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Divine intervention noticeable by its absence

Pope Benedict XVI’s outrageous attack on "atheist extremism" and "aggressive secularism" in Britain has the virtue of providing clear alternatives. We can either shape our own destiny or, as the Vatican and other religions desire, leave our future to divine intervention.

And as there are absolutely no signs of the Almighty stepping in to deal with the economic and financial crisis, global warming or world poverty, we’d better just get on with it ourselves.

In the end, organised religion is about passivity, fatalism, turning the other cheek and a kind of waiting for Godot – all obscured by dogma and teachings that have their origins in humanity’s early strivings. In the 21st century, we can and must do better than that.

That the Pope and his cardinals feel it necessary to go on the attack even before they set foot in Britain, is a sure sign that all is not well. Increasing numbers of people here and around the world understand that humanity’s problems are nothing to do with a lack of “faith” in God.

In fact, a faith in a secular “GOD” – the inherent drive for capitalism to Grow Or Die – is more easily shown as the primary cause of the financial and economic disaster that is overwhelming the United States where 43.6m people are now living below the poverty line, the highest number for 50 years.

The massive public spending cuts coming up the line in Britain like an express train owe nothing to supposed secularism and everything to the worship of Mammon by the ruling classes for whom religion has always been a convenient cover for their activities and a way of fooling the masses.

As for the Pope’s most despicable remarks associating the rise of Nazi Germany and the subsequent Holocaust with atheism, this is a distortion of history with few parallels. It’s not as if the Vatican has clean hands when it comes to fascism and the persecution of the Jews.

The Catholic Church stood four square with General Franco in the Spanish Civil War and had the friendliest of relations with Benito Mussolini in Italy. A treaty was signed between Pope Pius XI and Mussolini, and the Vatican condoned Italy’s genocidal war in Ethiopia. During World War II, Pope Pius XII was on friendly terms with Berlin and the Vatican never spoke out or acted against the murder of 6 million Jews.

The papacy is also on the defensive as scientists continue to deliver blows against divine creation in favour of a materialist explanation of the origins of the universe. Physicist
Stephen Hawking insists in his new book that God was not responsible for creating the universe.

In Grand Design, Hawking says:

Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.

But Hawking and other scientists like Richard Dawkins tend to undermine themselves by rejecting philosophy in favour of science as a way of explaining social phenomena. It is a profound mistake to assert that the two are identical.

A grounded materialist philosophy that starts from the external world as the source of development and consciousness (including the idea of a God) is absolutely key to the future. It can reveal the contradictions within capitalism that create the conditions for another Big Bang – on this occasion the formation of a society based on co-operation and self-determination in place of competition, profit and despair.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
17 September 2010

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Your Say


James says:

I strongly disagree with your view that "In the end, organised religion is about passivity, fatalism, turning the other cheek and a kind of waiting for Godot - all obscured by dogma and teachings that have their origins in humanity's early strivings. In the 21st century, we can and must do better than that."

Organised religion certainly has many failings, but it is also about good works, relieving poverty, visting the sick, visiting hospitals, educating children... Christianity is not fatalistic: it stresses the "free choice" of the created person, who has the choice to align him or herself with the divine will or turn away from it.

I think you have fallen into the trap of criticising religious faith by pointing out where the institutions designed to hold up faith fail. This is akin to judging socialism by Stalin's abuses.

Finally, you can't plausibly uphold or defend faith without accepting the need for "organised religion", whatever its shortcomings. Would one uphold health without advocating an organised health service? Or knowledge without
an organised education system? You get my point...


Jonathan says:

'This does not mean that we shall confront the world with new doctrinaire principles and proclaim: Here is the truth, on your knees before it! It means that we shall develop for the world new principles from the existing principles of the world. We shall not say: Abandon your struggles, they are mere folly; let us provide you with true campaign-slogans. Instead, we shall simply show the world why it is struggling, and consciousness of this is a thing it must acquire whether it wishes or not. ' Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge 1843.

