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JESUS, MARX!!

Hogan

2008-09-19 20:38:06

Other

If it weren't for the Bible, there would be no Marxism.

That's my thesis here. Now to explain it. But first, the obvious objections.

Marxism is atheistic. It denounces religion as "the opiate of the masses". It is openly hostile to the abstraction of spirituality, preferring the scientific concreteness of materialism. Communism, nihilism, science: these are all opposed to religion, or so the cliché goes. The more I think about it, though, the more I doubt the common (and false) dichotomy between the secular and the religious.

Human history cannot help but start out with religious societies. Science always comes later, after society becomes stable enough for its mythology to branch out into the separate categories of literature, law, philosophy, history, psychology, science, etc. But mythology encapsulates all these things in a homogenously blended form. If our civilization collapsed we would revert to a tribal, "primitive" mode of existence and start the whole process over again.

So, we start from religion. We start from mythology, ritual and other social glues. And then we move towards what we call "secularization", or "demystification", or "rationalization", or "disenchantment". The ancient Greeks, for example, took a step towards the secular when it went from its oral, Homeric tradition into its written phase, with Tragedy, philosophy, and rudimentary science and secular, legalized politics.

As with the Greeks, something of the religion and myth always clings to the secular structures that follow it, making use of the symbolic language of, say, gods and fate. If society starts with religion, then, there will always be something religious in what comes later, whether in attitude or figures of speech, or outright imposed, outdated beliefs. Religion and myth are the seed, even if the flower grows far beyond it in richness, beauty and complexity.

Back to Marxism and Christianity, though. To quote the always succinct words of Canada's greatest literary critic, Northrop Frye, "Chistianity is a revolutionary and urban religion, and, like Marxism in our day, it started with all the revolutionary characteristics: a specific historical revelation, a canon of sacred texts, an obsession with the dangers of heresy, and, above all, a dialectical habit of mind, a tendency to polarize everything into the for and the against."

So, rather than separate religion and scientific socialism into artificially contrived opposites, maybe it's better to see any ideology - secular, sacred, scientific, political, whatever - as either grand, self-righteously certain, rigid, and imposed to the death, or, on the other hand, practical, flexible, tolerant and genuinely democratic. A bit of a mouthful, but stick with me.

What do all deadly ideologies, whether they come from the Church, the Soviet Union, the U.S.A. or the I.M.F., have in common? They are all so certain of themselves - and their perfect plans to produce a peace of Earth - that they are literally ready to kill anyone that stands in their way. They hold the capital-T Truth. They are righteous. Anyone who disagrees must be put in their place. In this view, there is little practical difference between the Inquisition Church and Stalinist Russian, even if one is religious and the other secular.

Another thing that Communism and Christianity have in common, which Frye alluded to, is their historical perspective. Both see history as teleological (that is, heading to some sort of goal, or "end"). They both point towards an eventual Heaven on Earth or paradisal outcome. For Christians it's everlasting life hanging out with Christ, and for Communists it's a classless, exploitation-free, socialist planet. Both agree that there are winners and losers in this struggle, and both agree that it will take a lot of personal suffering before it all works itself out. These are what I call "grand" ideologies. So grand and impossible that imposing them will always lead to violence. A quick look at the history of the Church and of Marxism shows this to be true.

But what about democracy, you say? Hasn't democracy also oppressed, indeed killed, thousands of people? What about U.S. President Ronald Reagan's South American policies? What about the current U.S. administrations disastrous "democratization" of the Middle-East? What about the crushing effects of the World Bank loans on Third-World countries?

Good points. Here again is the danger of "grand" solutions. Globalization and its key institutions - the I.M.F., World Bank, myriad multi-national corporations - have claimed to hold the key to world prosperity. It doesn't matter they use the secular, soft-scientific language of economics, the problem is they try to do too much. Even if you disregard the absurdity of placing public policy in the non-human, non-conscious realm of the free-market (the "invisible hand") it's ridiculous enough to claim to have any sort of global solution to poverty and plan for ultimate prosperity. Just look at the results.

There's a deep and dangerous human desire to find that one perfect, grand system that, if only everybody got on board (against their will or not), everything would be just great. And there's the opposite tendency in humans, too, to resist these grand, imposed solutions. You might say Christ was one voice against our dangerous certainties. Socrates, too. Or any careful thinker.

What Christ preached and taught, like Socrates, was that you need neither to rebel violently against your oppressive society nor simply be run over by it. What they did was reach individual people. They taught them, talked to them. But both Christ and Socrates had their very basic, very down-to-earth message corrupted by other writers. Christ and Socrates never wrote a thing. Plato was the one to eventually pervert Socrates's democratic message into a grand, elitist ideology, and the writers of the Bible, too, took Christ's simple message of love, compassion and individualism and turned it into the grand, metaphysical garbage of Heaven for the winners and Hell for the losers.

Marxism, though, is a direct descendent of Christ's revolutionary message, something Oscar Wilde picked up on when he wrote in his "The Soul of Man Under Socialism", arguing that Christ was the original source of both individualism and socialism, and that these two are one and the same thing.

Even science, technology and their purely rational application for social utility has been used as a grand scheme for the perfection of humanity. This Enlightenment ideal was finally confirmed as dangerous nonsense after two World Wars showed that technology is much more likely to destroy us than perfect us. (As a quick aside, I'm never sure why apologists for religion sometimes refer to science as "just another religion", apparently using "religion" in the pejorative sense, since doing so denigrates their own belief, turning it into a defense not of their faith but of relativism.)

A more modest, careful approach is what we need. Not grand, "religious", final solutions. Democracy - real democracy, not the kind that contrives to stabilize "Islamo-fascist" countries on the other side of the planet only to destabilize the surrounding region - is about small-scale, pratical solutions. An as-you-go approach.

The current fad for revolution - the vague anti-establishment, down-with-the-system bullshit that most "progressive" youth fall for - is just another grand (that is, dangerous) solution to a problem that has to be dealt with by slow, practical, conscious, careful reform, not by tearing down the only system we have. Tearing down our democracy would only mean imposing a new religion, a new "final solution", one that would likely have its own witch-hunts, pogroms, show trials, book burnings, and fresh intolerance.

What we need, if it's still okay to say such a thing, is to trust our system. The conventional wisdom in the last 30 or 40 years is that democracy is corrupt, hypocritical, indeed, impossible under our current political conditions (thank you, Noam Chomsky). Therefore the current attitude of non-conformity towards "the system" - precisely because it is the dominant, popular attitude - is the new conformity.

That's worth repeating: non-conformity is the new conformity. Rebellion the new passivity. To be a true rebel nowadays, to go against the popular wisdom and group-thinking, is to accept the system and work within it. This means rethinking traditional assumptions, for instance, that religion and Marxism are mutually exclusive territories.

Well, that's much more than enough. I seem to bite off more than I can chew once I get writing, and so I'll have to follow this article up (eventually) with a closer look at the "new conformity of non-conformity."

Your humble servent,
Matthew William Hogan
Comments

permial

permial

2008-09-21 20:14:24

You are spot on! Thank you for a most succinct article. Though not one of the "sheeple", I do appreciate your insight. Once again, my thanks.



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