Young adults agree more with Karl Marx than the bible, a new study finds

time heals a lot of problems...

time heals a lot of problems…


Author: Dan Arel

Emphasis Mine

Socialism is on the rise in the U.S. thanks in part to Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent run for president and the spotlight he put on the once-taboo word.

Now, thanks to a new survey of 2,300 people conducted by YouGov and the Washington, D.C.-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, we know that young adults referred to as millennials in this study, agree more with the words of Karl Marx than they do with passages from the bible.

When asked if they agree with what Marx said, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need,” 64 percent of the millennials polled said, “yes,” while only 53 percent said they agree with the statement in the Bible that “if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

The study also shows, in my opinion, that millennials are more educated about what communism and socialism is. They are not stuck behind red scare, McCarthyist views of the USSR or Cuba. They instead seem to be more educated on the topic.

57 percent of Americans overall say they have a “very unfavorable” view of Communism, only 37 percent of millennials said the same.

The study also found that 45 percent of those aged 16 to 20 said they would vote for a Socialist, and 21 percent said they would vote for a Communist.

Only 42 percent of young adults had a favorable view capitalism.

The study found a growing acceptance of Socialist and Marxist viewpoints among a younger generation of Americans who did not grow up during the Cold War,” the report said. “When considered alongside the broad support among millennials for Bernie Sanders and his ideals —the poll, for example, found more support for quotes of Sanders than Milton Friedman and the Bible — Socialism has growing support in America.”

Ironically, the study was meant to shed a negative light on communism and socialism and wishes to imply that Stalin, Castro, and Mao are communist leaders instead of looking at the authoritarian systems they created they don’t meet even the basic necessities of communism laid out by Marx.

“One of the concerns the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has had since its establishment is that an emerging generation of Americans have little understanding of the collectivist system and its dark history,” Marion Smith, the foundation’s executive director, said in the report. “Unfortunately, this report, which we intend to release on an annual basis, confirms this worrisome impression.”

The truth is, these young adults likely do understand it and realize it’s not socialism or communism. They are happy to work towards a system that actually helps all of its citizens rather than continue to try and fix a broken capitalist system that they understand only helps the wealthy.


We Need Free Thinkers Or Society Will Shrivel Up and Die

From AlterNet

By Chris Hedges, Truthdig

“Cultures that endure carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths. Artists, writers, poets, activists, journalists, philosophers, dancers, musicians, actors, directors and renegades must be tolerated if a culture is to be pulled back from disaster. Members of this intellectual and artistic class, who are usually not welcome in the stultifying halls of academia where mediocrity is triumphant, serve as prophets. They are dismissed, or labeled by the power elites as subversive, because they do not embrace collective self-worship. They force us to confront unexamined assumptions, ones that, if not challenged, lead to destruction. They expose the ruling elites as hollow and corrupt. They articulate the senselessness of a system built on the ideology of endless growth, ceaseless exploitation and constant expansion. They warn us about the poison of careerism and the futility of the search for happiness in the accumulation of wealth. They make us face ourselves, from the bitter reality of slavery and Jim Crow to the genocidal slaughter of Native Americans to the repression of working-class movements to the atrocities carried out in imperial wars to the assault on the ecosystem. They make us unsure of our virtue. They challenge the easy clichés we use to describe the nation—the land of the free, the greatest country on earth, the beacon of liberty—to expose our darkness, crimes and ignorance. They offer the possibility of a life of meaning and the capacity for transformation.

Human societies see what they want to see. They create national myths of identity out of a composite of historical events and fantasy. They ignore unpleasant facts that intrude on self-glorification. They trust naively in the notion of linear progress and in assured national dominance. This is what nationalism is about—lies. And if a culture loses its ability for thought and expression, if it effectively silences dissident voices, if it retreats into what Sigmund Freud called “screen memories,” those reassuring mixtures of fact and fiction, it dies. It surrenders its internal mechanism for puncturing self-delusion. It makes war on beauty and truth. It abolishes the sacred. It turns education into vocational training. It leaves us blind. And this is what has occurred. We are lost at sea in a great tempest. We do not know where we are. We do not know where we are going. And we do not know what is about to happen to us.

The psychoanalyst John Steiner calls this phenomenon “turning a blind eye.” He notes that often we have access to adequate knowledge but because it is unpleasant and disconcerting we choose unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, to ignore it. He uses the Oedipus story to make his point. He argued that Oedipus, Jocasta, Creon and the “blind” Tiresias grasped the truth, that Oedipus had killed his father and married his mother as prophesized, but they colluded to ignore it. We too, Steiner wrote, turn a blind eye to the dangers that confront us, despite the plethora of evidence that if we do not radically reconfigure our relationships to each other and the natural world, catastrophe is assured. Steiner describes a psychological truth that is deeply frightening.

