New postings on my new website. I plan to update and relocate my current blog content to it in the next weeks and months.
Author Archives: radicalprogress
My first videoblog in ages.
Whites who kill blacks in Stand Your Ground states are far more likely to be found justified in their killings. In non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent.
Today, I am grieved that yet another attack on the basic humanity of African-Americans has been visited upon my friends and fellow citizens. The Supreme Court decision to strike down a section of the Voting Rights Act a few weeks ago has been followed by a Florida criminal court verdict that George Zimmerman was not guilty of even manslaughter (let alone second-degree murder) when he gunned down Trayvon Martin on a sidewalk.
At the root of this verdict is a new category of laws called “stand your ground’ which have been enacted in several states, often with the backing of ALEC, a right-wing organization dedicated to rewriting legislation across the nation that weakens civil rights for all citizens, not just Blacks. We now know enough about the SYG laws to condemn their result as giving rise to a new wave of lynchings in the name of protecting white privilege. A state with SYG laws in place will have over 100% more not guilty verdicts for white murders of black men than other states without comparable laws. That, my friends, is nothing less than lynching by another name. And, it smells fouler than death itself.
I walked through my racially mixed suburban neighborhood on the border of Chicago last night after the verdict was all over the news. There were groups of blacks on several street corners talking heatedly about the verdict. I walked several blocks and eventually crossed into Chicago to an all-night drugstore to buy a fan for my overheated apartment. At no point did anyone ask where I was going. I passed two police cars with white cops (I saw no black cops this night) and they never stopped me to ask what I was doing out so close to midnight. As I walked home with my fan, no one attempted to rob me. I never felt in danger. Sirens rang out twice as I walked, and my heart sank as I figured that the police were doubtless pursuing young black men, likely without justifiable cause.
Many whites and even some few Blacks who embrace our legal system justified the Zimmerman verdict. I personally have little faith in the objectivity of mostly white juries. Can anyone seriously believe that Zimmerman had any reason to pursue Trayvon? There was zero evidence of a crime by him, though the mere act of leaving his vehicle is evidence enough for me that Zimmerman is a dangerous racist vigilante. I don’t need to know if Trayvon used a chunk of concrete to fight back, that would have been justifiable self-defense against a loaded gun. But, no, Trayvon was black and therefore had no civil rights. This verdict sends a deadly warning to all young black men, “stay off white folks’ sidewalks.” The dream is deferred, justice is denied.
At the risk of being Freudian, I suspect my radical ideas stem from early childhood experiences of growing up in a dysfunctional family that relied on religious shaming, arbitrary punishment, and abuse both physical and emotional to keep us kids in line. It’s a mystery to me that my younger brother has chosen to quite enthusiastically embrace the Pentecostal subculture that I find so often toxic. My little sister has also embraced the religion, but as we are 12 years apart I can understand that her experience of parenting was quite different from mine. The phrase, “daddy’s little girl” may capture a significant part of the reason for her differing perception of my father and the family religion.
One crucial element of my childhood was that early on I drew a sharp line between my father and Jesus. Dad preached Jesus as the divine savior of humanity from its sinful destiny in an eternal hell. My angle on Jesus perceived him as a healer and rebel who sought to upend the oppressive social (and familial) order. I took activists like Dr. King and even Gandhi as modern reflections of Jesus’ care for suffering humanity.
This divide between my father’s religion and my view of Jesus crystallized into an adult identification with far left visions of a world revolution against racism, capitalism, sexism, and authoritarianism. No matter how far I’ve traveled from supernatural savior theology, my fundamental gestalt is still premised on those early projections of Jesus as the incarnation of perfect eternal love. While I can accept that much of that idealization of Jesus is flawed, I’d rather discard Jesus himself than give up on the fundamental importance of love. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to de-center the place love has in my politics. I no longer believe that “God is Love” as John’s first epistle declares. I’ve ceased to understand love as the personal character of an omnipotent God who loves me more perfectly than I or anyone else could ever love me. Yet, such a grand cosmic theology still tugs at my wounded soul.
I know that love didn’t exist as an element of the Big Bang. The universe was once full of cosmic fire that only cooled slowly to precipitate galaxies and solar systems. One star among trillions may give birth to a living planet, and maybe only very few living planets give birth to creatures capable of love. However, that potential for love, for reciprocal nurture and empowerment, seems to me to be the grandest of all evolutionary accomplishments.
