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Socialism is not only opposed to Christianity, but as a materialistic theory shatters all religious belief to its very foundation. We should, therefore, expect that were it ever to gain ascendency, religion would be buried never to rise again, and we should expect this all the more, as its extinction in the future commonwealth has been repeatedly predicted by the highest authorities. But here we are sorely puzzled. No sooner have socialists professed their anti-religious views before the whole world than they assure us that socialism is in need of a religion, nay, is a religion itself, and even the sublimest and most perfect religion. Such assurances, impossible as they seem to be, have been given by several writers in the clearest and most positive terms.
"Socialism of to-day is sorely in need of a church with a great religious prophet at its head." [The Passing of Capitalism, p. 45]
"Socialism brings back religion from heaven to earth, which was its original sphere." [Religion of Socialism, p. 52]
Peter Burrowes terms socialism the religion of humanity.
"Granting 'the cause' of religion to be found once for all in the cause of the world's workers, socialism becomes with all its developments the religion of humanity."
Still clearer is the statement of Herron:
"Essentially, socialism is a religion, the religion of life and for which the world long waited."
"In its essence socialism is a religion; it stands for the harmonious relating of the whole of man; it stands for a vast and collective fulfilling of the law of love. As the socialist movement grows, its religious forces will come forth from the furnace of consuming experience." [Why I Am a Socialist. Chicago 1900. p. 27]
How shall we look on these and other like assertions? Are we to understand that those who made them retract what they maintain elsewhere and are converted from ungodliness to religiousness? Or do they consciously or unconsciously entangle themselves in inextricable contradictions?
No such interpretations are necessary to solve this perplexing riddle. We need only bear in mind that among the socialist writers "religion" has two quite different meanings. Hence, according as it is taken in the one or the other sense, it may at the same time, though not under the same conception, be accepted or rejected by them. It is first and obviously conceived as belief in a God, the Supreme Being, and as worship of the Creator of the universe. Religion in this sense is held by all consistent socialists in utter abomination. But it is taken also as a social and ethical theory; and as such it is deemed necessary for, and even identical with, socialism.
Both Ladoff and Bax apprise us of this twofold conception they have of religion. The former says:
"Religion may be considered as composed of two principal disciplines. One of these disciplines is the ontological and presents some theory of the non ego, the not ourselves, the outward world at large, its origin, existence, and future and the mutual relations between this world at large and men. The other discipline is ethical and moral. It embraces some theory about social institutions and contains rules and regulations of human conduct corresponding to this theory. The first discipline of religion—the ontological or cosmological—is at present supplanted by scientific philosophy."
"The second discipline of religion, its ethical part, is still of great vital importance as a social power, modifying and regulating human interrelations and consociations for better or worse, according to conditions. Science has not yet succeeded so far in supplanting entirely the subjective, intuitional, emotional, and imaginative elements of religion by results of objective reasoning and impartial observation and investigation."
"It is therefore clear that religion may be of great assistance to secular Socialism, by arousing the human passion for righteousness, by appealing to race instincts and noble emotions, by directing the imagination to a grand vista of human bliss and happiness, of heroic deeds, of self-sacrifice and martyrdom, of fame and glory and immortality."
A Church and religion with this end in view, he adds, were recommended by Huxley, whom he calls the greatest scientist of the past century.
In like manner Bax characterizes the kind of religion which socialism disavows and the kind which it adopts.
"In what sense socialism is not religious will now be clear. It utterly despises 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, though not, indeed, to another world, but to another and a higher life in this world. It is in the hope and the struggle for this higher social life, ever-widening, ever-intensifying, whose ultimate possibilities are beyond the power of language to express or thought to conceive, that the Socialist finds his ideal, his religion."
Herron similarly conceives socialism as a religion when he says that "it stands for a vast and collective fulfilling of the law of love."
Joseph Dietzgen maintains that socialism takes the place of the old religion, and, because it performs its office in a higher and pre-eminent sense, is the only true religion. In his sermons on the "Religion of Socialism" we find some explanations, which complete the views set forth by Bax and Ladoff.
"Religion has since time immemorial been so much cared for and hallowed, that even those minds who have given up the belief in a personal God, in a supreme protector of mankind, still adhere to some sort of religion. Let us for the sake of those conservatives use the old word for the new thing. This is not only a concession made to prejudice, in order the more easily to overcome it, but it is also justified by the thing itself."
Dietzgen marks out salvation as the first object of religion.
"All religions have this in common, that they strive for the salvation of suffering humanity, and to lead it up to the good, the beautiful, the righteous, and the divine. Well, social democracy is all the more the true religion as it strives for the very same end, not in a fantastic way, not by praying and fasting, wishing and sighing, but in a manner positive and active, real and true, by the social organization of manual and mental work."
"Work is the name of the new redeemer."
