Rethinking Marx and Religion (by Alberto Toscano)

An interesting piece by Toscano on Marx and religion:

In the contemporary study of religion as a factor of social change and political mobilisation, Marx is treated as a marginal reference at best, a ‘dead dog’ at worst. The global impasse, or even reversal, of a secularisation process that Marx appears to take for granted; the turbulent rise of explicitly religious forms of political subjectivity; the persistence or resurgence of religion both as a principle of political authority and a structuring presence in everyday life – these current trends seem to militate for the relegation of Marx to a historical moment (that of the European nineteenth-century), a political subject (the workers’ movement), and a notion of temporality (the one encompassed by notions of progress, development and revolution) which have been inexorably surpassed in a globalised scenario (whether we grasp this scenario through the differential lens of postcolonial critiques, the hegemonic and homogeneous prism of neoliberalism, or the bellicose culturalism of the infamous ‘clash of civilisations’). To compound this state of affairs, which could also be read in terms of a revenge of the sociology of religions against a Marxian ‘master narrative’ – and with all the apposite caveats regarding the discontinuities between Marx and historical Marxisms, practical and theoretical – we cannot ignore the significance of the religious question within the so-called ‘crisis of Marxism’ of the 1970s and onwards.

When Michel Foucault, in his enduringly controversial reports on the Iranian revolution, stressed the irrelevance of Marx’s dictum on religion as the ‘opium of the people’ in accounting for the role of Islamic politics in the overthrow of the Shah, he was expressing a commonly-held rejection of the supposed secular reductivism characteristic of Marxist theories of social change and prescriptions for revolutionary action. Alongside Iran, the complex entanglement of popular rebellions and religion in the Polish Solidarnosc movement and Latin American liberation theology wrong-footed a theory of revolutionary praxis which took the ‘practical atheism’ of the proletariat as a sociological datum. This situation has been exacerbated today in a context where the ebb of projects of human emancipation is accompanied by the pauperisation and brutalisation of a ‘surplus humanity’ living in a ‘planet of slums’, the catalyst for a twenty-first-century ‘reenchantment of a catastrophic modernity’ in which ‘populist Islam and Pentecostal Christianity (and in Bombay, the cult of Shivaji) occupy a social space analogous to that of early twentieth-century socialism and anarchism’.

Sanctity of Private Property

I know this is a long shot, but I’ve often seen the phrase “sanctity of private property” in English and I cannot find the original source of this formula. I’m sure it’s one of those things people say, but does anyone know who was the first to use this particular phrase?

Emilio Gentile: Politics as Religion

There’s an interesting Emilio Gentile interview on “sacralization of politics”: 

DH     How do you see the sacralization of politics extending into the 21st century?

EG      It’s been present in modern times since the American and French revolutions. We need to distinguish it from any type of politicized religion in old and present times.

In the Egyptian monarchy, the pharaoh was a god, or a son of a god, or embodied the god. In the Roman Empire, after Christianization, the emperor was in a sense consecrated by the church. And the Christian monarchs in Europe were always consecrated by institutional religion. This is not sacralization of politics in the sense that politics has become a religion. It is a politicization of a religion—the use of religion to sanctify monarchs in terms of the traditional gods, or the God of the Bible. In the period after the French and American revolutions, you have the secular entity of the nation. The nation is not a person, nor does the church consecrate it. It is consecrated because it is a new secular entity now conveying the meaning of life. The sacralization of politics is politics becoming religious, independent of the traditional church. It was not the pope who consecrated Hitler as the leader; it was not the pope who consecrated Napoleon (and I mean more than the fact that Napoleon took the crown from the pope and placed it on his own head). The sacralization of politics in modern terms is an autonomous form of religion based on politics, not on traditional church-state religion.

The rest of the interview is here.

God Is Back

A discussion of a new book – God is Back: How the Revival of Religion is Changing the World, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge – on the issue of religion, sounds like a sensible position:

I wondered if they realised the alarm with which rationalists and atheists would greet their suggestions that as democracy increases around the world we should expect to see the emergence of more “parties of God”. Did they recognise that this was a kind of nightmare for many of us? “If the parties of God are Hezbollah then they are nightmares for us too,” says Micklethwait. “The thing is, when democracy is concerned the secular-minded always think that people will go off and vote for ‘normal guys’ but of course they don’t. It’s not just the most oppressed who do this – in India and Turkey the educated bourgeoisie, exactly the people who should be the most secular, the driving force of the economy, have flooded towards religiously inspired parties.” 

This is not necessarily a welcome development for either Micklethwait or Wooldridge. They are pragmatists. Religion is there, and you have to deal with it. 

Toscano on Meillassoux

Infinite Thought has a paper by Toscano on Meillassoux, a good read:

Without dwelling on the under-determined and exceedingly allusive references to contemporary fanaticism which lend Meillassoux’s claims their charge of urgency, as well as on the rather dubious claims made about the relation between Christianity and Western reason, in the rest of this presentation I want to challenge the plausibility of Meillassoux’s Enlightenment reloaded, as I mentioned by a detour through Colletti’s Marxism and Hegel. I want to put forward two inter-related arguments. First, that attending to the distinction between Kant and Hegel as formulated by Colletti, allows us to cast doubt on the very possibility of a speculative materialism, and provides a qualified Marxian defence for weak Kantian correlationism as a component of a genuine materialist thinking. Second, and much more briefly, that Colletti’s related discussion of hypostasis and ‘real abstraction’ demonstrates the weakness of Meillassoux’s attempt to revitalise the Enlightenment attack on fanaticism. Behind these two claims lies the conviction that, despite its undeniable subtlety, Meillassoux’s attack on the idealist parameters of correlationism is ultimately idealist in form, a problem which also affects it attempt to ideologically intervene, through a recasting of the Enlightenment fight against fanaticism, in the contemporary ‘return to the religious’. 

