Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Fascist Occult Unconscious of the World We Live In

"Fascism has awakened a sleeping world to the realities of the irrational, mystical character structure of the people of the world."

    — Wilhelm Reich

The paranoid fascist mentality is deeply ingrained in modern civilization. It is a deadlier mutation of the paranoiac magical thinking of primitive man, except that in a world in which one is menaced more by the forces of society than the forces of nature, occult thinking personalizes an impersonal and incomprehensible sociooeconomic system by constructing a narrative of mysterious omniscient, omnipotent, and omnimalevolent entities who operate according to a consistent master plan.

Stark naked sociology of religion

While I'm trying to remember just why I can't stand Rodney Stark, let me call your attention to this article:

Stark, Rodney. "Religious Effects: In Praise of 'Idealistic Humbug'," Review of Religious Research, 41: 3, 2000, pp. 289-310.

Stark indicts the entire sociological tradition for denying religious belief as a socially causal factor. Stark aims to prove that certain historical events attributed to material causes have their roots in religious beliefs. Stark also argues that a sociology of religion ultimately rests on a sociology of gods.

Stark's examples are indeed interesting, but he missed something in his analysis of what's wrong with Marxist as well as other sociological explanations of religion.

If you'll notice, the problem centers on attributing ostensibly religious motives to economic or political motives. Apparently, a fair amount of bad Marxism was done this way. But positing a duality of motives in this way obscures the way in which people interpret their experience through the lens of their ideology, and more fundamentally, how their very subjectivity is formed.

The question, never satisfactorily addressed within the atheist movement, and apparently not fully via sociology, is what is religion exactly and what is its relation to social causality? Only dialectical social theory can address this riddle, not economism, not a crude conception of ulterior motives, not an assumption that irrational mythical thinking is a mechanically determined epiphenomenon of rational material interests, not just a translation of subjective motivations into putative objective material motivations without taking into account the formation of subjectivity itself.

Stark has some interesting observations, and his notion of the consequences of causal efficacy attributed to gods is worth investigating, but he remains trapped within the parameters of bourgeois sociology.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Marxism & the Jewish Question

There are certain foci of social and historical investigation, which, when plumbed to their depths, unravel the entire weave of the modern world. Such are the roles of Jews in Europe and blacks in the Western hemisphere. In addition to the question of instrumental politics, there is the theoretical grasp of the collective existence of these groups, which, I argue, is the most symptomatic indicator of the progress and limitations of social theory.  Thus, to advance one of my research projects . . .

Marxism & the Jewish Question: Selected Bibliography

This links to a related project of mine:

L. L. Zamenhof & the Cultural, Religious, Professional & Political Context of 19th-20th Century Eastern European Jewish Intellectuals: Selected Bibliography

Here is another resource, from the Marxists Internet Archive:

Jews, Marxism and the Worker’s Movement

Earl Browder, the Communist Party, & religion in the 1930s

It must have been at least twenty years ago I looked up what Earl Browder had to say about the Communist Party's policy toward religion: it was in an issue of The Communist published between 1933 and 1935, I think. While I can't find the appropriate issue on the Internet, a web search suggests that what I have in mind is the report of a 1935 discussion with a group of students at Union Theological Seminary. And there is this publication, which almost certainly reprints the article in question:

Browder, Earl. "Religion and Communism," in Communism in the United States (New York: International Publishers, 1935), chapter 22, pp. 334-349.

This is an entirely different publication:

Browder, Earl. Religion and Communism. New York: Workers Library Publishers, 1939. 16 pp. (Address delivered at the regular morning service of the Community church in Boston on March 5, 1939.) Also available via Scribd.

And there is this:

Browder, Earl. A Message to Catholics. New York: Workers Library Publishers, June 1938. 16 pp.

Programmatic statements do not, of course, give us a full picture of the orientation stated here in practice, especially, given that in the USA as elsewhere, the CPUSA had to ingratiate itself with a variety of religious populations. I have not systematically studied this period, so I will confine myself to a few stray references. The Communist Party of the United States: From the Depression to World War II by Fraser M. Ottanelli depicts a sea-change in the Party's style with the advent of the Popular Front. An anti-communist study, Communism and the Churches by Ralph Lord Roy (Harcourt, Brace, 1960) credits Browder with putting a halt to the chronic ridicule of religion in the Party.

Naturally, this would be a treacherous minefield or tightrope to walk (take your metaphor of choice). I'm no fan of Browder, Stalinism, or pandering, but Browder's bold statements of 1935 should be studied today. In comparison to the flabbiness of the left today, they are exemplary.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sikivu Hutchinson in Moral Combat (1)

I've been meaning for some time to acknowledge publication of Sikivu Hutchinson's landmark book Moral Combat: Black Atheist, Gender Politics and the Value Wars. I am sure there is nothing like it in the atheist literature in the English language and that in many respects it is a welcome change from the usual narrow preoccupations of the atheist/humanist literature.

Here is a recent interview:

Moral Combat: Interview with Dr Sikivu Hutchinson
(Interviewed by Nathalie Woods, editor of the blog "Echoes of Commonsense")

There is much to applaud here. The contradictions embedded in the origin of Black American Christianity, for example, need to be better understood that simply chalking it up to the "Stockholm Syndrome" or the slave mentality (strong as the latter is). There is one assertion, though, that I find quite questionable:

‎"Ideologically, black atheists are distinct from white atheists in that they emphasize social justice and human rights rather than just fixating on science and the separation of church and state. "

I do think that the overall culture of American atheism & humanism, as represented by the preoccupations of its publications, speakers, leaders, and media stars, is indeed fixated on the natural sciences and has little of value to say about anything else. The rank and file, however, is more varied. Furthermore, there is no lack of reactionaries among black atheists, or of those enamored with the same science-spokesmen that white atheists adore. One thing to keep in mind about American "progressives" and leftists of any color is that they have no constituency, and anyone who pretends to speak for blacks is indulging in self-deception.

America's racial divide indeed as a rule engenders very different reference points for blacks and whites, and this sometimes correlates with different philosophical or political perspectives. However, that correlation can no longer be counted on, and to draw a hard and fast line between white and black atheists is symptomatic of something amiss in allegedly progressive politics.