Does Anarchism Have To Mean Anti-Religion?

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May 27 2010 05:12
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But the whole karma idea can be used to justify some people being much richer than others - they are merely being rewarded for past deeds

That really isn't practically different from christianity and that. As a religion (depending on your denomination) it too can just justify contemporary inequality or at least an unequal distribution of wealth. Whilst the catholic church has 'social justice' as its official program, there are some christians (particularly amongst evangelical sects) that argue plainly that wordly riches are gods reward for a pious life. That wealth is in fact a sign of a 'good person', someone who has 'obviously' worked hard, and so been rewarded by god. That's not normative christianity but it exists and is tolerated.

Despite that is highly controversial from a christian theological context (as in, easily refutable with biblical reference), but that is religion really - a contradictory mess that changes it spots depending on the audience - it doesn't confirm to it's own rules or teaching, and is in practice essentially a tool at the disposal of one or another vested interest (of power). I would argue the same is true for all religions, as all are predicated on a reverence for vague and archaic prose, that can only be meekly interpreted by us smelly humans.
Basically, this assumption that humans are not smart enough to really 'get it' - in cosmic terms, god and all that out there is beyond us, above us. Therefore, if we take that message on board (along with the other stuff like respect for father/family/obedience to authority), we should be happy to let gods reps on earth interpret 'his' words for us.

The result of which is a myriad of 'christian' perspectives justifying everything from racial genocide to sweat-shop labour.

But isn't one of the main tenets of buddhism, to eschew material wealth and the valuing of it? And besides, the Dalai Lama came out as a marxist laugh out loud

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May 27 2010 08:19

There have been some interesting contributions on this thread, particularly from Matt and Vlad about Taoism and Buddhism. I think that it's always important to look at these traditions historically and to recognise that it's perfectly possible for a religious or philosophical tradition to have represented real advances in previous forms of society and past historical epochs and to have now reached a complete historical dead end.
Elly's reference to Lenin is perfectly valid - the essential thing when dealing with the prevalance of religious ideology in the working class today is not to focus on abstract ideas but on the real role of religious institutions and ideologies in the current class struggle. But it's a pity she seems to reject 'dialectics' because that might have led her to Hegel's notion that what was rational in one era becomes irrational in another....

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May 27 2010 08:28

PS
In Marx's view there are specific reasons why capitalism didn't emerge in India or China, and they lie in the particular nature of what he called the Asiatic mode of production in which commodity relations never succeeded in breaking down the village communities which were at the base of this social formation.
By the same token, it can be argued that the social limitations of the Asiatic mode of production placed certain limits on the development of a certain kind of scientific and historical thinking that was essential to the bourgeois world view. This does not mean that there were no important developments in the eastern philosophical traditions, on the contrary: on many levels, for example in their investigations into the psyche, or their understanding of the real scale and age of the cosmos, they reached some very advanced conclusions.

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May 27 2010 08:54

Whilst we are considering religion in its widest sense we should probably also have a good hard look at cults and cult-like organisations. I do think that anarchists should be critical thinkers at all times, should challenge dogma and received wisdom as a matter of course, and should re-examine the foundations of their own positions - especially in light of our failure up to now to turn the world upside down.

Some of the most cult-like behaviour I have ever come across was in evidence in the SWP for example; I have heard and read accounts of many leftist groups behaving like cults. For anarchists it is vital I think to avoid any of the pitfalls of this kind of religious thinking or behaviour.

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May 27 2010 09:04

Maybe you should read this

Ariege
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May 27 2010 09:40

Maybe everyone should read it........ I don't suppose it will come as much of a surprise to anyone here, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Jenre
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May 27 2010 11:03
Vlad336 wrote:
btw, this thread

is GOLD, JERRY. GOLD. I miss Bob.

i can ask him to come back, if you like?

