Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Big Religion Problems…Solved!

“The Big Religion Problems . . . Solved!” w/Gregory S. Paul
Equal Time For Freethought, Show 291, Jan. 18, 2009

The point of departure is paleontologist Gregory S. Paul's article "Religion, the Big Questions Finally Solved" in Free Inquiry, Dec. 2008/Jan. 2009 (vol. 29, no. 1), pp. 24-36.

Paul finds that Rodney Stark's hypothesis that religion thrives in the USA as opposed to Western Europe because of the free market and the absence of an established church is disconfirmed by accurate data. Serious religiosity decreases with rise of income and education. The USA is an anomaly with respect to other nations of comparable technological, industrial and political status.

Scientific analysis can refute the existence of a good God as well as other supernatural entities. Why then creationism and high religiosity in USA? Income disparity correlates with religiosity. We need universal health care and a social safety net. Corporate consumer culture tends to dampen religiosity. Polls show that Americans are becoming more progressive and secular. But is organized political power equivalent to raw numbers? Nevertheless, a look at the popular culture war shows that the right has effectively lost the culture wars.

But what about rise of progressive evangelicals? Paul responds that even they are helping to undermine religiosity. It is likely not accidental that the religious right opposes universal health care. But they will prove to be ineffective in the end. William F. Buckley was a fool to ally the religious right with corporate America, which undermines its culture. Opposite to Darwinism (creationism) and social Darwinism cannot coexist. Note that William Jennings Bryan did not ally the two. (Another example of capitalist culture: the decline of "blue laws".)

Religion is easily cast off. Make life secure and comfortable; religion will decline. Religion is a superficial way of dealing with hardship. Religion is not an intrinsic need.

The "new atheists"? The intellectual battle between religion is not essentially an ideological war, but a socioeconomic one. The corporate consumer culture enables the new atheists.

Paul's work will become one chapter in a forthcoming book, Atheism and Secularity.

COMMENT: While I agree with this correlation in general, the analysis of it doesn't seem to go deep enough; a more elaborate theoretical analysis is needed. A dialectical relationship has been revealed without being recognized as such. Progress does not merely eclipse regress; rather, exacerbated social tension tends to lead toward a social explosion or social breakdown. Perhaps Barack Obama has made Paul more hopeful? I remain skeptical of Paul's prognosis. I welcome Paul's thesis regardless, as it shows that social welfare and social equality are key to our problem, and therefore libertarian atheists deserve a good ass-kicking.

Kwame Nkrumah's ideology: sources & contradictions

McClendon, John. "On Assessing the Ideological Impact of Garveyism on Nkrumaism: Political Symbolism Contra Theoretical Substance," APA Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, vol. 2., no. 2, Spring 2003, pp. 61-72.

A positive spin on Nkrumah's cited influence from Marcus Garvey is often cited, but Nkrumah's final rejection of Garveyism is almost always conveniently omitted. McClendon searches for the root of Nkrumah's world view. He goes back to Nkrumah's early engagement with Christianity, evolving from Catholicism to Protestantism, and an inherent tension with African traditionalism even when the two coalesce. McClendon claims that Christianity is ineluctably tied to European imperialism, but find that what it shares in common with African traditionalism is philosophical idealism.

Doctrinaire Christianity, as the cultural expression of Western imperialism, insists on not only conferring the religious judgment that African traditionalism is a form of animistic paganism but also levies the imperialist (cultural) judgment that African traditionalism is primitive. The cultural imperatives inscribed in the Christian missionary movement works hand in glove with the political economic aims of Western imperialism. The common aim continues, for both the Christian missionary and the colonial mercenary, in terms of absolute rule over Africa. Thus colonial domination includes spiritual, cultural and above all political economic control. In light of these contradictions, Nkrumah, as a formally educated (or Western trained) African, attempts to find suitable philosophical resolution wherein the affirmation of African identity is on African rather than Western terms.


The import of Nkrumah’s sustaining of African traditionalism resides in its function as the basis of African humanity. The very nature of being human is mediated through the particularity of African traditional culture. Universality, on these terms, cannot be abstracted from particularity. The particular is always an instance of the universal for Nkrumah. [. . . . ] Though Nkrumah explains this humanist aspect of African traditionalism later in Consciencism; as we shall see, it is an integral part of his worldview from his start as a student in Ghana.
Nkrumah considers African traditionalism to be intrinsically humanist and socialist as opposed to Christianity, and effectively anti-imperialist.

McClendon also seeks to know why Nkrumah would resort to Ethiopianism. The answer can be found in its opposition to anti-African redemptionism which imposes itself on African culture, a stance inherited from 19th century black nationalism. Garvey's adherence to redemptionism proves a sticking point for Nkrumah.

