Revolution#127, April 20, 2008
Two Views on Spartacus
Pope Benedict XVI will soon be visiting New York—and, as it happens, at the very time when the Party will be making major efforts in promoting Bob Avakian’s new book Away With All Gods! In an even further coincidence, both Benedict in his latest encyclical and Avakian in his new book cite the example of Spartacus and contrast it with what is represented by Jesus and Christianity.
It is quite interesting—and very worthwhile—to note the profound difference in how this is treated by Benedict, on the one hand, and by Avakian on the other, representing two fundamentally opposing worlds and worldviews.
First, from Benedict:
“Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed. Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation. Jesus…brought something totally different: an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life from within, even if the external structures remained unchanged.”
“Why is it that the cross associated with Jesus, and the crucifixion of Jesus which that cross symbolizes, is a central icon and major point of reference (and reverence) in this society, but the cross on which Spartacus was crucified does not play that role? In fact, many people don’t know whom I’m referring to when I talk about Spartacus. Spartacus was a slave who, less than a century before the time of Jesus, led a rebellion of slaves in the Roman Empire that threatened that Empire to its foundations before that rebellion was finally drowned in blood. And, as a result of being finally defeated, Spartacus and thousands of his followers were crucified on crosses, lining the main road from Rome out toward the provinces, for miles and miles and miles. Why is that cross and that crucifixion not a big symbol in our society, and why is it not in other societies in the world today? The answer is simple and basic: because what is represented by Spartacus, even in his defeat—that is, the slaves rising up—is not something the ruling classes in the societies we live in, and the ruling classes down through the ages, have wanted to promote. Yes, a movie got made about Spartacus, but that’s nothing compared to the continual barrage of propaganda about Jesus, the life of Jesus, and the crucifixion and supposed resurrection of Jesus. Because, again, the people who rule over us don’t want us to have symbols that call to mind slaves rising up in rebellion. They want us to believe that such rebellions are pointless and that we are bound to, and have to, live the way we live because that’s the way God wants it to be, that’s the way God made the world and all you can do is accept God’s will.” [ Away With All Gods!, pp. 53-54]
And later, in speaking to the role of religion in providing a false hope, Avakian writes:
“Many people, feeling that their hopes have been crushed for a better life in this world, have fallen back on hoping for a better future in another, future existence, and seek to organize their lives around preparing for that supposed ‘future life.’ The problem, once again, is that this is an illusion. And this quest for happiness, or relief from suffering in this way, cannot bring about the satisfaction that people are seeking. Like a narcotic, the relief or escape provided by this kind of religious belief is never sufficient. You always need another ‘fix,’ and this soon turns into yet another chain on people.
“And, more fundamentally, the point is that we do not want—and, beyond that, we no longer have any need—to be imprisoned within a heartless world. We need and can bring into being a world with heart: a world freed of the oppression and misery that is imposed and enforced by the way human society is structured and controlled. A world in which people do not think of each other—and do not treat each other—as mere objects to be used and profited from. Religion, at least as practiced by more truly compassionate and progressive-minded people today, may aim at providing consolation—a salve for people in their agony and torment—but we can bring into being a world in which people no longer need this kind of consolation, because poverty and oppression, and all the needless suffering bound up with that, will have been eliminated and uprooted forever, along with the ideas and culture that reinforce this.
“But in order to do that, we need to confront reality as it actually is. We need to engage and transform reality, the reality of human society as well as nature, with a consciously and consistently scientific outlook and method. And the point is this: For the first time in human history, there is the possibility to do that. Measured against that, religious doctrine and tradition, and the religious way of conceiving reality, fall way short—and, in fact, lead away from what, for the first time, has become possible for humanity.” [pp. 224-25]
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.