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May 27 2010 11:19

to worship the Invisible Pink Unicorn should be ok, or? wink

Boris Badenov
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May 27 2010 16:12
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Well my evidence is very anecdotal and I'm hardly a religious expert. But the whole karma idea can be used to justify some people being much richer than others - they are merely being rewarded for past deeds, just as poor people/lower castes are being punished (in fact I had an argument with a student Hare Krishna many years ago about this). See the quote in my last post. Second, I remember flicking through a friend's book about Osho or some other Indian guru/cult leader. There was a story about the guru giving away one of his fleet of Rolls Royces on a whim to a stranger. The justification/defence of this act included a diatribe against Christianity for being "anti-wealth" or some such, and that's why a 'Westerner' would find this act shocking, and it went on about how the mystical East isn't against material wealth unlike the bad Christians.

I've never read The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism but I heard someone give an outline of its argument on some documentary, and I thought to myself "if capitalism had emerged in Asia instead they would have explained it using Hinduism/Buddhism's ideas as compared to anti-wealth Christianity/Islam"

Those are interesting examples, except I think Protestantism is in a sense more "bourgeois" than Buddhism or Hinduism, because the former was actually born out of a quintessentially bourgeois struggle for national determination and the incorporation of the church into the national economy, whereas the latter, especially the collection of varied beliefs that is termed Hinduism, date back to almost the dawn of civilisation.
Karma is of course a popular folk belief that is deeply rooted in a lot of Asian traditions, and has its own existence, almost in opposition with the more philosophical conceptions of it in the Buddhist sutras (for example in the text I mentioned above, Nagarjuna's "Middle Way," karma becomes an entirely abstract and irrelevant concept). So you could say that karma and similar beliefs in reincarnation and so forth, have a life of their own, outside of the scriptures. Obviously "conversion" is rarely an act of enthusiastic belief, and even in Europe where Christian fanaticism has a long and rich history, pagan elements survive to this day. Even more so in Asia, where the fluidity of religion (which is not to say of course that there is no bigotry, religious violence etc.) is an observable reality (one can be a Confucianist, a Buddhist and a Daoist at the same time with no theological quandaries).
Ultimately I think it's that "cult of man in the abstract" (as Marx put it) that makes Protestantism especially (though not uniquely) successful at justifying capitalism. Ultimately however, just as Protestantism grew out of the excessively paternalistic and "superstitious" Catholicism, new forms can grow out of Buddhism and Hinduism to adapt to the new economic reality. I don't know how much this has been the case in recent times; it would be be interesting to see what religious beliefs Japanese/Chinese/Indian etc. businessmen subscribe to

Alf wrote:
In Marx's view there are specific reasons why capitalism didn't emerge in India or China, and they lie in the particular nature of what he called the Asiatic mode of production in which commodity relations never succeeded in breaking down the village communities which were at the base of this social formation.
By the same token, it can be argued that the social limitations of the Asiatic mode of production placed certain limits on the development of a certain kind of scientific and historical thinking that was essential to the bourgeois world view. This does not mean that there were no important developments in the eastern philosophical traditions, on the contrary: on many levels, for example in their investigations into the psyche, or their understanding of the real scale and age of the cosmos, they reached some very advanced conclusions.

Except capitalism DID emerge in China, and Marx was not very aware of Asian history when he made these comments, understandable given the supremely eurocentric and imperialist age that he lived in. The problem with Chinese proto-capitalism was, as many historians have shown, a double-headed one: First there is the "ideological problem," as pointed out by Weber et al., meaning that Confucianism, as the official ideology of the Chinese state apparatus, is not very conducive to the kind of "bourgeois internationalism" you see emerging in Europe thanks to Protestantism. This I would argue is the less important and somewhat exaggerated explanation for why Chinese capital never really took off. The more important issue is that in China industrial technology, although at least as advanced as that of England in the 18th century, did not lead to a full-scaled industrialization process as non-industrial technology remained efficient enough to satisfy the needs of the balanced Chinese national economy. European empires however, esp. Britain, were expanding, and continued to, all throughout the eighteenth century and onwards. The raw materials of the New World played a crucial part in European industrialization, and pretty much sealed the deal on the Chinese equivalent. That does not mean however that Chinese industrialism was a feeble thing that died in its infancy:

