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Bob Avakian: Religion, Morality ... Polarization, Repolarization

by RosaRL Sunday, Sep. 25, 2005 at 6:13 AM

EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of excerpts on various subjects—drawn from conversations and discussions, as well as more formal talks, by Bob Avakian—which we will be running in this newspaper over the next period of time. This has been edited for publication, and subheads and footnotes have been added

Religion, Morality ... Polarization, Repolarization Religion, Morality ... Polarization, Repolarization Two Solid Cores in Fundamental Opposition

by Bob Avakian

Revolution #015, September 25, 2005, posted at revcom.us

If you go back to what I was speaking to earlier, with the metaphor, or image, of the pyramid as two ladders,1 and you begin to see the ladders slide down and the center not holding them together at the top anymore, then you see more fully the relevance and importance of the comment by Hertzberg in The New Yorker,2 which I cited earlier—in effect: “Uh oh, now not only does the radical right have a lot more power, but this is an opening to the radical left”—because there is the whole prospect of the center’s not holding in the way it has been.

Now, it is crucial to grasp that a positive repolarization is not going to happen spontaneously: it depends to a tremendous degree on what we do, and how we understand—and act on an understanding of—reality. But, in fundamental terms, it is true that things can increasingly be posed in terms of two solid cores in opposition to each other, at opposite poles. Yes, there are and will be a number of other forces in the field. It’s like Lenin said: It is not a matter of two armies lining up, and one says, “we’re for socialism” while the other says, “we’re for imperialism.” There will be many gradations and complexities. But there will be, or can be, as this unfolds, two poles in fundamental opposition to each other: on the one hand, their solid core—the solid core of bourgeois rule now—with no elasticity; and, on the other hand, the solid core that is represented by communism and the communist outlook and method, as we must understand and apply it—a solid core with a lotof elasticity. And then, if things do go that way, there is going to be a fight—I’ll go back to Newt Gingrich and his comparison between the situation today and that leading into the Civil War in the U.S., in the middle of the 19th century3—there will be a fight to the finish, between those two poles and the forces they are able to rally around them.

Yet, again, the challenge this poses for us—which we must very clearly recognize and very seriously confront—is that everything will not just “fall in our lap” in a favorable way, Humpty Dumpty does not fall apart that way. What it emphasizes is the need for—and what we have to grapple with is the means for—a more favorable repolarization, not tailing in the wake of the present polarization, to say nothing of simply ignoring it in a Pollyannish kind of way—or dealing with it in a way that would amount to a pitiful and paltry excuse for communism, instead of actually grasping and applying the communist outlook and method in a living way, as I have been speaking to.

FORAYS INTO THE OTHER CAMP—PEELING FORCES AWAY FROM THE ENEMY

One of the things that is important in the statement that was put out by our Party right after the 2004 election (“The Will of the People Was NOT Expressed in This Election”4) is that it does speak to the need for repolarization, very correctly, and it raises the specific point that we need some “intervention” with these people who are under the sway of fanatical Christian fundamentalism, who (as that statement very accurately describes them) are seriously addicted to Armageddon fantasies. You go into bookstores, even mainstream bookstores, and you see these reactionary fundamentalist “rapture” books by people like Tim LaHaye (whose wife, Beverly LaHaye, is the founder of Concerned Women for America, one of these right-wing Christian Fascist groups—the “mothers in the fatherland”5 Nazi type of thing). You have millions of people in the U.S. buying these books about the rapture. These people are indeed seriously addicted to Armageddon fantasies—and they live to a very significant degree in this self-contained, self-reinforcing world, which these books are also a big part of fostering and reinforcing. And, as our election statement says, there needs to be some serious intervention with these people. We need to actually organize some of this intervention—and be prepared for how tough it’s going to be, not only because of the nature of these forces and everything I’m saying about them, but also because the state is not on our side. The Christian Fascists may not actually have “god on their side” in reality, but they do have the state on their side in very significant ways.

We need youth in particular and people in general who are armed with a communist outlook going right up into these people’s strongholds—at their churches, and so on—leafletting them and engaging them in debate. We need all kinds of creative ways to engage these people. Not simply to curse at them—they need to be engaged and struggled with in an overall sense to confront things they have never confronted. They have a self-contained world, and I’m not naive about the prospects in the short term, but this needs to be done with strategic prospects and strategic considerations in mind. They need to be confronted with the reality that they are sealed off from. Many of them, not all certainly but many of them, live in suburbia and are actually rather well to do. It is wrong to think that these are all people who are poor and uneducated. Many of them are educated, in a certain way. You know, there is a book by Robert Kaplan, The Ends of the Earth, and one thing that really struck me and stayed with me from that book (although it is overall not a good book at all) is something that he cited having to do with Islamic fundamentalists: There is nothing more dangerous than education on a narrow foundation.For example, Mohammed Atta, who was apparently one of the main organizers of (and participant in) the September 11 attacks, was an engineering student. That is not to put down all engineering students as narrow-minded and backward, but there is something there, having to do with the truth that education on a narrow and a mechanical basis, on a narrow foundation, can be very dangerous. This applies to many of these Christian Fascists, who dwell in a largely self-contained world. As the author Mark Crispin Miller once put it: If you get your news only from Fox News and listen to Christian radio or whatever, you have about as much understanding of the world as people in the ninth century. Now that is hyperbole, but it speaks to something very real.

