[Marxism] Norm Geras attacks Marxmail subscriber

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Tue Jun 17 06:30:32 MDT 2008


> I agree. Also, choice theory is conservative, because it is about
> making the best choice in given conditions; while Marxism is about
> changing the conditions themselves.

Very good point. I'm going to incorporate it into a project I'm
working on this morning. Thanks.

> > As for the benefit of religious affiliation, I don't doubt that at
> > all, but this benefit comes through socialization and whatever
> > benefits it brings, not in principle because it is religously
> > based.
> 
> Yes, but my point is that we can't take those benefits out of our
> concept of 'religion'. Religion is not really about God (since God
> does not exist) - it is about socialization. Not only the church as
> an institution, but God as an idea is socialized - he is 'universal
> love', '*our* Father', the 'Savior of mankind', etc. God is the
> community fetishizing itself.

Interesting issue here. It seems I was saying that the supernatural
element in religion adds nothing social to religious participation,
and you are countering that we can't exclude the social implications
of the specific ideas involved, for those ideas have some effect.

I can't disagree in principle, but can't help but wonder if religious
folks really take the social implications of their ideas very
seriously.

Are there not empirical studies that compare the social behavior of
believers and non-believers, and do they not suggest latter tend to be
more sociable? For example, just recently I read an article suggesting
that doctors in hospitals who represent themselves as believers spend
less time and are less focused on their patients than non-believing
doctors.

That is, whether the specific content of religion has social
implications, and whether participants respond to those implications
in a way that we would interpret as more socially integrated or
positive or more responsive to our social being, can perhaps be
decided simply by empirical test.
 
> > Let me give an example. I have a close connection with an
> > African-American fundamentalist church here. One thing I've come
> > to understand that it is a valuable rumor-mill. What's happening
> > in the community? The best way to find out is to attend church,
> > for the newspaper or local TV news are inadequate.
> 
> Precisely. How many people would attend church if it was only about
> praising the Lord, and not about servicing the community?

But they are not servicing the community outside the church. In fact,
this particular church has as its principle aim the development of
ministries ("building ministries" is part of its complicated title),
but in practice has a plethora of internal ministries, and these are
either incompetent or empty (the "hospitality committee" is seen as a
ministry, but it simply decorates for meals or dishes out the food,
with the pastor and her cronies sitting at the high table and being
served first and using fancier tableware). Very little seems to be
done outside the walls of the church. These ministries are tied into a
theology of "gifts" that implies that all _individuals_ have value,
and they provide status in a hierarchy (proximity to the pastor), not
because it is an opportunity to serve others (this based on the
atmosphere of petty jealousy and body language that shows nearly
everyone is only interested in their own position).

Admittedly, however, this pathological church may not be typical. But
the example suggests to me that people can attend church for social
reasons, without having to conclude that their social behavior is much
shaped by their religious values.

> > So the issue becomes, why not satisfy those needs through, say,
> > class struggle rather than turn to religion?
> 
> Because class struggle has failed for decades, whereas church
> succeeds every Sunday.

Ouch! I have to differ with you here. Without belaboring the point,
the issue of class struggle is not to attain a future goal, but to
develop and realize more fully the actual potentials latent in the
working class. Of course, it would be easy to bring up evidence that
even in these terms the working class movement has been a
failure. However, when seen broadly (global; since the end of the 19th
century), I could build a case that the working class as a whole has
made enormous strides in terms of its development of a capacity to act
and does to an extent manifest that capacity in action. Too big an
issue to resolve here, but let me just say that I'm not pessimistic
about the working class movement unless one defines it very narrowly
(strength of organized labor in the US, for example).

And as for religion satisfying needs, I'd not be so sure. Yes, it does
satisfy psychic needs, obviously, and, as I mentioned above, can
satisfy some social needs. However, in the example I mentioned, they
seems pathological. Not all churches are that bad (and I find the
local Muslims do better), but it does imply that we need some way to
assess the extent to which socially positive religious values are
manifested in behavior and if that implementation is positive in
relation to class struggle. Difficult questions.

> The mirage is real not only because it is causing you to walk, but
> because it is in turn caused by something real. Another example of a
> real illusion - another fetish - is value.

Yes, but what causes it is not what it seems to be: the water does not
exist. Nor in fact is there even "something" there in terms of its
being an entity. There is no real entity out there that we
misinterpret as being water. What is real is merely a distortion of
light passing through hot layers of air. We have a phenomenon that has
a cause in the material world, but that phenomenon creates an illusion
and there is no specific entity that is its cause.

I'm not sure why you raise your point. Is the deeper issue here the
failure of empiricism? Are you adopting a critical empiricist or
phenomenalist, rather than realist, viewpoint? I get the feeling that
behind the petty issue of the mirage there may be deeper questions
that we are imposing on it.

Haines




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