According to Andre Gunder Frank, "Particularly significant is the comparison of Asia's 66 percent share of world population, confirmed above all by estimates for 1750, with its 80 percent share of production in the world at the same time. So, two thirds of the world's people in Asia produced four-fifths of total world output, while one-fifth of world population in Europe produced only a part of the remaining one-fifth share of world production, to which Europeans and Americans also contributed."[28] China was clearly Asia's most advanced economy at the time and was in the middle of its 18th century boom brought on by a long period of stability under the Qing Dynasty. [wikipedia article on Industrial Revolution in China]

Ultimately, what I'm trying to say is that the specific reasons why capitalism didn't really take off in China have to do with much, much more than just the failure of commodity exchange to break up the village communities (which is simply not true if we compare the highly urbanized and industrialized areas in China with those in England at a time of intense industrialization; obviously China is vastly greater than any European country and most of it remained rural throughout the centuries).
To what extent was religion and philosophy to blame for the failure of Chinese capital? Like I've said, I think they played a role (esp. because of the importance of the ultra-paternalist Confucianist paradigm, which was IMO comparatively more powerful and influential than Catholicism in Europe at the time of the industrial revolution) but not the decisive one. The decisive one was played by geography, access to resources and historical circumstance.

But leaving all of this aside, I'd be interested to know what people think of the possibility that religion could actually disappear given a different mode of production in which "the practical relations of everyday life between man and man, and man and nature, generally present themselves to him in a transparent and rational form." [Marx, Capital Vol. 1, Penguin ed, 173]. Is Marx right to think that an economy based on "production by freely associated men" would lead to a disappearance of religious "fetishism"? I for one doubt this. I think organized religion as we know it today would become an irrelevance in this society, but "fetishism" will continue to exist as long as human beings believe that everything that happens to them personally is very, very important.

Jenre wrote:
i can ask him to come back, if you like?

Sure. I genuinely thought Bob was a nice guy, regardless of his "missayings" concerning religion and homosexuality.

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May 27 2010 20:02

Vlad - my perception based on limited knowledge is that capitalism in China was very largely brought in by the smashing of the Chinese Wall by the western powers - and that the advances made in industrial production still took place under the old mode of production. Also, that if capitalism in the orient had any independent development (but from the beginning heavily supported by the state) it was in Japan; and that it is no accident that Japan was a feudal society, unlike China. But I am certainly open to discussion on this.

Is Marx right to think that an economy based on "production by freely associated men" would lead to a disappearance of religious "fetishism"? I for one doubt this. I think organized religion as we know it today would become an irrelevance in this society, but "fetishism" will continue to exist as long as human beings believe that everything that happens to them personally is very, very important.

I take fetishism to be another term for alienation. Will man ever entirely transcend alienation? We can only talk about movement in a certain direction. Religion, it could be said, comes in at any point that the movement is declared to have reached its absolute, final point.

When you say that we will still have fetishism as long as human beings have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, are you talking about the individual, or the species?

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May 27 2010 20:04
BigLittleJ wrote:
Farran wrote:
Being an anarchist myself I have begun to notice than many anarchist groups take an anti-religious stance. Surely Anarchism would suggest that someone is free to do what they will? I am personaly an Atheist but know many religious people who think along the same anarchist lines as I?

Answers would be much appreciated!

This is a question that gets asked quite a lot on this site, especially with reference to the A&Ps of the Anarchist Federation, which are explicitly anti-theist.

The reason that our organisation adopted this position (as I understand it) has to do with the way we understand class and workers' struggle. We have a materialist view of the world: we see society as based on concrete, material things and relations. Therefore, the only way to change it is through concrete struggles - strikes, occupations, sabotage, and so on.

I think this notion is diametrically opposed to what I'd call an 'idealist' world-view - in which the things that underlie society and the rest of the world aren't material things but ideas like God, spirituality, Tao, karma or what have you. According to this notion, the best way to change the world is through prayer, or meditation, or crystal healing or whatever your personal superstition happens to be. Direct action, in this view, takes a back seat.

Of course, we don't want to police peoples thoughts or anything like that - rather, we seek to change peoples ideas by engaging with them, and through struggle.

Does that answer your question?

The anti religion aspect of some anarchist trends bothers me. Like the OP I'm not of a religious disposition (although I have Quaker roots) but it does seem to me that such a strong anti religious position might be less than helpful.

