This is an introduction to the series of posts that overall seek to answer this question.
I am an atheist and a Marxist and I would argue that only an atheist can seek to answer this question. If I was ha was a believer in any religion the answer to the question, “Why is there Religion ?” is very brief. God or maybe gods / goddesses created the earth and everything in it including us and that is that.
Someone I am sure will say that Marxism is a religion. That is nonsense Marxism is a philosophy – a way of thinking. I have no time, a neither did Marx himself, for charlatans who treat Marx,Engels, Trotsky’s writings as biblical texts containing absolute “ truths”. See my post https://oldsocdog.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/capitalism-and-marx/.
I start with religion’s origins. The history of humankind is the history of human society. So I begin with the earliest form of human society hunting and gathering. The the next stage of human development came with agriculture. I deal with this in Ancient Matriarchal Society. With end of this also came the end classless “ communist” society and beginning of class domination and exploitation. I explore the origins of Christianity which is I hope to show a hybrid of patriarchal and matriarchal religion ideally suited to a society which itself was hybrid of patriarchal class structure while maintaining the base matriarchal economy.
“Religion exists, how shall we explain it? Well, by man’s need of religion. Domination exists, why? Simply because man has a desire for domination. Is this not similar to ‘explaining sleep as a force that puts to sleep’? Can anything be explained in this way? By the use of this method, everything in the world can be explained without turning an eyelid: the state is explained by the desire for a state; art by the desire for art the circuit by the desire for the circus.
“The love of liberty is an inherent tendency in every man. Nothing could be further from the truth! Was the ‘love of liberty’ an inherent tendency in Nicholas II or his class? When we have understood this, we are faced with the next question. Why do certain men have this tendency while others do not? And then – oh horror – we must get back to the conditions of their existence etc.” (N.I. Bukharin, Historical Materialism. p. 230)
Human beings do not just live on earth, we are the earth, a part of the earth that can move about, and think and do things, neither are we alone in doing this – but each individual is really nothing more than a lump of earth nonetheless.
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
That much of Genesis I agree with. Society is therefore part of the earth. When we talk of human beings ruining or wrecking the earth, of course this cannot be true. We cannot ruin the earth any more than the trees can. This is all a matter of the Earth’s changing equilibrium.
Religious belief is part of the society we live in. Nobody believed in Jesus Christ in ancient Egypt nor could any one have been a Christian 200 years ago in Japan or China. Christian beliefs have only spread through different parts of the world through the invasion of western society. Islam, a religion stemming from a similar root, likewise spread eastwards and westwards by invasion, sometimes direct and military, sometimes through colonial penetration.
Religions are an aspect of material society therefore, the spiritual element exists through imaginative emanation from the material world. There is a saying amongst the Blacks of South Africa.
‘The white man came and told us about Christ, he told us to close our eyes and pray. When we opened them, he had stolen our land.’
The European colonialists invaded South Africa, undermined its society and restructured it according to the way most beneficial to themselves. Society was changed and so was religion.
As Marx says “man created god in his own image”. True enough, but God is constantly being recreated. Religions believe they own the absolute truth but the absolute truth changes constantly, this called “discovering God’s word”.
So yesterday, God was definitely opposed to homosexuality, in the Catholic Church, he still remains its enemy, but I sense a weakening of resolve – no weakening in Islam however. The C of E God does now not quite approve wholeheartedly, but is not opposing any more. If there is only one God, someone has got it wrong. Maybe it is western society that is changing its general view of homosexuality? God is reluctantly plodding on behind.
The Zionist God however, is far more materialistic. Sexuality takes second place to God’s concerns about land distribution. God chose Palestine to be the home of the Jews – no argument. The wall, downright brutal oppression, murders, victimisation, imprisonments, destruction and settlements – God said this shall be 2000 years ago, so the Palestinians do not have argument or a defence – after all, who can argue with God?
In the eighties and nineties it was becoming more popular to say that all religions that exist are really aspects of one religion, that Christ, Allah, Buddha and so on are merely aspects of the same god. ‘We all find our own way to salvation.’ This belief is still one aspect of modern society – all societies today are enmeshed or entwined into a single ‘world economy’ and daily grow more dependent and more alike to each other.
The idea that Christ was the same as Allah was rejected in mediaeval times and nothing could appease the difference between western society and its expansion and eastern society also attempting to expand, the religious conflict, there, was equally as violent.
