“God is a concept by which we measure our pain”, John Lennon, died 8.12.1980.
I had the recent privilege of facilitating a small discussion group as part of a People’s Climate Assembly. The focus was on “fossil-fuelled Capitalism and how to end it”, and the ten attendees were self selecting from a range of alternative topic choices they turned-down. To my surprise, not one suggested “system change”, that is, the need to end Capitalism and the Capitalist State machinery.
Instead there were as many answers, that is, political positions, as people in the group – indeed more as the discussion developed. One young man was insistent to the point of proselytising that a very specific (and religious) form of meditation was the single answer – if only everyone in the world would practice this each day we would solve the climate crisis and live in harmony.
Another, perhaps more predictably, offered her vision of a “back to the land” non-material existence, each of us growing our own and sharing without money. We all agreed that money was a problem.
A third, wheelchair-reliant, developed the current prevailing ideas of localism and the need, first, for all to educate themselves out of prejudice and discrimination, before anything could happen. In short, not one thought that challenging and disempowering the Banks, Corporations and their political protagonists inside the State machinery was either essential or necessary.
I was somewhat dumbfounded, the group having just been part of a loud and angry march for climate through our city centre. And I was finally completely silenced by a woman who had remained quiet in the discussions for the best part of an hour, only to speak assertively to conclude that every species had a period of longevity within the conscious designs of Nature and Evolution, and humanity’s time was surely up now, accept it. We’ve had our time. She promptly upped and left.
A recent global study suggested 40% of all peoples believe in witchcraft. A majority, by a mile, believe in god as a higher power of some sort. Evangelical churches represent a small minority despite growing fast.
Conversely, the 2021 UK Census shocked the right-wing nationalists with a statistic that less than 50% of of the population considered ourselves as Christian, with a third claiming no religion. The likes of Farage and his neo-fascist Trumpian mates argue that this is the death of British (meaning White) culture at the hands of their contrived opposition to so-called “racial-mixing” and immigration by non-whites.
Whatever slot you inhabit along the political spectrum, the sense of vulnerability, displacement and threat appears to be increasing. Nevertheless, in terms of human consciousness, I would suggest that an overall decline in religious fervour represents the rise in respect for and adherence to science, evidence, rationalism and facts. Indeed, for human society to change in the ways essential to prevent climate collapse, this appears essential. We have to follow the science that demands the prevention of emissions of human-made global warming gases.
The mix, and at times integration, of politics and religion propagates the influence of an infinity of metaphysical constructions rather than focus upon practical action to protect the physical, material world. The presumption that ideas alone can change reality creates powerful forces that can determine or deny science.
Why do we fall prey to belief-over-reality? Preferred ideology. It should be of no surprise that a commitment to nation state and its ascribed religious order will determine an individual’s world view on all other matters. Trump and Farage may be easily identified as predatory chancers seeking aggrandisement by exploiting the tensions of the time, but their followers truly believe in White Male Western Christian superiority, national imperialist domination and the hierarchy of separate races.
Without routine access to current knowledge and a broad range of analysis, grounded in discourse, we can all get sucked-in to all kinds of out-of-this-world fantasies. We all suffer from Gramsci’s contradictory consciousness – having been born into a conflicted world of competition based upon where you are born, your social class and private wealth, imposed gender identification, national cultural forms and valued abilities, we tend to accept the dominant ideas we are bombarded with from on high, morning, noon and night.
Because humans are gregarious and human survival depends upon cooperation, the base tension inside and between us all is the clash between individual satisfaction and collective survival. The synthesis has to be a compromise between personal and societal needs. So, in practice, we go with the flow that what we are told is right and proper whilst always living with a sense of anomie – what is expected of us is neither fulfilling nor are the outcomes as beneficial as they’re made out to be.
We are asked to believe we are lucky to be free and self-determinant whilst finding it hard if not impossible to meet the bosses’ productivity demands or pay all the bills once we’re back home.
In a Christian country with a predominantly Protestant ethic of individual responsibility and accountability we tend to deny that we are all products of circumstance. Social being determines social consciousness. We are classified and stratified and live within our imposed economic bubble. Self blame for our personal failures to achieve and succeed are a result. And believing in a higher power, whether Christ or the Universe, becomes a source of solace as well as resignation.
Of course, nothing is that simple. It is quite possible to believe in a god and in the material causes of catastrophic climate change. And there is a broad continuum of faith: one may have the absolute conviction that all that happens is by the will of a god; or pursue the construct of the totality being more than the sum of its parts – the entirety of the universe creating a force that directs and determines outside and beyond the singularity of material existence – “it was meant to be”, or “the Universe made it happen…”.
Socialists, materialists engaged in seeking a better human world, should not be “anti-religion” in any combative sense. There is an understanding of the need for an inner solidity in the midst of such outer conflict. Karl Marx was not being disparaging when he wrote of religion being an opiate of the masses…”the heart of a heartless world”. We need hope, even if only in a better after-life. And the “Spirit of Mankind” need not be a reference to anything beyond the material universe but instead the recognition of collective endeavour – humanity is more than the sum of its parts, and has agency.
Were humanity to achieve true suffrage, a self-determination sourced from mutual co-operation, shared production and equitable distribution in collaboration with Nature and the Ecology, individuals probably wouldn’t need religion in order to feel solid. Imagine.
Imagine the current world, where the vast majority need religion in order to cope. We are offered subservience to a greater power in order to accept our place in a scheme-of-things that doesn’t feel right and that we don’t fully understand. We are fed Faith as opposed to Fact, often to feed the power and avarice of others. And where the very apparent failures and corruption of organised religion prevent us from believing, there are alternative opiates on offer: The Flat Earth Society, the anti-science survivalists, the conspiracy theories, a fresh life on Mars…
We need many more People’s Assemblies. On all matters and none. The enemy right now is an alienation that scares and separates each from the other, constructed, deepened and maintained by those who wish power and control over us. In this age beyond Reason we have to assert reason once again. Shout-out the Science, megaphone facts. It is, after all, not thought that changes reality, but action.