Questions from the audience at the November 15 Dialogue between Cornel West and Bob Avakian
Updated December 31, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
At the Dialogue between Cornel West and Bob Avakian on Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, the audience was invited to write down their questions. More than 200 questions were submitted. During their discussion, Cornel West and Bob Avakian had time to speak to ten of these questions, which are printed below. Hear Cornel West's and Bob Avakian's discussion of these ten questions in the rebroadcast.
- "For many Black and Brown people who believe in Jesus Christ and rely on him for salvation, how do they square their religious faith, or can they square their religious faith, with a revolutionary mindset that does not look to heaven to fix problems on Earth, because many will not give up their God?"
- “How do we as a community approach the NYPD and our city officials to demand justice and free our children now, who are now incarcerated, all facing conspiracy charges and life in prison? We need help!” Which is a very powerful question. The second is I think related, from someone from Ferguson, Missouri. They ask: “Why are we, in 2015, still going through this hell, because I never thought I'd be still fighting for justice.”
- “I wish life could be like this room tonight all the time, but when we leave here, we go back to a hard world, where some people go through hell, and others harden their hearts and heads to the possibility that things can actually be much better. How do we carry the spirit of mutual respect back home and sustain it while we struggle to change the world. I mean, cynicism is deep; how do we keep our heads?”
- “I hear what you're saying, that I should be part of the revolution, and part of building this dialogue, but I'm too messed up, and I've done too many messed up things.” So what would you say to the youth in particular, the youth who've been cast out by this system, who say that?
- “Every rational conversation should begin with definitions, and John Lennon gave the best definition of god that I've ever heard: ‘God is a concept by which we measure our pain.’ Can you guys do any better in terms of defining god?”
- “In response to voting, is there no value in working to abolish a system while participating to minimalize the immediate damage it does at the same time?”
And then someone else asks: “If we avoid voting, because no candidate represents 'the Left,' how can we also avoid enabling the rise of the worst of the Right?”
- “How in this world are we, the oppressed, to accomplish true revolution peacefully, when in reality, the powers-that-be have all the artillery to kill, while all we have are our voices and our fists? How do we compete? There's no ‘win’ in this picture for the oppressed, as I can see. Please shed some light on this.”
- “What in communist thinking on the one hand and religious thinking on the other is a power for admitting the sins of communists worldwide or biblical texts? What enables communists on the one hand and religious people on the other to say, ‘We were wrong?’”
- “What is the role of art in revolution?”
- “What lessons in life did you learn the hard way?” And, "What is the wisest thing anyone's said to you?”
Many more questions were submitted to Cornel West and Bob Avakian than could be addressed at the Dialogue. The following are some of those additional questions.
- "Does the harm of religion spring primarily from the lack of preservation of the meaning/correct interpretation of the texts, or from the presence of statements susceptible to harmful misinterpretations despite the preservation of the text's meaning? Does morality entirely come from class relations and interests, or does reference to these sources fall short of explaining instances where people act against both of those interests, in a moral manner?"
- Why do we revolt instead of evolve up and out of the restraints of this system?
- How can we the people help make a better world? The world is facing a difficult time and it is getting worse. Could you offer a word of advice on how we can cope in an uncertain world?
- In these male-dominated spaces, what role and in what ways do you all involve the concerns of women and girls of color (including sexual violence, silencing, gender-based discrimination, trafficking, etc.)? Please don't forget our girls and women!
- Cornel West describes a central role of radical love in transforming the world. Could Bob Avakian explain how he sees that?
- How can we break the Hypnotic corporate spell off of the minds of Americans, who have mentally and spiritually fallen asleep behind the television screens, the newspapers and magazines, and pseudo-religious doctrines—all owned by the same multi-headed corporate Beast that controls over 90% of information going out into the public mind—the same monster which controls the school-to-prison pipeline institutions, like a conveyor belt intaking humans and mass producing robotic slaves, who go on to become teachers, police officers, soldiers and general consumers of the Corporate Conglomerates that Play Monopoly with us All?
- What was the way that Mao and Stalin handled the contradiction of religion after those revolutions and what does the "new synthesis" say about dealing with this contradiction?
- What does revolution look like? Who are the players and does it necessarily involve bloodshed?