And so, my rejection of capitalism, conservatism, racism, sexism, and the whole panoply of suffering that I call the “death-systems” is based on what seems to be a bottomless yearning within myself for love to become omnipotent, to radically transform our oppression into soaring emancipation. What I once viewed as cosmology – “God is Love” – has been turned into futurology – “Love must become the Divine Reality.”
I tend to encounter two general views of religion in my life. Most people consider religion an important – if not ultimately important – part of their lives and/or the world. In fact, one philosopher has suggested that we should define religion as the quest for ultimacy or ultimate values. This first group contains many of the people with whom I am most directly connected, such as my wife and most of my extended family.
The other less common view is that religion is an outdated legacy of our irrational past. In our scientific era it is claimed that we can do without grand mythologies and deities. Everything is reducible to natural causes and processes. While I have deep sympathies and respect for this viewpoint, my extensive intimate connections with people devoted to religion rules out any sort of complete rejection of the importance of religion.
Perhaps I’m just a contrary old man, but I feel that I can embrace both the most reductionistic physical science, yet also remain devoted to the living heart of religious aspirations. Long after the Age of Faith and the Age of Reason are gone, I believe humanity will live in an Age of Love, Love’s Communism, which will be built upon the fulfillment not only of science and technology, but the maturation and judicious distillation of the world’s cultural legacies, including religion. The Age of Love’s Communism will embrace all the authentic passions of Jesus, Marxism, Anarchism, Buddhism, Allah, and the Goddess. “Do I contradict myself? I contain multitudes.”
A Marxist friend of mine posted the following pointed comment (directed no doubt in part at me) on his Facebook wall:
“….something that bothers me about two friends I know who call for liberation theology: both of them admit that they think that a non-natural vision of G-d is incoherent or at least has no evidence for it. Yet they think we should encourage a socialism based on religious convictions. This seems problematic to me because I think people should be told the truth as we know it, and if there is no supernatural anymore, then the entire framework of liberation theology must be different. Otherwise this seems much more cynical than they see it. I for one am not necessarily interested in the masses raising up for something untrue-so if there is a theological turn necessary, it’s got to be justified in more than pragmatism or the failure of prior social forms. Both notions of “progress”–the technocrat one and the religious one seem just as based in a notion of teleos of which we have little evidence and of which we must exclude opportunity costs.”
For Communists to redefine our movement as the fulfillment of humanity’s authentic aspirations we need to change how we understand religion and include religious persons within our movement and organizations. Religions are the product of centuries of the evolving articulation of ultimate values and Communists have no choice but to work with religious people in creating the revolution. The old Leninist strategy (which owes something also to Marx himself) of making Atheism the de facto ideology of the movement has decisively failed. Communism cannot be reborn without religious expressions of its goals and values.
This doesn’t mean that we all have to become Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Pagan Communists. The model for the way forward has been demonstrated by the many interreligious dialogues held over the past two centuries. A signal event in world dialogue was the first “Parliament of the World’s Religions” held at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. The PWR event set off a sequence of dialogues between scholars and religious leaders around the world to work on mutual understanding and conflict resolution. As global communications in the 21st century bring ever more interaction across the boundaries of religion, opportunities for fruitful collaboration and risks for deepening hostility must be faced with a higher consciousness of the ultimate unity of humanity in view, transcending historical boundaries of exclusion, whether religious or secular.
A flat-footed atheism is profoundly out of place in our post-secular world. While science has succeeded in demonstrating that the natural world operates according to regular laws of cause and effect, the hardest problem remaining is the very nature of human consciousness. If evolution has given us superior brains for problem-solving, why did it take millenia for a purely naturalistic worldview to emerge? It would seem that the emergence of religion served some sort of functional cultural adaptation in human history. Religion, regardless of the specific mythology deployed is principally aimed at creating a cultural and social unity that binds together men, women, and children in communities that can survive external threats and internal strife.
Atheists tend to focus on the “supernatural” claims of miracles, invisible conscious beings (deities), and view of the afterlife. In pre-modern times, these mythological features were not considered “super” to nature, but to be part of the world as experienced by everyone. When a calamity befell a community, an evil spirit was at work, since natural explanations were often impossible to obtain. By the same token, when forture blessed a community, a beneficent deity was at work. These spirits and deities weren’t in some non-physical dimension orthogonal to the world of ordinary experience, but rather the Greek gods lived on Olympus, a mountain visible throughout Greece. The Greek gods were also directly assigned characteristics that represented the values of the Greek culture, such as power, beauty, and wisdom. It was only as Greek philosophy under Plato began to confront the problems of mythological incoherences – which is what one expects from a tradition that was constructed over generations of storytelling – that the gods began to be consigned to a non-physical realm of ideas and virtues.