But not expelled as God Builders, nor all adherents expelled, even those that did not renounce this 'tendency'. E.g. I first came across Lunacharsky in Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism; I next came across him in the New Park edition of his excellent Silhouettes. Then I noted that this outstanding revolutionary continued precisely this tendency, as Ray points out in the reference to the 'proletcult' but much latter than when he (Lunacharsky ) was drawn to it with Bogdanov who left the party after the defeat of his 'revisionism'. Fact always need filling out Phil, always seen as a complex set of relationships not as some empirical identity. One of the reasons that facts are stubborn. So no your assertion is not correct, in part or in whole. It also obscures Lenin's patient patient and intense preparation and work with comrades up to a point.

A party, generally any party, concedes membership on the basis of adherence to its political programme, and that arises in the first instance out of a complex relation through the group meetings and a Constitution. It creates itself, it is its own beast. That it has a philosophical base and expression is the nature of our social development through recorded history. That differences in this base tear at the unity of a party reflecting, therefore, the social pressures of the economic movement of society and will break out into party differences and crystallise in splits and that these splits clarifies for the party the nature of objective movement: well this is all well defined. The rules on Factionalism will be to make these differences be fought out in a certain form. That the revolutionary party captures the position of humanity as a whole through the party of the most advanced sections, the proletariat, and that the proletariat has no sectional interest: also well defined.

There is not the time to develop all aspects of the serious issues that lay within these issues. Lenin wrote to this faction, inside the Bolsheviks a letter: A Letter to Comrades Julius, Vanya, Savely, Ivan, Vladimir, Stanislav and Foma, Students at the Capri Party School. Lenin with care. Jogging and plan logic set out the case for Party Members to come to Paris.

There definitely is not any attention made where it should really count and that is to the seminal work in which the 'god-builders' were identified and exposed and that is in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. And when I read and studied the work I read and studied as much as I could around the work and with association to the work and my spirit and my shadow still weep and sob for the missing manuscript and exerts.

Lenin put in a note to Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (Volume 14 CW: [1] Fideism is a doctrine which substitutes faith for knowledge, or which generally attaches significance to faith. He used the word Fideism because of the censor: it seems that now the word 'spirit' is being substituted for faith and implies an attack by Materialism on culture.

This is all bunkum though: it obscures the central issue. And it is one central issue even though it has 'two aspects': that is the failure of Hawkin's and Dawkins & Co to break out of the limits of Empiricism and the fear of the whole establishment of any arming of science and the revolutionary movements with Dialectical Materialism. AWTW has numerous articles under the ideas section that must be addressed to grasp not only the issues but the history of the struggle to arm the party and intelligentsia with this method. Further they should lead to a proper study of this method. Who is afraid of Gerry Healy? Of the revolutionary leaders at the end of the 20th century Healy dug into this method and used it to arm others and analyse the social world around; others paid lip service to dialectical materialism with word forms; if that; attacks and confusion were as virulent and widespread as when Lenin published his major work: or more precisely built on attitudes to that. The advance made in the analysis of this method in the Soviet Union, under the shadow of the Bureaucracy, by E. Ilyenkov reached the west and were grasped as a weapon in the struggle for a practically guided theory. A writer of supreme tidiness he needs studied. AWTW has this profile on his life A philosopher under suspicion. His Leninist Dialectics & Metaphysics of Positivism and Dialectical Logic are essential reading: and this is my, and I hope any self respecting Marxists, initial response to Hawkin. What he took for Marxism in A Brief History of Time was the Positivist (Empiricist) presentation of Stalinism. So one section of Empiricism was arguing with another. Dawkins following Darwin sees no need for qualitative leaps in nature, as others feel there is no qualitative leaps in social being: the ruling class and the state in each country know better and prepare against it. Within the framework of Natural Science Darwin represented, itself, a massive leap forward, almost comparable in that area to that of Marx in Historical and Dialectical Materialism. Almost because Marx made explicit his method: paid honour to the (dialectical) history of itself. Yet the limitations of the work go further than just that and those following it are twisting in there continued crisis. Biological Being, itself an outgrowth of the earth's natural chemical development is a Whole and developed out of itself by leaps and bounds; it is in Unity and not 'just' Opposition with itself. It co-operates in a whole complexity of way: it is not a plain struggle for the most fit. That this 'balance' is being rapidly disrupted by Globalisation and that more and more layers are becoming 'consciousness of this is (as) a thing it must acquire whether it wishes or not' is something that should make us resist all attacks or slights on this method.

