"A Leap of Faith" and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods
Part 1: Religion Is Religion, Communism Is Scientific
Revolution #28, December 26, 2005, posted at revcom.us
This is the first article in a 3-part series. This article was written by Bob Avakian in response to a letter that was sent to him that attacked communism and argued against the scientific viewpoint and method, insisting that atheism is just another form of religion. Chairman Avakian addresses a number of points in that letter but focuses on the fundamental difference between a communist and scientific outlook and method on the one hand and, on the other hand, a religious worldview which relies on "leaps of faith."
Originally published in Revolution #10, this article is available in its entirety online at revcom.us.
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Not long ago I received a letter from someone who was provoked by hearing parts of my talk, "God Does Not Exist--We Need Liberation Without Gods," that were played by Michael Slate on Pacifica radio station KPFK in Los Angeles.1 In that letter, there are many distortions. Among other things, the writer of this letter claims that I referred to "Christianity" as an "evil," when in fact what this talk was identifying as "evil" was not Christianity itself but a fanatical biblical-literalist Christian fundamentalism whose political and ideological content indeed amount to a form of fascism (and so is very rightly referred to as Christian Fascism). That talk drew a very clear and firm distinction between this Christian Fascism, on the one hand, and other forms of Christian (and other religious) views, on the other hand. It made a point of emphasizing that, while communists, as scientific atheists, are opposed philosophically and ideologically to all forms of religious worldviews, we recognize and appreciate the fact that among Christians and people with other religious beliefs there are many who have taken important, indeed courageous and inspiring, stands in the struggle against various forms of oppression; that there are many more who can be won to that stand; and that it is vitally important to develop and strengthen unity with such people, even as we continue to struggle with them over questions of world outlook and political objectives.
The Historical Experience of Socialism, and Communist Principles
Not only does this letter misrepresent what my talk said about religion, but it also contains many other distortions, including on the history of the communist movement internationally and the experience of socialist society. It repeats, in their more crude forms, the attacks and slanders promoted by the ruling class and reactionary politicians, institutions and media, etc., against the Soviet Union, during the time of Lenin as well as Stalin, and against China during the period of Mao's leadership (and it brings up Cambodia under Pol Pot, which in reality was not at all an example of socialism or communism).2 Of course, the historical experience of socialist society and of the communist movement is very complex and is marked by contradiction: in what has been the first round in the existence of socialist states, in the Soviet Union and China, during the 20th century (and in the overall experience of the international communist movement), by far the main aspect has been the inspiring achievements, pointing to and carving out crucial parts of the path toward the abolition of all relations of exploitation and oppression, and toward the eventual emancipation of humanity, all over the globe; but there have also been real mistakes and shortcomings and there have been ways in which at times the actions and even the thinking of communists have failed to correspond and live up fully to the aims, methods, and principles of communism.
This experience is something I have devoted a great deal of attention and effort to analyzing, and drawing important lessons from, even while upholding what in reality has been the main and overwhelming aspect of this experience: its positive and emancipating reality.3 And further excavation and summation (analysis and synthesis, as we communists say) of this experience, while popularizing its great achievements--and drawing lessons for the future from all this--is something that communists throughout the world must continue to take up as a crucial responsibility. (Here it is important to note that, in addition to the work I have done and am continuing to do in this regard, our Party has launched and is leading an effort to Set the Record Straight with regard to this whole experience, and this will increasingly involve putting before growing numbers of people an actual, scientific summation of this experience, as more is continually dug into and summed up about it: its main, positive aspect, as well as the secondary but important summation of significant errors and shortcomings, and the synthesis of the key lessons from all this).