I disagree that religion tends to drive people towards spiritual actions such as prayer rather than hands on practical solutions. I could point you to many practical actions taken by Quakers, for example (and from a biblical position, Jesus himself taught action through action.)

Having religious faith, misguided though we might consider it, does not necessarily stand in the way of being anarchist. Power structures and authoritarian ideas within formalised religion are certainly to be opposed though, just as they are in any realm.

To my mind, making anarchism specifically anti religion must act as a barrier for many people. Is it necessary for this barrier to be erected?

mons
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May 27 2010 22:32

I can kind of understand the argument about wanting to promote a materialist worldview, but some with religious beliefs hold views that in practice amount to a materialist worldview, or at least their actions, and the actions they promote are in no way changed by their religious beliefs. I think there's even a case to be made that increasingly, in UK at least, this kind of religious belief is prevalent (i.e. one where the belief does not make any concrete difference to people's lives or actions).
This is ridiculous caricature:

Quote:
According to this notion, the best way to change the world is through prayer, or meditation, or crystal healing or whatever your personal superstition happens to be. Direct action, in this view, takes a back seat.

Overall I'm undecided.

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May 28 2010 03:27

This thread has gotten away from me a bit; I'd like to address some of Vlad's points from the start but I don't have time right now, so I'll just answer the two most recent posts quickly-

Quote:
I disagree that religion tends to drive people towards spiritual actions such as prayer rather than hands on practical solutions. I could point you to many practical actions taken by Quakers, for example (and from a biblical position, Jesus himself taught action through action.)

Of course religious people do do lots of things other than pray/meditate/etc. But that doesn't alter the fact that - according to their worldview - reality always matters less than spirituality. Taking Jesus, for example:

'Do not worry then, saying, "What will we eat?" or "What will we drink?" or "What will we wear for clothing?" For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. '

...so I think that at least from the Sermon on the Mount, his teachings are a pretty good example of what I'm talking about, telling people to ignore or put off material wants in favour of seeking God and getting into heaven. (Which makes sense, if you think you can live forever in the afterlife in total peace and happiness; but is completely opposed to class struggle. Why should you bother asking for more wages if you'll get "pie in the sky when you die", in the words of the old Wobbly song?)

What examples of Jesus "teaching action through action" did you have in mind?

Quote:
To my mind, making anarchism specifically anti religion must act as a barrier for many people. Is it necessary for this barrier to be erected?

Well, I think it makes sense for an organisation to exclude people whose ideas aren't compatible with its politics. Of course, no one's going to stop you being a religious anarchist if they want to.

Quote:
This is ridiculous caricature:
Quote:
According to this notion, the best way to change the world is through prayer, or meditation, or crystal healing or whatever your personal superstition happens to be. Direct action, in this view, takes a back seat.

Overall I'm undecided.

Well of course any explanation that attempts to tackle the problem of religion as a whole in brief and without going into specifics is going to be a bit simplistic- but I think there are real world examples of what I'm talking about, so it's not totally ridiculous. Whether it's turning to faith healing, risking AIDS by not using a condom, or taking part in a holy war; people put religious ideas before their own concrete needs and this causes real problems.

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May 28 2010 20:00
BigLittleJ wrote:
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I disagree that religion tends to drive people towards spiritual actions such as prayer rather than hands on practical solutions. I could point you to many practical actions taken by Quakers, for example (and from a biblical position, Jesus himself taught action through action.)

Of course religious people do do lots of things other than pray/meditate/etc. But that doesn't alter the fact that - according to their worldview - reality always matters less than spirituality. Taking Jesus, for example:

'Do not worry then, saying, "What will we eat?" or "What will we drink?" or "What will we wear for clothing?" For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. '

...so I think that at least from the Sermon on the Mount, his teachings are a pretty good example of what I'm talking about, telling people to ignore or put off material wants in favour of seeking God and getting into heaven.

I don't especially want to end up in a theological debate with you as I'll end up defending something I don't believe in, but I think for the quote above you need context. The message was not that these things were not entirely needy but was a matter of putting faith in God. Put it alongside the feeding of the 5,000, or the miraculous catch of fish etc, his care for the poor or the actions of the early church in ensuring that food was distributed to all.