I saw this collective capacity for self-delusion among the urban elites in Sarajevo and later Pristina during the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. These educated elites steadfastly refused to believe that war was possible although acts of violence by competing armed bands had already begun to tear at the social fabric. At night you could hear gunfire. But they were the last to “know.” And we are equally self-deluded. The physical evidence of national decay—the crumbling infrastructures, the abandoned factories and other workplaces, the rows of gutted warehouses, the closure of libraries, schools, fire stations and post offices—that we physically see, is, in fact, unseen. The rapid and terrifying deterioration of the ecosystem, evidenced in soaring temperatures, droughts, floods, crop destruction, freak storms, melting ice caps and rising sea levels, are met blankly with Steiner’s “blind eye.”

Oedipus, at the end of Sophocles’ play, cuts out his eyes and with his daughter Antigone as a guide wanders the countryside. Once king, he becomes a stranger in a strange country. He dies, in Antigone’s words, “in a foreign land, but one he yearned for.”

William Shakespeare in “King Lear” plays on the same theme of sight and sightlessness. Those with eyes in “King Lear” are unable to see. Gloucester, whose eyes are gouged out, finds in his blindness a revealed truth. “I have no way, and therefore want no eyes,” Gloucester says after he is blinded. “I stumbled when I saw.” When Lear banishes his only loyal daughter, Cordelia, whom he accuses of not loving him enough, he shouts: “Out of my sight!” To which Kent replies:

See better, Lear, and let me still remain
The true blank of thine eye.

The story of Lear, like the story of Oedipus, is about the attainment of this inner vision. It is about morality and intellect that are blinded by empiricism and sight. It is about understanding that the human imagination is, as William Blake saw, our manifestation of Eternity. “Love without imagination is eternal death.”

The Shakespearean scholar Harold Goddard wrote: “The imagination is not a faculty for the creation of illusion; it is the faculty by which alone man apprehends reality. The ‘illusion’ turns out to be truth.” “Let faith oust fact,” Starbuck says in “Moby-Dick.”

“It is only our absurd ‘scientific’ prejudice that reality must be physical and rational that blinds us to the truth,” Goddard warned. There are, as Shakespeare wrote, “things invisible to mortal sight.” But these things are not vocational or factual or empirical. They are not found in national myths of glory and power. They are not attained by force. They do not come through cognition or logical reasoning. They are intangible. They are the realities of beauty, grief, love, the search for meaning, the struggle to face our own mortality and the ability to face truth. And cultures that disregard these forces of imagination commit suicide. They cannot see.

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,” Shakespeare wrote, “Whose action is no stronger than a flower?” Human imagination, the capacity to have vision, to build a life of meaning rather than utilitarianism, is as delicate as a flower. And if it is crushed, if a Shakespeare or a Sophocles is no longer deemed useful in the empirical world of business, careerism and corporate power, if universities think a Milton Friedman or a Friedrich Hayekis more important to its students than a Virginia Woolf or an Anton Chekhov, then we become barbarians. We assure our own extinction. Students who are denied the wisdom of the great oracles of human civilization—visionaries who urge us not to worship ourselves, not to kneel before the base human emotion of greed—cannot be educated. They cannot think.

To think, we must, as Epicurus understood, “live in hiding.” We must build walls to keep out the cant and noise of the crowd. We must retreat into a print-based culture where ideas are not deformed into sound bites and thought-terminating clichés. Thinking is, as Hannah Arendt wrote, “a soundless dialogue between me and myself.” But thinking, she wrote, always presupposes the human condition of plurality. It has no utilitarian function. It is not an end or an aim outside of itself. It is different from logical reasoning, which is focused on a finite and identifiable goal. Logical reason, acts of cognition, serve the efficiency of a system, including corporate power, which is usually morally neutral at best, and often evil. The inability to think, Arendt wrote, “is not a failing of the many who lack brain power but an ever-present possibility for everybody—scientists, scholars, and other specialists in mental enterprises not excluded.”

Our corporate culture has effectively severed us from human imagination. Our electronic devices intrude deeper and deeper into spaces that were once reserved for solitude, reflection and privacy. Our airwaves are filled with the tawdry and the absurd. Our systems of education and communication scorn the disciplines that allow us to see. We celebrate prosaic vocational skills and the ridiculous requirements of standardized tests. We have tossed those who think, including many teachers of the humanities, into a wilderness where they cannot find employment, remuneration or a voice. We follow the blind over the cliff. We make war on ourselves.

The vital importance of thought, Arendt wrote, is apparent only “in times of transition when men no longer rely on the stability of the world and their role in it, and when the question concerning the general conditions of human life, which as such are properly coeval with the appearance of man on earth, gain an uncommon poignancy.” We never need our thinkers and artists more than in times of crisis, as Arendt reminds us, for they provide the subversive narratives that allow us to chart a new course, one that can assure our survival.

“What must I do to win salvation?” Dimitri asks Starov in “The Brothers Karamazov,” to which Starov answers: “Above all else, never lie to yourself.”

