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(en) Britain, Anarchist journal - ORGANISE! #71 - IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?

Date Thu, 25 Dec 2008 11:57:49 +0200



This is my take on religion; that some religious beliefs can be accommodated within my
understanding of anarchist communism. However, these are the beliefs that remain in the realms of
metaphysics. As soon as religion starts making claims about the physical world it must be
questioned, as with any other system of thought. I want to argue that religion as a whole, in
making the claims it does, on the foundations it has, is fundamentally detrimental to humanity. Of
course plenty of religious people can have totally different interpretations of religion, but the
general framework that religion establishes goes against what I understand to be Anarchist
Communism. -*- To begin let’s start on the most abstract level. Here we’re simply talking about
something spiritual that we believe exists beyond ourselves. This seems to be at the core of most
religious beliefs. It may simply be a feeling of spiritual connection with every living creature.

Here we haven’t reached the point even of God, purely faith in something beyond ourselves. Now my
first intuition when presented with such an idea is to jump to my Darwin, Dawkins and Davidson. My
feet, I’d like to think, are set firmly in the real world. Yes I can get overwhelmed by the beauty
at the top of a mountain but that doesn’t mean any spiritual bond above and beyond the physical
world exists. Love, friendship, humour, beauty are part of the physical world just like trees,
sunshine and vacuum cleaners. Nothing about any emotional response indicates anything that
transcends the bonds of the real and to think they do is nothing more than fluffy thinking. However
as time has gone on a bit my view’s shifted. With regards to belief in the abstract and spiritual,
whether we choose to accept it or not I now believe to be arbitrary. It isn’t a question of science
verses faith. We are before the point where science can play a role. The view that there is
something beyond us admittedly has no evidence for it at all but the view that there is nothing
beyond is equally groundless. Anything we point to to justify either side could be taken up by our
opponent. It seems therefore that on this purely abstract level whether we believe in the spiritual
or not is arbitrary, it’s about whether you feel something beyond yourself or not.

Now to move this debate on a bit let us bring in God. By God at this point what I mean is simply
something/some being, that created the universe. Now a general belief, a religious belief in such
an entity, I think can be viewed as similar to the weaker view already expressed. Here whether we
see the universe as created by something divine or not still remains an arbitrary choice. I stand
at the top of the mountain and see the wonders of chance; the next person sees God behind it all.
Here our concept of God is still in the general and abstract, purely something that made the
universe. It would seem to me therefore that as with spirituality a belief in God as so described
can neither be refuted nor proved. If this is so we have two choices, either arbitrarily choose or
don’t make the choice at all. Most of us fall into the first category but think our decision to be
founded on something more substantial. To argue that there is evidence one way or the other is
ridiculous. The burden of proof falls equally onto each camp, one says: “well show me the evidence
for God.” The other: “show me the evidence against.”

Now it’s important to state that making such a choice is perfectly acceptable but it must be
understood that at its core it’s an emotional response either for or against something with no
evidence either way. To think it is anything else is misguided.

Our next step is to introduce religion. To begin with let’s look at religion in a general way. An
abstract belief in God is something which can accommodate all of science, many other religious
claims can’t. Why is it important that religion accommodates science? Well it isn’t, but when
comparing the validity of beliefs the ones with all the evidence behind them, for me anyway, are
the ones we should be more willing to accept. If for example one person says crystals are the best
cure for cancer and mounds of evidence says chemotherapy is more effective I know which one I’d go
with. So for example a belief in the age of the universe based on the bible is in direct opposition
to scientific evidence. Though the evidence isn’t conclusive I think it’s a reasonable step to take
sciences line. This clearly doesn’t make religious beliefs of this nature unsupportable but whether
we choose to hold them or not no longer seems arbitrary. We can’t take the same stand point to
religion here as we can to it on the purely abstract. We can’t do this because all our best
evidence pushes us one way. In the earlier sections the evidence wasn’t on either side because we
were discussing something beyond the physical world. As soon as religion moves into the real world
we can evaluate it against science. Science is a body of evidence from which hypothesis and theory
is developed. This means religion is up against something born out of mounds of evidence. If we
choose to accept it we are trusting blind faith in the face of the accumulated wisdom of humanity.
Now where does this take us? Well having faith is having faith. On one level it seems it has no
real impact, you’re merely choosing to side with faith rather than evidence. This, though more
controversial then a belief in an abstract God, doesn’t seem like a bad thing, it’s simply basing
your metaphysics in the religious not in the scientific. It does however lead onto a more important
problem, the impact of religion and religious views in the real world.