GOING AFTER THE FOUNDATIONS OF FUNDAMENTALISM

In connection with all this, there is a point I have been emphatically calling attention to for a decade or more: It is essential to go after the foundation of this reactionary religious fundamentalism and biblical literalism, this Christian Fascism. I have noticed that a number of people have commented in watching the DVD of my speech on revolution6: “Wow, I’m really surprised at the way he goes after religion, I didn’t know you could do that.” Well, it is possible to do this—and it is crucial to do it. Now, we shouldn’t go after this in an unthinking dogmatic way, but the point that I’ve been hammering at has to do with a key contradiction I have spoken to a number of times—the contradiction that these Christian Fascists are objectively caught up in—the contradiction between an insistence on a literalist interpretation of the Bible, the insistence that the Bible is, in every word and detail, the true word of God that must be believed and followed to the letter, with all that the Bible actually calls for —all that in contradiction to what most people in this society would consider just, decent, and even sane.

There is a very sharp contradiction in all that. In things like the book Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones and the recent talks I gave on religion,7 I have pointed to some examples of the horrors that are not simply described but are actually advocated, indeed insisted upon, by the “god” of the Bible and his representatives—things which are in fact praised and celebrated in the Bible: slavery; the mass raping of women and the murder and plunder of people who practice other religions; putting to death homosexuals and women who are accused of witchcraft; murdering women who cannot prove they are virgins when they are married; executing children who strike their parents or simply are rebellious against them; and bashing in the heads of babies among those peoples who have angered this “god.”

These things can be found throughout the Old Testament of the Bible in particular, including in the first five, so-called “Mosaic,” books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—as well as in the book of Joshua and so-called “Prophetic” books like Isaiah (for example, in Chapters 9 through 14 in Isaiah).

And here is another example, which was cited in the book Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism,by Susan Jacoby: In the second book of Kings, it tells how one time the prophet Elisa was mocked by some children in a place—and the “god” of the Bible, worshipped by Elisa, sent forth female bears to attack the children, ripping apart their flesh. Here is how the Bible describes it (in 2 Kings 2:23-24):

“He [Elisa] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, `Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’ When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.”

Now, of course, any decent person in today’s world would find this barbaric. But it is very important to recognize that these Christian Fascists actually insist on believing and accepting everything that is said in the Bible; and the fact is that there is nothing in the Bible, including the horrendous thing I just cited from “Second Kings” as well as the other atrocities to which I have referred, which, as a matter of principle, these Christian Fascists would not do. And we must understand, as well, that they are deadly serious about imposing a literalist interpretation of the Bible and of “biblically based law,” on society, if they can get into position to do so. The leaders and conscious political operatives among the Christian Fascists will and do have tactics, and even some sophistication and subtlety at times, when they feel that is useful; but, again, speaking in fundamental terms, there is nothing in the Bible that, in principle, they don’t intend to implement—including the kinds of horrendous atrocities I have mentioned here.

In this connection—and in case anyone does harbor the illusion that challenging people caught up in this and winning them away from it is going to be easy—I can refer to the experience that people in the RCYB (Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, the youth group led by the Party) had in taking out a Party statement around the movie The Passion of the Christ in New York: When people swept up in this Christian literalist fundamentalism who were going to that movie were confronted with this contradiction—between the horrors the Bible advocates and celebrates and what people today would be expected to regard as just and decent—a lot of those people said, “Well, if that’s what the Bible says, I guess that’s what we’ve got to do.” So we can’t think that just presenting this contradiction to people in sharp terms is going to instantly win them over or cause them to fundamentally call into question their religious fundamentalism. We have to keep hammering at this, and we do need some organized “intervention” of revolutionary youth and others to go out and, in an organized and systematic way, confront these people and challenge them—not simply or essentially in terms of why they voted for Bush, not in the framework of electoral politics and the splits within the ruling class as such, but in more fundamental terms about the very nature of society, and the kind of world we should want to live in, and what different values and morals have to do with that. And while there are ways in which we can and should unite with others, including progressive, thinking religious people, to challenge this literalist reactionary fundamentalism, there is also a great need for us to do this directly under our own banner because communists are the only ones who can fully take this on and fully present an alternative to it that is actually in the fundamental interests of the great majority of humanity.

There is a need to be taking this on, much more frontally and much more systematically, in the realm of propaganda generally, but also, yes, even in the realm of direct “intervention,” political intervention to challenge those who are presently caught up in, or significantly influenced by, this Christian Fascism. There is a need for taking on the question of morality and values—and exposing and countering the actual morality and values of this Christian fundamentalism in particular. There is a need to hit directly at the foundation of this, to hit at the faultline that lies within this Christian Fascist formation—the contradiction between a literal insistence on the Bible and what that would mean, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, what most people can consider decent and just in a modern society. There is still time to hit at that contradiction, that faultline, before they close it up. But we’d better recognize what’s at stake and what the urgency of this is.