But as with Phil this is not to say that those who politically followed Stalinism or those, like Hawkins' who apply this method of Empiricism are self enemies out to sabotage their own result: even as they act as 'Gravediggers' or deviate widely. In the case of Stalinism first in the Soviet Union then as it tightened its grip on the International the isolated Bureaucracy was forced to speed up the modernisation of the S.U. first having to rapidly behead the leadership created in the struggles which were based on these Party arguments and debates and then fired in the Revolution. Stalin the 'expropriator' expropriated and his tactics and psychological outlook and his morals were those that fitted him for and he had developed in that work. But they did this, as did those that carried out the orders, as did the masses world wide attracted to and relying on the prestige of the only successful revolution carried out under the banner of Marxism and isolated in 'one country'. Factional work, appeal enough for continuity. The obscenities carried out to implement the twists and turns of the Bureaucracy I refer to before with regards to AWTW's matterial on Stalinism.

The drive of the world working class and the intelligentsia is not 'preordained' to success: it's not, even as Hawkin would have it within A Brief History of Time – either determined in the positive sense of predictable within quantum mechanics nor by some laws of history that 'predicts' the next stage and must, therefore, occur: the mind, the product of matter, of the social being, is an active player. And it needs to be trained in the method of dialectics and organised collectively in the Party to overcome this barrier to humanities development: what blocks follow is a matter of tactics. Hawkin's position in identity with the leaders of Stalinism in which the victory of the proletariat is pre-ordained – as long as the dictate of the Party (Bureaucracy: or its inherited theory) is followed, the Stages of History – some supra-sensual being: and anyone who represents theory is a barrier to that end result. What Hawkin's has on page 57 is: 'There was a lot of opposition to our work, partly from the Russians because of their Marxist belief in scientific determinism, - '; as regards to Stalinism and not Marxism this is relatively correct, especially in politics: though the brilliance of Soviet physics and engineering over the previous 50 years was formidable this was based on the victories the Bureaucracy could not either do without or dismantle. But he then writes on page 67; 'Since the structure of molecules and their reaction with each other underlie all of chemistry and biology, quantum mechanics allows us in principle to predict nearly everything we see around us, within the limits set by the uncertainty principle.' (though it seems the new work changes his position: he probably feels it unnecessary to address Marxism as such; for Stalinism read an end to philosophy.

It is not as simple as to say that Trotskyism's theory of The Permanent Revolution is grasped as opposite to this theory of Stalinism's stages theory; it is consistent Dialectical Materialism: but Empiricism can never break through the historical barriers represented by the State in existent: either in science or in politics. The heroic struggles and effforts even of those trapped behind this method should not be denied: Trotskyism developed in a period of defeats for the world working class: Stalinist betrayal in Germany in the thirties was because of method. The historical significance of Marxism is precisely because it armed the party. But only the working class and its allies can actually defeat the state: whether it starts with the lessons of Dual Power or the winning of numbers of individuals in the other sciences, over to Marxism, and their application to their discipline in a partisan sense of explicit reference to method to party work. As science demonstrates this is a period of great potential: Global Capital can only destroy the planet in its unending search for either profits or thefts of previous value off the differing classes. Yet this is not a period of defeat. A unified theory of Social Being, Matter and Thinking has been addressed by Marxism from the beginning. It is odd that it is in physics that Lenin and Healy addressed important works on Dialectical Materialism and yet it is in this area that a pope wishes to tip Hawkin's out of his wheelchair and Hawkin's, insisting that one belong to the priesthood of 'the physicist', that philosophy has failed. As Lenin made clear even with Pragmatism this is a philosophy.