- How can we revolutionize this country and not lose our spiritual faith that is taught to us by our upbringing, by our parents and family? Do you need to lose your spiritual faith in order to revolutionize the world?
- What has religion done to unify the Blacks in America to become self-aware and self-sustaining?
- Is religion—in a form that does not deny science and is open to inquiry and change—harmful? Why or why not? Is "prophetic fire" worth the superstition that accompanies it?
- Given the militarization of the police force and the criminalization of Black people uniting in force as conspiracy, what do each of you think would be a strategy to fight? They are actually killing us!!!
- If in communism there are no divisions or classes of people, how then will the many different religions survive in a society not divided when there are soooo many types of religions?
- A question for Mr. Cornel West: How could we respect and uphold the religious ideologies when they support the system of capitalism—the system which oppresses and exploits to survive? Also, these religions all justify and promote the oppression of women and openly declare that all women should submit and be subordinate to their male partners.
- To Bob: Do you think "religion" is a road blocker to the revolution?
To Cornel: Bob spoke about using a scientific approach to analyze the system, but religion is not scientific, just emotional! Then how do you think you guys still go together??
- What are the specific strategies you are advocating we begin using to fight oppression? If violence is the strategy, given increased police repression and the fact that this strategy has not always been successful when used in revolutionary movements, what is different about the method of violence you are advocating for?
- To say we should rely on science for facts would also imply that science should be able to answer the question why. Also, how can we differentiate real science from science fiction—both science and science fiction are becoming part of our reality?
- Dr. West, could you expound on three words for me as you feel they relate to poor people's struggles—Humility, Dignity, and Indifference?
- How would the Communist Party handle the conflict in Palestine and the slaughter of the Palestinian people?
- For Dr. West: Is it possible for Christianity to confront, publicly, those who use religion to oppress? (Think Dominionists, 'The Family', and so-called evangelicals, whose efforts support the political establishment.)
- What is the application of Science in Art? What is the role of Art and the artistic process in Science? What does this have to do with a revolutionary morality?
- To both, mainly Bob: The vision and utopia of another world without the violence and injustices of capitalism are good, and most of us here do not need to be convinced of that. What about some specifics of how to get there? What are revolutionaries in the belly of the empire in the 21st century proposing that adds to previous conversations and proposals? Are there any corrections to be made in the course of revolution, taking into consideration the failure of some states in realizing communism or fulfilling the revolutionary dream? What to do to prevent today's revolutionaries from becoming tomorrow's oppressors when in power?
- The capitalist-imperialist system is so diversified. How is a revolution going to happen? What plans are in place for AFTER the revolution?
- Climate change is the most comprehensive threat to humanity caused yet by the capitalist system, yet most people believe either that god has plans to end all existence at some point relatively soon or that science can come up with technological solutions In other words, why act? What do you each believe needs to happen specifically to prevent the destruction of most living species as a result of climate change?
- Do you not feel that communism, its rejection of widespread dialogue and its claim to definitive truth is not in itself a "religion"?
- I address this question to both speakers: I have grown up Christian, but as I have gotten older, I see organized religion as a tool used to hold people down, as part of an unholy trinity—Christianity (Religion)/Imperialism/Capitalism. Am I wrong on this?
- What is the difference between a revolutionary communist who joins a party and an activist? Why should people be revolutionary communists?
- How can you, as a Christian, speak about a God that was given to us as Black People by white slave masters? What is Bob's view on this shit? How are either of you organizing or training youth to think outside the box of our current system?
- What does a party of heroes, like the Black Panthers, look like today?
- How do you speak to the role of violence in the revolution? WHEN violence is the end of reason and debate and FAIRNESS?
- To Cornel West: Bob Avakian referred to "salad-bar Christianity" and asserted that all Christians practice it. Do you experience yourself practicing "salad-bar Christianity"? If not, why not?
- How would you respond to folks like Reinhold Niebuhr, who would say that Communism and its belief in dialectical materialism is its own form of religion, as it attempts to predict what will happen in the future—an ultimate clash between classes?
- If the advances of the 1960s have been under attack by the powers that be, then what shall be the nature of the counterattack that will regain lost ground and move forward? How can it be "sustainable," not just sustained?
- In a dialogue entitled "Revolution and Religion," the speakers should answer one simple question: What is religion? Define.