Garveyism serves as buttress for Nkrumah’s assault on cultural imperialism and, in turn, Marxism-Leninism provides a theory of anti-imperialism. Together they expand his nationalism beyond African traditionalism because they engender an appropriately suited nationalism i.e. a modern nationalism capable of confronting and combating national oppression and colonialism. Therefore, the content of Nkrumah’s socio-political philosophy is fashioned by a dialectical relationship between his African nationalism (at substance African traditionalism) with the critical infusion of Garveyism and Marxism-Leninism.
Crucial to Nkrumah's development was his decision to study in the USA instead of Britain. It was an expression of his anticolonialism, yet Nkrumah found himself neck-deep in American apartheid. Furthermore, Nkrumah was irritated with the pervasive bias of Western education. At Lincoln University, Nkrumah was able to imbibe the highest achievements of Western thought and to pursue African history at the same time in association with Black American scholars.

Nkrumah also held Western education amenable to amalgamation with traditional African culture.

These are the roots of Nkrumah's future Consciencism.

My thesis that Nkrumah’s nationalism is in substance African traditionalism is not to claim that his nationalism is reducible to traditionalism. Nkrumah in dialectically incorporating Western culture into African traditionalism recognizes therein the omnipresence of cultural crisis. Nonetheless, the task of forging a modern nationalism can only come by virtue of this crisis, the necessary birth pains for a new African civilization.
Others, such as John H. Clarke, never understood or appreciated Nkrumah's attempted synthesis.

In the USA, Nkrumah was directly connected to the Garvey movement. But the Garveyite movement appears to have inspired Nkrumah only on an emotional and symbolic level, while Nkrumah was intellectually influenced by Marxism. It is also noteworthy that the long time domination of pan-Africanism by Americans, redolent of redemptionism, eventually shifted to a greater dominance of an African leadership. And Nkrumah could not accept Garveyite redemptionism, nor his compromises with imperialism, not to mention Garvey's pro-capitalist and fascist ideology.

McClendon addresses Appiah's notion of intrinsic racism, associated with nationalism, and questions whether this is applicable to Nkrumah's conception of Pan-Africanism, as Appiah charges. But "Appiah fails to recognize the import of Nkrumah’s distinction regarding Black and African nationalism."

COMMENT: McClendon's contextualization of Nkrumah's developing ideology is eye-opening. It's been decades since I read Consciencism, but it never occurred to me to pursue it in this fashion. My memory has dimmed, but as I recall, the book opened with a concise, exceptionally articulate argument for materialism, followed by a lame attempt to make modern socialism congruent with traditional African society. I also think that one edition of the book includes an appendix giving a vacuous and pretentious argument for African liberation using the symbolism of set theory. And the very notion of coining a new philosophy just to call it African struck me as even pettier than the crypto-nationalism of big-time communist dictators like Stalin and Mao. Consciencism is not a real philosophy but an ideology with a philosophical component in it, i.e. the materialist component. But McClendon's essay explains how such an ideology came to be.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stephen Ferguson on Katrina, race, class, theodicy, & atheism

Written 18 January 2009

Ferguson, Stephen C., II. "Teaching Hurricane Katrina: Understanding Divine Racism and Theodicy," Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, volume 7, number 1, Fall 2007.

Ferguson outlines how he teaches his students a Marxist-Leninist perspective on religion, combined with the fundamental issue of theodicy inspired by black religious humanist William R. Jones, Jr., author of Is God a White Racist?.

Given the paucity of public expression of black atheism (although it is increasingly visible on blogs), and the noxious saturation of black public intellectual life by religiosity, it is always refreshing to see an alternative view expressed.

Ferguson prefaces his essay by quoting three figures on the Katrina catastrophe as a case of divine retribution: Farrakhan, the mayor of New Orleans, and some rabbi I never heard of. Then he outlines his course on African-American philosophy, including the subtopic of philosophy of religion, noting that there is a neglected secular humanist strain in black thought that can be counterpoised to religious idealism. This strain includes such figures as Richard B. Moore, Hubert Harrison, J. A. Rogers, George S. Schulyer, Walter Everette Hawkins, A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Eugene C. Holmes, and C. L. R. James. I'm not familiar with Hawkins, and I only just learned of Moore's atheism, so I have more work to do.