That physicists and other scientists are only making incremental (though at increasing speed) gains which seems to confirm their abstract belief that there are no leaps only confirms the fact that the prevailing ideas are those of the ruling class. Yet the contradictions mount in this area; suddenly funding is cut off because the nature of the economic crisis of Capitalism; Globalisation penetrates their calculations.

Now if you don't mind I want to read a bit of Faust and have an ambrosia liqueur.


Ray says:

"Life is not an easy matter... You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness" - Leon Trotsky


Ray says:

The material science of Dawkins and Hawking is of the same school of thought as Darwin - limited to the materiality under study. Meanwhile they themselves do not investigate, place under scrutiny and find their place as part of society, that is, the real class society, which provides the food for their table by way of the market for their books (commodities). In contrast, F Engels studied the latest development in all the fields of the sciences, uninterruptedly, whilst devoting his principal concern in developing socialism/communism in collaboration with Marx. He also had to manage a factory in Manchester which made profits, a role he railed against himself, to supply himself, Marx and the International(s) with income for continuity.

Phil, in your first post, you said "some(I) would say that the expulsion of the so-called God-builders(?) within the Bolshevik Party in 1912 (actually 1909) contributed to the inability of the Bolsheviks to develop a solid ethics after the 1917 October Revolution." In fighting Bogdanov's idealism with Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Lenin did indeed preserve materialism and supersede it, in the Hegelian method - dialectically, which facilitated the success in the social overturn of property relations. Bogdanov's idealism ventured into another fruitless task, that of envisioning a separated 'proletcult' from the history of civilisations' art, sprituality and culture. Marxists don't campaign for lost souls in an unequal world. A perspective for changing the material 'here and now' as a ground for the all-round future of mankind, is 'spirtually' rewarding as well as vitally necessary.


Phil says:

Firstly, the co-thinkers of Bogdanov (aka the God Builders) were expelled from the Bolshevik faction of the RSDL Party in 1912 by Lenin. That is an established historical fact, is it not Jonathan? Secondly, Dawkins and Hawking are saying that science has made all belief - whether organised religion or personal faith - redundant or illegitimate. This seems roughly equivalent to decreeing that henceforth there shalt be no more 'why' questions because we have the 'how' explanations which it is alleged in declamatory fashion are all that we need! Dawkins and Hawking can only get away with this because of the grossly over-inflated status of science in contemporary society and contemporary popular discourse, with science detached from and unaccountable in any way to other disciplines like philosophy, history, history of ideas, theology, aesthetics, ethics, etc.


Battlefield Beryl says:

Materialism does not mean rejecting the idea of ‘spirit’, nor does it mean the primacy of commodities, the kind of consumerism expressed in Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’. But there is something in Madonna’s chorus that is spot on: “We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl’.

Materialism is about the primacy of nature, and of human beings as part of nature. Our relation to nature, is formed through our practice and in turn, that forms us. This practice has enabled humans as a species to evolve the power to think. There is no stopping the imaginative explanations we can come up with for the things we sense, but imagination and religious dogma are not the same thing.

Religion as represented by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, are social and political formations, designed to convince people that as things are, so they have always been and so they will always be. We used to sing a hymn at school ‘All things bright and beautiful’, which had a verse that ran: “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them, high and lowly, and ordered their estate.” Of course they have removed that verse now – but they still believe it!

As Marx said, the religious world, is but the reflex of the real world. When Emperor Augustus decided to be declared a God, the priests were happy to oblige. When Tony Blair decided to go to war, the Archbishop of Canterbury was right there in support.


Loïc says:

Although I agree with the post, I wonder why should capitalism need churches'approval. I thought capitalism was also a materialist philosophy? That its only drive was efficiency and self-interest defense?
I may be mistaken but one sure is certain that's no churches support can save it and even make it laughable. Capitalism is no more defensible as far as the ecological crisis deepens and worsens human's rights. And when a political system doesn't make the appropriate changes then it must be changed. That people take the matter in their own hands is just a fair share!