- BA: You have been advocating revolution and uprising for Black and brown people. Can you speak more about what renouncing white/male/heterosexual/wealthy privilege looks like? How can folks who hold these privileges be part of the uprising?
- What can a high school student (freshman) do to make a change?
- How do KINDNESS, COMPASSION, and HUMILITY coexist with revolutionary activism? How can we help people understand the painful truth of what is happening in the world without invalidating them?
- The argument that most Black people are Christian leads to the need for revolutionary Christianity more than revolutionary communism. Does that mean revolutionaries in non-Christian countries should be non-Christian religious revolutionaries?
- Historically, has religion spawned more good or more evil?
- Why do you believe there is dissonance between the elders of revolution and the youth who wish to continue it? How do we (youth and elders) rectify this dissonance?
- a) How might conflicts in a religious vs. a secular (materialist) conception of history present a problem for unified revolutionary political organization?
b) To what extent do future political endeavors depend on our relationship to and reading of human history, especially the history of capital?
c) Have either of you ever had a prophetic dream?
- Would BA speak of Spartacus on the cross and Jesus on the cross? Why is one remembered and not the other?
- For Bob Avakian: How would you define the "American working class" today? What is their revolutionary potential?
- Why the route of "religion" and not spirituality? Religions vary. They are confined to their own set of rules and norms. Conversely, spirituality can be practiced and pursued without the confinement of tradition. We know what oppression looks and feels like. We don't need a specific cloth to practice righteousness.
- With greed (or the love of money) being the culprit behind the majority of unsavory or oppressive decisions in our system today, how can we truly fight back when less than 20 families control the entire path and flow of every global currency?
- What inspires you about life and living?
- To Cornel West: Hotep! What are your thoughts on Pan-Africanists adopting and utilizing communist ideology?
- a) Many African-Americans have thrown off their slave owners. Why has there not been a similar mass movement to throw off the oppression of Christianity, with which they were also enslaved?
b) How is the "faith quotient" of Revolutionary Communism not exactly identical to the "faith quotient" of Christianity (no matter how many times the RCP calls its movement "scientific")?
c) Exactly how much room is there in the RCP's Constitution for [the New Socialist Republic in] North America for organized, perhaps fundamentalist religion?
- I would like to know how much longer it is going to take for a revolution to take place? Is it about people's mindset?
- Question for both presenters: Is it possible for communist or socialist ideas and practices to be fully implemented within a capitalist system? Please provide a rationale for your response.
- You have been such an inspiration in my life and continue to be. I went on the bus tour and ever since then, I have gotten closer to the Party. Everything that I experienced and witnessed on the tour changed me as a person. I hope the Party can expand from today's event and more people get involved. P.S., I wish I could give you a hug.
- Given the current two-party monopoly on message and platform, how can we move the public focus from various "isms" and onto the issues of poverty and unequal access?
- Can both guests respond to how revolutionary atheists can better listen to the particulars of people's religious heritage? I grew up not unlike Cornel, but am now an atheist and a revolutionary and get embarrassed when my atheist friends become "red and expert" on every denomination. They lose credibility on the street when this goes down.
- Cornel: From a spiritual/metaphysical perspective—anti-philosophical materialism—where the self consciousness can never die, is it possible to have as much enthusiasm for political activism as a Marxist?
- Why is there such lethargy among the masses in the U.S.?
- What will it take for mainstream America to embrace the world's population as equal? How does terrorist violence impact overall revolution? Does it detract or give it a louder voice?
- Is there anything "new" that Revolution and/or Religion can offer to the young generation (25 & under) that is jaded by all the manipulation and scandals that have ruined their hope for freedom?
- What is one action step to take as we go home to our local communities? How do we encourage, inspire and support those—the newcomers and the skeptics—who have been let down time and time again, convinced that hardened is who they are? How do we bring them along because hardened is not who they are?
- How do we, as revolutionaries, bring about gender equality in an age of shameless bullshit?
- We're from the Cabrini Green projects in Chicago. We want to know why is religion being pursued in revolution when making us choose is dictatorship in itself? We're on the same mission!
- They killed Malcolm, ML King, Jr. and decimated the Panthers. How can a revolution succeed, no matter how committed a significant group of people are?