Religion therefore wasn’t the guardian of the supernatural world separable from the natural world, but rather the integrative cultural deposit of all the truths a society depended on for its operation from art to agriculture. The naturalistic aspects of theism were included indivisibly within the supernatural conceptions of theistic religion. Such aspects included the psychological benefits of an ultimate ethical commitment, humility towards the non-human forces of nature, the transcendent importance of human emotional values (most supremely that of love), the ultimate incomprehensibility of existence (including epistemic modesty), a trans-historic sense of human oneness via cultural legacies, and the sense that at bottom the universe isn’t malicious.
Classical religions also include non-natural aspects that were the organic result of pre-scientific understanding of the world. The progress of science at experimentally revising humanity’s world-picture under conditions of capitalism, androcracy, white supremacy, and authoritarianism mean that most human beings are denied the education and emotional health to perceive the world in naturalistic terms, so the emotional appeal of supernaturalism wins popular assent.
Overturning the conditions of oppression, repression, domination, and exploitation requires mass struggle and so the natural religious inclination of humanity must be transformed by struggles on multiple fronts. This means enlisting the narratives of Jesus, Buddha, goddesses, and Allah for the global project of human emancipation by means of pan-religious alliances. Social struggle will transform incrementally and sometimes rapidly the gestalt of the masses as they struggle towards more worldly goals. The disappearance of supernaturalism will happen as a by-product of cultural revolution.
Such cultural transformation will come from within the same social struggles for more freedom as all other emancipatory gains. Under the present social systems the gains are always tenuous and incomplete. As humanity unites to fight for freedom from oppressive authority, literalistic religion will be challenged for its own arbitrary authority. As human beings are complex, emotional creatures the transition from supernatural to natural thought will be uneven and occasionally regressive. The literalism that treats sacred texts as perfect truths will over time be replaced by more critical and revolutionary approaches to religious tradition.
In many ways this is already happening even in societies like the US where religious identification is strongly prevalent. Surveys that go beyond simply asking if one believes in God to asking people to choose from multiple definitions of God find that many people understand theism in ways that are not considered orthodox. 26% of Americans consider God to be an impersonal force rather than a personal being. Roman Catholics have an even higher percentage of impersonal theists, 29%. In a denomination that prides itself on its long history of theological orthodoxy, this finding is quite significant. Religion does not have a fixed for all time meaning, but is evolving with the rest of human civilization. The religion of the future will likely still have Jesus and Buddha as characters within its dramatic narrative, but they won’t be the same Jesus and Buddha as our ancestors.
In response to Dario Cankovic’s Socialism and Religion, Redux:
“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions.”
— Karl Marx, Contribution To The Critique Of Hegel’s Philosophy Of Right
I have a love/hate relationship with religion and layers upon layers of both antipathy and affection for this complex reality. The same thing could be said for the revolutionary struggle. The revolutionary struggle is my primary allegiance; my personal happiness means very little while millions languish under the yokes of the death-systems of capitalism, sexism, racism, authoritarianism, and ecocide (to name only five of the central enemies of all beings on earth.) It seems most urgent to me today that we build alliances with all who are committed to the revolutionary struggle and that emphasizing our common ground is critical. I’m very aware that most people on the far left will disagree with my approach to religion, but it seems to me that the left really has no choice but to rethink how it will work with all potential revolutionaries, the majority of whom are religious — because the majority of humanity is religious.
Recently, SkePoet posted a critique of Bhaskar Sunkara's "Beyond Warm and Fuzzy Socialism." He quotes from Marx's "Critique of the Gotha Program," a text that is often quoted these days as objecting to equality as a socialist value. SkePoet specifically takes aim at Sunkara's invocation of the French Revolutionary slogan, "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity." He chides Sunkara for using the term "equal respect," which he charges is "fundamentally liberal" not socialist.
A recording of a presentation and Q&A I did on the topic of Jesus and Communism.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.
A while ago, I wrote a post listing brief counterarguments to the claims usually used to "disprove" Communism. To this day, it's been one of the most read pieces I've written, so I thought it might be time to expand it a bit. Written below are the most common arguments people use against Communism, and my responses to them.
Communism Has Been "Tried and Failed":