Also among its other distortions, this letter in response to my talk on religion is also fundamentally and crudely wrong in its attempted discussion of communist morality--or its claim that there is no such thing, that communists can have no morality. In a number of writings, and in an extensive way in my book Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones,4 I have spoken to some basic aspects and expressions of communist morality and contrasted its liberating principles with the reactionary and enslaving nature and content of the morality that characterizes the capitalist-imperialist system and "traditional morality" in general, including that based on the actual content of the Bible. (Among other things, the writer of this letter refers, mockingly and with sarcasm, to the idea that "Christians oppress women and homosexuals." Once again, the point is not that "Christians" in general do this but it is an undeniable fact that the Christian Bible promotes the oppression of women and gay people, and if anyone insists on acting according to a literal reading of the Bible, that person will certainly be joining in "oppress[ing] women and homosexuals." To see the truth of this, all you have to do is actually read the Bible, including not only the Old Testament--where it is said that homosexuals must be put to death [Leviticus 20:13] and where it not only defends but calls for the raping of women and carrying them off as prizes of war [to cite just one example: Numbers 31:15-18]--but also the New Testament, for example many of the Epistles of Paul, where he insists on the inferior status of women and demands that they be under the domination of men.)
This letter also baldly asserts that communists can have nothing to say--or nothing that is meaningful (or "intelligent")--about such questions as beauty and love. This, too, is completely wrong. In the Draft Programme of our Party, in our position paper on the question of homosexuality, in our newspaper, Revolution,and in many of my talks and writings--including my memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond, My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist and the book Marxism and the Call of the Future (which consists of conversations between me and Bill Martin, a professor of philosophy and radical social theorist, on questions of ethics, history, and politics) as well as the just-published book of mine, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy --there is considerable discussion of questions of beauty and love, as well as of ethics and morals, in which the communist viewpoint is clearly expressed (and I will leave it to the reader to consider whether what is said about these questions in those works is meaningful, or "intelligent").
Religion is Religion, Communism is Scientific
But what I want to focus on here--because it is a very important point of distortion which not only characterizes this letter but is much more broadly promoted, particularly by religious fundamentalists, and is the source of considerable confusion and misunderstanding--is the insistence that communism (and atheism generally) is actually just another form of religion and that in fact not only communism but all scientific thinking involves just as much a "leap of faith" as does religion. In this article, I will discuss how this is completely wrong and will examine the crucial differences between religion and "leaps of faith," on the one hand, and science and the scientific method--including communism, with its thorough, systematic and comprehensive scientific outlook and method--on the other hand.
This claim that communism (and more generally a scientific outlook and method) is just another form of religion is concentrated in the following from this letter:
"I hope you're not offended that I call your atheism faith. I'm sure you realize atheism is a faith system too. And since you've pinned you're [sic] hope on its truthfulness, we can call it your religion. How about that!? Bob Avakian is a religious man!"
"You probably realize what most evolutionists don't since no one was there to record the Big Bang, it too is just as much a leap of faith as the biblical version of creation. But no worries, you can always make your case stronger by stating forcefully, Evolution is a fact! "
The heart of the matter here--and what is fundamentally wrong in the viewpoint of the writer of this letter--is the attempt to distort what is involved in the application of a scientific method and approach, in the process of scientific investigation and analysis and in the drawing of scientifically based conclusions. More specifically, what is fundamentally wrong is the attempt to say that the actual leaps that are involved in arriving at rational knowledge of things --including through the application of the scientific method--somehow amount to the same thing as "leaps of faith" that are characteristic of religion. In fact, these are profoundly and radically different kinds of "leaps," and digging into the difference will not only further expose the confusion and outright distortions and misrepresentations in this letter, and in the method of thinking of its author, but much more importantly can help clarify the fundamental difference between a scientific and a religious approach to reality and to changing--or not changing--reality, including human society.
Next issue, part 2: The Leap from Perceptual to Rational Knowledge; Scientific Knowledge and the Scientific Method; A "Leap of Faith" Is a Leap Away From a True Understanding of Reality
2.As for Pol Pot, in reality, he was not a communist and Cambodia under his rule represents something very different from, and actually opposed to, a revolutionary, socialist country on the road to communism. For analysis, from the communist (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) standpoint, of what was wrong with the Pol Pot regime and how it represented a fundamental departure from communism, see "Condescending Saviours: What Went Wrong with the Pol Pot Regime" in A World To Win (1999/25), available online at awtw.org
3.See Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will in Revolution magazine No. 50 (December 1981), and Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism , excerpted in the Revolutionary Worker from August 2004 through March 2005. These talks, as well as many more writings and texts of talks by Bob Avakian which deal with many important questions relating to communism and the experience of socialist society so far, are available online at revcom.us
4. Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality, But Not Traditional Morality (Chicago: Banner Press, 1999).