- How do you feel about the military funding of Israel by America and what can we as Americans do against it?
- In what way is respecting the autonomy of non-human animals and not participating in eating them or drinking the milk or eating the eggs stolen from them—the torture, suffering and death of these sentient beings—antithetical to a Christian focus on the heart and compassion, or a revolutionary message of ending exploitation of women, African-Americans, immigrants, people of color and poor people? Can we add all sentient beings , regardless of their status as humans, to the list of oppressed and work towards the liberation of all?
- The book Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus by Joseph Atwill looks at the Old Testament, New Testament, The History of Jews and The War on the Jews and contends that Jesus was invented by the Jewish historian Joesphus after he was tortured around 73AD, after Caesar Flavius had completely decimated the Jews and wanted to make sure any surviving Jews would never again challenge the authority or god-status of Caesar. They created a pacifist Jesus so that followers (Jews, etc) would not struggle, fight against, resist the god-like supremacy of the rulers. What parts of the invented Jesus' message should we embrace and what parts should we reject in favor of Frederick Douglass' "power concedes nothing without a demand?"
- What of us who are African and Christian? How do we square our Christian beliefs with the reality that Christianity destroyed most of our native cultures and traditions?
- When I think about the fight for emancipation and the role of religion, the first thing that comes to my mind is the role of religion in perpetuating the conditions that make the fight for emancipation necessary in the first place. The fact that the negative aspect of religion is principal is hard to escape. So I believe the question is not what is the role of religion in the fight for emancipation, but how can people who are deeply religious make the biggest contribution possible to overcome the negative effects that are inherent in religion?—from a former prisoner from LA
- How do we create and sustain ways of life that bring us closer to the realization of our essential oneness as human beings?
- What are we gonna do about making this world a better world where we can all be treated the same? When and how?
- a) How can we better unite Antonio Gramsci's organic and traditional intellectuals?
b) How can we best resist the repressive state when they operate with arms?
c) Revolution requires a complete change of the system. That is not the removal of leaders, but the system of leaders itself. How can we peacefully dismantle the system that oppresses us?
d) Is there a way to protect leaders from censorship? Do you think the web and Twitter will be censored in the future?
- It is said that the ratio of earnings of high officials (CEOs, etc) to ordinary workers is $500 to $1. Under a practically functioning communist system, one that recognizes that Americans have been socialized to tolerate some inequality of compensation as a basis for incentives to excel, what might you imagine the high official to ordinary worker earning ratio should be?
- So the power cartel takes all the donuts for themselves and leaves one to be split up by the population. Isn't the proper organizing principle of a proper society more than just everyone gets a donut?
- What role do worldwide religious minorities such as Wiccans and Baha'i have in the revolution? Is it different from Christianity or Islam's role?
- To B. Avakian and C. West: What should be done about ISIS?
- Are religion and capitalism inextricably linked? In other words, can Mr. Avakian's proposed revolutionist theory operate while still considering religion?
- Instead of persistent talk of revolution, what specific strategies do you suggest to bring about specific change in our U.S./global systems? Martin Luther King spoke of an annual guaranteed income for the poor and indigent when he was structuring his Poor People's Campaign. We need specific strategy. Please speak on this!
- Is there a role for myth under both your visions, and how does myth relate to unleashing people to act on the truth in fighting against the brutality that people face?
- Doesn't religion and belief in God dissipate our energy for dealing with the real world? How do we know that communism is the best system to inspire the full actualization of human nature?
- How can we separate church and politics and say that we are humanely sound in our actions? Isn't the basis of religion our moral compass for compassionate living?
- What kind of prayer does President Obama say before ordering a drone attack?
- Cornel: What do you do with the garbage in the Bible? And how do you connect Christianity in its most fundamental sense with an analysis, strategy and theory of revolution?
- Someone said that they don't see how you can be scientific and at the same time believe in some supernatural force and said that Einstein was an example of such a person: he made breakthroughs in science yet clearly believed in God.
- Bob Avakian: Express your understanding of spirituality. What role does spirituality play in Revolution? What is higher consciousness to you?
- Are those of us who observe and critique the Obama presidency disingenuous when we say the Obama administration has not been transformative in its approach to social justice, this has been merely cosmetic?
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