Questioning AF Aims and Principles

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wisecrack
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Apr 2 2009 20:55
Questioning AF Aims and Principles

My comments and questions relating to AF principle 10 are genuine and meant to generate discussion and debate because I'm really just trying to understand something here. I do not practice any kind of religion myself but I would consider myself to be a spiritual person who does have some spiritual beliefs that some might call religious. My personal anarchist principle could be summed up as; I fully support a group of autonomous individuals working together to create a community based on self-sufficiency, cooperation, and intimacy with nature and our fellow human beings as opposed to our current state of alienation and paranoia.

Questions and comments on AF Aims and Principles #10 - We oppose organized religion and religious belief(s).

If the goal of AF is revolution, why exclude, say, approximately 1/4 - 1/2 of the world's population that may consider themselves to be religious from your revolution? Are these people not to be included in the revolution somehow? Can I not join AF if I belong to a church?

I know that some organized religions have been used as a tool to control and do harm to people at various times and places. I can grasp the "religion is the opiate of the masses" concept. These are two good reasons to be leery of organized religion. This principle #10 though sounds too much like old-school communist group-think and the historical connection it has with atheism.

Is AF trying to emulate those old-school communists? Isn't even atheism a type of religious belief in and of itself really? Isn't AF being sectarian by stating if you adhere to a religion or believe in god you are not welcome here?

I think spiritual and religious beliefs are deeply personal issues that tend to evolve over time for most people. Why be opposed to religious beliefs? That does not sound tolerant at all.

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PartyBucket
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Apr 2 2009 21:09

There are at least two threads on here debating this question at length, can anyone remember where they are?

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Khawaga
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Apr 2 2009 21:23

Is this one of the ones you were thinking of Notch8?

http://libcom.org/forums/libcommunity/religion-usa-26062008

There's pages upon pages of trainwrecky discussions, but some good bits in there as well.

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Django
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Apr 2 2009 22:04
wisecrack wrote:
My comments and questions relating to AF principle 10 are genuine and meant to generate discussion and debate because I'm really just trying to understand something here. I do not practice any kind of religion myself but I would consider myself to be a spiritual person who does have some spiritual beliefs that some might call religious. My personal anarchist principle could be summed up as; I fully support a group of autonomous individuals working together to create a community based on self-sufficiency, cooperation, and intimacy with nature and our fellow human beings as opposed to our current state of alienation and paranoia.

Questions and comments on AF Aims and Principles #10 - We oppose organized religion and religious belief(s).

If the goal of AF is revolution, why exclude, say, approximately 1/4 - 1/2 of the world's population that may consider themselves to be religious from your revolution? Are these people not to be included in the revolution somehow? Can I not join AF if I belong to a church?

I know that some organized religions have been used as a tool to control and do harm to people at various times and places. I can grasp the "religion is the opiate of the masses" concept. These are two good reasons to be leery of organized religion. This principle #10 though sounds too much like old-school communist group-think and the historical connection it has with atheism.

Is AF trying to emulate those old-school communists? Isn't even atheism a type of religious belief in and of itself really? Isn't AF being sectarian by stating if you adhere to a religion or believe in god you are not welcome here?

I think spiritual and religious beliefs are deeply personal issues that tend to evolve over time for most people. Why be opposed to religious beliefs? That does not sound tolerant at all.

The AF won't make a revolution - the working class will. But we agitate for anarchist communist principles within the working class. That means a materialist understanding of the world, and the way it functions. So its not so much that we oppose religion because its 'oppressive' - class societies can use any form of ideology - but because it is incompatible with a materialist analysis of the world.

Being religious doesn't prevent people struggling in their interests, nor would it prevent us supporting them, as we support working class struggles. If we were an economic organisation, we wouldn't be excluding people on the basis of whatever superstitious beliefs they are attached to. But we're largely a propaganda group, agitating for libertarian communism and involved in appropriate struggles and organising. I'm glad we have a consistent basis as a starting point.

I don't see how its any more 'sectarian' in terms of making people unwelcome than other points in the A&Ps. After all, we are intolerant of a number of other things, which we are explicitly opposed to in the A&Ps - sexism, nationalism etc. We think the point of an anarchist organisation is to have a shared understanding to work around, not to be 'tolerant' of anything people happen to believe in.

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Khawaga
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Apr 2 2009 23:11
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Oh jesus, if you want to believe in magic and other imaginary things can you not just keep your mouth shut at meetings and not tell anyone?

This thread has been done to death.

Is trolling the only thing you are doing these days Weeler? It's someone new to the forum so s/he will not be aware of prior discussions on the same topic.

