Revolutionary Worker #1240, May 16, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org
In light of the recent public stir over the movie "The Passion of the Christ" and the general promotion of religious fundamentalism in society, a newly formed revolutionary writers collective in Chicago studied the writings of RCP Chairman Bob Avakian on religion and selected excerpts for publication in the RW. The following selections on "Biblical Morality vs. Communist Morality," were taken from "Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones - We Need Morality but not Traditional Morality," From Can We Be Good Without God? RW #987 December 20, 1998, Revolutionary Moral Standards--Thoughts on Revolutionary Violence, RW #984 November 29, 1998 , and What is Communist Morality RW# 981 November 8, 1998.
The fact that the Bible's treatment of poverty and oppression is not one of calling for--let alone illuminating the path to--the abolition of these things, and the uprooting of their material basis, is typified in the Book of Isaiah. This prophetic book figures very prominently in the foundations of Christianity. It was said to have been a favorite scripture of Jesus, and it is supposed to provide the basis for Jesus' bona fides as the Messiah. And it is quite frequently invoked by those seeking to establish the Bible and Biblical tradition as the basis for acting on behalf of the poor and oppressed and for the creation of a just and peaceful world.
Wallis [referring to the author of The Soul of Politics Jim Wallis -ed.] even attempts to base his "notion of environmental justice" in "the prophetic vision of Isaiah. `They will not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.'"(p. 179) If we turn to this part of Isaiah, we find that it is prophesying about things that were supposed to happen more or less in Isaiah's own time, several thousand years ago. It is predicting the rise of a new Kingdom in that time, ruled by descendants of David, which would bring together Israel and Judah.
And what does Isaiah say that new, united Kingdom will do? It will attack the Philistines on the west and plunder the people to the east. Not much fabric for a "seamless garment" here! (Isaiah, chapter 11) Nor, for that matter, is there much basis for "environmental justice." At the very end of this chapter, we are told that "The Lord" will dry up the Gulf of Suez and will bring hot wind to dry up the Euphrates, so that his people of Israel can easily return to their promised land. And, if that is not enough, we learn in chapter 24 that "The Lord" is going to devastate the earth and make it waste--the earth will dry up and wither, the sky as well as the earth will decay, because god has declared a curse on the earth. And, again, we hear in chapter 34 how the rivers of Edom will turn into tar and the soil into sulfur. Isaiah is literally full of passages like this.
Similarly, it is in the book of Isaiah that we find the famous passage about how everlasting peace will come and the nations will beat their swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2:1-4). But, according to Isaiah, this peace will come through the exalting of god's chosen people and the grinding down and slaughtering of their enemies, as is reflected in the passages already cited here.
But a few additional citations may be necessary to leave no doubt as to what is really being said here, and to give a sense of the blood-thirstiness of it all. In describing how Babylon will be punished, Isaiah conveys the message of "The Lord": he will attack Babylon and bring it to ruin, leaving nothing, no survivors. Not even children will be spared: babies will be battered to death and the women will be raped before they are slaughtered (Isaiah, chapters 13 and 14). And again, toward the end of this book, "The Lord" proclaims, through Isaiah, that He will make Israel's oppressors kill each other, they will be drunk with murder and rage, so that all mankind will know that He is Lord that He is Israel's powerful god (Isaiah 49:25-26).
Really, the blood almost runs off the pages of Isaiah, which is full of passage after passage after passage like this.
The words in Isaiah about aiding the poor and helping the oppressed cannot be taken in the abstract or considered in isolation from the overall context and message of Isaiah. For example, in chapter 16, it is said that oppression and destruction will end, but again this is part of a vision of how Israel will rise and crush and subjugate Israel's former oppressors and tormentors. They will be turned into the slaves of Israel--and then the whole world will be at peace and all shall break out in joyful singing! (Isaiah 14:1-7)
Really, it is remarkable that anyone should attempt to use Isaiah--or more generally the "prophetic vision" of the Bible , or the Bible in its overall thrust--as some kind of basis for everlasting peace for humanity, with equality between nations as well as between women and men, and with justice for the poor and oppressed. But, as tortured and ultimately as impossible as that attempt may be, it is the kind of thing people are compelled to do if they feel compassion for the poor and the oppressed and a passion for peace but still resist rupturing with the very traditions and morals--and more fundamentally the underlying material conditions and social relations-- that enslave the masses of the world's people and hold back humanity from advancing to the stage where the division of society into classes and of the world into different nations will have been overcome and lasting peace can really become possible.