Jonathan says:

The 'God Builders' were not in fact expelled from the Bolshevik Party: nothing in their Constitution allowed such a thing. Interestingly some played very important roles in the revolution. Dialectical Materialism – whose 'other side' Lenin spoke of within the Party as 'God Builders' (and yet in the such cases as Gorky kept very good relations with and indeed taught at his Capri home to Party members) is necessary to break out of the 'impasse' humanity now finds itself in.

Papal Bulls, Westminster Act: none will get us out of that. But they know their crises, and as with the not so pious Pius xi and xii will make their pact with 'Mammon'. No: the problem, now as then, is much deeper than that of 'God Builders' as represented by Phil. AWTW has written extensively on Stalinism, as did Trotsky, that the developers of the new 'ethic' (or its majority) got a bullet in the back of the head, and then the force of revolution still produced the 'spirit' to resist the Nazi's says more deeply than anything how – how this philosophy that Pope and Hawkins shy from armed the Party and the workers and that those that stood aside from the fight weakened when the Soviet Union was under such initial isolation and pressure. The tension between science as represented (very clerically it would seem) by Hawkins and the massive movement of social being whether towards or away from religious belief; the advance in sciences such as physics causing nearly a personal attack by the Vatican on Hawkins and his own attack on philosophy: now that is a spirited 'debate': and what is the source of this?. The words above: 'In the end, organised religion is about passivity, fatalism, turning the other cheek and a kind of waiting for Godot – all obscured by dogma and teachings that have their origins in humanity’s early strivings.' is neither 'an entirely spiritless society', but something much more profound: it is our job to do these things, solve problems that sadly we even lack a Promethius: apart from the minor detail that the ruling classes and elites world wide need not apply to themselves any of these submissive matters: well maybe fate handed them all the birthrights or meritocratic rewards. After all we all know that 250 million U.S. citizens can become President, and multimillionaires, and play golf all at the same time. Who spins and toils in that world.

But seriously that god exists as a human creation (within human social relations – and between them) – dragged into being in the Roman case by the suffering slaves and masses and then turned to use as a weapon against –slaves and the masses, now there's an interesting dialectic. Yet here we are after creating gods and hobgoblins to help us climb up this far with spirit says it all. No god created The Messiah nor The Dome of the Rock. Humans did. What they each thought they were doing maybe historically necessary to understand but isn't actually germane to the beauty or the spirit in the sense that without the illusions of our myths we will have no aesthetics, love, or spirit. As to Hegel check our his Master Slave in the Phenomenology.


Frank says:

Thank you, and well done Paul. At last, a logical and unemotionally honest rebuttal of the Pope's aggression towards those of us who disagree with his reactionary views. The embarrassingly poor attendance at his events marks an important step forward in social consciousness, in my view. Maybe some more of their old tricks may now be found wanting.


Robbie says:

Phil - it is good that you have opened up the debate. Far from arguing for a spiritless society, we are in touch with a far greater "spirit" because we can separate it from angels, fairies, things that go bump in the night, Popes and Gods. It is available to all of us when we hear great music (including "religious" music), see great films or architecture, read books, walk in the countryside or with our communion with other humans and animals. A World to Win publishes many arts reviews which gives wider access to the "spirit" for our readers.

Similarly, as a philosopher you must be aware that the development of ethics has had no need of the concept of the divine. What separates humans from other animals has been our ability to create new objects and ideas (including the idea of "God") and creating a new ethics would hardly break us out into a sweat. And surely by creating a fairer society we are in practice creating a new ethics. The "ethics" of churches wedded to capitalism which needlessly kills hundreds of thousands of people every year through wars, poverty, disease and starvation is already there to behold.


Phil says:

Rather than rejecting the Judeo-Christian heritage en bloc would it not be more fruitful to take a leaf out of Hegel and sublate this tradition, that is, preserve it at the same time as superseding it? You seem to be arguing for an entirely spiritless society. Some would say that materialism is reductive without spirit. For example, some would say that the expulsion of the so-called God-builders within the Bolshevik Party in 1912 contributed to the inability of the Bolsheviks to develop a solid ethics after the 1917 October Revolution.


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