Quote:
What examples of Jesus "teaching action through action" did you have in mind?

When I wrote that I was thinking of his actions which defied religious authority, breaking the rules of the sabbath, spending time with the outcasts, stopping the woman being stoned etc.

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May 28 2010 20:03
BigLittleJ wrote:
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To my mind, making anarchism specifically anti religion must act as a barrier for many people. Is it necessary for this barrier to be erected?

Well, I think it makes sense for an organisation to exclude people whose ideas aren't compatible with its politics. Of course, no one's going to stop you being a religious anarchist if they want to.

Yes, it makes sense to exclude people whose ideas are incompatible with it's politics. But if you admit that you can be a religious anarchist, then the views are not incompatible.

If a person shares a political view that an anarchistic communist society is most just and should be striven for, why should it be a barrier that they hold that view alongside some religious notions rather than being humanist or whatever?

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May 28 2010 22:45

Because the Anarchist Federation (if it's still AF we're talking about?) is an organisation that has a collective view on what religion is, and a collective view on what anarchism is, and holds that they aren't compatible. They don't claim that they hold the only possible version of those views, as far as I know, and therefore it is entirely possible to be a self-defined religious anarchist, without having views on either religion or anarchism that the AF (or any other Anarchist organisation)would agree with.

If I was in an organisation that advocated pizza but was opposed to stabbing people in the eye, and you thought that the best pizzas were made of stabbed eyeballs, I wouldn't want you in either, even if you did like pizza.

Boris Badenov
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May 28 2010 22:54
Alf wrote:
When you say that we will still have fetishism as long as human beings have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, are you talking about the individual, or the species?

Not exaggerated in a moralist sense of "too much ego"; I mean I do it, you do it, we all do it. And sometimes it is far easier and comforting to explain things in terms of fate, luck, the afterlife and so on. Obviously this sort of vague spiritualism does not require what is usually termed "organized religion," but the point Marx was making after all is that all fetishism would disappear in a a society where our relationship to the means of production, and therefore to nature, is completely transparent and rational.

slothjabber wrote:
If I was in an organisation that advocated pizza but was opposed to stabbing people in the eye, and you thought that the best pizzas were made of stabbed eyeballs, I wouldn't want you in either, even if you did like pizza.

wtf?

slothjabber
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May 28 2010 23:01

It's anot-very subtle metaphor. 'An organization' is the AF or any other group, Anarchist communism is pizza, and advocating stabbed eyeballs is believeing in god. I don't think they go, though others might.

It's probably not worth losing sleep over.

Boris Badenov
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May 28 2010 23:12

no I got what it meant but it's a pretty disturbing way to make a very common-sense point.

slothjabber
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May 28 2010 23:31

Sorry, been awake a long time, I'm a bit fried and probably not at my best. Sorry for disturbing you.

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May 29 2010 00:27
cobbler wrote:
I don't especially want to end up in a theological debate with you as I'll end up defending something I don't believe in, but I think for the quote above you need context. The message was not that these things were not entirely needy but was a matter of putting faith in God. Put it alongside the feeding of the 5,000, or the miraculous catch of fish etc,

But here's the thing: he didn't do any of that by actually sitting down and using material, concrete means to meet peoples needs - rather, he worked through miracles, magic, and so on. As you say, the message is that you should put faith in God; not the real world and the means it offers you for solving social problems.

The examples about the early Christian Church (or the modern ones, for that matter) and charity etc. are more complicated - because at that stage you're dealing with religious organisations, not just beliefs. Of course, in some ways that discussion is more interesting and useful than dealing with religious ideas in the abstract; but on the other hand, you have to be quite abstract to address the idea of 'religion' as a whole.

Quote:
When I wrote that I was thinking of his actions which defied religious authority, breaking the rules of the sabbath, spending time with the outcasts, stopping the woman being stoned etc.

OK, fair enough. But I think you do have to locate the more rebellious aspect of the Jesus myth within the broader scheme of the narrative - yes, Jesus flouts religious authority, but he does so by appealing to a still higher authority in the shape of a newly re-imagined god, and a new religious and social order that is seen as ordained by that god.

