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“The basis of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. In other words, religion is the self-consciousness and self-feeling of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, a reversed world-consciousness, because they are a reversed world. Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn completion, its universal ground for consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore mediately the fight against the other world, of which religion is the spiritual aroma.
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and 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 a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of woe, the halo of which is religion.
Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man will wear the chain without any fantasy or consolation but so that he will shake off the chain and cull the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man to make him think and act and shape his reality like a man who has been disillusioned and has come to reason, so that he will revolve round himself and therefore round his true sun. Religion is only the illusory sun which revolves round man as long as he does not revolve around himself.”
In: MARX AND ENGELS. ON RELIGION. Dover, 2008. Pg. 42
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In 1994, Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011) made a documentary for BBC called Hell’s Angel. It was a bold and highly controversial investigation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, vaunted by many devotees as a saint. Prior to Hitchens’ critique, almost every book or film about Teresa portrayed her as a holy icon, worthy of reverence, a hero of charity on behalf of the wretched of the earth. But the great iconoclast Hitchens, in his book The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and in Practise, dared to ask some inconvenient questions about Mother Teresa.
Seeing beyond the mist of idealization and deification, which had turned Teresa into a religious celebrity of worldwide prominence, Hitchens attempts to reveal the nitty-gritty of her actions and relationships. He especially focuses on her campaigns against contraception and abortion, and her questionable relationships with right-wing political leaders.
Hitchens discovers that Mother Teresa’s career was far from spotless and
“Charles Keating, for instance, donated more than $1 million bucks to her – much or all of it gained from his avowedly criminal activities in the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s. (…) Perhaps some of this can be excused by her need to drum up charitable contribuitons from all possible sources for her Missionaries of Charity. But there seems to be much more to it. Why was she so keen on hanging around such lowlives as the vicious dictator Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier of Haiti? (…) This behaviour might be forgiven if the charity work that Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta for decades were actually worth doing – but of even this there are strong doubts. Her devotion to the poor, the diseased, and the friendless would seem to be exemplary of the best that religion can do. Why is it that, even though one of her many bank accounts (this one in Utah) contained the sum of $50 million, her hospitals around the world were so poorly equipped?” (JOSHI, p. 237)
Teresa belief in her God-given mission to fight the two world’s most horrible evils – abortion and contraception – is also a theme which Hitchens explores with fierce criticism, especially considering that India has a population of more than 1 billion and 200 million people (and with a massive problem of undernourishment and widespread hunger). “It is difficult to spend any time in Calcutta and conclude that what it most needs is a campaign against population control” (HITCHENS, p. 24).
Teresa’s missionary endeavour had also as one of its main goals, of course, conversion. As Joshi points out, she believed it was her duty to convert “as many non-Catholics as possible so that hell is not filled even more than it already is with benighted heretics and unbelievers.” (JOSHI, 238) She tried to convince agonizing Hindus and Muslims to consent to baptism by asking them: do you want a “ticket to heaven”? Susan Shields, who worked with Mother Teresa, revealed also that those who didn’t consent to be baptized Christians were secretly baptised anyway: Teresa used to pretend she was cooling the forehead of the diseased with a wet cloth, while she said quietly the necessary words of baptism. Perhaps she truly believed she was saving them from burning in the ever-lasting fires of hellish torture for the terrible sin of remaining faithful to Hinduism or Islam.
I would argue that to worship such a woman, as if she was sacrosanct and morally irreproachable, is a dangerous attitude we should avoid as highly pernicious idolatry. We only need to remember the preposterous claim she made about the AIDS (SIDA) epidemic – “it is just retribution for improper sexual conduct” – to be aware of how questionable is her purported saintliness. She and many other people of the cloth “have maintained that AIDS is a punishment meted out to homosexuals for their sinful behavior.” (JOSHI, p. 241). I ask you, fellow earthlings: do you believe that homophobia and sectarianism deserve to be celebrated as saintly virtues? Should we worship a nun who went on a Cruzade against condoms, even though we know of the millions of lives that could have been saved if safe-sex campaigns were not boycotted by religious leaders?
In the last decades, we have seem an upsurge of best-selling books from atheists and agnostics, from sceptics and freethinkers. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and André Comte-Sponville’s L’Esprit de L’Athéisme are among the more widely read and discussed of them. Christopher Hitchens has joined this wave of atheistic literature with his highly controversial God Is Not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything, in which he “draws keenly upon his world travels as a political journalist and sometime foreign correspondent, revealing at first hand how religion actually operates in the real world” (JOSHI, p. 239). This, in a nutshell, is Hitchens’s conclusion:
“My four irreducible objections to religion are: 1) it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos; 2) because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism; 3) it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression; and 4) it is ultimately grounded on wishful-thinking.” – CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, God is Not Great
The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice
Christopher Hitchens (1995, Verso, 96 pgs)
Synopsis: “Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, feted by politicians, the Church and the world’s media, Mother Teresa of Calcutta appears to be on the fast track to sainthood. But what, asks Christopher Hitchens, makes Mother Teresa so divine? In a frank expose of the Teresa cult, Hitchens details the nature and limits of one woman’s mission to the world’s poor. He probes the source of the heroic status bestowed upon an Albanian nun whose only declared wish is to serve God. He asks whether Mother Teresa’s good works answer any higher purpose than the need of the world’s privileged to see someone, somewhere, doing something for the Third World. He unmasks pseudo-miracles, questions Mother Teresa’s fitness to adjudicate on matters of sex and reproduction, and reports on a version of saintly ubiquity which affords genial relations with dictators, corrupt tycoons and convicted frauds.”