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Devrim
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Apr 3 2009 04:41

Django is very clear as always. The crucial point is 'materialist understanding of the world, and the way it functions', or to put it more simply what is the point of building a political organisation and building class consciousness if you believe God can just miracle the way to communism?

I spoke to someone from the CWO a couple of weeks ago, and he was talking about a similar thing. They had people saying "I agree with the Platform, but I also believe in God is it a problem?'.

Devrim

knightrose
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Apr 3 2009 09:19

As this is a discussion about our Aims and Principles, it would be helpful if other comrades either addressed the point or saved their commetns for elsewhere.

We put principle 10 in the principles about 4 years ago. We did so for a number of reasons - firstly because we'd had people wanting to join who said they agreed with everything and wasn't Jesus great, secondly because we knew other groups had had problems with members who were in churches or actually were priests. We had thought that the ideas were pretty much implicit to the other 9 principles anyway, we just wanted to make things clear.

Django is right. Our analysis is materialist. We understand that ideas and consciousness come from our interaction with the real world, not from some outside force or god. From our perspective, people 's ideas change as a result of the struggles they engage in. If that were not the case there would be little point in our engaging in propaganda or activism - we simply would be unable to convince the huge number of people in the world of our ideas.

We recognise that a revolution is likely to be made by all sorts of people. It's probable that many will still hold on to their old, superstitious views whilst at the same time acting in a revolutionary manner. It's my opinion that after a revolution, religion would probably wither away and die. But it's not inconceivable that some would still hold on to the old myths.

We are also convinced that the role of religion is to support the status quo. Even liberation theology does not challenge the nature of capitalism, just the way it manages itself. We would extend this critique to every established religion we have come across - no doubt someone will say that such and such a faith is different. However, we'd always ask, does this body of ideas recognise that people can make their own destiny, that it takes the collective action of a class to change society - or do they believe that all we need is for people to have good ideas? If you believe that the way you behave is dictated by an external force to the real, material world then you can't really agree with our politics. If you do agree with our politics, then you really need to examine your "spiritual" views. Do you really think they are true or is it a romantic hangover from something else?

I stronlgy recommend you read the latest issue of our magazine Organise. It focuses on religion. PM me and I'll send you a copy.

Skips
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Apr 3 2009 10:19

I think if someone has spiritual views they can also be an anarchist. I mean as long as they don't force their religion on others so I don't see why they should not be allowed to be members of AF. I mean say if Leo Tolstoy got in a time machine and wanted to join the AF to interact with its members I think it would be ridiculous not to allow him in just cos he is a christian.

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Apr 3 2009 10:41
sickdog24 wrote:
I think if someone has spiritual views they can also be an anarchist. I mean as long as they don't force their religion on others so I don't see why they should not be allowed to be members of AF. I mean say if Leo Tolstoy got in a time machine and wanted to join the AF to interact with its members I think it would be ridiculous not to allow him in just cos he is a christian.

He wouldn't agree with our other aims and principles either, so its irrelevant. If Proudhon travelled through time we wouldn't let him join for being sexist and refusing to support strikes. We're not really about being a big tent for anyone who calls themselves an anarchist, we have a clear basis thats come out of a lot of debate and discussion about what coherent anarchist politics are about - in our case we think that they are communist, internationalist and materialist. Sure, people can hold spiritual views and be anarchists, if bizarre ones, just as they can hold dubious views about nationalist movements or women for instance and call themselves anarchists. It doesn't mean we allow them to join.

As we've said, its not about oppressing others with your religion, which happens, but about having a worldview which is incompatible with a materialist understanding of the world. I'd be suspect of someone if they could reconcile a belief in magic with agreement with our aims and principles. But like we've said we don't aim to bring the entire working class into the anarchist federation, and we don't think 'atheism' is necessary for people to struggle in their class interests, or interests as oppressed groups.

Skips
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Apr 3 2009 10:47
Django wrote:
sickdog24 wrote:
I think if someone has spiritual views they can also be an anarchist. I mean as long as they don't force their religion on others so I don't see why they should not be allowed to be members of AF. I mean say if Leo Tolstoy got in a time machine and wanted to join the AF to interact with its members I think it would be ridiculous not to allow him in just cos he is a christian.

He wouldn't agree with our other aims and principles either, so its irrelevant. If Proudhon travelled through time we wouldn't let him join for being sexist and refusing to support strikes. We're not really about being a big tent for anyone who calls themselves an anarchist, we have a clear basis thats come out of a lot of debate and discussion about what coherent anarchist politics are about - in our case we think that they are communist, internationalist and materialist. Sure, people can hold spiritual views and be anarchists, if bizarre ones, just as they can hold dubious views about nationalist movements or women for instance and call themselves anarchists. It doesn't mean we allow them to join.

