Introduction – Christianity and Islam – a Marxist Analysis
The Blue Revolution is a political platform which aims to bring an end to the party political system by enabling as many like-minded people as possible from as wide a variety of backgrounds to stand for elections at every administrative level from Parish to Parliament. This is achieved by the simple means of authorising the use of the platforms emblems to those who endorse the Blue Revolution “core values” and five manifesto pledges.
As part of this process, a series of publications have been produced on important issue s which underpin our political attitudes and can be found on our Website www.ABlueRevolution.Org as well as in booklet form available from the address above.
This latest discussion paper has been produced because of the turmoil surrounding particularly in the Western world the effect of the two main religions and secularization .has on political thinking.
With increasing global interrelationships the issues of religious discord have become more strident and confused in the lives of people. Add to this mix political uncertainty and political response becomes more extreme and less than helpful to voters. Party politics seem irrelevant and voters become disillusioned.
This paper is part of an overall contribution attempting to come at the situation from a new perspective whilst drawing on past concepts.
Christianity and Islam – a Marxist Analysis
Marxism rejects the spiritual and adopts a materialist interpretation of history. Materialism is the study of economic and social reality not just the world of ideas. According to Classical Marxists the history of religion is simply the history of ideas that work in the economic interests of the powerful, but with the powerful claiming these ideas are sanctified by God. This sleight of hand, using God to justify material inequality, was a common feature of ideologies in the age of antiquity and is described by Plato as a ‘golden lie’ in his work known as ‘The Republic’.
Therefore, social progress according to Marxists does not happen because a God intervenes in human affairs. Marxists believe in progress arising from various active economic and scientific forces creating real-world conflicts which by getting resolved in the real-world, change society. This active process is called dialectics. Marxism is therefore based on dialectical materialism, the history of humanities social progress in terms of the conflict and resolution of various economic and scientific realities.
Furthermore, Marx argued that religion reflects various stages in the evolution of human consciousness as it is shaped by economic and scientific reality. Basically, the easier people find it to accept inequality and discrimination as ‘God’ given, the less evolved a person’s consciousness could be claimed to be. A troubling thought for everyone from the Salafists of Saudi Arabia to the Bourgeoisie of North America and Europe.
In the world of Classical Marxism, we have only two big world perspectives, the abstract ideas of religions and their Gods and the idea of Materialism. For Classical Marxists, it is all about economic, scientific and social facts, not faith.
To many ordinary western working people, Christianity and Islam have lost their relevance as neither reflects the material or spiritual needs of twenty-first-century humanity, both being stuck in a world of past inequality sanctified by ‘God’
As a result of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century revolutionary movements that created capitalism and which arose because protestant Christian doctrine was shaped by demands for greater social and economic mobility, the west created a society that eventually developed personal freedom and principles of legally enforced consent-based choice and contract, for all adults. Essentially freedom, but for most ordinary working people it amounted to little more than the freedom to starve! For capitalism to get established people had eventually to have this radical change forced on them. They did so because Protestantism needed to measure righteousness and virtue on earth and could not if religion were in favour of the poor in heaven as feudalism had been.
Roll forward three hundred years and the issue for the west is that this legal and economic consent-based framework now gives rise to an unbridled free for all, the ‘free market’ This leaves many impoverished whilst others, amass fortunes and the whole system has more than just a whiff of the immoral about it.
Without some widely understood and accepted rules of fair play this economic model has begun to consume society with what is seen by many as planet destroying greedy self-interest. A mass grab for consumables with little self-regulation. This has come about because the slow decline of Christianity, most marked in Western Europe, has eroded the application of Protestant Christian social values of hard work, sobriety, and thrift. At its simplest, Christianity based on ‘love thy neighbour’ eventually put some limits on the harsh economic indifference of the capitalist economy with workhouses, charities and prison reform. This was before Governments, yielding to outraged public opinion, became the nation’s moral arbiters, upholding choice-based consent, in a secular and therefore ‘rights’ based moral framework. Islamic sharia being a ‘political ideology’ offers humanity an alternative moral solution to both secularism’s rights and Christian morality.
Christianity having helped to create a dynamic social and economic society has now lost its role in shaping or constraining it, leaving it to a combination of personal self-interest constrained only by costly state intervention. This free-for-all offends people of faiths as well as those who believe in secular self-restraint imposed by the state. In the world of religion, Islam offers an alternative to all that the now secular once Christian west has created. Indeed, a non-violent form of ‘political Islam’ which extols the virtues of sharia and obedience to Allah within a peaceful Islam offers what seems to be considered by some Muslim scholars a path between Capitalism and Marxism. The writer George Bernard Shaw is often wrongly quoted as supporting this view. However because sharia is an ideology which pre dates capitalism and is based on submission to the revealed word of God and the human example set by Muhammed an example of man to be impersonated by others it lacks the consent based choice that is fundamental to any proper ‘Marxist’ revolution.
So, within the world of Christian and Islamic faith we have two views, self-restraint within Christianity, now largely ignored and a more rigid application of rules within Islam based on the Qur’an and Hadith. How can we understand this conflict in Marxist terms and therefore help to address it using a shared understanding of God to heal the difference between these two religions and assist both to an understanding of the secular community who feel threatened or baffled by religion?
