|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
How to respond to religious ideas
ISSUE No.110 of Socialism Today contained a very good review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Like other atheist writers such as Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, Dawkins launches a ferocious attack on religion and its influence in society.
This has prompted counter-attacks from the pro-religion camp, with titles such as The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, by Alistair McGrath. The fact that The God Delusion is a bestseller in Britain should be seen as a positive sign given the growth of the religious (particularly Christian) right wing in the US and in other parts of the world. Dawkins and his ilk should definitely be supported in their fight against reactionary ideas, such as the teaching of creationism in schools, which is becoming more widespread, particularly through Christian fundamentalists running schools via City Academies. Marxists are dialectical materialists, so by definition atheists.
As Niall Mulholland points out in his review, however, Marxists have serious differences with the method that Dawkins uses. Dawkins seems to believe that religion can be argued away through strength of argument alone. Undoubtedly, in the odd case, a ‘believer’ may read his book and be convinced to see the world in a different light. But Dawkins fails to see the relationship between religion and class society. Under a class society, it will be impossible to wish away religion, as religion stems directly from society based on the rule of one class over another. Lenin wrote in his small pamphlet Socialism and Religion (1905):
"Under no circumstances ought we to fall into the error of posing the religious question in an abstract, idealistic fashion, as an ‘intellectual’ question unconnected with the class struggle, as is not infrequently done by the radical-democrats from among the bourgeoisie. It would be stupid to think that, in a society based on the endless oppression and coarsening of the worker masses, religious prejudices could be dispelled by purely propaganda methods. It would be bourgeois narrow-mindedness to forget that the yoke of religion that weighs upon mankind is merely a product and reflection of the economic yoke within society. No number of pamphlets and no amount of preaching can enlighten the proletariat, if it is not enlightened by its own struggle against the dark forces of capitalism. Unity in this really revolutionary struggle of the oppressed class for the creation of a paradise on earth is more important to us than unity of proletarian opinion on paradise in heaven".
The widespread interest and discussion caused by The God Delusion and other atheist works is positive and something that Marxists should intervene in as more people question what is going on in the world. The works of Lenin and other Marxists, and importantly the method employed, is something all those who want to rid the world of capitalism and all that goes with it, should study.