"We deal here with the salvation of mankind in the truest sense of the word. If there be anything holy, here we stand before the holy of holiest. . . . It is real, positive salvation of the whole civilized humanity. This salvation was neither invented nor revealed; it has grown out of the accumulated labor of history. It consists in the wealth of today which arose glorious and dazzling in the light of science, out of the darkness of barbarism, out of the oppression, superstition, and misery of the people, out of human flesh and blood, to save humanity. This wealth, in all its palpable reality, is the solid foundation of hope for social democracy."
"In the secrets which we have wrung from Nature; in the magic formulas by which we force her to do our wishes and to yield her bounties without any painful work on our part; in the constantly increasing improvement of the methods of production —in this, I say, consists the wealth which can accomplish what no redeemer ever could." [Philosophical Essays, pp. 93-95]
Besides salvation religion has for its object systematic thought.
"Religion is primitive philosophy. ... I called religion philosophy, because it claims not only to redeem us, with the help of gods, and by praying and whining, from the earthly miseries, but also to lend a systematic frame to our thinking. The universal significance of religion for uncultured tribes is founded on the universal need for a systematic knowledge of the world. Just as we generally have a practical need for the dominion over the things of the world, so do we generally have a theoretical need for a systematic view of life."
"Yet it is not sufficient to dethrone the phantastic and religious system of life; it is necessary to put a new system, a rational one, in its stead. And that only the socialist can accomplish."
"In place of religion social democracy puts a systematic conception of the universe."
"According to the religious systems God is the final cause."
"International social democracy is proud to know the 'final cause' on which everything rests, and to possess a scientific basis for everything and a 'systematic philosophy.'"
"This philosophy finds its 'final cause' in the real conditions."
"Therefore we are able to mold consciously and with systematic consistency our notions of justice and liberty after our material needs, that is the needs of the proletariat, of the masses."
Religion thus conceived does not interfere with the abolition of the worship of a personal God, but fully harmonizes with the most pronounced atheism. Thus the riddle of socialism as a religion seems to be satisfactorily solved.
This brand-new conception of religion as proposed by socialist writers still presents a difficulty, which peremptorily demands an explanation. Religion, of whatever kind, also as defined and adopted by socialists, implies a supreme being, to which it refers men and in subordination to which they find their happiness, their true life, their highest perfection. But where in all materialistic philosophy is there a being to which man could be subordinated, man who is autonomous and "made god after his own image"? Socialist philosophers have not failed to give us an answer.
E. Untermann writes:
"'Ni Dieu, ni maitre.' The united human mind, lifted to world control by the proletarian revolution, will become the natural 'god' of the universe and make itself master of a self-controlled universe, whose highest product it is." [The World's Revolutions. p. 170]
Long before Untermann wrote these lines, J. Dietzgen had defined humanity or civilized society as the only true and eternal sanctuary and as the supreme being in which socialists believe.
"The saints and the sanctuaries, the religious and the worldly ones, must disappear in order that the only eternal and true sanctuary, humanity or mankind, may live." [Philosophical Essays. p. 105]
"Civilized human society is the supreme being in which we believe, on its transformation to socialism we build our hope. Such a humanity will make love a reality, of which the religious enthusiasts have been only dreaming."
Fundamentally, the two writers are at one. As they put it, not individual man is the supreme being, for he is still dependent on his social and physical environment, but human society; and not human society in its initial stage, but society fully developed in knowledge and so far advanced in power as to be able to master and control the universe. Accordingly, the supreme being is not the first cause, the creator of the world, but the world's highest product and ultimate evolution. Nor has it as yet real existence. At present it is only an ideal which ought to inspire men with the highest moral sentiments, a final cause, an end which is to be achieved by their co-operation and which, vice versa, when attained, will bring complete happiness.
Whatever system refers men to humanity as their supreme being and ultimate end is usually called humanitarianism. Socialism, therefore, conceived as a religion, is humanitarian in the strict and proper sense. So it is, in fact, termed by socialist writers, and as such it is represented by them in glowing and enthusiastic descriptions.
"Socialism has well been described as a new conception of the world presenting itself in industry as co-operative communism, in politics as international republicanism, in religion as atheistic humanitarianism, by which is meant the recognition of social progress as our being's highest end and aim. ... As the religion of slave industry was paganism, as the religion of serfage was Catholic Christianity, or sacerdotalism, as the religion of capitalism is Protestant Christianity, or biblical dogma, so the religion of collective and co-operative industry is humanism, which is another name for socialism."
Ladoff is yet clearer:
"Socialism is sorely in need of a moral or religious force. But such a religious force must be and is gradually being developed in a thoroughly rationalistic idealism, full of vigor and faith in the inherent nobility and great future of the human race here on our mother earth, in a self-sacrificing passion for social-economic justice in human society; in a tender sympathy with all downtrodden and dispossessed children of labor; in a hatred of all evil and wrong in human interrelations; in an arduous desire for a nobler, higher, and more truly human culture. Such a religion of a divine humanity, moving onward and onward on the high road of physical and spiritual perfection, is the religion of socialism."
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