Monday, May 30, 2011

Socialism and Religion - 2 -E. Belfort Bax

In this state of mind they are confronted by a new Asiatic sect. They become initiated. At once the scene changes. This lifeis indeed pronounced hopelessly worthless. There is no citizenship here, no happiness for the individual, not even the apathy of the “wise man.” But as this life crumbles into nothingness, there rises the fair vision of the “city of God,” joys beyond imagination, not the “apathy” of “wisdom,” but the “peace” of the blest. Hic Rhodus hic salta! Religion is henceforth separated from life, the religious sphere of another world is set over against the irreligious sphere of this world. Earth is drainedof its ideal to feed Heaven. Society established on this basis involves the antagonisms of temporal and spiritual powers, of “world” and church, of religious and profane, &c.,&c. What is said applies not only to Christianity, but more or less to all the so-called ethical or universal religions, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Mohommedanism, &c.. They are the expression of the decay of the old life, and hence they one and allcentre in the individual and in another world, theirconcern with this world being purely incidental.
We daily see around usthe result of 1,600 years of“other-worldliness” on character and conduct. Men and women upon whom the mere greed for gain palls, are driven to the one ideal resource their education has given them, or they can comprehend, the hope of aglorified immortality for themselves. Those only who know from bitter experience the smile of honest contempt with which such people greet the idea of the sacrifice of personal or class privileges, or anything, else for a social object, can appreciate the depth to which the canker has eaten into their souls. Yet it would be unjust to say that these people are bad. They are religious and anti-social just as there aremany others irreligious and anti-social.
In what sense Socialism is not religious will be now clear. It utterlydespises the “other world”with all its stage properties – that is, the present objects of religion. In what sense it is not irreligious will be also I think tolerably clear. It brings back religion from heaven to earth, which as we have sought to show was its original sphere. It looks beyond the present moment or the present individual life indeed, though not to another world, but to another and higher social life in this world. It is in the hope andthe struggle for this highersocial life, ever-widening, ever-intensifying, whose ultimate possibilities are beyond the poorer of language to express or thought to conceive, that the Socialist finds his ideal,his religion. He sees in the reconstruction of society inthe interest of all the rehabilitation, in a higher form and without its limitations, of the old communal life – the proximate end of all present endeavour. We take up the thread of Aryan tradition, but not where it was dropped. Thestate or city of the ancient world was one-sided, its freedom was political merely, based on the slavery of the many; that of the future will be democratic and social. It was exclusive, the union within implied disunion without; the life of the future will be international, cosmopolitan in its scope. Finally the devotion of its members was connected with the existent supernatural belief and involved a cultus ; the devotion of the member ofthe socialised community, like the devotion of all true Socialists today, will be based on science and involve no cultus . In this last point the religion of the Socialist differs from the Positivist. The Positivist seeks to retain the forms after the beliefs of which they are the expression have lost all meaning to him. The Socialist whose social creed is his only religion, requires no travesty of Christian rites to aid him inkeeping his ideal before him.
In Socialism the current antagonisms are abolished, the separation between politics and religion has ceased to be, since their object-matter isthe same. The highest feelings of devotion to the Ideal are not conceived as different in kind, much lessas concerned with a different sphere; to the commoner human emotions, but merely as a diverse aspect of the same fact. The stimulus of personal interest no longerable to poison at its sourceall beauty all affection, all heroism, in short all that ishighest in us; the sphere ofgovernment merged in that of industrial direction;the limit of the purely industrial itself ever receding as the applied powers of Nature lessen the amount of human drudgery required; Art andthe pursuit of beauty and of truth ever covering the ground left free by the “necessary work of the world” – such is the goal lying immediately before us, such the unity of human interest and of human life which Socialismwould evolve out of the clashing antagonisms, the anarchical individualism, religious and irreligious, exhibited in the rotting world of to-day – and what current religion can offer a higher ideal or a nobler incentive than this essentially human one.

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