Did not know it was such a strict vetting procedure.

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Apr 3 2009 11:21
sickdog24 wrote:
Did not know it was such a strict vetting procedure.

I don't think joining a political organisation is like being vetted for a job at MI5. An organisation like the AF is a voluntary organisation of people whose defining point is an agreement with a certain set of political ideas.

I think the process of joining a political organisation is about clarifying whether you disagree with its political ideas. If you think that capitalism can be voted out of power in election, I would imagine that you would not feel comfortable joining an organisation that believed:

AF wrote:
6: It is not possible to abolish Capitalism without a revolution, which will arise out of class conflict.

It would be a good reason not to join the AF, not because you had failed some 'vetting process' but because your ideas weren't compatible with each others.

Devrim

knightrose
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Apr 3 2009 11:25

Membership of the AF is based on four things:
1. agreement with our Aims and Principles, all ten of them with no crossed fingers.
2. furthering the objectives of the organisation
3. working with the organisation - so no paper members, though we do allow for ups and downs and difficult circumstances
4. paying what are very low subs.

Everyone who applies to join is told these things. They join after discussing things with us and usually after a period of working with us. It's how we can trust each other.

In any event you don't have to be an atheist to join. I'm not - I'm a materialist. Atheism is just a disbelief in a god, it implies nothing about how ideas grow and change. Some AFers think it doesn't go far enough even when combined with a materialist view, they say we have to be anti-theist.

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Apr 3 2009 11:35
sickdog24 wrote:
Django wrote:
sickdog24 wrote:
I think if someone has spiritual views they can also be an anarchist. I mean as long as they don't force their religion on others so I don't see why they should not be allowed to be members of AF. I mean say if Leo Tolstoy got in a time machine and wanted to join the AF to interact with its members I think it would be ridiculous not to allow him in just cos he is a christian.

He wouldn't agree with our other aims and principles either, so its irrelevant. If Proudhon travelled through time we wouldn't let him join for being sexist and refusing to support strikes. We're not really about being a big tent for anyone who calls themselves an anarchist, we have a clear basis thats come out of a lot of debate and discussion about what coherent anarchist politics are about - in our case we think that they are communist, internationalist and materialist. Sure, people can hold spiritual views and be anarchists, if bizarre ones, just as they can hold dubious views about nationalist movements or women for instance and call themselves anarchists. It doesn't mean we allow them to join.

Did not know it was such a strict vetting procedure.

Theres no vetting procedure. People join if they agree with our politics, otherwise what would be the point of joining in the first place?

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Felix Frost
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Apr 3 2009 13:11
Django wrote:
Sure, people can hold spiritual views and be anarchists, if bizarre ones, just as they can hold dubious views about nationalist movements or women for instance and call themselves anarchists. It doesn't mean we allow them to join.

As we've said, its not about oppressing others with your religion, which happens, but about having a worldview which is incompatible with a materialist understanding of the world.

But presumably the reason you don't allow people with sexist or nationalist views into your organization is that sexism and nationalism is about oppressing others, and that it is a barrier to working class solidarity, not that it's incompatible with your abstract metaphysical worldview.

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Apr 3 2009 13:41

Nationalism isn't necessarily about 'oppressing others'. When we had an anarchist on here who was also a cornish nationalist he was at pains to point out that no-one should suffer or be excluded as part of his project, just that the cornish people should have their right to freedom and sovereignty. I've heard similar things about how regional nationalism or black nationalism has nothing to do with oppressing people, and is compatible with anarchism. We oppose nationalism because its an ideology of class collaboration, and is parochial nonsense. Religious divides are also pretty clearly used as barriers to working class solidarity.

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Apr 4 2009 06:53
Felix Frost wrote:
But presumably the reason you don't allow people with sexist or nationalist views into your organization is that sexism and nationalism is about oppressing others, and that it is a barrier to working class solidarity, not that it's incompatible with your abstract metaphysical worldview.

Perhaps I'm being somewhat dim here, but in what sense is a materialist analysis of human society simply "abstract" or "metaphysical"? Is the question of whether or not human society is shaped by human action simply abstract? Is an understanding of the world around us based on what we can see "metaphysical"?

The 10th point in our As+Ps is not primarily about a comittment to atheism so much as it's about ruling out the possibility of magic or miracles as tactical options for anarchist communists, which seems quite sensible to me.

