Monday, September 20, 2010

Maoist Critique of Maoist Atheism

Critiquing Religion Without Understanding It: Avakian’s Away With All Gods! by Pavel Andreyev

Andreyev effectively critiques Bob Avakian's slipshod arguments. It is unfortunate that these occasional pieces should be puffed up into a major intellectual statement. Andreyev's critique itself is flat and lacking in insight. In exposing Avakian's lapses in fact, logic, argumentation, and historical knowledge, Andreyev sticks to the surface. Worse, he relies on another pompous ass, the Maoist philosopher Alain Badiou, intellectual flavor of the month in the Anglo-American world, as a counterweight to Avakian's misunderstanding of Christianity.

The section "A Suggested Alternative Approach" (p. 11), a proposed alternate narrative on the history of religion, is as insipid as Avakian's approach. There's nothing dark about religion as presented in this narrative; the view here is indistinguishable from the Whiggish view of liberalizing religion. There's nothing perverse or vicious about Christianity per se as one would find in Edmund G. Cohen's The Mind of the Bible-Believer, for example.

Avakian approaches the issues of anti-Semitism, Zionism, and Islamism, about which Andreyev offers no additional insight. Avakian's many criticisms of Michael Lerner are critically scrutinized, but Andreyev is mainly perturbed about Avakian's failure to indict Lerner for being a Zionist. There is no criticism, however, of the pompous middle class pandering to popular religiosity and the vacuous moralizing of the "politics of meaning". While Avakian's constant accusations of patriarchy in religion are banal truisms, to take one outstanding example, Andreyev never rises above truism himself.

Andreyev does not intelligently address Avakian's slapdash treatment of African-American religion: he criticizes Avakian's ultraleft elevation of Malcolm X above Martin Luther King, Jr. only by pointing out the religiosity of Malcolm X (pp. 17-18).

Andreyev continually points out Avakian's obtuseness in argumentation. One example treated at length is Avakian's sophomoric scoffing at the concept of the Trinity. Andreyev claims, apparently accurately, that Avakian has no understanding of the nature of myth. But who does Andreyev rely on but Karen Armstrong, a religious liberal whose approach to history and religion could not be more insipid and intellectually contemptible.

I've despised Maoists since my first encounter with one in high school decades ago. Childish irresponsible simpletons they were and will always be. How unfortunate that Andreyev's review is fundamentally no less idiotic than the book under review.


Jim F. said...

I am puzzled. When you reviewed Avakian's book two years earlier, you seemed much more positive about it. Although, you don't seem particularly impressed by Andreyev, your opinion of the Avakian book seems to have gone way down. What happened?

Ralph Dumain said...

I suppose that after two years of not thinking about Avakian, Andreyev convinced me that Avakian is even more superficial than I thought. When I met the folks selling Avakian's book, they seemed much more reasonable than I remember their party being, so perhaps I was more charitable at the time.

Jim F. said...

That's sort of my take on the Avakianites. I have known some fairly bright people who have belonged to the RCP, but the really bright ones, generally don't stay for very long. On the other hand, a lot of those people never seem to get over it, and they will spend years bitching and moaning about Bob Avakian, who doesn't strike me as being a substantial enough figure to merit that sort of criticism.