‘Religulous’: Methadone for the Masses

Amid an escalating crisis, the difficulties of life under capitalism enter conversations quickly. “I lost my home, but si dios quiere (god willing) we’ll get another one soon…as long as I don’t get laid off,” said a friend, a worker and single mother of two. She is not alone, as the California East Bay Area where she used to live has the fourth highest number of foreclosures in the nation. Today more than ever, workers’ lives are directly under attack, so why such faith?

“Religulous,” a documentary featuring comedian Bill Maher, outlines various reasons why people shouldn’t adhere to religion. He interviews creationists, a Christian congregation, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, ex-Mormons, and others. The film debunks religious claims to morality and history, concluding that believing in religion is like believing in fairy tales. “Religulous” links war, politics, and foreign policy to religion — interviewing a senator and using clips of Bush spouting blurbs of god, country, and freedom in relation to the Iraq War.

The combination of facts and comedic ridicule proves entertaining, but Maher’s elitist cynicism (he’s a libertarian apatheist [apathy + atheist] who is pro-Obama and pro-Israel) solves nothing. “Religulous” illustrates the antiscientific nature of religion, but falls short of an adequate analysis of its function under capitalism. Maher tells us why many religions are absurd, and how believers are manipulated, but he does not tell us why they have a grip on a large section of the workers of the world.

Marx and Engels analyzed the material (real-world) conditions that gave rise to primitive religion. These include fear of death, fear of life, material uncertainty and so on. Under capitalism, as workers’ lives fall under more vicious attacks during crises, these insecurities intensify. In tough times, workers often turn to religion, and as Marx said, “this society produces religion, [which is] an inverted world-consciousness.”

“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. It is the opium of the people.” My California friend’s religious faith then stems directly from the attacks of capitalism and the uncertainty of our lives. Instead of fighting back, workers withstand abuse. Religion deprives workers of class-conscious fight-back.

Marx concluded that religion can only be uprooted through a complete reorganization of society and the material conditions which give rise to religion. A world free from religion entails a world free from poverty, layoffs, unaffordable healthcare and so on. Workers must have faith in the working class’s ability to understand this reality, not a misplaced faith in religion.

Communism may not bring heaven on earth right away, but it will certainly destroy this capitalist hell where workers are made homeless overnight. Lenin too saw religion as taking hold of workers “chronically menaced by the unforeseeable calamities of capitalism.” He stated “the modern class-conscious worker…contemptuously casts aside religious prejudices, leaves heaven to the priests and bourgeois bigots, and tries to win a better life for himself here on earth.”

To save the world, “Religulous “calls to battle all anti-religious people with ‘better judgment’ to rationally argue away the problem of religion. But it cannot simply be argued or rationalized away. Communist revolution is necessary to get at the core of the real problem. The solutions proposed by “Religulous” are in essence anti-materialist, mistaken, and superficial. Workers, through class struggle culminating in communist revolution, will triumph against an unjust world and religion.

Offering a clear path for revolution, Lenin states, “No number of pamphlets and no amount of preaching can enlighten the proletariat, if it is not enlightened by its own struggle against the dark forces of capitalism.” Religion is one among many of these dark forces, and the struggle continues. Maher is not as clever as he seems…

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