Quote:
Yes, it makes sense to exclude people whose ideas are incompatible with it's politics. But if you admit that you can be a religious anarchist, then the views are not incompatible.

Well, basically because there's more to the AF than just being an anarchist, and one of those things is being a materialist. Our politics flow quite straightforwardly from a materialistic world view, as I tried to explain in my first post to this topic.

Similarly, you can be an anarchist and want to build up trade union power (i.e. like L&S, or the WSM) but that sort of approach is also not compatible with our practice, so we don't let that sort of anarchist join either.

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May 29 2010 00:42
Vlad336 wrote:
Except capitalism DID emerge in China

I would be interested in reading more about this historical interpretation, if there is any literature on the subject, I would be very grateful if you could give me the academic reach-around of directing me to it.

I haven't really thought about late Chinese civilization as "proto-capitalism" but it makes sense. I definitely think capitalism is a trend towards which every patriarchal civilization aspires.

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May 29 2010 01:19
Nyarlathotep wrote:

I would be interested in reading more about this historical interpretation, if there is any literature on the subject, I would be very grateful if you could give me the academic reach-around of directing me to it.

I haven't really thought about late Chinese civilization as "proto-capitalism" but it makes sense. I definitely think capitalism is a trend towards which every patriarchal civilization aspires.

Can't say I have a bibliography on the subject at hand atm, but you might want to check out first the literature around the Weberian "cultural" interpretation (which I mentioned above) - can't think of a specific title right now. As to the "environmental/economic" thesis, check out Mark Elvin, who has an article called "Why China failed to create an endogenous industrial capitalism." Another title that springs to mind is China's Motor: A Thousand Years of Petty Capitalism by Hill Gates, written from a more explicitly Marxist perspective (which I've only skimmed through so I can't say if it's really worth it or not).

mons
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May 29 2010 08:11
Quote:
Well of course any explanation that attempts to tackle the problem of religion as a whole in brief and without going into specifics is going to be a bit simplistic- but I think there are real world examples of what I'm talking about, so it's not totally ridiculous. Whether it's turning to faith healing, risking AIDS by not using a condom, or taking part in a holy war; people put religious ideas before their own concrete needs and this causes real problems.

Yes I totally agree with that. It does happen, and is a major problem with many religious beliefs. All I'm saying is that your argument seems to me to only work if you think religious beliefs are intrinsically linked with people seeking spiritual solutions. I don't think they are. For example, the Catholic Worker movement, while very flawed (voluntary poverty, non-violence), they do work to actively change things, advocating people asserting their interests and needs.
Some stuff from their Aims and Means:

Quote:
private and state capitalism bring about an unjust distribution of wealth, for the profit motive guides decisions. Those in power live off the sweat of others' brows, while those without power are robbed of a just return for their work... Class, race and sex often determine personal worth and position within society, leading to structures that foster oppression. Capitalism further divides society by pitting owners against workers in perpetual conflict over wealth and its control.

In capitalism's place they argue for:

Quote:
worker ownership and management of small factories, homesteading projects, food, housing... a radically new society where people will rely on the fruits of their own toil and labor; associations of mutuality

God, I probably sound like I'm defending them or something. I'm not at all, and they have a lot of shit politics, and aren't suitable for AF or anything. All I'm trying to demonstrate is that it is perfectly possible for people who hold religious beliefs to try and change things in material terms, I even believe some religious people (unlike Catholic Worker) don't even factor religion into their day-to-day lives much at all anymore. This means that you cannot universalise the idea of religious beliefs intrinsically being linked with spiritual solutions.

As I said before, I am undecided, and obviously am materialist and atheist. I know I'm just representing one side and there are good arguments on the other side too.

slothjabber
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May 29 2010 10:02

But the argument isn't about whether in the end religious people can be helpful. No-one has claimed all religious people are always useless. There are christain socialists and mystical anarchists and lots of other groups and philosophies that blend a belief in the superrnatural with a critique of capitalism.

The argument is about materialism versus idealism, about the tendency to seek solutions outside of reality. One cannot be both an idealist and a materialist at the same time. One cannot believe both that God created Man, and that man created god. The relationship between the two is not 'dialectical'.