And here is the dilemma we face as a civilization. We march collectively toward self-annihilation. Corporate capitalism, if left unchecked, will kill us. Yet we refuse, because we cannot think and no longer listen to those who do think, to see what is about to happen to us.  We have created entertaining mechanisms to obscure and silence the harsh truths, from climate change to the collapse of globalization to our enslavement to corporate power, that will mean our self-destruction.   If we can do nothing else we must, even as individuals, nurture the private dialogue and the solitude that make thought possible. It is better to be an outcast, a stranger in one’s own country, than an outcast from one’s self. It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He writes a regular column for TruthDig every Monday. His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Emphasis Mine

Engels on the State, Family, Education and Sex

From: Political Affairs

By: Thomas Riggins

” In the last chapter of his book Anti-Dühring, Engels treats of the state, family,education and sex by critiquing the views of the German “socialist” and professor Eugen Dühring‘s on these subjects. Dühring had created, on paper, a complete system of socialist governing thru means of collectives which, Engels has pointed out in his analysis in earlier parts of this book, is completely unworkable and perpetuates the capitalist relations of production and distribution which socialism is supposed to abolish.

Having set up his system Dühring undertakes to discuss the nature of the “state of the future.” His ideas are, Engels maintains, watered down simplifications of notions he has gleaned from Rousseau and Hegel. In his own words, Dühring bases his state on the “sovereignty of the people.” He explains what he means in the following passage of essentially meaningless mumbo jumbo: “If one presupposes agreements between each individual and every other individual in all directions, and if the object of these agreements is mutual aid against unjust offenses– the the power required for the maintenance of right is only strengthened, and right is not deduced from the more superior strength of the many against the individual or of the majority against the minority.”
Don’t worry if that passage doesn’t make any sense, as Dühring adds the following to explicate it. He says, “THE SLIGHTEST ERROR in the conception of the role of the collective will would DESTROY the sovereignty of the individual, and this sovereignty is the only thing conducive to the deduction of real rights.” Engels thinks this pretty “thick” even by the standards of Dühring’s so called “philosophy of reality.”
This is especially so since the “sovereignty of the individual” consists in the fact that he or she is, Dühring says, “SUBJECT TO ABSOLUTE COMPULSION by the state.” This is because the state “serves natural justice” and that is the best guarantee of individual sovereignty. There will be a police force for internal security and an army as well– to enforce the will of the state– which is the same as that of the community of sovereign individuals and to ensure people don’t use their sovereignty in an incorrect and unsovereign manner. And just in case the state makes an error, well, the citizens will still be better off than they would have been if left in the state of nature! Anyway, they will get free lawyers too boot.
Since Dühring says his new state is based on “sober and critical thought”, he announces that religion will be banished from the commune.“In the free society,” he says, “there can be no religious worship; FOR every member of it has got beyond the primitive childish superstition that there are beings, behind nature or above it, who can be influenced by sacrifices or prayers. [A] socialitarian system, rightly conceived, HAS therefore … TO ABOLISH all the paraphernalia of religious magic, and therewith all the essential elements of religious worship.”
It is important to note, since in the real history of socialism in the twentieth century some socialist and communist states tried to eliminate religion and religious practices by forceable means, that this idea [“the state HAS to…”] comes from Dühring, an enemy of the Marxist outlook, and not from anything Marx or Engels had to say. Engels explicitly criticizes this view.
This is not to say Marx and Engels were in anyway “soft” on religion [“opium of the masses” and all that] but they respected “individual sovereignty” enough not to dream of using the “state’ [which they wanted to abolish in any case] to trample on people’s rights of conscience in religious affairs.
At this point Engels adds a succinct account of the Marxist view of the origin, social function, and future of religion. It is more or less as follows. Religion is just a reflection in the brains of people of the forces in the external world that are out of their control which affect their lives and that they imagine as supernatural beings which they need to fear and placate. Originally these were the powers of nature that took on the guise of gods and goddess, but as human society progressed and evolved social forces also came to assume these roles. Over time, in the West at least) the many gods and goddess representing these alien powers were distilled down to one god [monotheism e.g., Jews and Moslems, or three gods posing as one as in the Jewish-pagan synthesis called Christianity- tr] and in this form religion will have a lease on life as long as humans are dominated by natural and social powers they neither understand nor control.
In contemporary capitalist society people are dominated and controlled by an economic system that they have themselves made yet rules over them as if it were an independently existing power beyond their control. The Market– made by humans, rules humans. This is essentially the same reification as is found in religion and it reinforces religious attitudes and beliefs already historically present in modern society. Engels thinks of this development as the First Act of human development. It is now time for the Second Act.
