[Marxism] Norm Geras attacks Marxmail subscriber

Paula Paula_cerni at msn.com
Tue Jun 10 15:43:49 MDT 2008

Haines wrote:
> I, for one, could use some clarification of the meaning of "rational"
> here.

This is how Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy explains 
Hegel's use of the terms 'rational' and 'real':

"Hegel asserts that the real is rational, and the rational is real. But when 
he says this he does not mean by 'the real' what an empiricist would mean. 
He admits, and even urges, that what to the empiricist appear to be facts 
are, and must be, irrational; it is only after their apparent character has 
been transformed by viewing them as aspects of the whole that they are seen 
to be rational."

Religious beliefs are facts, and like any other beliefs (true or false) they 
can only be understood in context. The mistake the New Atheists make is to 
critique religious beliefs in isolation from the social and historical 
totality from which they arise.

> when we say
> "real", are we not making an ontological statement about a reality
> that is independent of thought?  If so, it seems to have no connection
> with the term "rational".

There is a reality that is independent of thought - for example, the moon 
exists whether we think about it or not. But thought also exists, ie, 
thought is also real. To explain the reality of thought - its necessary 
connection to the world outside itself - is to explain the reasons for its 
being, and in that sense to render it rational.

> Furthermore, to dismiss religious behavior as irrational might
> arrogantly discount an important sector of the working class as being
> incapable of rational thought and imply they are inferior beings.

A very important point.

> More specifically, we need to be aware of the difference between
> the anthropological and the sociological approaches to religion. The
> former tends to look at how faith functions in mental life; the latter
> on how institutions function in society. [clip] I suspect that in a 
> Marxist discussion of religious
> irrationality, the concern is instead for the former.

I think the concern should be with the sociological basis of religion, 
precisely because humanity can only move beyond religion through radical 
social change - not purely through a change of mind.


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