The AF is a materialist organisation (here I am defending the organisational integrity of the AF and I'm not even a member). Membership of the AF is incompatible with an idealist world-view. Idealist world-views tend (don't always) to see solutions to material problems lying in the realm of the ideal (sing different songs and God will make you rich and happy). Materialist world views tend to see solutions in the material conditions - make everyone rich and they will be happy and sing different songs, and god can go hang.

Yorkie Bar
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May 29 2010 10:48
Quote:
Yes I totally agree with that. It does happen, and is a major problem with many religious beliefs. All I'm saying is that your argument seems to me to only work if you think religious beliefs are intrinsically linked with people seeking spiritual solutions. I don't think they are. For example, the Catholic Worker movement, while very flawed (voluntary poverty, non-violence), they do work to actively change things, advocating people asserting their interests and needs.

I don't deny that religious movements can often have radical content. But I really do think there is a link between religion and a spiritual attitude to life's problems. As I've said elsewhere, I don't mean to imply that religious people never seek concrete solutions to their problems, clearly they do. But logically, I think this approach is often at odds with their beliefs.

I mean, don't you think there's a reason why religious groups like the one you mention often do have terrible politics? I really do think there's a connection there - peoples fundamental beliefs really do inform their politics. (of course, so do peoples material conditions - which is why you get groups like the catholic workers which seem like a compromise between the two).

mons
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May 29 2010 11:28
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The argument is about materialism versus idealism, about the tendency to seek solutions outside of reality. One cannot be both an idealist and a materialist at the same time. One cannot believe both that God created Man, and that man created god. The relationship between the two is not 'dialectical'.

The AF is a materialist organisation (here I am defending the organisational integrity of the AF and I'm not even a member). Membership of the AF is incompatible with an idealist world-view. Idealist world-views tend (don't always) to see solutions to material problems lying in the realm of the ideal (sing different songs and God will make you rich and happy). Materialist world views tend to see solutions in the material conditions - make everyone rich and they will be happy and sing different songs, and god can go hang.

Yes, but what I'm saying is that some religious people's beliefs do not, in practice, interfere with acting in an entirely materialist manner. You seem to recognise this distinction in your post, and I agree with you that the general tendency is for religious people to seek spiritual solutions. But that's just a tendency, and for anarchism to "have to mean" anti-religion it must be a universal. Equally the AF's policy (and I'm a member, and on balance probably do support this principle, but it's an interesting argument and I'm not sure) is a universal, and so it ought to be based on a universal and necessary link between religious beliefs and a non-materialist worldview.
Also, some have taken even more extreme positions. Don Cupitt, for example, was a priest, yet he argued that God did not exist in actuality, but instead only as part of a form of life (i.e. God is only a cultural and social construct - man made God not the other way round)

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But I really do think there is a link between religion and a spiritual attitude to life's problems

Yes, you're right. I shouldn't have said there is no link, I should have said there is no necessary and universal link.

Yorkie Bar
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Joined: 29-03-09
May 29 2010 13:30
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for anarchism to "have to mean" anti-religion it must be a universal. Equally the AF's policy (and I'm a member, and on balance probably do support this principle, but it's an interesting argument and I'm not sure) is a universal, and so it ought to be based on a universal and necessary link between religious beliefs and a non-materialist worldview.

I think there's some confusion here between a materialist worldview (which I would say runs contrary to any religion I've come across) and a materialist approach to problems (which is found amongst idealists and materialists alike). I think the AF's position on the former stems from its connection to the latter. Now, I'll admit that this connection isn't always 100%, but you could make that argument about any set of beliefs at all - which would lead you to say that the AF shouldn't have any set aims and principles at all! (since in reality people often act in ways which contradict their beliefs).

mons
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May 29 2010 14:44
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I think there's some confusion here between a materialist worldview (which I would say runs contrary to any religion I've come across) and a materialist approach to problems (which is found amongst idealists and materialists alike). I think the AF's position on the former stems from its connection to the latter. Now, I'll admit that this connection isn't always 100%, but you could make that argument about any set of beliefs at all - which would lead you to say that the AF shouldn't have any set aims and principles at all! (since in reality people often act in ways which contradict their beliefs).