What I’ve argued so far is that believing in or denying the existence of spirituality or a creating
being is an arbitrary choice. Religion however makes claims about how the physical world is and in
doing so faces strong opponents. Basing your view of reality on faith seems fair enough, however,
it suggests my first fundamental problem with religion. Making that choice involves trusting in
something regardless of the proof. For this reason religion exemplifies a deeper anti-intellectual
tendency which needs to be confronted. To trust in anything without thought results in power being
placed in the hands of others regardless of reason. In faith we find the human capacity to follow
blindly and in following blindly we become a herd that can be pushed in whatever direction the
powerful want. Anything that instils in us the attitude not to look at evidence and instead trust a
higher authority inbeds in us an attitude of accepting higher power over personal thought. Religion
isn’t simply a metaphysical system that lies at the side of the rest of the world. Religion has far
reaching repercussions in the real world and it’s for this reason it must be confronted. This is a
general criticism of religion; it however starts to bring forward many others. In religion we find
the justification for sexism, oppression, bigotry, homophobia, capitalism and a general acceptance
of power as correct and the thinking individual as flawed. Religion as a philosophical standpoint
would be ok but it isn’t and could never be simply this. Religion makes claims about how to live,
how the world is, what is right, what is wrong and I feel leads people to attitudes I fundamentally
reject. It seems anyone who values the integrity of the individual and equality between people must
challenge religion at this point. I may meet a racist who bases his view on the nature of reality
on Moore’s metaphysics, that wouldn’t stop me objecting to him being a racist. With regards to
religion our objection must be further reaching because it is a result of her view of the nature of
reality that she does have the beliefs which I object too. It seems therefore that religious
belief, though by itself appears harmless; is in fact the cause of much, that as an Anarchist I
should challenge.

It could be argued that my attack on religion is based on a generalisation. In reality many
branches of religion, even branches of mainstream religion, are in fact fighting for radical social
change. It may be true that certain sections of some religions are fighting for radical social
change but inherent in all of them is the seed of future oppression. Religion tells people how to
think and how to view the world. Though some may be less oppressive than others, all have in them
an authoritarian core and all must be challenged.

Apart from a tendency to blindly accept power, the justification for racism, sexism etc religion
plays a functional role in society. It legitimises the way the world is by suggesting that though
24,000 children starve to death every day, though we live in a world of exploiters and exploited,
God’s got a plan and we’ll all end up where we deserve to be. In this, religion prevents people
from challenging what’s wrong in the world and instead focus on there faith in a life after death.
It breeds complacency through hope and stabilises a fundamentally unjust system. My point here
isn’t that once religion falls capitalism would as well, it’s simply that religion like many other
ideologies legitimises and stabilises the world in a fundamentally detrimental way. I acknowledge
that many religious people do care about the world and don’t blindly accept authority but that
doesn’t justify a theoretical framework that does on the most part damage the world in these ways.

The final point that needs to be elaborated on is born out of my first discussion. That of belief
in something beyond the universe whether it be God or any other transcendent force. Belief in such
a thing wouldn’t require us to worship anything, put our trust or faith in anything because it
would be something fundamentally spiritual and not in need of worship. It seems in fact, that to
worship something so detached from the physical world would be meaningless. No morality, no view of
the universe can be constructed out of such an abstract foundation. For this reason faith in
something this general poses no problems for me because it could never have any real impact on
anything. It would be there, and that would be as far as we could go. Beyond this we start to slip
into religion as argued against in the previous section. As soon as we start to build a belief
system above and beyond the intangible we move into the real world and in doing so have an impact
which must be analysed.

So what do I think I’ve argued? Well faith in something beyond the universe is perfectly fine.
Whether we choose to accept it or not is arbitrary and being on such a general level would have no
impact on any other belief we have or form. The mistake people make is that they see all religious
belief as characterised by this first discussion. Many try to understand them as something purely
spiritual and if this was so they may appear reasonable, such analysis is flawed. Religion
influences action and influences it in a way that I find fundamentally harmful. For this reason
regarding the purely spiritual, I am arbitrarily atheist. Beyond this, though at first whether
you’re religious or not seems like an irrelevant personal choice, it’s in fact the cause of some of
the most damaging political and moral action people have carried out and so I stand an anti-theist.
As an ideology it leads people into anti-intellectualism, trust in authority and an acceptance of
oppression, I’ve barely even touched on what religious institutions have actually done. Clearly
this isn’t true for everyone who has religious beliefs but religion does establish a framework
within which oppressive and submissive tendencies don’t just flourish but are encouraged.

How does this explain the debate? Well those who support religious views as acceptable within
Anarchism seem to be suggesting something equivalent to either a purely transcendent spiritual
feeling or religious beliefs that don’t have a further reaching impact. It seems that this second
stance is misguided. Religion more often than not bleeds down into all thought and in doing so
helps to legitimise authority and oppression in its many guises. For this reason religion should be
challenged by Anarchists as something detrimental to the development of everybody. It’s important
to make clear that I am not opposing people’s right to believe in what ever they want whether it be
a man walking on water, coming back from the dead or delivering presents to kids down a chimney.
What I oppose is the beliefs themselves and the institutions that perpetuate them. I believe that
if you can stick in the metaphysical you’re fine, as soon as you move into the real world Religion
can and should be questioned.
_________________________________________
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