Ferguson introduces atheism by way of Marxism-Leninism. Citing Lenin, Ferguson emphasizes that "Unlike some traditions within the philosophy of religion, Marxism-Leninism (or scientific atheism) does not dismiss religion as metaphysical nonsense." I'm not aware of anyone outside the Soviet bloc that has used the term "scientific atheism," and I'm not certain how that differs from unscientific atheism or bourgeois scientific atheism, going by the terminology. Ferguson lists six criteria for scientific atheism, the first of which is that it "is necessarily grounded on dialectical materialism." This is surely true of Soviet Marxism-Leninism, but it begs the question of just what dialectical materialism is, since even those who accept the concept have disputed its content. I don't think this is a wise way to begin, but following this strategy, I would contrast the dialectical historical materialist notion of society and history with the biological reductionism of Dawkins, Wilson and all the proponents of evolutionary psychology.

Anyway, from there Ferguson proceeds to the logic of theodicy and the contradiction between God's alleged goodness and the existence of evil. Katrina is taken as a paradigmatic case. Then Ferguson deploys Jones's work on divine racism to explore the problem, adding the caveat that at bottom the issue may be more of class than of race. Then Ferguson contrasts theological explanations with social explanations of U.S. governmental institutions' unpreparedness and indifference in the face of natural disasters, comparing the U.S.'s track record with Cuba's.

Ferguson appends one quote from Marx, two from Lenin, and one from Kwame Nkrumah. It's been decades since I read Nkrumah's Consciencism, and I don't recall the apropos quote on religion cited.

I hope that Ferguson's actual course is less rigidly schematic than his abbreviated outline presented here. I also don't think, based on what I've seen, that the Marxist analysis of religion tends to be as sophisticated as it needs to be. Historically, it proceeded out of the liberalizing demythologization of Christianity practiced by Strauss, Bauer, and Feuerbach, and taken up by Marx and Engels individually. However, even their legacy is not always fully utilized. (See for example Trevor Ling’s Karl Marx on Religion in Europe and India.)

Cornel West, liberation theologian?

Written 19 January 2009

Johnson, Clarence Shole. Book review: Rosemary Cowan (2003), Cornel West: The Politics of Redemption, APA Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, Volume 03, Number 1, Fall 2003, pp. 52-56.

Johnson points up the contradictions in Cornel West's prophetic pragmatism and sociopolitical perspective. West eschews the label "liberation theologian" because it commits one to a transcendentalism which his allegedly experientially based pragmatism negates. But how can West's Christianity avoid transcendentalism, or the issues of theodicy raised by William R. Jones? Christian theodicy is logically at odds with an empirically based conception of sociopolitical causality.

I think this highlights the bankruptcy of West's left bourgeois theophilosophy.

Richard B. Moore: black activist, Marxist, secular humanist

Written 17 January 2009

McClendon, John H. "Richard B. Moore, radical politics, and the Afro-American history movement: the formation of a revolutionary tradition in African American intellectual culture," Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, 2006.

I discovered this publication just a week ago. It contains a plethora of first-class historical articles, many of them linked to my home area of Western New York. The way to access these articles is via "Access My Library". You can either log on to the system via your public library card if your library is a subscriber, or get a 7-day pass to access all the articles you want, such as this one.

McClendon is the author of numerous serious articles on black philosophy and intellectual history and of C.L.R. James's Notes on Dialectics: Left Hegelianism or Marxism-Leninism?, the only book on James's philosophy worth reading other than Loren Goldner's Herman Melville: Between Charlemagne and the Antemosaic Cosmic Man: Race, Class and the Crisis of Bourgeois Ideology in an American Renaissance Writer.

This is an extremely rich article. It recreates the central grassroots role of the black left in Harlem, depicts the linkages between Moore and Hubert Harrison and a black atheist and secular humanist intellectual tradition that nobody knows about, highlights Cornel West's distortion of radical history, and more.

Obama's Christianity

Written 16 January 2009:

Obama's Christianity: why it might be sincere, why it might not, and why it might not matter.
Clashing Culture, January 7, 2009 by toddallengates

The author considers both sides of the question, whether Obama merely poses as a Christian for political purposes, or whether he really is one, and whether this is an issue at all. The author does not at all criticize Obama for hypocrisy or for trying to play both sides of the fence, a position which he thinks is a necessary qualification for a politician, and is largely pro-Obama regardless.

The quotes adduced from Obama are noteworthy in showing Obama's understanding of secularist values at the same time as professing a highly liberalized Christian faith. This shows once again how Obama tries to appeal to everyone and poses as a uniter. Unfortunately, the author doesn't dig beneath the surface to fathom Obama's underlying motivations or world view, or his ideology, or why America has (d)evolved as it has since the '60s, or America's ideological condition at this time.