THE BATTLE OVER MORALITY, BRINGING FORWARD A POSITIVE MORALITY

There is also another dimension to this whole question of hitting at this Christian Fascist morality and its values—that is, hitting politically at the actual effect of implementing the morality and values these people are being organized around and are embracing, in opposition to the kind of morality and values that should be the determining and influencing and characteristic morality and values in a society and world that people should really want to live in. So there isn’t just the negative aspect of hitting at this faultline, hitting at the very foundation of the religious fundamentalist basis of their morality, but there is also bringing forward the positive alternative—bringing forward positively the kind of morality people should be won to and should gravitate to and take up.

This also has basically two dimensions, or two levels. First is our full communist morality—and that is the principal aspect and main thing—because, as I said just a minute ago, only that communist morality can fully address and pose an alternative to this fascist fundamentalist morality and values. We need to go back to things like Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones and draw out from there and popularize what communist morality is and why it corresponds to the fundamental needs and interests of the masses of people.

But there also is a need to unite people more broadly in bringing forward, popularizing, and struggling for a positive morality: Besides our full vision of communist morality, there is also a need for a kind of “united front progressive morality,” if you want to put it that way. This, too, needs to be popularized, and we need to unite with other people to popularize it, even while we are in no way holding back from, and in fact are vigorously bringing forward, our full communist view of morality. Our Party’s spokespeople, our “statespeople,” our comrades and friends who have some history and knowledge in this sphere have to be mobilized to take up this sphere and, as a key part of this, to work in a good way with many progressive forces in waging this battle, both to oppose the Christian Fascists and to bring forward a positive alternative.

In a discussion with some progressive religious people, one of the things I said to them was: “You have to take the position, as a basic dividing line stand, that the Bible should not be taken literally—or else you cannot fight these Christian Fascists. The fact is that if you take the Bible literally you will support, you will back, and you will get drawn into, horrors. This has been true throughout history, and it’s true right now. The Bible is not the literal word of God, and it cannot be taken as such.”

Actually, many of these progressive religious people are very knowledgeable—not only about the Bible and religion but about other things as well. But a problem is that they generally don’t know how to wield what they know most effectively and powerfully. For example, I watched someone with this progressive religious perspective on TV, on a panel with four Christian fundamentalists, and these fundamentalists kept bringing up the thing from the book of John (in the New Testament of the Bible) about how only through Jesus can you get to the father and get to heaven, and all that kind of stuff—and how, if you don’t take Jesus as your savior, the Bible says you will be condemned to eternal damnation. They kept insisting, “Don’t blame us, that’s what God says, look, it’s right in the Bible.” And this one guy, who was trying to oppose them from a progressive religious standpoint, was trying to say, “Haven’t you ever heard of historical criticism, don’t you know that this was inserted into the Bible after the time of Jesus?” No. They don’t know—and/or they don’t want to know—about that. They just have a viewpoint and agenda they want to push, and that’s it.

This progressive religious guy couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Well, people like him have important things to say, if the ability to say this can be wrenched out of situations and confrontations like this, and if they can be led to say it in effective and forceful ways.

A key aspect in all this is mobilizing—and, in the correct sense, leading—progressive religious people to join this battle much more fully and systematically, and in much greater dimension and numbers, and to wage it more consistently and thoroughly. These people objectively need leadership, orientation and direction—even to fight in the best way on terms that are essentially in line with their own views. Our objective cannot realistically be to win them all over to communism—that’s not going to happen en masse. For most of them it’s going to happen, if at all, somewhere down the road. But it isn’t necessary for them to be won to communism to play a very positive and very important role in this battle. But even to do that “on their own terms” they need us to be putting forward our full communist view of this and to be carrying out a healthy process of unity-struggle-unity with them, in relation to this crucial battle against Christian Fascism and reactionary religious fundamentalism in general, and in relation to the largest questions about the way the world is, why it is the way it is, and how there could be a radically different and far better world.


NOTES:

1. See “The Center—Can It Hold? The Pyramid as Two Ladders” in Revolution #4, May 29, 2005.

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2. See “The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era,” Revolutionary Worker #1274, April 10, 2005.

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3. See “The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era,” Revolutionary Worker #1274, April 10, 2005.

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4. The statement appeared in Revolutionary Worker #1258, Nov. 14, 2004.

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5. This is a reference to the book Mothers in the Fatherland, by Claudia Koonz. In this book Koonz examines how a number of women played prominent roles in organizing other women around the program of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s—in particular around the Nazi “ideal” of a woman as a breeder of her husband’s children and keeper of his home, and as an embodiment and bearer of religious tradition and training. This was captured in the Nazi slogan “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche” (Children, Kitchen, Church).

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6. Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About is available in VHS or DVD from Three Q Productions (threeqvideo.com).

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7. Bob Avakian, Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality But Not Traditional Morality (New York: Banner Press, 1999); “God Doesn’t Exist—And We Need Liberation Without Gods” and a second talk, “Christianity and Society—the Old Testament and the New Testament, Resistance and Revolution,” are available online as audio downloads at bobavakian.net.

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This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolution Online
http://revcom.us
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