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Apr 5 2009 16:23

If its materialist to reject religious views, Im curious as to why the anti-theist critics haven't concluded why politics sometimes takes a quasi-religious form - Im of the view like Chomsky that the reason people turn to churches, mosques, temples etc is because they're there. Not all aspects of religion is repressive in nature, some carry out important social functions and will do so well into the future. Even our history is littered with people whose politics is expressed through their religion, think Gerald Winstanley.

When the AF passed its priniciple on religion I was of the view they had made a mistake, Im still of that opinion. Theres many views people can hold that aren't materialist, why single out religion? I have known religious people who were sincere and good activists, as long as an organisation they are involved in commits itself to producing strictly atheist propaganda, and they dont subvert activities with religious nonsense then that should be fine.

Struggle isn't linear, and peoples politics won't come fully formed we should welcome developments and rise to them. I remember not long ago some of my comrades were laughing at Mormon Worker, why? If someone wants to embrace our politics even if only partially we should see this as a positive gateway and signpost that we are advancing among new segments of society, even if theres contradictions apparent.

(No Im not suggesting Mormon Worker's would per se be viable for recruitment into any anarchist communist organisation)

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Apr 5 2009 16:37

The problem is not with anyones personal beliefs in and of themselves....its when people start suggesting (or saying outright) that anarchist groups should play down or even completely discard their atheism in case it 'puts people off'. Why would we? If someone has fairly libertarian politics but a belief in a god / religion, then sorry, but their natural political 'home' may not be in a group like the AF etc, perhaps Catholic Worker, Quakers, maybe a group that doesnt have such a specific position on religion (IWW?).
Personally, I doubt there could be a social revolution while the above - quoted quarter to a half of the worlds population adhere to any sort of religious observance, so the task of anarchists shouldnt be to try to accomodate it, but to actively try to counter it.

Caiman del Barrio
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Apr 5 2009 19:14

I'd say that at its worst atheism can be quite religious and non-materialist in its fervent absolutism, especially when you look at types like Dawkins who've dedicated their entire lives to it. There's a problem inherent in conflating spirituality and agnosticism with the repressive institutions of organised religion.

I also think anyone who's 100% materialist should be sectioned and that often "spiritualist" beliefs are merely empirical or poetic expressions of stuff that materialists believe cos of science or whatever. Certain subsistence indigenous cultures "worship" Mother Earth, but all this actually means is that they understand that nature is vital to their existence - giving them fertile soil and rain and sun to cultivate crops with and therefore feed themselves - so they respect and revere it.

knightrose
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Apr 5 2009 19:37
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I also think anyone who's 100% materialist should be sectioned and that often "spiritualist" beliefs are merely empirical or poetic expressions of stuff that materialists believe cos of science or whatever.

I've no problem at all with this view. It reflects some of the discussions we've had within the AF.

I prefer to label myself a materialist precisely because I think atheism is a type of religion. I don't want to spend my time trying to disprove something nobody can prove exists. Why bother? I do want to attack the manifestations of religion which support the status quo, wealth and privilege.

Alderson Warm-Fork
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Apr 5 2009 21:30

"often "spiritualist" beliefs are merely empirical or poetic expressions of stuff that materialists believe cos of science or whatever. Certain subsistence indigenous cultures "worship" Mother Earth, but all this actually means is that they understand that nature is vital to their existence"

Right, but this is a key aspect of 'materialism' of the sort developed by Feuerbach, Marx, etc - the interpretation of religion as a distorted or altered expression of various contents derived from people's experience of the real world. To quote Marx:

"Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress"

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Apr 5 2009 22:05

And Bakunin said there are three methods of escape; the church, the bar or social revolution. Are you now going to enshrine a principle against drink and drugs?

And notch8, I'm sure even religious people are capable of acting on impulses exclusively in and of the material world on occassions, so I don't agree entirely with your point.

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Apr 6 2009 05:11
october_lost wrote:
If its materialist to reject religious views, Im curious as to why the anti-theist critics haven't concluded why politics sometimes takes a quasi-religious form - Im of the view like Chomsky that the reason people turn to churches, mosques, temples etc is because they're there. Not all aspects of religion is repressive in nature, some carry out important social functions and will do so well into the future. Even our history is littered with people whose politics is expressed through their religion, think Gerald Winstanley.

When the AF passed its priniciple on religion I was of the view they had made a mistake, Im still of that opinion. Theres many views people can hold that aren't materialist, why single out religion? I have known religious people who were sincere and good activists, as long as an organisation they are involved in commits itself to producing strictly atheist propaganda, and they dont subvert activities with religious nonsense then that should be fine.

