God, Fatherland, Family
For centuries, this triad has been pointed to as the heavenly ideal of civilization, while on earth the profane value of money has reigned undisputed. With the passing of years, these ideal values have been fading. Having to keep the head bowed as a sign of submission, there was no way left for a human being to look on high. Adoration gave way to deference, deference gave way to indifference and indifference gave way to derision. The church? A consecrated branch of the nursing home. The barracks? The regret of old veterans and the training ground of frustrated young men. Marriage? Almost a mere bureaucratic formality necessary for getting a divorce from a relationship that was never lived with intensity.
Still in recent decades, we are witnessing a reversal of this tendency. If the family still meets with many difficulties in reaffirming itself—the incompatibility of love with any obligation noticed and the dowry revealed as an awful investment even from an economic perspective—on the other hand, the fatherland has decidedly regained ground. With the hateful corollary of pledges to the flag and choirs chanting the national anthem, the fanatically patriotic spirit has begun to accompany all military and sports efforts that “our boys” carry out in other countries without making much distinction between soldiers and players. The important thing is to win, beating the enemy, and provoking a collective embrace that can seal national unity.
No more rich and poor or exploiter and exploited divided by extremely distant interests and social conditions, but only Italians fortified by the pride of identity. Typhoid is a disease that is known to strike the entire organism once it has entered circulation. “Its clinical description,” the experts explain to us, “is characterized by a clouding of the awareness, which manifests in more or less deep drowsiness, prostration, and in some cases, delirious episodes.” Precisely. What is more delirious than those teeming mass demonstration, where millions of people living a miserable existence rejoice over a victory or a blessing that changes nothing in their daily lives?
Nationalistic victory, religious blessing, here also with a certain confusion of sides. The fact remains that the one from the ancient triad that has made the most powerful comeback is undoubtedly God (in his multiple forms and denominations). Until a short time ago, the number of his believers seemed to be so reduced and their arguments so childish, at least here in the west, that his opponents declared that they had no more reason to fight him. Too easy, it wasn’t worth the effort. You might just as well give a damn about denying the existence of Santa Clause.
Religious matters were confronted with tact and circumspection. Hand-kissing and honorific titles were squandered on high prelates, and no public figure dared to call himself an “atheist,” preferring at most a bland “agnostic” or “non-believer,” so as not to mess with the delicate sensibilities of devotees and run up against public outcries. In every way, everything led us to think that we lived in an already established secular society.
But then, look at how the faithful have started to increase, more every day, the oceanic “Pope boy” rallies have given the lie to the geriatric nature of believers, and the church, aware of the new weight it has gained, has begun to raise its reactionary voice and to try to meddle in every sphere of civil life.
The old derision in the face of the church has turned back into indifference, the indifference into deference, the deference into adoration. There is almost no one left who laughs at priests.
“War of Civilizations”
This is how much of the mass media has portrayed recent international events, which have given a considerable contribution to the revival of obscurantism that we are witnessing. It was practically inevitable that a declaration of war by “Moslems”—as the attackers of September 11, 2001 have been described—would cause a corresponding response from “Christians.” The enemy’s identity, through opposition, defines one’s own. But the heat of the moment has not favored any debate on the question, only a hysterical clamor that has been progressively slipping into fundamentalism on both sides. This brusque description of the sides on the field is in itself yet another demonstration of how religion acts as a smoke screen for much more trivial motivations, in the past as well as the present.
Of course, no one really thinks that Bush is guided by God or Bin Laden by Allah, and everyone knows that they are both also rich oil magnates and that their families have done discreet business together. And yet—while it’s confirmed that crusades hide significant profane reasons behind sacred pretexts—it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of the role religion plays in this conflict. A role that goes well beyond that of the apparent justification of façades. The exegetes of historical materialism maintain that no one is convinced to go blow themselves up for the glory of god alone, and the behind such actions one must therefore look for an economic goal. In out opinion, this is a half-truth. It is certainly true that huge economic and political interests move behind the kamikazes, but the fact remains that nothing moves one to martyrdom so well as religious fanaticism.
Therefore, if those behind slaughters that are now bathing the planet in blood are a great deal more interested in the progress of the stock market and power plays than in sacred books and prayers, this doesn’t take away from the fact that those who carry out these acts hardly find the moral strength to sacrifice their lives in business balances. A strength that it is possible to find, however, in religion. And this has nothing to do with the dozens of virgins promised to Islamic virgins, about which Christian altar boys have been so ironic, the very same ones who believe in the son of a virgin resurrected a few days after death.
It is useless to look for a way out of the religious mire by playing on rationalism, because reason is powerless before the absurd. This is why a scientific atheism, however rigorous it might be, however capable of examining and refuting all the data on which religion is based, is destined to remain incomplete. This does not mean that it is irrelevant or counter-productive, only that atheism is like a prism whose glow is given by the fusion of light radiating from the myriad of facets that compose it. From rationalist critique to blasphemy, the fronts to open in the struggle against god and his work of exploitation and humiliation of the human being are countless. But each of these fronts, taken in and for itself, is incapable of launching the decisive attack for winning this war.
