[Marxism] 2 interesting articles on religion

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Tue Jul 15 19:37:10 MDT 2008


On Mon, 14 Jul 2008 14:47:44 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> writes:
> Karl Marx, Abram Leon and the Jewish Question—a reappraisal
> 
> http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=460&issue=119
> 
> ---
> 
> More than opium: Marxism and religion
> 
> http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=456&issue=119
> 
> 

John Monyneux in his "More than opium" writes:

"What Dawkins offers is an “Enlightenment”, empiricist, rationalist
refutation of religion—a “scientific”, ie positivist, demonstration that
there is a complete lack of factual evidence to support what he calls
“the god hypothesis” and that, on the contrary, the evidence makes it
almost (if not absolutely) certain that god does not exist. This is
supplemented by logical refutations of the various arguments advanced for
god’s existence ranging from the venerable “proofs” of Thomas Aquinas and
“Pascal’s Wager” to the bizarre recent speculations of one Stephen Unwin,
and numerous examples of the follies and crimes perpetrated in the name
of religion. I suppose there are some people for whom this will be
revelatory and others who may enjoy it because it makes them feel smarter
than the ignorant masses who swallow these superstitions, but
theoretically there is nothing new here, indeed very little that is not
at least 200 years old."

Perhaps this is so in the UK and western Europe generally, but
such is not the case in the United States, where it is still the
case that make a complementary remark about Charles
Darwin would be viewed as very controversial through
much of the United States.  The fact is that the battles
of the Enlightenment are still being fought in the United
States.  As Ralph Dumain likes to point out, issues
that should have been settled by the mid-nineteenth
century are still very much alive here.  So, I think
he partially misses the mark in his evaluation of
Dawkins and the other New Atheists.  He fails
to appreciate that in the United States, fundamentalist
Christianity is still very much a force, which has
long played a role in bolstering reaction (although
might now be starting to change).  In the United
States, to be antireligious is not simply to be
anti-Muslim.  Molyneux  in my opinion fails
to grasp the difference in the religious situations
of the US versus the UK and so weakens his
case against Dawkins.  In fact I tend to see
Dawkins as intending to target a mostly 
American audience.  Dawkins' writing on
religion may be largely old hat for educated
Britons but not necessarily so for his American
readers. And fellow New Atheist,
Daniel Dennett says write in
the preface of his book, *Breaking the Spell*
that he was writing for a specifically
American audience. Presumably,
non-Americans are welcome to read
the book too, but Dennett is right up
front in saying that he thinks Americans
have a special need for his book's
message.

Now in terms of writers like Sam Harris or
Christopher Hitchens, I think that Molyneux
is on firmer ground.  Harris while hostile to
organized religion in general, makes no bones
about his extreme hostility towards Islam.
He's hostile not just to Islamists or towards
political Islam, but to Islam in all its forms.
That combined with his reiteration of
Alan Dershowitz's arguments in favor
of torture make quite evident the nature
of the political agenda underlying his
writing.  And much the same applies
to Hitchens. 

Returning to Dennett, in my recently
published article (in German translation),
"Neuer Atheismus (und Neuer Humanismus)",      
I took note of James Brookfield's review of
*Breaking the Spell* which appeared on
the World Socialist website, about which
I wrote the following:

"James Brookfield, a Marxist reviewer of Dennett’s book, likes his
“materialist” approach but takes him to task for ignoring Marxist
treatments of the history of religion. Brookfield says that Dennett’s
analysis benefits from his use of a neo-Darwinian framework but is too
abstract and could have benefited also from treating religion as a form
of ideology rooted in economic relations in human societies. I think
Dennett did take some of these factors into account when drawing upon
Jared Diamond’s work, but that Diamond’s analysis itself is rather
abstract and lacking in the historical specificity characteristic of the
best Marxist writing on religion. That writing has focused on how the
development of institutional religions has been conditioned by class
divisions and on how religious conflicts often amount, at least in part,
to economic-class conflicts. Brookfield applies to Dennett Engels’s
criticism of Feuerbach: " 
 
"In the form he is realistic since he takes his start from man; but...
this... remains always the same abstract man who occupied the field in
the philosophy of religion."
 
"I think that more than one of the New Atheists should, as Ralph Dumain
has suggested, pay more attention to modern social thought (whether
Marxist or not). I do not mean, however, to call for revisiting the
sociobiology wars of the 1970s and ’80s; it seems to me that the kind of
evolutionary psychology that Dennett’s book advocates and a Marxist
approach such as Brookfield favors can provide complementary rather than
antagonistic perspectives."
  
Most of what Brookfield said of Dennett can also be said of
Dawkins, since their views concerning the evolutionary
psychology and anthropology of religion are very similar.

Other than these few qualms, I would agree with the bulk
of Molyneux's article concerning Marxist treatments of
religion.  
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