and category of political emancipation. If you find yourself within the confines of this category, you share in a general confinement. Just as the state evangelizes when, although it is a state, it adopts a Christian attitude towards the Jews, so the Jew acts politically when, although a Jew, he demands civic rights."

Actually, the Marxist school has handled this topic from different dimensions.

I also forgot to mention the roles of Machiavelly, Goethe, and the 19th century thinkers that changed the world as we know it today. Darwin forced himself into believing to avoid the offense of the Church by stating that God Created the first living Cell and evolution took place.

For me, the ones who seriously broke from the overall social norms were the ones to change the flow of history, specially those who disassociated themselves from their surroundings in a religious matter. The first for me would be Machiavelly, who said: "God helps the ones who help themselves" Goethe stressed on the power of the human will to enslave the devil himself. Then we got Nietzsche, Freud, Marx (and the rest of the Marxist geniuses such as Paul La Farque), moving to Sartre and Camus...

welcome Jimjay :), I also apologize for the long post as well :D


Puppeteer said...

Not that it has anything to do with the subject, but your commenting Marx and Trotsy reminded me of some big time piece of crap conspiracy theory. You certainly heard of it as it's quite en vogue these days: The Elders of Zion. I won't mention the basic idea that the hole scheme doesn't chronologically correspond with the first Zionisy meeting, not with the fact that Judaism as a nationality is recent erronate tendence, as Jews before the second war tended to consider themselves as citizens of their country of birth. Nevertheless, one of the "priorities" of this alleged Order was to kill religion and religious thought amongst the "gentile" youth, encouraging in this sense the philosophy of Marx, Engles, Trotsky, Niezsche... The funny part is that the Protocols, as they're called, confirm that all those are Jewish descent members, who are, by spreading their dangerous ideas, actually serving the cause of the Order. Far fetched, isn't it?
Now let me point the way I know this to be: to be considered a Jew you have to either be born of Jewish mother, the hereditary form of religion, which is same in Islam, as you're considered Muslim if you're born of Muslim father. Or by converting. Now, if a Muslim converts to other religion, practically he's not a Muslim anymore. I know that apostacy is capital sin in Islam, but then again, except for over-ostentative cases of diplomacy illiterates (see Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose attitude cries "come fucking kill me!") many Muslims chose to convert or not practice and no one bothers about them. Are they still Muslim after converting to, say, Buddhism? Not likely, although in Coranic Islam, Muslim means every person that believes in monotheistic God. In the same reasoninig, why should an apostate Jew still be considered Jewish, when he too has commited the most sinful of acts? Why let's say Eistein, German Scientist, born of CHRISTIAN parents, or CHRISTIAN CONVERTED EX-JEWS, thus apostates by all means, be considered Jew? Or Marx, who, correct me if I'm wrong, is an Atheist, apostate of all religions, raised as a Christian who might have had some converted Jewish ancestor.
I see it the other way around: I see that all these briliant minds were converted to Judaism post-mortem!
Never mind...

MarxistFromLebanon said...

I heard a similar conspiracy but under a different context, the Zionists existed in an underground movement known as the Free Masons (supposedly existed since 15th century and before was in a different form).

Communism was cooked to wipe out the Eastern Church in the East and best way was "invent communism" to eradicate the Church of the East while integrate the sole authority of the Western Church into the system ----> The Pope.

Their conspiracies were based on the fact that major figures of the Boleshevics and Marxists were Jewish. Personally I think it is rubbish since the sworn enemy of the Free Masons were the Communists (till Stalin came and supported the Zionists for political gains in the region).

Oh well, you know how it is in the Arab World Puppeteer. Anything to divert attention from the fact that the elites are the ones dominating the masses and discourage people from Marxism by such crappy conspiracy theories.


Dave Marlow said...

I have never understood the Marxist hatred towards religion. Jesus Christ was the most caring, compassionate, and yet revolutionary figure in history! He re-wrote norms of Roman society and Jewish tradition. He preached a message of social and economic justice. He loved and cared for the poor and oppressed. Even his disciples lived in a pre-Marx communist society after he ascended into Heaven (see Acts 4).

If you have a problem with modern day extrapolations of world religions then you will hear no argument from me. Horrible things have been done in the name of Christianity (the crusades), Islam (9/11), and Judism (1982 invasion of Lebanon). However, at their core these do not represent the religions they claim as their own.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you all know... The ever famous "Opium for the Masses" quote was NOT said by Karl Marx. This is a very common mistake and please do not take offence by this message. He had a similar quote, however it was taken extremely out of context and, because of this the whole meaning of the quote changed. If you have any doubts about this please ask Dr. Reuben Roth, a well known sociology professor at Laurentian University. He will be very happy to expalin the dilemma. hope you all have a wonderful evening.
Take care

Anonymous said...

religion isn't the opium of the masses, religion is the placebo of the masses.


Charly said...

‘Religion is the impotence of the human mind to deal with occurrences it cannot understand’ could you please help me locate what book this is from as i have written it down but not where it is from?