Yes, I think you're probably right.
Don Cupitt's (and others') religion is best characterised as materialist though: "The world of life is not dependent upon, nor derived from, any other realm, not is there any other world after it, or beyond it.". But he is in an extreme minority (and certainly not AF material anyway..). Perhaps a formulation stressing the materialist worldview, rather than rejection of personal religious beliefs would be better. Maybe a discussion for another time.

cobbler
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May 29 2010 17:50
BigLittleJ wrote:
cobbler wrote:
I don't especially want to end up in a theological debate with you as I'll end up defending something I don't believe in, but ....,

But here's the thing: he didn't do any of that by actually sitting down and using material, concrete means to meet peoples needs - rather, he worked through miracles, magic, and so on. As you say, the message is that you should put faith in God; not the real world and the means it offers you for solving social problems.

The examples about the early Christian Church (or the modern ones, for that matter) and charity etc. are more complicated - because at that stage you're dealing with religious organisations, not just beliefs. Of course, in some ways that discussion is more interesting and useful than dealing with religious ideas in the abstract; but on the other hand, you have to be quite abstract to address the idea of 'religion' as a whole.

I agree, Jesus wasn't reported to have met people's physical needs directly. He was reported to be concerned that people take physical care of each other and to treat each other well: the rich were told they needed to distribute their wealth, treat people as you wish to be treated etc. It becomes apparent that any confession of faith which is not expressed in the way you live and interact with others is no faith at all.

Still, we're getting hung up on Christianity, and at this point I'll return to my opening statement.

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When I wrote that I was thinking of his actions which defied religious authority, breaking the rules of the sabbath, spending time with the outcasts, stopping the woman being stoned etc.

OK, fair enough. But I think you do have to locate the more rebellious aspect of the Jesus myth within the broader scheme of the narrative - yes, Jesus flouts religious authority, but he does so by appealing to a still higher authority in the shape of a newly re-imagined god, and a new religious and social order that is seen as ordained by that god.

This is where we diverge I think. To me, anarchism is something worked out in human relations. It makes no difference to me if someone considers there to be some kind of spiritual aspect behind it all. If that affects they way they relate to me or others in terms of trying to impose, then at that point it becomes an issue. If some pantheist thinks that spirit pervades everything, I really don't care. If a Quaker thinks that 'there is that of God in everyone" and on that basis declares all people equal and strives for a fair and equitable society, then the religious aspects of their beliefs are of no concern to me.

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Yes, it makes sense to exclude people whose ideas are incompatible with it's politics. But if you admit that you can be a religious anarchist, then the views are not incompatible.

Well, basically because there's more to the AF than just being an anarchist, and one of those things is being a materialist. Our politics flow quite straightforwardly from a materialistic world view, as I tried to explain in my first post to this topic.

This is an interesting comment (and I do recall your opening post). Reading the A&P of AFED does not reveal this: it doesn't describe itself as such until you get to the anti religion line right at the end. Nothing else appears to make it a necessary line.

It still appears to be an unnecessary barrier. You want people who are willing to engage the struggle in material terms. Fine. You would oppose any authoritarian overtones which so often accompany organised religion, fine. But these go without saying.

Far be it from me to challenge the views of an organisation which have been thought out so, but it is quite relevant to me. I have been on the cusp of joining AFED but this one item does stick out. Not because I'm religious: I most certainly am not, but because it is counter productive to align myself with a statement which unnecessarily excludes.

There are people who I talk to in some depth about anarchist ideas who hold religious views. Two are only a very short step from calling themselves anarchist. To join AFED means to tell them, that although I can't see any way in which their religious views mitigate against anarchist thought or action, they can't be part of the same thing I am unless they reject their religious views.

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Similarly, you can be an anarchist and want to build up trade union power (i.e. like L&S, or the WSM) but that sort of approach is also not compatible with our practice, so we don't let that sort of anarchist join either.

LOL. I'm doomed then. I've always been a member of a trade union, and in the absence of any cohesion where I work am actively building it, even though I don't think the ultimate answer lies there.