To sort out the second part of this analysis therefore we need to ask some questions of religion. For example, how did Christianity create a dynamic social and economic model in the mid to late period of the last millennium, and why was Islam able to do the same prior to that, and then stop in or around the sixteenth century. And could Islam re discover its dynamic potential today?
Christianity’s first revolution was presenting in the first century a triune God. A God of three persons, father, son and holy spirit. Within Classical Marxism, it is possible to understand the significance of the Trinity in a way that explains its importance economically. Marx used the principles of dialectics to explain social evolution. The terms Marx used were thesis, antithesis and synthesis. So applying these terms to Christianity’s triune God, the Father is the originator of material and social reality, the creator, the Son becomes the opposite of this harsh world of brutality, exploitation, conquest and occupation, namely the ‘love’ of God, made man, Jesus, and the spirit is the process that combines them as they become collective Christian consciousness. This mirrors Marxist working-class consciousness. An awareness of the adverse consequences of earthly status, unfairness and inequality. Rich men and needles so to speak.
In Marxist theory thesis, antithesis and synthesis were used in the nineteenth century for an analysis of the politics of revolution. From the time of Christ onwards, the process of human material realities being established and then challenged, thus creating new economic and social systems eventually created the capitalist system. Capitalism based on extending basic legal principles of consent and choice within a free economy and to an expanding middle class, was, perhaps because of its somewhat anarchic nature, described by Adam Smith in the eighteenth century as being governed by an invisible hand. An abstracted concept used to describe the movement of resources in pursuit of economic goals, giving rise to both economic and social outcomes. Over-time by extending consent and choice to working men, women and minorities, Christian morality was undermined by secular rights.
Islam in the seventh century never accepted the trinity, adopting an implacable form of monotheism which is described as the doctrine of Tawhid which in its own way is as revolutionary as the Trinity was six hundred years earlier.
Tawhid holds that God is a singularity without characteristic, definition or form. God is abstracted to the point of being almost unknowable, except as revealed via the activity of humanity summed up in the Arabic term inshallah or God willing. This too is a revolutionary idea. Because of this unknowability and the revelation of God through human behaviour both good and bad, Islam has the potential to once again become a force for economic and social progress as it was in the fourteenth century. With Tawhid it is possible to see God as more akin to Adam Smith’s and the western world’s invisible hand, than a God who differentiates people and sanctions war, revenge, conquest, conversion and submission. These are human characteristics, which humanity has ascribed to God claiming they have Gods sanctification. It enables human actions to be classed as legitimate or profane all especially useful for imperfect humanity and for those who wish to use God to promote sectarian interests.
However, unlike the doctrine of Tawhid, God in much of the Islamic world is not abstracted. The God of Islam is, thanks to human intervention not without definition, character or form. This is the result of Gods singularity being revealed not through the transcendence of freely expressed collective human activity, directed by an “invisible hand” but through a revelation, delivered to Muhammed via the Angel Gabriel. The legacy of linking God to the moral requirements of one place at one time serves only to define God and therefore give Islamic justice as seventh-century man-made appearance. A morality of dress and hygiene practices and different roles and rights for women and men based on the limited understanding of seventh-century biology. It may also explain why for much of Islam’s history since the eighteen century the faithful were called Mohammedans. Followers of Mohammed and less obviously worshippers of a singular transcendent God.
So, in the twenty-first century, we have two powerful religions which are doctrinally at odds with each other and which both buffer against the west’s drive for a ‘secular’ world. A world without God. Christianity has given us the economic anarchy of the seventeenth to twenty-first century west and created the ‘invisible hand of capitalist free enterprise’ but has now left a moral vacuum, occupied by the secular state. Islam reflecting the unique and attractive idea of the singularity of God, a God revealing transcendence in a way like the western world’s invisible hand, has linked God to the moral and economic rites and realities of the seventh century Arab Peninsular.
The world has, therefore, two significant religions, neither able to progress humanity harmoniously, beset by opposing ideas of human freedom and set as they are in a secular western world of unlimited choice. Christianity had provided productive economic anarchy but today has declining moral influence. Islam has the capacity to once again be as revolutionary as Christianity once was because of Tawhid. However, by its doctrinal tie to the man-made seventh century, can do little more than encourage a return to past and now outdated certainties and religious dogma based on pre-enlightenment ideas of compulsion and coercion.
So, what is to be done? Maybe just accepting that for all faiths and no faith, human reality and science are Gods true revelation and they are compatible with both the doctrine of Tawhid and the western protestant and enlightenment notion of the invisible hand. The revelation of the God who is unknowable, with no definition or form revealed through the collective activity of humanity. So in conclusion within this understanding of God, both failure and success are of neutral importance as are good and evil all are God-ordained and reflect Gods love of human endeavour as we progress towards a greater understanding of Gods transcendence through the application of science and our material reality. If all faiths could accept this, it might help Christianity, Islam and secularism come to a common understanding of what God is, and moreover what God is not.
Mike Gilbert author Jane Robson proof-reader April 28th 2020