If we take Northern Ireland as an example. It was the only places in the world where there still existed Protestant/Catholic conflict. Is it the religious belief that caused the struggle? Is it convincing to think that the IRA was fighting so that the Pope could rule the whole of Ireland? Was it Paisley’s belief really that the North would be run by Catholicism? The religious ‘conflict’ such as it was only a vehicle for political conflict.
It may be said that religions have a lot in common, they do, and this is because societies have a lot in common. With very few exceptions, nearly all religions in the world today are based on one simple principle – domination and submission.
God (whichever one) is the Lord and dominates, we submit to him. This principle exists because every society existing (with one or two tiny exceptions) is built on the same principle of domination and submission.
There is a ruling class that dominates and other classes which submit. Each society is like this and inside each there is a ranking order – a hierarchy. You submit to those above you, you dominate those below you and most religions embody this principle.
What about the question, why are we here? This question sounds very deep, it’s the trump card of religious belief – without God we have no reason to be here and without God we have no purpose.
Translate the question into the every day world. Why do we make cars – a factory work might ask – the answer the people need them. The bosses know that, that is why they are bosses. In religious terms
You are here to do as you are told. God has a purpose but that is not for you to question, you serve his purpose by submission to his will, exactly as you serve your boss’s purpose by submission to his.
Religion, therefore, tries to tell us that we are here for a purpose but that purpose is a mystery – its in the head of God but by carrying out the laws and statutes of God we are fulfilling God’s purpose whether that purpose means famine, starvation, war disease, oppression on any scale he knows why it is done.
So Why Are We Here?
Religion also seeks to answer that question. Unlike the first question whose answer never changes and never will while one class of humans force others to submit to their will, this answer changes all the time as human society changes.
If we had lived 200 years ago and looked at the world around us the thing that would have struck us first would have been the beautiful planning of it all, the Hand of God appears everywhere. Everything would seem to fit so perfectly. Flowers attract bees, bees fertilise flowers. Every species perfectly fitted for its environment, every environment with its perfectly fitted plants and animals. The human body also, as God created it perfect in every respect, organs for seeing, noses for smelling, breathing, working reproduction,, and child rearing – a monumental piece of planning. Every thing perfect in every respect – except human society itself -, which was full of misery, starvation, oppression, disease.
Religion explained all that. God made and planned everything, every animal, every plant as it was on the day it was created. Then he created man to be ‘Lord of Creation’ over all the other things. As a model he used his own self. But he went and gave man and woman free will, so what did they do? Man wrecked (it through the agency of woman) by wanting to know too much, not minding their own business – sneaking a bite from the tree of knowledge.
Thus humans, though made in the image of God are rotten and sinful, God therefore introduced the miseries of life to test us. The job of human society is to submit and find perfection through the exercise of free will.
However, as society emerged out of feudal darkness, these explanations became inadequate. They did not suit the will of the new industrial ruling class who had shaken society up – wrench power from the old landlords of the aristocracy. If the old patriarchal society could plunge into oblivion, to be wiped out and replaced by a new one so could religious explanations as to society’s origins and purpose
Darwin explained – he was a product of this new society – that life is not perfect. The plants and animals are not as they were created and have been far from perfect. Indeed millions of species have died out because they were not perfectly adapted. Evolution meant that change is going on all the time. Creatures that are suited live and reproduce, creatures that are not die.
In the changing world, in a world of competition between species, those that are the ‘fittest” survive, the others die out. Darwin could only think like this because he lived in a world where society was changing and he lived in a world where competition both inside society and between societies was daily more bitter. Malthus, a political economist who reasoned that society was a bitter competition for resources and the excess number, opened his eyes to nature and the weakest would die. His views became to be accepted by society for the same reason.
The religious part of society had to adjust. The church had to accept that part of the Word of God, hitherto an absolute truth – the creation – is an ignorant human myth and not actually the word of God at all.
Yet they maintain that God ordained evolution without mentioning it in the scriptures. Despite this glaring error, the parts of the word referring to the magical resurrection of Christ are still ‘fact’, the ‘proof’.
Today, evolution as the source of absolute truth has mostly been incorporated into official religion. There are pockets of dogged “creationists” hanging on in there. The world is not now being ‘created’ perfect but is ‘evolving’ towards the Kingdom of God.
Today God has to be more of a scientist, he no longer creates things out of ‘dust’ as before but must be equipped with a complete knowledge of atomic physics. He’s a lot less embodied, no longer a sort of Father Christmas in the sky but a force spreading out to the galaxies. He must have set off the Big Bang (who else?). One wonders why such a God would be interested whether someone eats pork or not, or who lives in which tiny bit of the cosmos as opposed to another.