RW #987 December 20, 1998
"CAN WE BE GOOD WITHOUT GOD?" COMMUNISM ANSWERS "YES." This question was the title of a major article (by Glenn Tinder) in The Atlantic (December 1989), and it is a question that is frequently posed, and harped on, in contemporary society. In that article by Glenn Tinder and more generally in the posing of this question, the widely proclaimed "death of communism" figures prominently. This signals, in a kind of ironic and back-handed way, a recognition of the fact that communism has represented--and in reality continues to represent--the one hope of bringing about a (real) world where human beings are not mired in dog- eat-dog conditions and the corresponding mentality, where relations between them are not based on domination, plunder, and violence.
The answer to this question is on two levels: First, we have to be good without god, if we are going to be good at all, for the simple reason that there is no god. And second, the essential meaning of "good" in this era revolves around the abolition of all relations of oppression and exploitation and of the divisions among humanity between different and antagonistically opposed classes as well as nations--in other words, once again, the "4 Alls"* of the communist revolution--and that not only can be, but must be achieved without god, that is, without the belief in god. As Mao expressed it, "The epoch of world communism will be reached when all mankind voluntarily and consciously changes itself and the world" ("On Practice"); and that requires understanding and dealing with the world (the universe), including human beings and our society, as they really are, without the need for the invention of god(s) or supernatural forces of any kind.
*See excerpt on "What Is Communist Morality."
With communism will come the end of "sin." If "sin" is defined as deviation from the way of god, then objectively there is not and never has been any such thing, because there is not and never has been any god. But, beyond that, when the point is reached where the material and ideological conditions exist for humanity to voluntarily and consciously change itself and the world, then there will also be no (subjective) basis for "sin," because there will no longer be a need or basis for belief in god. At that point and into the future, there will still be right and wrong, good and bad--in the sense of what does and does not conform to objective reality and does and does not contribute to forging freedom out of necessity and enhancing the ability of society and the individuals who comprise it to continue developing in an all-around way--but there will no longer be the notion of "sin."
This notion of "sin," like the common concept of "human nature," is yet another expression of something that is not at all transcendent, unchanging and unchangeable, but on the contrary is historically and socially conditioned and is viewed differently in different eras and different societies and among different social groupings and classes within the same society.
Aristotle insisted that the concept of happiness did not apply to slaves, any more than to animals, but certainly the slaves of that time (if not the animals) did not agree with this. And in the more recent past, owners of slaves and upholders of slavery in the southern U.S., who invoked these arguments by Aristotle as justification, no doubt viewed "the nature" of the slaves, and of themselves, very differently than the slaves did.
Today, in most parts of the world, it is no longer considered "natural," or in conformity with "human nature," to have slavery, but this is because of changes in the productive forces and corresponding changes in the production relations of society, and not because of changes in "human nature"; or, perhaps it is better to put it, as Marx did, that these changes in "human nature" were brought about on the basis of changes in social productive forces and production relations and the attendant changes in the political and ideological superstructure of society ("all history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature").
Yet, up until the present, with all these changes in the mode of production and in social and class relations, there have been certain general features of "human nature" that have remained fundamentally the same in different societies. This is precisely because all these societies have been marked by class division and the monopolization of economic life and thereby of political, cultural, and intellectual life by a small ruling group, or class, even though the particular forms of this class division and monopolization have differed in different eras and in different types of societies. This is why "traditions" from earlier forms of class-divided society can still be carried forward and exert a great influence on contemporary society, but why on the other hand this can involve some profound and acute contradictions, such as the following: Today, in the eyes of most people who advocate Biblical values and the "Judeo-Christian tradition," such things as slavery, a man having not only one but many wives (along with concubines) as possessions, the conquest of women as prizes of war and the gang-raping of women, as well as the wanton slaughter of babies, are all considered great "sins"; yet such gigantic Biblical figures as David and Paul--and indeed "The Lord" himself--have all practiced and/or advocated one or more of these things in ways that the Bible treats not as sin , but as the opposite of sin.