“Metaphysical fictions are involved in the central concepts and values of Western culture, which dominate and distort every individual’s life. (…) The whole network of epistemological and moral concepts in which we live expresses, in this respect, a psychology of escape and repression. In Nietzsche’s terms it is a fear of facing the truth, the cowardice of the person retreating before the abyss. Further, the system of rational fictions we project on the world enables us, the weak, to dominate the world in an imaginary way and thus express our will to power in a rather devious manner. In subjecting, as it were, the world to a network of rules and laws of our own invention, we establish our alleged superiority over it and subject the universe itself to our metaphysical illusions.
The Christian religion, even more than rationalistic science and morality, produces and offers a veil of mystification which serves human weakness, meekness, and the negation of life. Images of a transcendent god and a next world make real earthly life appear null and worthless; and by means of moral images of punishment and reward, divine Providence, a moral world order, conscience, repentance, and guilt feelings, men and women interiorize their hatred of life and become self-oppressed.
Though Nietzsche was called a nihilist, he himself regarded nihilism as his number one enemy. Genuine nihilism, he claims, resides in Christianity, whose essence is to deny life’s value, to opress life, and to fight against it. The ascetic ideal – the summit of spirituality in Christian eyes (and also in the eyes of the atheist Schopenhauer) – is to Nietzsche the greatest distortion of the spirit which Christianity propagates.” (pg. 108)
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“This attempt at a radical critique, both in its roots and in its scope, is dramatically expressed in Nietzsche’s dictum about the death of God, and even more in his less well-known but more accurate exclamation in The Gay Science: ‘When will all these shadows of God cease to darken our minds? When will we complete our de-deification (*) of nature?’ (GS, 125)
(*) entogöttilicht, literally “freed of God”
Even after God’s death, his shadows still dominate the world. Hence the true role of philosophical criticism is to purge the world of the shadows of the dead God (GS, 108). These shadows are the vestiges of belief in a rational world, a cosmos ruled by a logos, the validity of the natural sciences, of the ‘pure’ laws of logic, the dominion of causality, and the cogency of the concepts of substance and identity. Modern natural science pretended to have banned God from the picture of nature, but has reinstated God’s shadows through the back door.
Philosophical rationalism and the belief in science are disguised versions of the old religious notion of a moral world order, and are likewise based on anthropomorphism – the projection of man’s wishes, needs, customs, and aspirations on the structure of the universe. (…) In contrast to Spinoza, for whom the world was saturated (because identical) with God, for Nietzsche the demand to grasp nature as ‘clear of God’ is the precondition for man to ‘become nature again’: that is, to be cured of decadence.” (pg. 112)
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“Life’s meaning is not something ready-made, by its mere existence, but is shaped through a process of self-overcoming. A precondition for this is the recognition that there are no objective meanings and values out there in the world, that the world is disrobed of God and his shadows. Therefore the test of the noble person – the “overman” which Nietzsche pretends to announce – lies in the question: ‘How much truth can be bear?’
Tearing away as many of his protective masks as he or she can, the Dionysian person is supposed to face a universe stripped of rational meaning and of all support by permanent values, and to be capable of converting this terrifying recognition into a new source of life’s power and even a new kind of joy. (‘Joyous knowing’ is, I think, a better rendering of Nietzsche’s famous ‘La Gaya Scienza’).
But what kind of knowing is this? It is certainly not merely a cognitive disposition; it is equally a self-commitment, a passion, a form of willing. It is a mode of recognition and realization, two words which imply taking a stand, performing an act, placing oneself in some firm position. The Dionysian person’s knowing is not the affirmation of a statement, nor even a simple disillusionment, but an act of the whole person which affirms a whole existentical ‘fate’ and accepts a certain way of living, which others would consider miserable, as a basis for joy and creativity.
The psychology of ordinary people is different. When facing hard truths, such people are liable to react by negating life, plunging into despair and nihilism, or running back to the consoling lap of illusion. Weak persons opt for optimism because they cannot overcome pessimism, whereas for the kind of person Nietzsche foresees, a “pessimist” view of existence is merely the starting point to be overcome, an introduction to the affirmation of life and the acceptance of difficulty and suffering, by which to gain new sources of power and joy.
