[Marxism] The food-dog-methodism connection IV: the Jesus Factor

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Fri Apr 30 12:29:49 MDT 2004

The dispute between atheism and theism is from my point of view a sterile
controversy, since neither position can be proved incontrovertibly. If it
could have been so proved in human history, then we would have all been
believers, or non-believers, by now.

Faith is a transcendent form of human awareness of which an intrinsic
characteristic is, that there exists no rational proof or conclusive
verification for it; at best we could say that insofar as faith really
inspires real behaviour, it begets results consistent with that faith, i.e.
we "make a belief true" or "realise an idea".

As I noted in a modest contribution to the journal Historical Materialism
10/4, this is paradoxically expressed in the Bible (Hebrews 11:1) as
follows: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of
things not seen."

Faith exists because you have to believe something although there is no
evidence for it, and in that case the rationality of faith itself cannot be
proved, only the effects that it has for human beings.

Thus Marx wrote, "Die Kritik der Religion endet mit der Lehre, daß der
Mensch das höchste Wesen für den Menschen sei, also mit dem kategorischen
Imperativ, alle Verhältnisse umzuwerfen, in denen der Mensch ein
erniedrigtes, ein geknechtetes, ein verlassenes, ein verächtliches Wesen
ist. Verhältnisse, die man nicht besser schildern kann als durch den Ausruf
eines Franzosen bei einer projektierten Hundesteuer: Arme Hunde! Man will
euch wie Menschen behandeln!" ("The criticism of religion ends with the
lesson that man is the highest being for people, thus with the categorical
imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a humiliated,
enslaved, abandoned, despicable being. Relations which cannot be better
painted than through the exclamation of a Frenchman faced with a projected
tax on dogs: Poor dogs! They want to treat you as human beings!").

The real question then concerns what the results of faith are. If, as Marx,
suggests, religion is a reflex of the real world then the dispute ought to
concern the real relationship between religion and the real world, i.e. what
is actually done in the name of religious (or atheist) belief, and what the
results of that are. In so doing, one should be mindful that the majority of
the world's population do subscribe to some form of religious belief. If one
criticises a personal belief, one is not in a good position to change the
behaviour carried out in the name of that belief.

This suggests that the real human problem in the postmodern world is
different from a conflict between atheism and religion: whereas capitalist
development destroys the monopoly of the churches in respect of adjudication
about moral questions, and makes all moral boundaries relative or even
situational, Eros and Thanatos prescribe no particular morality, and this
can be the cause of considerable moral anxiety and paralysis.

This moral anxiety or paralysis is rooted in the paradoxical reality, that
whereas a consistent personal morality must be found for the sake of
behavioural integrity (non-arbitrary and predictable behaviour), this
morality does not necessarily mesh with any socially practised morality, and
that no rational justification for why and how it should mesh, can be
provided, beyond the imperative of survival and the improvement of life.
Therefore the expression of humanity seems to be located somewhere between
Eros and faith.

It may be in one's self-interest to render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's, or
it may be in one's self-interest to throw the money-changers out of the
temple. But the only justification for that is, whether it really does aid
survival and the improvement of life in some objective sense, which is open
to dispute. Adherence to moral rules is then justified only by the idea that
such adherence creates the conditions which allow rational moral debate to
occur, and boundaries of inclusion and exclusion to be contested and
contestable - a weak sort of defence of democracy.

In this moral debate, the imperative of "survival and the improvement of
life" involves conflicts between self-interest and collective interest. Then
moral justification mutates into the need to choose between egoism and
altruism. But what Marx really did, is to raise the question of why/how the
need for this choice exists, and what the nature of the options are, and how
these options might change; and he suggests that moralities adopted reflect
power-relations based on ownership and control of resources.

Consequently, Marx implies that the only consistent moral stance possible is
to work towards a form of social organisation in which the allocation of
resources is such, that the conflict between altruism and egoism is
substantively abolished, because the conflict between different needs and
interests reflecting the forces of competition and cooperation is
substantively abolished, such that advancing self-interest advances
collective interests, and advancing collective interests advance
self-interests. This means reshaping the nature of cooperative processes and
the nature of competitive processes.

This suggests a concept of "socialist emulation" first mooted by Lenin, and
subsequently discussed by Isaac Deutscher among others, and also evident
e.g. in the ideal of sportsmanship. That means, that the realisation of
morality refers to the internalisation of behavioural norms in which
competition advances co-operation, and co-operation advances competition,
both of a kind which ensures the survival and improvement of life for all.

Most studies of successful leadership suggest that the leader is able to
annul competition for the sake of cooperation, and obtain co-operation for
the purpose of competition to achieve common goals, in a way which ensures
survival and the improvement of life. That is, the true leader has a type of
personality which is able to mediate altruism and egoism, and thus resolve
the conflict between competition and cooperation, such that effective
individual and collective action becomes possible which restores personal

"Actually, as Marx observed in his critique of Ricardo, and as Hegel had
emphasised already, thinking becomes effectively dialectical only when it
learns to discover the mediations - the intermediate links - which
articulate the contradictions, instead of juxtaposing them and
"transcending" them by virtue of this juxtaposition." (E. Mandel, "Liebman
and Leninism", Socialist Register 1975, p. 98).


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