Posts Tagged ‘Faith

02
Mar
11

A Breif Note on Liberation Theology

For a college theology class, I had to watch the 1989 film Romero– the story of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador and an advocate of Liberation Theology. In one particularly poignant section of the film, just after a brutal massacre has taken place by the Salvadoran Army on left-wing peasants and priests, a young woman asks Romero “Will I go to heaven when I die? It’s so bad here… I’ve got to have something I can look forward to…”. It reminded me of Marx’s comment “Religion is the opiate of the people”.

Now most people, even many communists, understand this comment to be Marx’s denouncement of religion as nothing but myths concocted to keep the have-nots from rising up against the haves. I don’t believe this was the point Marx was trying to make. Yes, Marx was a committed atheist, but after studying his discussions of religion, what I have found is that Marx doesn’t actually have an issue with concepts of faith and spirituality. Marx’s attacks on religion aren’t so much attacks on the ideas of the supernatural, but attacks on the use of religion by those in power to subjugate those who they were exploiting. “Religion is the opiate of the people” doesn’t speak so much on the nature of religion as it does on the predicament of the poor and oppressed. Going back to that scene in Romero, what is shown is that there are those whose lives are so utterly miserable, that an existence beyond death is the only thing that makes existence bearable. Again, Marx doesn’t decry the idea of life after death, but the conditions of life before.

Now evolving out of that criticism, or at least, out of similar views, was the concept of “Liberation Theology”, a perspective of Christianity (specifically Catholicism in South and Central America) that focused on alleviating the suffering of poor and oppressed peoples and bringing about fundamental changes in society that were the root causes of poverty and exploitation. Another scene in Romero probably gives the best example of Liberation Theology doctrine, in which the bishop leads a number of locals in prayer “Lord, you created us for freedom… Christ, you made us to live in dignity… Lord, you strengthen us in the struggle for justice…” and further commenting “The mission of the church is to identify itself with the poor and to join with them in their struggle for justice….”.

Naturally, Liberation Theology, directly attempting to improve life and the advance the rights of the powerless was embraced by the poor, and not just a few Marxists as well. Indeed, some of the goals between Liberation Theology and Communism were so similar, that governments accused local clergy of colluded with Marxist rebels (which was, in some cases true) and others to denounce Liberation Theology as Christian Marxism. Indeed, one of the most outspoken critics of Liberation Theology was a German cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict the XV. Sadly, while Liberation Theology does still exist (as well as variants of it), a its precepts were rejected by the greater Catholic Church and for many still, religion remains an opiate to many of the poor and disenfranchised.

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31
Oct
09

What Would Jesus Buy?

Today is Halloween, formerly All-Saint’s Day Eve, formerly Samain Night. The origins of the holiday aren’t important- like many Christian celebrations, it combined local traditions (in this case, the Celtic equivalent of Dias de los Muertos) with elements of Christianity. What happened nearly two thousand years ago has happened again, though this time it isn’t a case of one religion attempting to exploit another- it’s Capitalism attempting to exploit religion.

Now you’ll have heard these kinds of arguments before- Christmas has become too materialistic, Valentine’s Day is just about consumerism, and so on. Let’s face it- it’s true. Capitalism, as it always does, attempts to take advantage of whatever situation and profit from it. The problem with this in the case of religious holidays is that consumerism and religion simply do not mix.

Take Valentine’s Day for example. While there are several differing accounts, most records agree that Valentine was a third-century Christian priest who was executed by the Emperor Claudius for proselytizing. According to legend, Valentine sent his friends and supporters letters and flowers while he was imprisoned, a tradition that eventually evolved (or devolved, according to your opinion) to the exchange of romantic notes and roses today (though most stories assert that Valentine sent crocuses- but that’s off topic). Here you can see the problem for Capitalists: profiting off of historical religious intolerance isn’t exactly easy. So Capitalists came up with the idea to pervert the holiday and change it from a memorial of a saint to a day of obligated romance. As you can imagine, there’s a lot more money off of over-priced chocolates, perfumes, roses, and red construction paper than there is in the general appreciation of fellow members of your faith. The same could be said about Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mardi Gras (believe it or not, it started as a religious event), Easter, and to a lesser extent, Hanukkah and Ramadan.

So why would this matter to Communism? Doesn’t Communism claim that religion is simply the “opiate of the people”? The answer is both yes and no- interpretations vary and Communists are by no means united on what exactly Marxism’s stance on religion is- but that’s all irrelevant. My purpose here is to demonstrate that Capitalism will profit off of anything, no matter the origin or purpose. The very days and events meant to celebrate anti-materialism, community, and spirituality are warped into being the epitome of gluttonous consumerism, self-centeredness, and wasteful excess. If nothing else can convince you of the twistedness of Capitalism- this will. Capitalism is making (and with great success) an attempt to infiltrate and dominate religious holidays- it’s only a matter of time before they target religion.

So I guess what I’m trying to communicate is this. Ask yourself, the next time you’re confronted with a ten-dollar bag of stale candy; a garish, plastic snowman lawn-ornament; or carton of foul-tasting chocolate bunnies; what would Jesus buy?

30
Jun
09

Communism and Religion

A common stereotype of Communism is that it’s an Atheistic political system that advocates the brutal repression of religion. After all, in order to become a member of the Communist Party of China, one must renounce religion and in the former Soviet Union, religious institutions were heavily monitored to the point of being spied upon. Marx himself stated that religion was the “Opiate of the people”.

But is Communism actually irreconcilable with religion? One must remember that the Soviet Union was not a Communist country but a Socialist empire that masqueraded as a Communist democracy. Likewise, China is not an actually Communist but a combination of Socialism and brutal Capitalism. Communism is no more responsible for the actions of these countries than Jesus was for the Spanish Inquisition or Voltaire for the Reign of Terror. As for Marx, one must keep in mind that during Marx’s time, religion was actually used as a method for controlling the working class. Take the example of an early American Industrialist who “converted” his workers to Christianity in order to stop them from drinking alcohol and maximize their productivity.

This has led to one of the greatest controversies among Communists- the issue of religion. According to some, religion remains superstitious nonsense that holds people back. The chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA), Robert Avakian, is the author of the book Away With All Gods!, in which he makes the argument that because of the rampant pain and suffering in the world, a kind and loving God cannot exist and that humanity is better off without religion. On the other hand, such groups as the Communist Party of the USA have attempt to recruit members of the religious community. In a recent article at the CPUSA website (linked here: http://www.cpusa.org/article/articleview/1050/1/27/), the head of the newly created Religion Commission, Tim Yeager, explains that “We want to reach out to religious people and communities, to find ways of improving our coalition work with them, and to welcome people of faith into the party…”.

So which view is the correct one? Does Robert Avakian’s Atheistic stance fit better with Communism, or does the CPUSA’s acceptance of religion mesh to a greater degree?

The answer is simple- we’re not sure. Who knows which view Marx would’ve sided with had he been presented the arguments. Who can say whether or not that decision would’ve been right? After all Marx was only human and fully capable of making all the errors humanity’s prone to. Either way, Marx is dead but Marxism goes on.

And of course, so does the controversy…