This illustrates, from yet another angle, not only why present-day advocates of Biblically-based "traditional values" must frequently engage in rather remarkable mental gymnastics, as well as "myopics," but more essentially why there is the historic and urgent need for the two radical ruptures [the rupture with all traditional property relations and all traditional ideas--ed.] represented by the communist revolution.
Communist principles and morality do not lead to opposition to violence and war in general. Rather, communists oppose reactionary violence and war--which in this era is defined by the fact that it flows from and has the effect of serving imperialist domination, bourgeois dictatorship, and the all-around exploitation and oppression that is the essence of this system.
One of the most striking, and sickening, features of the much-ballyhooed discussion among the "mainstream" politicians and media in the U.S. over the question of violence and the cause of its frequent eruption in the U.S., is the fact that there is seemingly endless debate about whether rap music and movies, or the ownership by individuals of assault rifles, is the problem, while the role of the U.S. armed forces in carrying out almost untold carnage with weapons of mass destruction--and the speeches of presidents, military officials, and other representatives of the ruling class justifying and glorifying this carnage and destruction--is somehow overlooked in these "debates" about what promotes violence in America! Who, more than these instruments and mouthpieces of the ruling class, is really "teaching our youth that the way to resolve problems is through violence"--and reactionary violence at that?
What does it mean when these bourgeois political hacks rush to express their horror at what happened recently in Oklahoma City (the horror is very real, but the expression of horror by these politicians, et. al., involves the height of hypocrisy) when these same politicians and media "talking heads" supported, and helped "sell" to the American people, bombings of Iraq by the U.S. armed forces, which caused destruction and the death of people, above all of children, on a scale at least a thousand times greater than in Oklahoma City?!
In opposition to all this, communists support revolutionary violence and war--which flows from and serves the struggle to overcome and ultimately eliminate imperialist domination, bourgeois dictatorship and capitalist (and all other) exploitation and oppression, and to finally achieve the "4 Alls."
The basis for communist morality is contained, in a concentrated way, in what Maoists refer to as the "4 Alls." This is drawn from the summary by Marx of what the communist revolution aims for and leads to: the abolition of all class distinctions (or "class distinctions generally"); the abolition of all the relations of production on which these class distinctions rest; the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production; and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations. (See "The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850.") This provides the basic principle underlying communist morality and the basic standard for determining what is and what is not in accordance with communist morality: Whatever conforms to and contributes to these "4 Alls" is consistent with communist morality; whatever does not is opposed to, and opposed by, communist morality.
This, of course, does not mean that whenever someone claims to be a communist, and says that anything she or he does is in pursuit of these "4 Alls," then that automatically makes their actions an expression of communist morality. It does not mean that "anything goes" so long as it is presented as an expression of "communist morality" and a part of achieving communist aims. While the "4 Alls" sets the general standard for communist morality, how that must be applied in different circumstances is a matter of concrete analysis and application--as indeed it is with all morality (which is why, for example, there is such continual dispute among those who uphold the Bible and "traditional morality" about just what it means and how it should be applied in different situations).
One of the main accusations from those who oppose communism is that communists believe "the ends justify the means"--that anything is permissible so long as it can be said to be helping to move things toward the attainment of communism, eventually. This is not only untrue, it is an inversion of the truth. It is a principle of communism that the means must be consistent with and must flow from the ends (or aims). It is often necessary, and desirable, for communists to struggle for goals that are short of the final aim represented by the "4 Alls"--since this can contribute to the ultimate achievement of those "4 Alls"--but it is never acceptable for communists to uphold or fight for things, or to use means and methods, that are in basic opposition to that final aim. Communism demands the most determined and daring search for the truth, even if that truth should make one uncomfortable in the short run, because the more one grasps the truth--the more one has a correct and as comprehensive as possible an understanding of objective reality--the more possible it is to transform objective reality in a direction that best serves the interests of humanity.