[Marxism] Secular Chauvinism (was How to answer these questions?)

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Tue Aug 1 07:20:35 MDT 2006

On 8/1/06, Mark Lause <MLause at cinci.rr.com> wrote:
> Well, my comments weren't entirely made tongue-in-cheek, but they were close
> enough for your response to pose an interesting question....If we are seeing
> what happens in the U.S. as an abandonment of secularism, why would we trust
> that course anywhere?

The United States -- its government and culture -- has never been
secular_ist_ in terms of its dominant ideology, though it has become
secularized in terms of how people -- including the religious --
actually live their lives, so it is inaccurate to say that the U.S.
has "abandoned" secularism.

The United States government's founding creed is separation of church
and state, a creed meant to promote _free exercise of religion_ in
civil society, which is a doctrine diametrically opposed to the
concept of laicite that has informed the European and Turkish
governments' policy, which in practice has amounted to the government
taking an active role in prohibiting religious symbols and activities
in many aspects of public life and controling the mode of exercise of
religion in the rest, with a view to promoting _freedom from religion_
(though most often freedom from _only_ the sort of religion that the
government regards as menace to national security and to the racially
or ethnically or religiously dominant group).

As far as American leftists are concerned, what we are doing most
often is in essence bearing witness to injustice and saying a prayer
for its end, though we call it "politics" and think we are not

Though American leftists' "political" activity is in essence a kind of
religion, ours is inferior in efficacy to activities of politically
conscious religious peoples', for ours is an unorganized religion,
whereas theirs is organized religion.  The organized are always more
effective than the unorganized.

On 8/1/06, Sayan Bhattacharyya <ok.president+marxmail at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 8/1/06, Yoshie Furuhashi <critical.montages at gmail.com> wrote:
> > Precisely, but American leftists do not recognize what they are doing
> > as essentially a religious activity, except ours is a far less
> > politically efficacious one than what politically conscious religious
> > people of diverse faiths on the left, right, and center, here and in
> > the rest of the world, practice.
> I think we should distinguish between mythmaking and religion. To the
> extent that Marxism is not only dead philosophy but a living movement,
> it needs myths. All social movements need myths and symbols in order
> to be effective.  The rousing strains of the Internationale, the red
> flag flying and setting hearts a-flutter --  such things are all
> powerful symbols of the kind that help to provide emotional content to
> the lived experience of a movement. They are necessary.
> Where this is different from religion is that it is based not on faith
> or revelation, but on analysis and rational understanding.

I agree with you on the two points above, but I believe that American
leftists' religion is dead philosophy, not a living movement, at
present and that what many American leftists say is quite often based
not on rational analysis and understanding but faith, revelation,
wishful thinking, or plain old prejudice, in no way more scientific or
truthful -- and in many ways less powerful -- than what social gospel
Protestants, liberation-theology-inspired Catholics, Muslims bent on
ending oppression, and so on have to say.

> As
> Marxists, we stand firmly on the bedrock of the Enlightenment. We need
> to have "double vision" -- to be swayed and sway others by the myths
> and be made ecstatic by them, but also to be self-consciously aware
> that these are myths and symbols rooted in history and materiality.
> Religions do not have this double vision.

That is precisely my view.  But many Western leftists, being secular
chauvinists, do not understand the need "to be swayed and sway others
by the myths and be made ecstatic by them," much less are able to have
a good sense of irony -- "double vision" -- and humor about that.
That makes them exceedingly tedious.  If they are boring to me, a
Western leftist myself, surely they are boring to people who aren't.
And we can't afford to be boring!

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz says, "Nothing less than an equally fiery passion
can replace fundamentalism in the mind of one touched by its flames"
("Being a Protestant Fundamentalist,"
<http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/dunbarortiz110805.html>).  And here's
what Michael Yates says, "When workers say that, when they have
problems, they look for a church, labor better listen.  It better plan
to become the church of workers, a revolutionary church, willing to
lead workers towards heaven on earth" ("Do Unions Still Matter?"
<http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/yates041105.html>).  You get my drift.

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