In the Second Act humans will take control of the means of production and distribution which they have created over the long ages [thereby hangs a tale] and by means of scientific understanding and advance be able to control them rather than being controlled by them. Science will also explain the origins of life, the workings of nature, and the role of humans, leading to advances in medicine, agriculture, education, etc., so that humans will seek to understand the world instead of bowing down before it in stupefaction.
Engels says “only then will the last alien force which is still reflected in religion vanish: and with it will also vanish the religious reflection itself, for the simple reason that then there will be nothing left to reflect.” Dühring can’t wait and wants to administratively abolish religion before humanity has reached the intellectual and social level where it will of its own accord fade away. This will only inflame resistance, antagonize the masses, and strengthen the hold of superstition over the brains of people by giving it “a prolonged lease of life.” I might add, if some of the socialists and communists of the past century, let alone this one, would have taken Engels to heart many mistakes and tragedies could have been avoided.
After Herr Dühring has disposed of religion he tells us that “man, made to rely solely on himself and nature and matured in the knowledge of his collective powers, can intrepidly enter on all the roads which the course of events and his own being open to him.” Fine. Let us see how “man” travels down these roads. First he is born. Then he, or she as the case may be, is under the control of his mother the “natural tutor of children” until puberty (about 14 years) when the role of the father kicks in, as long as “real and uncontested paternity” can be demonstrated. If not a guardian is appointed. Ancient Roman law serves Dühring as a model for these ideas.
This shows, Engels says, that Dühring has no sense of history. The family, for him, is immutable, basically the same in Ancient Rome as in modern capitalism with no allowance for the changes in economic conditions and social relations between the ancient world and contemporary world. Engels then quotes the following passage from volume one of Das Kapital to show the superiority of Marx’s outlook to Dühring’s. Marx wrote that “modern industry, by assigning as it does an important part in the process of production, outside the domestic sphere, to women, to young persons, and to children of both sexes [due to the rise of the working class movement capitalism’s urge to exploit children in the productive process has been somewhat curtailed– tr] creates a new economic foundation for a higher form of the family and the relations between the sexes.”
This new form is still in the process of creation, but there is no going back to the Ancient Roman family, nor even, as our Republican politicians are learning to their chagrin, to the patriarchal family of the Christian Middle Ages– so beloved by the reactionary classes in our country.
Dühring next informs us that “Every dreamer of social reforms naturally has ready a pedagogy corresponding to his new social life.” He may think he is putting others down and himself coming up with a truly scientific plan for the educational needs of society, for the “foreseeable future”, but he is actually a worse dreamer than those he opposes, according to Engels.
In the schools of Dühring’s future cooperative society the children will, Dühring writes, learn “everything which by itself and in principle can have any attraction for man” and so will include “the foundations and main conclusions of all sciences touching on the understanding of the world and of life.” Dühring also tells us he sees in outline all the textbooks of the future but he is personally unable to actually see their contents and just what the children will be learning as that “can only really be expected from the free and enhanced forces of the new social order.” But they will concentrate on physics, math, astronomy and mechanics while biology, botany, and zoology and such will be “topics for light conversation” [!]. He completely forgets to say anything about chemistry. Engels says his knowledge of the sciences seems to be confined to “Natural History for Children”– a popular book of the 18th Century by Georg Christian Raff (1748-1788).
When it comes to the humanities, Dühring sounds like a second rate Plato. He wants to ban, for example, the great artistic creations of the past because too many of them have religious themes. As Plato banned Homer for portraying the Gods with human flaws, so Goethe is banned by Dühring for “poetic mysticism” and others for any religious content at all– since religion is banned completely in the future state.
American monoglot educators will appreciate Herr Dühring’s attitude to foreign languages. Latin and Greek will be junked entirely, who needs dead languages. Living foreign languages “will remain of secondary importance” and the students will really concentrate on their own native tongue. Engels thinks this a way to perpetuate the dulling national narrow mindedness of people who are basically ignorant of the world and of the Other. Latin and Greek actually open up people’s minds to a broader perspective of the world and history, at least if they have a classical education, and learning foreign modern languages also allows peoples to have greater understanding of others and their cultures. Dühring’s views are those of the narrow minded Prussian Philistine and similar to the “English only” bigotry found on the right in this country.
Engels gives Dühring credit for at least being aware of the fact there will be a difference between educational policies under socialism and those currently employed in bourgeois society, but since he keeps capitalist relations of production in place in his future communal society he can’t quite figure out what those policies will be. Thus he is reduced to coming up with such ideas as “young and old will work in the serious sense of the word” which, along with other empty phrases, Engels calls “spineless and meaningless ranting.”