This dialectical overcoming of the temptation of nihilism (and also of superficial optimism) is Nietzsche’s main message; it is the crux of his Dionysian stance, the essence of tragedy and the tragic way of life. The Dionysian person neither shuns suffering (mental and physical) and the recognition of chaos, nor lets them drag him into the abyss of despair. Rather, by saying ‘YES’ to life with all its contingent, absurd, and horrible aspects, he converts this recognition into a source of existential power.”
Dark Riddle: Hegel, Nietzsche and the Jews
(1998, Pennsylvania State University, Pgs. 107 -114)
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Yovel is Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
and Hans Jonas Professor at the New School for Social Research in New York.
He also wrote Spinoza and Other Heretics and Kant and the Philosophy of History,
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FAITH & DOUBT
by Jean-Marie Guyau (1854-1888)
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“Doubt has long enough been accused of immorality, but the immorality of dogmatic faith can be equally maintained. To believe is to assert as real to myself that which I simply conceive as possible – sometimes as impossible. This is seeking to build up an artificial truth… At the same time it is shuting one’s eyes to the objective truth, thrusting it aside beforehand without knowing anything about it. The greatest enemy of the human progress is the presupposition… Faith from that point of view becomes indolence of thought. Indifference even is often superior to dogmatic faith. One who is indifferent says: ‘I do not care to know.’ But he adds: ‘I will not believe’. The believer wants to believe without knowing. Therefore, whatever may be the question, doubt is better than the perpetual affirmation, better than the renunciation of all personal initiative, which is called faith. This kind of intellectual suicide is inexcusable, and that which is still more strange is the pretension to justify it, as is constantly done, by invoking moral reasons… “The dignity of believing!” – you reply. Man has too often, all through history, rested his dignity upon errors… The truth is not always so fair as the dream, but its advantage is that it is true. In the domain of thought there is nothing more moral than truth; and when truth cannot be secured through positive knowledge, nothing is more moral than doubt. Doubt is dignity of mind. We must therefore drive out of ourselves the blind respect for certain principles, for certain beliefs. We must be able to question, scrutinize, penetrate everything…”
JEAN-MARIE GUYAU (1854-1888).
French philosopher and poet.
In: “Esquisse d’une morale sans obligation ni sanction”. Pg. 62. SHARE.You might also enjoy:
COSMOS – A SPACE-TIME ODYSSEY
“Friedrich Nietzsche was a preacher’s son, brought up in the fear of the Lord. It is the ideal training for sham-smashers and freethinkers. Let a boy of alert, restless intelligence come to early manhood in an atmosphere of strong faith, wherein doubts are blasphemies and inquiry is a crime, and rebellion is certain to appear with his beard. So long as his mind feels itself puny beside the overwhelming pomp and circumstance of parental authority, he will remain docile and even pious. But so soon as he begins to see authority as something ever finite, variable and all-too-human – when he begins to realize that his father and his mother, in the last analysis, are mere human beings, and fallible like himself – then he will fly precipitately toward the intellectual wailing places, to think his own thoughts in his own way and to worship his own gods beneath the open sky. As a child Nietzsche was holy; as a man he was the symbol and embodiment of all unholiness. At nine he was already versed in the lore of the reverend doctors, and the pulpit, to his happy mother – a preacher’s daughter a well as a preacher’s wife – seemed his logical and lofty goal; at thirty he was chief among those who held that all pulpits should be torn down and fashioned into bludgeons, to beat out the silly brains of theologians.”
HENRY LOUIS MENCKEN (1880-1956).
The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.
3rd Edition. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2003.
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Some of Nietzsche’s works in e-book (free download):
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“Few forces in the world are as potent, as influential, as religion. As we struggle to resolve the terrible economical and social inequities that currently disfigure our planet, and minimize the violence and degradation we see, we have to recognize that if we have a blind spot about religion our efforts will almost certainly fail, and may make matters much worse… If we don’t subject religion to such scrutiny now, and work out together whatever revisions and reforms are called for, we will pass on a legacy of ever more toxic forms of religion to our descendants.
Religion plays its most important role in supporting morality, many think, by giving people an unbeatable reason to do good: the promise of an infinite reward in heaven, and (depending on tastes) the threat of an infinite punishment in hell if they don’t. Without the divine carrot and stick, goes this reasoning, people would loll about aimlessly or indulge their basest desires, break their promises, cheat on their spouses, neglect their duties, and so on. There are two well-known problems with this reasoning: (1) it doesn’t seem to be true, which is good news, since (2) it is such a demeaning view of human nature.
Everybody already knows the evidence for the countervailing hypothesis that the belief in a reward in heaven can sometimes motivate acts of monstruous evil. (…) This can be seen as an infantile concept of God in the first place, pandering to immaturity instead of encouraging genuine moral commitment. As Mitchell Silver notes, the God who rewards goodness in heaven beats a striking resemblance to the hero of the popular song ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’…”
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
(Pgs. 38-39 & 279-280)
Available at the Toronto Public Library.
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