Sunday, May 27, 2007

Believers and Non-Believers.

"Neither God nor Master!" is an old anarchist slogan first stated by Bakunin, and a mighty fine one. But how does this jibe with the many anarchists, like Leo Tolstoy and Dorothy Day who were believers? Then again, how about the anarcho-pagans and their Goddess? How can such two widely divergent viewpoints be reconciled? Or can they be reconciled?

I say they can be reconciled to a degree. First off, what does one exactly mean by "God" ? For Bakunin, God was a vengeful authoritarian monster, a purely imaginary and human creation modeled upon earthy despots – a tyrant of infinite dimensions – one that had to be overthrown to liberate humanity. As long as people were beholden to such a horrible fantasy, they were in mental and spiritual chains and thus incapable of liberating themselves from their human masters.

This cruel monster is the God of religious "fundamentalists" everywhere, and to this extent Bakunin was absolutely right. But talk to the anarcho-believers, and this is definitely not how they see God. For them the Divine is benevolent, agree with Bakunin that the Monster is a human creation and reject it. Tangentially, many proto-anarchist Gnostics saw the Old Testament God - the one who creates, murders, curses and destroys seemingly in fits of psychopathic or infantile folly, not as God, but as Satan.

Fine, we now have an evil God and a kind one, and the anarcho-believers follow the latter. Such a God is not a "master" anymore than the eco-system is a "master". It just is and one goes with it, or one does not. If you don't go with it, you are "punished" by your own foolish behavior and not by some Super Cop In The Sky, in the same way we are being "punished" by Global Warming for the stupidity of polluting the atmosphere.

Neither Evil, nor Master, but surely the God concept is still irrational and a purely human invention? Maybe our believer comrades have a screw loose somewhere in wanting to believe in this fiction?

To answer this query we have to turn to the German American libertarian socialist philosopher Joseph Dietzgen, (1) who discovered the underlying materialist aspect of the God concept. A dialectical philosopher, he sought the rational kernel within all thought and belief. For Dietzgen, the basis of all rational thought was the interconnectedness and unity of all existence, also known by philosophers as the Absolute, the Universe or the Totality. It is this unity of existence that is the materialist basis of the God concept, or as he put it, ...the all-perfect Being, with the conception of God, with the Substance of Spinoza, with the "thing in itself" of Kant, and with the Absolute of Hegel, has its good reason in the fact that the sober conception of the Universe as the All-One with nothing above or outside or alongside of it, is the first postulate of a skilled and consistent mode of thinking... (2)

When you think about it, the Totality of Existence or the Universe does have the classic attributions of God – it is infinite, it is greater than anything else, and since everything is interconnected and every action ultimately effects every aspect, one can even stretch the notion to include a degree of omniscience. The basic idea is not wrong, it is what people do with it. The reification and anthropomorphication of the Totality creates the God that atheists deny...the infinite, eternal, is not personal, but objective. (3) [my emphasis]

The Totality is not too far removed from the Tao, or for that matter, (even though they have become reified) Dharma, Karma and Rita of Hinduism and Buddhism. And is not The Great Spirit of the First Nations more of a Creative Force-Totality than the personal God of the Abrahamic religions?

Now, I agree that the folks who desire a personal God, let alone those who crave a Celestial Monster to bully them, will not find the Totality satisfying, and this problem I cannot even begin to resolve. But what it ought to do, is make non-believers more sympathetic to believer comrades and to realize that both of us share a certain spiritual-philosophical common ground.

1. The Joseph Dietzgen Page

2. Joseph Dietzgen, Some of the Philosophical Essays, p. 274

3. Joseph Dietzgen, Popular Outcome of Philosophy, p. 437

This has been published in the Carnival of Anarchy


Blogger Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

We have been on the same wavelength today. While I was in the swirlpool today I watched about half an hour of a Memorial Service in a church Down South some place. The preacher, who looked like a grown up college quarterback, was bookended by two flags. The choir was singing about bombing the dickens out of people for Freedom and God, not necessarily in that Order.

I thought, "These people are Totally Nuts."

If religion did not make people crazy I would be more sympathetic to them and their wacky ideas. Bakunin was right on all counts.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Jeremy said...

I'm an anarchist and a student of the Law of One, which is a spiritual and metaphysical study based on the proposition that all things can be seen as one without separation and distinction. I find this idea of the "Totality" congruent with what I embue as "divine" (yes, I do accept that I give the "divine" its nature through my perception, but I think that's the basis of all we experience). My experience has been that there is also an intelligent , if not human, aspect to this Totality; that intelligence coalesces at various levels of hierarchical organization.

The implications of belief in the divine are interesting. Positing a balance to the universe and within all its systems comprises a major clue to the possibilities of achieving an optimal organizing ethic for humans. Also, the intelligent aspect of the universe seems to underlie a natural hierarchical organization to things. Of course, while I don't buy conservative conceptions of social hierarchies, I don't discount the possibility that one exists naturally - I just believe that, if that's true, it shouldn't require coercion to maintain if it's so natural.

We'll probably always make atheists uncomfortable. But I believe that has more to do with their experiences with God and religion than with our actions. I would never want somebody to believe in something based on "blind faith" - any more than I'd discount my experiences based on their authority.

By the way, many thanks for the mention of Dietzgen. I had never heard of him but he sounds very much in line with my beliefs. I definitely find his theories of a "materialistic" approach to God interesting - indeed, it reminds me of Stirner's approach: to locate the source of the spiritual, the divine outside ourselves is a choice that robs us of our power.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Rhinoceruz said...

god and anarchism...
i do believe in some sort of god, nonetheless i think he is somewhere else and everywhere but not like mighty big brother, Nietzche didn't kill god, society killed him when he was no lo longer useful, when he was no longer a good excuse.
The conception of god given in occident is that of someone watching and guiding everything we do and think, in this way God is and excuse; once i got into and argumente because i had a girlfriend who was drug addict and his mother was a radical christian, she would say something like "what can i do, it is a choice of god", there are two things i can get from this behavior:
first, i can't do nothing because i depend on someone elses choice, second, i don't have to anything because that's the choice of god and he does everything all right.
this is the kind of god i do not like, it's the same attitude of the fake existencialists, the don't have to do anything because everything's lost already.
As i see it god (if it exists) gave us a paradise and never kicked us out of there, he does not tell us what to do, that's up to us and we have to deal with the responsability of our acts in this life, anarchism is all about being responsable without the need of someone bigger and powerful telling us how and why we have to do it.
Anarchism might as well work pretty good with good in the sense that he does not rule us or judge us, maybe he's just a giver and it is our choice to do whatever we want with that given to us.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Like I said: Totally Nuts!

8:37 PM  
Blogger rabsteen said...

"Neither God nor Master!"

such a great quote. nice post

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Larry - fantastic post. I think this is one of the more insightful blog posts I've read in several months. Thanks for the enjoyable read.

I think the one problem which I see with your attempt to reconcile the Divine with anarchism -- and to be fair, you do acknowledge it yourself in the last paragraph -- is that your formulation ultimately rests on a conception of God which is so radically altered that I believe most theists or deists would reject it. The reification of the Hegelian Absolute, I would argue, is anathema to anarchism -- even if we take the reified being in a gnostic sense. Power doesn't need to be exercised in a malevolent fashion in order to be anathema to anarchism.

2:34 PM  

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