Engels counterpoises a brief comment on socialist education from volume one of Das Kapital where Marx says that “from the Factory system budded, as Robert Owen has shown in detail, the germ of the education of the future, an education that will, in the case of every child over a given age, combine productive labour with instruction and gymnastics, not only as one of the methods of adding to the efficiency of production, but as the only method of producing fully developed human beings.” Our own educational system, which produces drop outs and graduates functional illiterates, is American capitalism’s answer to what education will be in the future.
Finally, after we find out how children will be educated in Dühring’s future society, we find out how they are to come into the world. Dühring, no doubt inspired by Plato’s Republic, tells us that future humans must be “sought in sexual union and selection, and furthermore in the care taken for or against the ensuring of certain results.” We are here on the road to Dühringean eugenics. The most important thing to keep in mind about the future births is not the number but “whether nature or human circumspection succeeded or failed in regard to their quality.” This leads Dühring to conclude that “It is obviously an advantage to prevent the birth of a human being who would only be a defective creature.”
Modern scientific sentiment would not reject this conclusion out of hand, regardless of the feelings of those blinded by religious prejudices or logically challenged. It all depends on the kinds of defects that are presented. Dühring is thinking, however, along lines made popular by Nietzsche, of some sort of super human race compared to the run of the mill humans that unaided Nature tends to produce.
Dühring believes in a human right which may be important, but is not generally appealed to these days, for the purposes of eugenics, i.e., “the right of the unborn world to the best possible composition” [biologically– tr]. “Conception,” he says, “and, if need be, also birth [infanticide- tr] offer the opportunity , or in exceptional cases selective, care in this connection.” Dühring is not just talking about medical defects– but also “aesthetic” defects.
He thinks. in fact, that people should be bred to look like the ancient Greeks! “Grecian art — the idealization of man in marble [not “European” man but “man”]– will not be able to retain its historical importance when the less artistic, and therefore from the standpoint of the fate of the millions, far more important task of perfecting the human form in flesh and blood is taken in hand.” OK, so we won’t all look like Antinous or the Venus de Milo but that goal will be a work in progress for the future Dühringean society.
How does Dühring bring about the this perfection of the human [ancient Greeks– Dühring had no use for modern Greeks] form? Well, he says force would be harmful but it will come about as a natural result of the mating of beautiful people– sort of by an “invisible hand” (but in this case a different anatomical feature will be at work). Here is Dühring’s quote: [From the] “higher, genuinely human motives of wholesome sexual unions … the humanly ennobled form of sexual excitement , which in its intense manifestations is PASSIONATE LOVE, when reciprocated is the best guarantee of a union which will be acceptable also in its result…. It is only an effect of the second order that from a relation which in itself is harmonious a symphoniously composed product should result.”
Engels thinks Dühring’s views on sex are “twaddle.” This is because force would have to be used to make sure all unions were “wholesome” by Dühring’s standards. In the real world it is not just the beautiful people who fall in love and have children (symphoniously composed products) but all kinds of people so “the second order” effects of love making would be the same in the future communal state of Herr Dühring as they are now. [He could however try for a rigged lottery a la Plato’s Republic to match up the “best” people and only allow those with baby licenses to reproduce. This would lead to more problems than the Chinese have had with the one child policy– which was successful in limiting population numbers but a failure from the point of view of creating balanced population growth.]
Engels also critiques Dühring’s “noble ideas about the female sex in general”[prostitution is a normal activity due to the constraints of bourgeois marriage]– but both Dühring’s ideas and Engel’s response are too shaped by nineteenth century conditions to be applicable to twenty-first century advanced industrial societies so I will pass this topic by and come to the conclusion of Anti-Dühring.
After having gone over all the major views that Dühring had presented in a series of writings over the years, and refuting them by giving a proper Marxist response to his mixed up theoretical constructions, Engels sums up Dühring’s oeuvre as being the product of MENTAL INCOMPETENCE DUE TO MEGALOMANIA.”
Postscript: Eugen Dühring survived Engel’s critique and wrote more books and articles. In the 1880’s he began turning out anti-Semitic writings some of which led Theodor Hertzel to conclude that the Jews needed their own state. Frederick Nietzsche’s rantings against socialism were the result of his having read Dühring’s works not those of Marx and Engels (although I doubt it would have made any difference). Of his many books only one has been translated into English– his anti-Semitic tract on the Jewish question was published in 1997 as “Eugen Dühring on the Jews” by 1984 Press. Dühring died in 1921 thus being deprived of seeing the fruits of his anti-Semitic labors. These and other interesting facts about Dühring are to be found in the Wikipedia article “Eugen Dühring.” These articles on Engels’ book Anti-Dühring have been published serially over the past two years in Political Affairs (and some have also appeared in Counter Currents, Dissident Voice, NYC indymedia and other internet venues) and the complete set can be found published together on my blog (Thomas Riggins Blog) as well as at the blog Philosophy and Marxism Today as “Engels’ Anti-Dühring: A Twenty-First Century Commentary.”