Struggle isn't linear, and peoples politics won't come fully formed we should welcome developments and rise to them. I remember not long ago some of my comrades were laughing at Mormon Worker, why? If someone wants to embrace our politics even if only partially we should see this as a positive gateway and signpost that we are advancing among new segments of society, even if theres contradictions apparent.

You seem to be confusing philosophical materialism with historical materialism. They're not the same thing.

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Apr 6 2009 09:58
October Lost wrote:
(No Im not suggesting Mormon Worker's would per se be viable for recruitment into any anarchist communist organisation)

If thats the case then why are you objecting to the AF having an anti-religious line, if you don't think people like this should be allowed in?

October Lost wrote:
And Bakunin said there are three methods of escape; the church, the bar or social revolution. Are you now going to enshrine a principle against drink and drugs?

No, because that would be stupidly simplistic. Having a drink doesn't entail a belief in magic. The reasons for the principle against religion has been laid out above a number of times, and its already been said a number of times that it isn't necessarily oppressive and it doesn't necessarily stop people struggling in their interests. Anyway, in the UK at least, most of the population don't go to church to escape anything, hence the church dying on it's arse from non-attendance.

Caiman del Barrio wrote:
also think anyone who's 100% materialist should be sectioned

So I should be sectioned for thinking phenomena have explanations within the material world?

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Apr 6 2009 14:28
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I think spiritual and religious beliefs are deeply personal issues that tend to evolve over time for most people. Why be opposed to religious beliefs? That does not sound tolerant at all.

Personally I don;t really think its neccesary, having a statement against people joining who are ''part of religious hierarchies'' i think is more than enough, since it does the trick in terms of putting off genuine bible bashers while not necessarily excluding people are who just vaguely religious/spiritual. Also it allows a degree of flexibility on the part of the branch/local which is probly the most important thing really.
You do need some sort of statement that way though if you have a political anarchist organisation even if it should ideally be a bit looser than afeds one, because if you don;t have that statement you've got no easy way of expelling religious nuts or party hacks and so on when you need to.

raw
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Apr 6 2009 14:44

If people disagree with it then they shouldn't join. Seems simple. No one who isn't involved in an organisation should tell another organisation to change or modify their principles. If they are into that they are better going to the SWP and asking them to change their fetishing on "democratice centralism" or set-up your own organisation.

knightrose
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Apr 6 2009 16:01

We were partly inspired by Solfed's fun and games with the Rev Jim Petty when we passed the amendment to the principles. We never want to be in the situation where we have to find reasons to expel someone.
We aren't that happy with the wording we came up with, but it hasn't stopped us growing.
But ultimately it's about maintaining internal democracy as much as anything. We want everyone to be equal within the organisation, not having comrades with different trust levels. If we had an organisation that was partly based on materialism/atheism, then let religious people in we'd always be on our guard.

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Apr 6 2009 16:25
october_lost wrote:
And notch8, I'm sure even religious people are capable of acting on impulses exclusively in and of the material world on occassions, so I don't agree entirely with your point.

Im pretty sure that religious convictions stop people from acting on impulses, isnt that the point? Whether its sex, drink, or Heavy Metal.
Or revolution.

vanilla.ice.baby
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Apr 6 2009 20:52
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
I'd say that at its worst atheism can be quite religious and non-materialist in its fervent absolutism, especially when you look at types like Dawkins who've dedicated their entire lives to it. There's a problem inherent in conflating spirituality and agnosticism with the repressive institutions of organised religion.

It's absurd to claim that Dawkins has done that... It's also ridiculous to compare strong atheism, with religion, it's not irrational to want to do what you can to prevent faith damaging cmmunity any more.

Having said that I think the AFed position of excluding people with "spiritual" beliefs or some wierd attachment to a religion is fundementally flawed. It excludes a huge number of otherwise anarchist communist or anarchist communist sympatheitc people from contributing.

knightrose
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Apr 6 2009 21:03

we don't exclude people with "spiritual beliefs".

We've argued in the AF about what we mean by "spiritual beliefs" - it's amazing that people can argue for ages only to realise they mean the same thing. It seems to some extent to be generational thing - us old farts are hard-line about our terms. We agree that whatever we call it, we don't go for the whole god thing (or goddess).

What we do is exclude people who have imaginary invisible friends who can put the world to rights and put voices in their heads telling them what to do.

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little_brother
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Apr 7 2009 10:16

As was said earlier, we have examined some of these issue in the latest Organise!
http://www.afed.org.uk/org/issue71/religious_belief.html
http://www.afed.org.uk/org/issue71/