Read the rest.

The Rule Of Publishing Your Undergraduate Senior Thesis.

Don’t do it until you are famous philosopher and also dead. Hide it well and then let it be discovered. Publish it as the “laterst book by yours truly” – make some green.

John Rawls never published anything about his own religious beliefs, but after his death two texts were discovered which shed extraordinary light on the subject. A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith is Rawls’s undergraduate senior thesis, submitted in December 1942, just before he entered the army. At that time Rawls was deeply religious; the thesis is a significant work of theological ethics, of interest both in itself and because of its relation to his mature writings. “On My Religion,” a short statement drafted in 1997, describes the history of his religious beliefs and attitudes toward religion, including his abandonment of orthodoxy during World War II.

The present volume includes these two texts, together with an Introduction by Joshua Cohen and Thomas Nagel, which discusses their relation to Rawls’s published work, and an essay by Robert Merrihew Adams, which places the thesis in its theological context.

Read the rest of the description here.

Here‘s a review from Times: Continue reading

Trying to reconcile Sciene and Religion: So Gauche!

Don’t worry, having been shamed by Nicole, this not another whiny post about baby talk and idiot colleagues. I found this exchange on the New Humanist Blog to be funny:

In our current issue, AC Grayling reviews Questions of Truth by John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale, a collection of essays that claims to address 51 “Questions About God, Science and Belief”. Suffice to say, Grayling wasn’t a fan (one star was awarded in the print magazine).

Polkinghorne is a particle physicist-turned-theologian who won the Templeton Prize (which rewards attempts to reconcile religion and science) in 2002, while Nicholas Beale is a former student of Polkinghorne who, while he describes himself as a “social philosopher/management consultant” in real life, manages Polkinghorne’s website and blogs about religion and science in his spare time.

On top of dissecting the text itself, at the end of his review Grayling outlined his problem with the fact that the book was receiving a launch at the Royal Society (an event which happened on 2 March): “Polkinghorne dishonours the Royal Society by exploiting his Fellowship to publicise this weak, casuistical and tendentious pamphlet on its precincts, and the Royal Society does itself no favours by allowing Polkinghorne to do it.”

Beale must have picked up on Grayling’s review, and in particular his comments about the Royal Society, as he wrote to him questioning his objections to that event and inviting him to a similar event coming up at the Royal Institution on 1 April, which will be chaired by historian of religion Stewart Sutherland. I’ve reproduced Beale’s email to Grayling below, followed by Grayling’s fantastic response. Enjoy.

The exchange is below the fold.

Continue reading

Root Of All Evil? (Video)

Richard Dawkins scares us with a cool video (and a soft British accent saying things like “There are people out there trying to kill you and me…”) – the question mark in the title of the program is, of course, a kind of gesturing, since we all know what Dawkins thinks about religion, therefore I dedicate this post to the lost art of gesture: Continue reading

Christianity and Law

David Opderbeck of Concurring Opinions draws attention to a collection of essays that seems like a great read in this quiet yet restless post-election state: 

With all the chatter recently about Sarah Palin and the religious right, and Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright, it’s all too easy to charicature the relationship between law and religion in general, and law and Christianity in particular. A splendid new book edited by John Witte and Frank AlexanderChristianity and the Law: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press 2008), seeks to recover the deep and nuanced connections between Christian social theory and Western jurisprudence. Unlike many polemical works written by today’s battling theonomists and strict separationists, Christianity and Law doesn’t dwell on defining founding myths about America and its original status as either a religious “city on a hill” or a walled garden in which enlightened rationalists could feel safe from the Church. Most of the essays in Christanity and Law dig deeper into the Jewish, Roman and medieval roots of Christian jurisprudence.

The comments to the post are quite interesting as well.

Does Religion Make You Donate More Blood?

A great article of the relationship between religious beliefs and niceness – Does Religion Make You Nice? – that raises some interesting issues:

Arguments about the merits of religions are often battled out with reference to history, by comparing the sins of theists and atheists. (I see your Crusades and raise you Stalin!) But a more promising approach is to look at empirical research that directly addresses the effects of religion on how people behave.


In Gross National Happiness, Arthur Brooks notes that atheists are less charitable than their God-fearing counterparts: They donate less blood, for example, and are less likely to offer change to homeless people on the street. Since giving to charity makes one happy, Brooks speculates that this could be one reason why atheists are so miserable. In a 2004 study, twice as many religious people say that they are very happy with their lives, while the secular are twice as likely to say that they feel like failures.

So religion makes you happy and you give more blood? Not so fast, writes Paul Bloom:

2005 study by Gregory Paul looking at 18 democracies found that the more atheist societies tended to have relatively low murder and suicide rates and relatively low incidence of abortion and teen pregnancy.

Not to give away the answer, but it’s all apparently about the community, not beliefs – it’s a great piece, worth reading in full.