Emphasis Mine


How We All Pay For the Huge Tax Privileges Granted to Religion — It’s Time to Tax the Church


By: Adam Lee

Would the world be better off without religion? That was thetopic of a recent debate in the NYU Intelligence Squared series. One of the audience questions concerned the enormous wealth hoarded by churches, which Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza defended as follows:

I think in the case of the Vatican, the wealth of the Vatican is in priceless treasures, tapestries, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, art. Now, let’s remember… it was popes, the Medici popes and so on, who commissioned those paintings. If it wasn’t for Catholicism, we wouldn’t have the Sistine Chapel.

This was the only line of the night that got boos from the audience. It’s easy to see why, since D’Souza was clearly trying hard to overlook the obvious reply: The reason it was the church that commissioned those artworks, and not some other buyer, is because the church had all the money! The great composers, painters and sculptors of the Renaissance worked for whomever could afford to pay them, which is why they often ended up working for the church even when they were notorious freethinkers, as in the case of Giuseppe Verdi. If it wasn’t for Catholicism, we might not have the Sistine Chapel, but it’s a near-certainty that we’d have different artworks, equally majestic and famous, by the same artists. As Richard Dawkins has suggested, wouldn’t you love to hear Beethoven’s “Evolution Symphony”?

I bring this up because, thanks to the Occupy protests, inequality has come to dominate the American political conversation. Poverty and inequality are at their highest levels since the Great Depression, and there’s a growing clamor to raise taxes on the wealthy to provide more opportunity for the rest of us. I think this is an excellent idea, and I’d like to suggest that beside Wall Street bankers and stock traders, there’s another group of the mega-wealthy that’s often overlooked.

Why don’t we consider taxing the churches?

Not all churches or all ministers are rich, but some of them are very rich indeed. And that’s no surprise, because society subsidizes them through a constellation of generous tax breaks that aren’t available to any other institution, even non-profits. For example, religious organizations can opt out of Social Security and Medicare withholding. Religious employers are exempt from unemployment taxes, and in some states, from sales tax. Religious ministers — and no other profession; the law specifies that only “ministers of the gospel” are eligible for this benefit — can receive part of their salary as a “housing allowance” on which they pay no taxes. (Compounding the absurdity, they can then turn around and double-dip, deducting their mortgage interest from their taxes, even when their mortgage is being paid with tax-free money in the first place.) And, of course, churches are exempt from property tax and from federal income tax.

We’re all paying for the special privileges afforded to religion. Your taxes and mine have to be higher to make up the revenue shortfall that the government isn’t taking in because these huge, wealthy churches don’t pay their own way. By some estimates, the property tax exemption alone removes $100 billion in property from U.S. tax rolls. (And it’s not just the big churches where that exemption bites: According to authors like Sikivu Hutchinson, the proliferation of small storefront churches is a major contributor to poverty and societal dysfunction in poor communities, since these churches remove valuable commercial property from the tax base and ensure that local governments remain cash-strapped and unable to provide basic services.) Just about the only restriction that churches have to abide by in return is that they can’t endorse political candidates — and even this trivial, easily evaded prohibition is routinely and flagrantly violated by the religious right.

Combined with a near-total lack of government scrutiny, the privileges granted to religion have enabled megachurch ministers to live fantastically luxurious lifestyles. An investigation by Sen. Chuck Grassley in 2009 gave a rare public glimpse of how powerful preachers spend the cash they rake in from their flocks: jewelry, luxury clothing, cosmetic surgery, offshore bank accounts, multimillion-dollar lakefront mansions, a fleet of private jets, flights to Hawaii and Fiji, and most famously in the case of Joyce Meyer, a $23,000 marble-topped commode. Meyer’s ministry alone is estimated to have an annual take of around $124 million.

Most of these Elmer Gantry-types preach a theology called the “prosperity gospel.” The basic idea of this is that God wants to shower you with riches, but only if you first “plant a seed of faith” by giving your church as much money as you possibly can, trusting that God will repay you tenfold. (The typical ask is for 10 percent of your annual income — gross, not net; people who tithe based on their net income hate the baby Jesus.) Naturally, this idea has made some churches very, very rich, while making a large number of poor, desperate people even poorer.

One might think this scam would only work for so long before people start to realize that giving all their money away isn’t making them rich. But the pastors who preach it have a very convenient and clever rationalization: when supernatural wealth fails to materialize, they tell their followers that it must be their own fault, that they’re harboring some secret sin that’s preventing God from fulfilling his promises.

But beyond the prosperity gospel, we’re now witnessing a new and even more brazen idea spreading among the American religious right: that the poor should accept their lot without complaint, and that calling for a stronger social safety net or advocating higher taxes on the rich is committing the sin of envy. For example, here’s Watergate felon Chuck Colson, who’s found a profitable after-prison career as a born-again right-wing pundit, denouncing the poor for wanting a better life for themselves:

Despite this, many people insist on soaking the well-off because… what they want is to see their better-off neighbors knocked down a peg. That’s how envy works.Thomas Aquinas defined envy as “sorrow for another’s good.” It is the opposite of pity. And it is one of the defining sins of our times.

(I would guess that by Colson’s standard, some of the authors of the Bible would also be committing the sin of envy with their denunciations of the rich.)

