Marxism and Religion: Sometimes Religion is Progressive
Charlotte S. Wellen
cwellen at pen.k12.va.us
Mon Aug 26 15:22:07 MDT 1996
>From Wei En Lin:
Greetings to all comrades and to Louis Godena to whom this
reply is addressed
Mr. Wei En Lin first finds a saving grace in an earlier age of
> ...The revolutionary upheaval in China's history (prior to
>associated with an unorthodox form of Christianity propounded
Throwing caution to wind, Mr. Wei then goes on to say such and
such and such is not true. Like so many others on the Marxism
thinks it sufficient merely to assert.
I am not sure what you mean to say here. Are you denying that
the revolutionary upheaval of which I speak was associated with
Christianity. If you believe that this is an unwarranted
assertion, by all means refute it. I think you will find that
history bears the assertion out.
Do not lose sight of the point I am trying to make:
RELIGION IS SOMETIMES ASSOCIATED WITH REACTION AND SOMETIMES
ASSOCIATED WITH PROGRESS AND REVOLUTION.
If you wish to prove that this statement is wrong you must have
evidence pertaining to the examples which I have provided.
These have included many progressive movements which Marx,
Engels, and Mao have mentioned.
(I list them at the end of this post)
Mr. Godena, you say very little that is concrete concerning any
of these examples. Regarding Sarvodaya you DO SAY that I
link on the flimsiest of pretexts the fiercely nationalist (and
Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka with the ill-starred Maoist
the 1970s. Aside from local and a very few secondary
two struggles are innocent of each other.
But I do not see the relevance of your remark to my main point,
concerning the sometimes progressive role of religion.
What basis do you have to say that Sarvodaya is a revanchist
movement? I do not believe it is. Sarvodaya has been
persected for not having the 'proper' attitude toward the war
against the Tamil minority. If you have evidence to support
that claim I would like to examine it. As to whether Sarvodaya
is progressive, I offer some evidence. I lived in Sri Lanka
for two years, and have had the opportunity to visit the
Sarvodaya headquarters in Moratuwa, just south of the capital,
Colombo. Sarvodaya members are constantly under threat by the
government, which finds their politics too radical and too
threatening to the traditional power structure. Here is an
excerpt from 'Sarvodaya and the economy' a work by the
movements leader, Ariyaratne.
Modern economy is inextricably interwoven with modern
politics. Any inquiry made of the economy should be done with
an awareness of the politics in that context. Sarvodaya
totally rejects power politics pursed on the basis of divided
part affiliations, as much as she rejects coercive
institutional structures along with their technologies and
theories. Instead, Sarvodaya placed confidence in a people's
participatory and peoples service oriented political system,
non-violent political structures, and processes that should be
built as an alternative . . .
(Ariyartne's 'Collected Writings,' vol.4, 140).
Because the IMF and World Bank loans enhance the power of the
multinationals, Sarvodaya has struck out on the grass roots
level to organize communities democratically, so they can
determine their own needs, organize their own political
structures to fulfill these needs INDEPENDENTLY OF THE
BOURGEOIS CENTRAL GOVERNMENT. Sarvodaya is associated with
Buddhism and it is in my view progressive. The group is
subject to active government persecution because the two
bourgeois parties see their power base eroding. Sarvodaya has
established its presence in over half of Sri Lanka's thousands
The Sarvodaya success is directly connected with the failure of
the Maoist movement, which is nearly dead now. That movement
was unfortunately closely tied with Singhalese nationalism, and
employed violence against the Tamil minority. I met members of
the movement. They are consumed by anti-Tamil race hatred,
unlike the members of Sarvodaya, who believe in peaceful
co-existence between the different ethnic groups.
Louis Godena asks if I conclude that, because some aspects of
Protestantism have been progressive . . .
contemporary Protestantism, from William Sloane Coffin to Jimmy
Swaggert, is inordinately "progressive" or the natural ally of
Clearly the answer is "NO." I am NOT arguing that all forms of
religion are progressive. In fact I would concede that most
forms of religion which are directed by ecclesiastical
hierarchies are reactionary.
Mr. Godena, you make a few assumptions about my outlook which
are not accurate. You say:
Mr. Wei may be nostalgic for an earlier period of
history when certain theological currents--like much of
itself--bore a "progressive" flavor. That time is now long
Religion, as well as the capitalist system which it serves, is
advanced stage of putrefication and decay. This process is
all efforts on the part of people like our heroic Mr. Wei to
I am not at all nostalgic for past theological currents. They
have done untold harm. I do not need to catalogue all the
negative effects of 'Christian missionary zeal' in Africa,
Asia, and Latin America. Yet this does not keep me from
appreciating figures like 'Archbishop Romero', who lost his
life in defense of the poor in San Salvador. This does not
keep me from appreciating the efforts of the Liberation
Theologians in Central America to focus people's attention on
the radical strains of religion.
Toward the end of your post, Mr. Godena, you say, 'Let us not
succumb, in our current travails, to the alluring but
stultifying superstitions of an earlier age'
I agree wholeheartedly with this exhortation. Let us not
succumb to superstition!
You conclude by saying:
The final and deciding point is that the class content of
thought--and this includes secularist outfits like "Liberation"
theologists--cannot in the modern age be compatible with the
long term goal of revolutionary Marxism.
This is the bone of contention. What is the goal of
revolutionary Marxism? Is it not to put an end to the
exploitation of man by man? Everything which is
ecclesiastical, hierarchical, and sectarian in organized
religions serves to prevent the realization of such a goal.
Nevertheless, there is much in the discourses of Jesus Christ,
Buddha, and Lao Tze which is compatible with the goals of
If you have such strong objections to Liberation Theology, for
instance, can you be more specific about your objections.
Wei En Lin.
PS Here are the examples mentioned before which I believe
deserve some analysis:
1. The conflict between progressive Catholics and the monarchy
in Tudor England, which Marx describes in Das Kapital.
2. The peasant war headed by Munzer, which Engels described.
3. The numerous peasant wars spearheaded by Taoists, which Mao
discusses in his writings on Chinese history.
And during modern times:
1. Kaddafi's use of Islam in promoting successful revolution in
2. Liberation Theology in Haiti, Central and South America,
especially in Nicaragua.
3. The creative use of Buddhism by the Sarvodaya movement in
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