If religion is “the opiate of the people…”
The reason is that it is a powerful drug against social problems. Criticizing its side effects doesn’t cure them. In the absence of anything else, sooner or later people start taking this drug again despite its obvious harmfulness. Why would it be otherwise, since ultimately it is the only medicine that has been invented? However, this doesn’t just happen with heavenly authority, but also earthly authority. Isn’t it true that no matter how much the state is criticized, for most people it remains the only model of social organization? If church and state have thus gone on in love and accord for so many centuries—teaching resignation and obedience—it is because both provide human beings with a “solution” to their problems.
With the secularization of society, it was thought that the religious moment, which was considered the infancy of human awareness, had been surpassed. Thanks to science, one could probe the entire universe, penetrating the deepest secrets of nature. There is no more Olympus where gods reside out of human sight. Now all this secular progress is shown to be a monstrous illusion. From one side, because religion influenced scientific development much more than was thought (as David F. Noble has shown in his book, The Religion of Technology), from the other side, because in the face of the irreversible devastation and manipulation technology has caused, one almost wants to miss the archaic animistic beliefs.
What became of that new egalitarian and sympathetic ethic that was supposed to originate from the collapse of religious principles, which many atheists of the past hoped for? All the bigoted religious morality cast aside, free will has not intervened to enlighten human beings, but rather uncurbed abuse of power to disgrace them. The overcoming of sexual prohibitions has not led to libertinage or free love, but to the illicit trade in flesh for professional and other kinds of favors. The negation of the sacredness of human life has led neither to the acceptance of euthanasia (as moderates hoped) nor to the updating of tyrannicide (as extremists hoped), but to the indiscriminate slaughter of “innocents,” including children.
Religion—with its system of rules, obligations and sanctions—provides a meaning, a community and a hope to human beings, who continue to be alone in the world with their misery and anguish. Earthly authority hasn’t understood that it is not enough to full a person’s stomach to keep him docile. Monks, with their ancient formula of “pray and work,” had intuited this centuries ago. Work would still be the best police of the individual, but no one loves to live their whole life in prison. And what are our days if not “endless punishment”? Once matter was forced to work, it was necessary to give spirit a daily occupation as well. This did not happen, quite the contrary. In the name of a vulgar economic determinism, passed off as materialism, every impulse that reaches for something other than the satisfaction of our more or less biological needs is denigrated.
Besides, if church authorities promise future salvation as a recompense for present suffering, what do civil authorities have to offer in exchange for a life of obedience? A pension? “No, the destiny of man on earth is not that of the beast that he leads to work… Happiness is the goal toward which all beings aim when they listen to the great voice of nature. Two wings exist for achieving it: Hope and Freedom,” so said a revolutionary of the past. But Freedom alone is Happiness achieved; Hope is nothing but a surrogate, the consoling imaginary anticipation. And this is still the force of religion. While the state, being the negation of Freedom, cannot give happiness, the church at least makes Hope available through prayer. While the profane world guarantees only material well-being and exclusively to those to whom it can permit it, the religious world grants absolute well-being to anyone who is content with what he already is and has: “Blessed are the poor because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Thus, it becomes easy to understand why the more social conditions deteriorate, the more pressing the need to find comfort in faith becomes. The religious fundamentalism that is now exploding in Middle Eastern countries, as well as on the outskirts of many western metropolitan areas, is the result of a life without prospects. Why should dying as a “martyr of Islam,” remembered and honored by millions of people, be worse than dying in a secular manner from hardships, isolated and forgotten by all? Why should dying in battle be worse than surviving in from of a television? This is why only by giving life a perspective, one that has never appeared up till now, that we will be able to finally eliminate the conditions that make religion necessary.
What are religions?
It cannot be repeated enough. All religions are lies; all religions are repression; all religions are tools of domination. Churches, mosques, synagogues or temples are all places that one enters or leaves only by bowing down to the one on high.
One of the most widespread social conventions of our times is the one according to which every religious opinion is supposed to be respected, fanaticism alone being considered execrable. As if fanaticism weren’t an intrinsic characteristic of every religion, as if the very concept of the sacred did not imply the punishment of transgressors: which punishment and which transgressors, this is only a difference of nuance. If there are integralists in Algeria who attack women who don’t wear the veil, how do you describe those in the United States who assault doctors who practice abortion?
We are even witnessing a curious dispute over the supposed superiority of Christianity over other religions. In any case, there are those who consider it better than Islam, whose contempt for women is emphasized. And yet, leaving aside the christian treatment of women in the past, the renunciation of sensual pleasure except for the necessity of conception, is today an integral part of Christianity. Nuns, especially cloistered nuns, are still themselves symbols of the negation of the woman. If women kept locked up with the veil imposed on them arouse horror, hasn’t the woman who is beaten or murdered because she is “too” uninhibited become nearly normal in its banality? Besides, if we move the discussion to civilization in its entirety, the woman most appreciated in the East in the one dressed the most possible, while in the West, it is the one undressed the most possible. The thing has all the feeling of being two poles of a single humiliation.
The fact is: there aren’t good and bad religions. Religion as such is the negation of the intellect and the most authentic feelings, the repression of desires, the mortification of dignity, as well as the incitement to resignation, the defense of submission, the exaltation of misery. Religion protects the powerful, blesses soldiers, endorses the police, prepares executioners, as it excommunicates and condemns every rebellious thought and action.
But it is useless to blaspheme the masters of heaven while praying to those on earth. The one can’t live and prosper without the other. “Neither god nor state” was and always will be an essential condition for human liberation.