The right-wing Family Research Council has also joined in, calling for its followers to pray that God stifles the Occupy Wall Street protests; its president, Tony Perkins, has said that Jesus “endorses the principles of business and the free market”. And then there’s this billboard, which asserts that protesters’ demands for health insurance and higher corporate tax rates violate the biblical commandment against coveting. I would’ve thought this was a bizarre joke if not for the fact that so many powerful right-wing Christians are openly saying the same thing.

On its surface, Christianity seems like the least likely religion for this theology of the rich and powerful to take root. The Bible, after all, denounces wealth and praises poverty in no uncertain terms. In fact, Jesus unequivocally commands that Christians should sell all their possessions, give the money to the poor, and live as wandering mendicant evangelists. The famous analogy about a camel going through the eye of a needle was a parable intended to forcefully make the point that it’s almost impossible for a rich person to get into Heaven — and by the Bible’s standard, millions of modern Christians are very rich indeed:

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”…Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

–Matthew 19:16-24

In another verse, Jesus tells his followers not to save money or store up possessions, but to travel constantly with no thought for the future, having faith that God will somehow feed and clothe them each day:

“And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind… But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

–Luke 12:22-31

The Bible goes so far as to say that the first community of Christians weren’t just socialists, but communists:

“And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”–Acts 2:44-45

By some accounts, this verse is what inspired Karl Marx’s dictum, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Irony of ironies: Communism was espoused in the pages of the Bible!

Of course, these commands are nearly impossible to follow, and that’s precisely the point. In the beginning, Christianity was a small, radical sect whose followerexpected the world to end within their own lifetimes. It’s no wonder that they saw no use for earthly possessions. But when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire and began to convert the powerful and the comfortable, this would no longer do. No large, organized religion could possibly thrive on precepts like this, and so they were left by the wayside in the pursuit of worldly riches and imperial grandeur.

This pattern happens over and over: Even when it begins among the poor and disenfranchised, religion almost always ends up being co-opted by the wealthy and powerful and used as a convenient excuse to justify inequality. Nothing is more effective at persuading the poor not to rebel or protest than the belief that, if they stay quiet and compliant, they’ll be rewarded after death. As the columnistEd Weathers wrote, “If you would have your slaves remain docile, teach them hymns.” And this idea isn’t just prominent in Christianity — we also see it in other religions, like Hinduism, which teaches that people’s social caste is the deserved result of the karma they accumulated in past lives. Obey the rich people in this life, and maybe you’ll be reborn as one of them next time!

The repeated exploitation of religion throughout history to further beat down the downtrodden isn’t just a coincidence. Any belief system which teaches people to fix their gazes on another life can by its nature be leveraged to excuse poverty, oppression, and injustice in this one. When we see wealthy preachers joining hands with wealthy bankers to urge the masses to stop protesting and quietly accept their lot, it shouldn’t be surprising — it’s a reminder of the natural order of things. Both groups are privileged elites whose highest concern, with a few rare and honorable exceptions, is hanging on to that privilege.

There’s a lesson here for the 99 percent of us: If we seek social justice, the only way we’ll ever truly attain it is to overthrow every ideology that promises pie in the sky by and by. As long as our effort is focused, even partially, on another world, it will always be divided and therefore less effective than it could be. (It’s not for nothing that John Lennon put “Imagine no religion” together with “No need for greed or hunger.”) We’ll have real equality and real opportunity when we learn to set aside fantasies of another existence and turn our attention fully to this life and the things of this world, which are the only real or important things.

Emphasis Mine


How Atheism Can Make the World Better By Tearing Down Religious Irrationality

From Alternet, By Amanda Marcotte  

Atheism is not just about disproving religious belief; it’s also a burgeoning social justice movement intent on tearing down the social structures that perpetuate injustice.

Few groups are as vilified as atheists. They tend to be viewed as party poopers bent on dismantling the cherished beliefs of “people of faith.” While that element of the atheist community does exist–as is verified by the endless websites and books dedicated solely to tackling the logical flaws in religious claims–the reality is that the growing movement of outspoken atheists have far more on offer than winning arguments with people who believe in a god. Atheism is also a burgeoning social justice movement that looks to tear down the social structures that have perpetuated injustice for millennia.

Just as feminists take on the patriarchy, peace activists fight the ideology of war, civil rights activists and abolitionists dismantle the traditions of racism, and humanists erode authoritarian hierarchies, atheists are standing up and saying that the human race needs to evolve beyond religion. And it’s this social justice model that’s invigorating a new generation of atheists to move beyond just quietly disbelieving into openly challenging religious irrationality.

Blame the religious right for pushing atheists in this new, more political direction. The past couple of decades have seen an explosion in fundamentalist energy and power. The immediacy of the fundamentalist threat to science, education and human rights starkly demonstrates that the problem of religion extends beyond its inherent irrationality. Many atheists who find endless proofs against god tiring find themselves drawn to organized atheism as a weapon against this religious threat to liberty and free inquiry.

Even though many liberal religious people exist, at its base, the argument between god believers and atheists is roughly the same argument as that between conservatives and progressives. Liberalism is rooted in the humanist tradition, which demands that society and government prioritize human needs and desires, using the tools of rationality and evidence toward those goals. Conservativism values hierarchy and tradition and rejects evidence-based reasoning in favor of arguments from authority. The imaginary god provides the perfect conservative authority; a completely evidence-free, ultimate authority that can make pronouncements believers are expected to simply submit to. Submission and faith are built into even the most liberal Christian traditions, in direct contrast to the humanist philosophy of questioning and demanding evidence.

Humanism has given birth to progressivism by opening up space to question some of the oldest prejudices: the belief that men are better than women, that gays are “unnatural,” that different skin colors or ethnicities automatically means different roles and mental abilities, that people are wealthier because they’re more deserving, that kings rule by divine right. When you start asking hard questions of these other beliefs, you often discover that the rationale for all of them tends to circle back toward “God said so.” By questioning this most fundamental of beliefs, that there is a god and he’s making the rules, we can call into question the illogic of all these other beliefs.

Despite the atheist movement’s emphasis on proofs against supernatural claims, many, if not most people who join the atheist movement came to atheism because they were questioning other beliefs and traditions. Certainly this was my path. I never really “believed” in god growing up, but I didn’t identify as an atheist either. I just didn’t think about the issue much. Feminism compelled me to start looking harder at religious arguments against women’s equality, and in doing so, I realized that without a forceful response to religious irrationality, feminist progress would be stymied. And so I started engaging logical arguments supporting what seemed self-evident to me, that there couldn’t be any gods, and therefore no supernatural beings whose authority can be invoked when anti-feminists lack real-world evidence for their claims.

I’m far from alone in this. Last November, when I spoke on feminism and atheism at the annual atheist/skeptical conference in Springfield, MO, I met dozens of young and eager atheists. A solid majority of them had come to the movement after feeling oppressed by religion. Some people had grown up in fundamentalist communities whose backward beliefs about gender and sexuality drove them to start asking questions, while others had dealt with conflicts between their own love of science and the claims of religion. Still others had mostly dealt with moderate or even liberal churches, but were disappointed by the way even the most liberal religions discourage hard questions. In other words, these people began from a position of valuing progressive ideals, and those values led them to the atheist community.

Online atheist communities find their secular values make a sort of “pure” atheism that’s largely apolitical and impossible to maintain. The popular atheist/skeptic website Skepchick started mainly to highlight women who support atheism, rational inquiry and science, but over time the site made a turn toward the explicitly feminist, in part because of the constant drumbeat of fact-free claims about women’s roles being made by religious figures in the media. Links between atheism and progressivism have also been easy to make for proponents of gay rights and sexual liberation, as demonstrated by recent research showing that those who lose their faith and embrace atheism report an improved sex life.

But atheist progressives shouldn’t feel limited to arguments about gender and sexuality when linking their atheism to broader issues. There’s plenty of room for an atheist environmentalism — since there’s no afterlife, we should prioritize taking care of the one world we do have. Or an atheist economic liberalism — since there’s no such thing as “providence,” it’s our responsibility to care for the poor and the needy.

Atheists are only by limited by our imaginations in seeking ways to make our lack of faith as central to our view of a just world as religious people make their faith central to their worldviews.

Emphasis Mine


Income inequity – All time high!

From Huffpost: ” Income inequality in the United States is at an all-
time high, surpassing even levels seen during the Great
Depression, according to a recently updated paper by
University of California, Berkeley Professor Emmanuel
Saez. The paper, which covers data through 2007, points
to a staggering, unprecedented disparity in American
incomes. On his blog, Nobel prize-winning economist and
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called the
numbers “truly amazing.”

Though income inequality has been growing for some
time, the paper paints a stark, disturbing portrait of
wealth distribution in America. Saez calculates that in
2007 the top .01 percent of American earners took home
6 percent of total U.S. wages, a figure that has nearly
doubled since 2000.

As of 2007, the top decile of American earners, Saez
writes, pulled in 49.7 percent of total wages
, a level
that’s “higher than any other year since 1917 and even
surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the
‘roaring” 1920s.'”Beginning in the economic expansion of the early 1990s,
Saez argues, the economy began to favor the top tiers
American earners, but much of the country missed was
left behind. “The top 1 percent incomes captured half
of the overall economic growth over the period
1993-2007,” Saes writes.

Despite a rising stock market, largely growing
employment and a historic housing boom things were not
nearly so rosy for the rest of U.S. workers. This
trend, according to Saez, only accelerated during the
George W. Bush’s tenure as President:

“…while the bottom 99 percent of incomes grew at a
solid pace of 2.7
percent per year from 1993-2000,
these incomes grew only 1.3 percent per year from
. As a result, in the economic expansion of
2002-2007, the top 1 percent captured two thirds of
income growth.”  (Emphasis mine)

READ the entire paper: