- Category: Theory
- Created on Saturday, 23 August 2008 09:55
- Written by Pavel Andreyev
This is the second part of Pavel's review of Bob Avakian's Away With All Gods.
In Part Two of "Away With All Gods" Avakian attempts an historical overview of the emergence of Christianity and Islam and asks why fundamentalism is growing in the contemporary world. His discussion of the first relies heavily on works by two scholars of early Christianity, Bart D. Ehrman and James D. Tabor. Ehrman’s fine book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2005) explains how the Bible contains interpolated material and passages inserted by scribes; Avakian uses it to drive home the point that the Bible is a set of human documents. Tabor’s book The Jesus Dynasty: the Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (2006) is as Avakian observes more controversial. (Indeed, the whole career of Tabor, who has vouched for the authenticity of a version of the Ten Commandments carved in Hebrew letters on a boulder found in New Mexico, supposedly dating back over 500 years but thought by most archeologists to be fake, is controversial.)
Tabor argues that Jesus’ half-brother (?) James, rather than Peter, succeeded him as head of his movement but that Peter was later recognized as leader while Paul promoted a new version of Christianity among the Gentiles. Had James’ “line” won out, Christianity would have developed as a Jewish sect rather than the world religion it became (pp. 75, 80). Avakian uses this work to argue that the emergence of Christianity in the latter form was not inevitable but a matter of contingency; had Paul died earlier than he did, things might have turned out differently (p. 79).
Avakian’s main points are uncontroversial and widely accepted in secular and liberal religious scholarship on Christian history. But he gets some of the details wrong. He suggests that “the early Christians were having a lot of difficulty getting people to join their movement” because of Jewish dietary restrictions and the practice of circumcision. This assumes that “the early Christians” were seeking non-Jewish members in what was still a Jewish sect, and frustrated at their low recruitment efforts. In fact it was Paul who brought the movement to Gentiles, rejecting the requirements of circumcision and adherence to Mosaic Law for them---not because he had had “a lot of difficulty” imposing such requirements but because his “new covenant theology” obviated the old law. As the Epistle to the Galatians (chapters 1-2) makes clear, he faced significant opposition from James, Peter and John.
While lecturing on the “Pivotal Role and Influence of Paul” (p. 72f) Avakian continues to demonstrate his fundamental misunderstanding of something Badiou grasps very well: for Paul “…the Law, in its previous imperative, is not, is no longer, tenable, even for those who claim to follow it… [it is] a principle of death for the suddenly ascendant truth… (Badiou, p. 27).” Christians are free from the Old Testament law. That is what the Pauline “justification by faith” doctrine is all about. Avakian mentions in passing that Paul shifted “toward an essentially exclusive emphasis on faith” but associates this with “a shift from concern with this world toward preoccupation with the supposed next world…(p. 81),” missing the point entirely. The emphasis on faith was a shift from Jewish exclusivism to universalism---with extraordinary implications for “this world.”
The issue of the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus has always been controversial. Avakian does not really address this question, but simply notes that “this whole story of how the Jews were the ones responsible for Jesus being crucified is very improbable” and points out (validly) that the gospel accounts have always been used to promote anti-Semitism (pp. 76-7). He states incorrectly that “scholarship has shown” that the gospel narrative about Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion “was worked into the Christian tradition about a century after the death of Jesus” (p. 77). That would mean that circa 130 CE all four gospels (probably authored between 70 and 100) were altered to assert this responsibility. Avakian does not cite any scholarship on the point.
The gospels all indicate that the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate actually ordered the execution; he had the authority to do so. They also indicate Pilate did not initiate the trial and execution (the arrest was conducted by Sanhedrin authorities, although in the Gospel of John a Roman cohort accompanies their agents). Of course imputing responsibility to “the Jews” in general for the death of Jesus is illogical and worse. (The gospels sometimes do impute this; see for example Matthew 27:25, which has been exploited by Christian anti-Semites for centuries with murderous effect.) But the gospel scenario is not at all implausible: the Sanhedrin (Jewish authorities), hostile to Jesus for his harsh criticism and militant display in the Temple overturning the tables of the money-changers (Mark 11:15, Matthew 21:12-16, Luke 19:45-46), arrested Jesus for blasphemy and then asked Pilate to execute him for sedition again Rome. The Roman Jewish historian Josephus indeed wrote, in his Jewish Antiquites (ca. 90 CE) that “…Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified…” (emph. added).
In any case, one has to problematize this issue of “responsibility.” To recognize the likelihood that Jewish authorities initiated the events leading to Jesus’ death is not to attribute responsibility to Jews of the time collectively. There were obviously Christians among the Jewish population of Roman Judea and beyond, and we can’t of course in any case in any case blame whole peoples for decisions made by their leaders. But even the sweeping imputation of blame of “the Jews” we find in the gospels (especially John) has to be understood in the theological context: Christians (in a movement with increasing non-Jewish composition) understood the Jews to have rejected their own Messiah. The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE during the First Roman-Jewish War was viewed as God’s punishment of the Judeans collectively for that rejection.
In the long footnote accompanying Avakian’s statement that “scholarship has shown” that the “Jewish responsibility” story was “worked into” the Bible a century after Jesus’ death, there isn’t the citation for that assertion one might expect. Rather, there’s a long comment about how the anti-Semitism of “Protestant Christian fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson” ostensibly manifested in their support for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ film jibes with their support for the state of Israel (pp. 77-8). (The choice of words is interesting; why avoid “Christian Fascists like Falwell and Robertson”? Why leave it at “fundamentalists”? Avakian’s use of these terms is inconsistent.) The gist is: “the imperialist rulers of the U.S.” need to support Israel “as a military outpost and instrument of U.S. imperialism in the world.” Therefore---even while guided by Christian Fascists (if we follow Avakian’s earlier discussion), who embrace the anti-Semitism the RCP finds in the gospels themselves, they have to reconcile that support and Christian fundamentalism (“a rather acute contradiction”) through the Second Coming doctrine. This doctrine, rooted in the Book of Revelation, maintains that Jesus will return at the time of the Rapture following a bloody war centering in Jerusalem. Fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. are some of the most ardent supporters of the State of Israel, even though they tend to believe that when Jesus returns non-Christians will be punished for their unbelief in the Final Judgment.
There is a certain amount of truth in this assessment, and the question of Israel is sufficiently central to Avakian’s topic that one wonders why it is consigned to a footnote occupying nearly two pages. The question of why the U.S. imperialists support Israel, to a degree that many (mainstream bourgeois) analysts actually find inimical to broader U.S. imperialist interests, can’t be boiled down to the fact that it’s “a military outpost.” There are no U.S. bases there, while there are U.S. military outposts all over the world including nations surrounding Israel in the Middle East. Maybe in order to explain U.S. support for Israel we need to emphasize the vast resources of the Israel Lobby, a complicated web of organizations spanning secular Jewish Zionists and fervent Christian evangelicals who exercise enormous clout as voters and political donors. This may be an instance in which policy doesn’t stem from imperialist “necessity” but from well-organized religious (and secular nationalist/Zionist) forces.
Avakian notes the pivotal role of Emperor Constantine in the history of Christianity (pp. 63-4). He refers in passing to the fact that monotheism might have been advantageous to Roman unification “…[a]s new territory would be conquered” (p. 79). Actually, Rome was at its height; it did not after Constantine conquer and hold new territory. But it would be worth examining the value of Christianity to the process of unifying the highly diverse empire that already existed. Unfortunately Avakian, who is not inclined to find positives in the history of Christianity, does not pursue this thought.
Avakian might have added that in the course of the fourth century Christianity was legalized, standardized (at the contentious Council of Nicea, 325), and imposed on all Roman citizens (380). The state-backed orthodoxy that emerged, and the specific package of texts accepted as the New Testament, were decided politically while heterodox texts were torched and “heretical” schools crushed. Thus the Christianity that Avakian critiques is simply the triumphant version among many that had competed with one another earlier.
The Roman Empire had been tolerant of religious diversity, while the Church Triumphant viciously persecuted opposition. Avakian notes the irony of fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. complaining of their own imagined persecution (p. 69). But he surely overstates the case in asserting that from Constantine’s time to our own “in the ‘Christian world,’ life has been hell to all those who have refused to practice Christianity…” (p. 72). Here as elsewhere his measurement of what he sees as the enemy lacks perspective.
“Why,” Avakian asks pompously, “have I gone into this to such an extent (p. 81)?” His rambling answer to his own question includes (a) Christianity has exerted widespread influence on world history; (b) it was taken up as the state religion by many ruling classes; (c) it is the “favored religion” in the U.S., and there is a move by powerful forces to make it “the official state religion of America;” and so (d) it is important to understand it. It is based on earthly factors. We need to demystify Christianity, and realizing that (as quoted above) “we should not like this Jesus very much” (p. 83). “This,” he declares, “all belongs to the past (p. 84).”
The title of the next section, “Islam Is No Better (and No Worse) Than Christianity,” is self-explanatory. Apparently based on the competent scholarship of Maxime Rodinson (not cited, but included in the bibliography) it is one of the least problematic sections of the book, an effort at historical materialist explanation for the rise of Islam in the early seventh century. Avakian draws attention to the obvious: that the Qur’an justifies slavery and patriarchy just like the Bible does. The section concludes with the question: “Is the Allah of Islam any different, in any meaningful way, from “God the Original Fascist” of the “Judeo-Christian” religious tradition?” (p. 95).
I’d note that “Allah” is simply Arabic for “God” (closely related to Elohim in Hebrew) but that this deity as described in the Qur’an may, actually, be somewhat different from the Yahweh of the Old Testament, or the God the Father of the Christian Trinity. According to the Qur’an, Allah explicitly insures that the righteous Jew, Christian or Sabian, as well as the Muslim, will enter Paradise (Qur’an surah 2:62). These are “People of the Book.” (Christian scriptures in contrast, if interpreted literally, seem to consign non-Christians to hellfire.) He commands that there be no conversion by compulsion (2: 191 and 226). Even if this principle was not always observed, the general history of Islam is one of far greater tolerance than one finds in Christian societies into the modern period. In the caliphates and in Muslim Spain and the Balkans people were encouraged to convert to Islam because by the positive expedient of tax exemptions, but Jews and Christians could go about their business and even attain high posts.
These things need to be mentioned, particularly in the context of the vicious anti-Muslim campaign that has been waged recently by those promoting the supposed threat of “Islamofascism.” The RCP has appropriately opposed that campaign. But curiously, as a proponent of the “Christian Fascist” threat, Avakian does not deal with the Islamofascism topic. Perhaps a comparison of the two concepts, Islamofascism and Christian Fascism, would weaken his case about the threat the latter supposedly poses.
Avakian now turns to the “War on Terror” and the argument some of its advocates have made that Islamic fundamentalism is somehow more evil and dangerous than other forms of religious fundamentalism. He addresses the charge that there has not been separation of church (mosque) and state in Islam (p. 97). But rather than taking this on concretely---noting that there are and have been Muslim-majority states with secularist regimes, and that some of these (Mossadegh’s Iran, Saddam’s Iraq, Baathist Syria), have been specifically targeted by U.S. imperialism while it embraces the most repressive Islamic state in the world (Saudi Arabia)---Avakian argues that the separation between church and state in the U.S. is incomplete and threatened. (He does subsequently describe U.S. efforts to undermine secular regimes in the Muslim world, p. 106f, but his point there is to emphasize how fundamentalist Islam emerges in reaction to U.S. aggression.) He appropriately labels the “War on Terror” an imperialist war, and quotes his own 1997 talk contending that the “two reactionary poles” of Jihad and McWorld/McCrusade (violent anti-western Islamism and U.S. imperialism) “reinforce each other, even while opposing each other” (p. 100).
In his next section (“Why Is Religious Fundamentalism Growing in Today’s World?”) Avakian seeks an economic explanation for the question posed. He links it to the rise of the “informal economy” of the cities of the Third World, to the “very insecure and unstable existence” of the masses, causing people to look to religious fundamentalism as an “anchor” (p. 102). (In a footnote he addresses the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the U.S., among a very different stratum, the middle class [p. 104]). He observes that many who have turned to Islamism might a generation ago have been Maoists, but the communist movement in Indonesia and other Muslim countries was destroyed by U.S. imperialism (pp. 110-2). Meanwhile the U.S actively supported jihadis against the Soviets in Afghanistan (p. 107).
Suddenly the author shifts gears and without naming any names lambastes those taking “a smugly arrogant attitude towards religious fundamentalism and religion in general…” By this time, surely, some readers will want to accuse Avakian of precisely that. But he assures us, “It is a deep form of contempt for the masses to fail to take seriously the deep belief that many of them have in religion…” and it is necessary, “in the fight against injustice and oppression, to unite as broadly as possible with people who continue to hold religious beliefs” (p. 114).
Avakian proceeds to link the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, as expressed in Marxist political economy---that between socialized production and private appropriation---with the contradiction between the highly developed technology and science alongside the growth of “organized ignorance” (p. 115). The development of the forces of production does not necessarily produce more “enlightenment,” and ignorance rooted in religion can “reinforce the system of capitalist accumulation” (p. 117). These interesting, if undeveloped, points conclude Part Two.
In Part Three, the shortest and least substantial of the four, Avakian begins to develop his thesis about “Christian Fascism” which has hovered in the background so far. First he illustrates how Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all patriarchal belief systems; he has already done so but he adds further examples, beginning with the depiction of Jesus as God’s “son” and citing John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
“Let’s dig more deeply into this,” he suggests, “---what it is actually putting forward and what it is actually promoting. (p. 122).” He repeats the Genesis Creation myth, about the Fall, noting the obvious: “underlying this very verse…is the notion that humanity is all screwed up... That’s the first point to keep in mind here.”
The second point: “Why a son? And anyway, the idea is absurd. [Laughter] If you believe in God, God could have as many sons as he wanted. [Laughter]” (p. 122). But Avakian explains that daughters meant little in a male-dominated society. “To bring out the point more sharply”---as though he has made the point sharply already---“try thinking of the Bible saying: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave up his only begotten daughter.’ It just doesn’t ring true, does it? [Laughter]” (p. 123). The dismissive tone (and response of the congregation) recalls his earlier references to the Trinity.
“…Jesus,” he declares on page 27, “was not a supernatural being, part of the same substance of God, the Father, and at the same time the son of God.” A footnote on the same page states: “Here I won’t attempt to further explore the arcane Christian doctrine of the Trinity…” As though he had ever really broached the matter! Later he writes that “Nobody understands” the doctrine. “And then there’s this whole matter of the holy spirit. Holy shit, nobody knows what that means! [Laughter]” (p. 64).
Actually, we know quite a lot about what the Trinity means, and has meant, to its advocates. Not only have Christian writers explicated it from the time of Tertullian (the first to use the term, around 216), but intellectual historians have studied its relationship to Neoplatonism and Indian thought. It may all be mystical nonsense to Avakian, worthy of ridicule and an easy laugh from his flock, but it produced, in the minds of some first-class thinkers from Augustine to Feuerbach (who devotes a chapter to interesting psychological analysis of the Trinity in his Essence of Christianity of 1841, famously admired by Marx), some very creative thinking.
Here I find myself wondering again about the question of audience. Who is Avakian trying to reach? I’d suppose he would like to influence such Christian religious minds as Cornel West, Rev. George W. Webber, and Fr. Daniel Berrigan, all of whom have spoken up for him in the past. I imagine he’s not simply or even primarily addressing atheists and agnostics. There are certainly people who define themselves as Christian who are open to questioning the existence of God, but who have worked out sophisticated interpretations of Christian doctrine in their own minds.
For example, someone raised in a Christian tradition might explain the Trinity as follows. A Supreme Mind created and in some sense oversees the cosmos. That’s God the “Father.” This being is not even necessarily male, but is beyond human understanding; nevertheless, human beings have minds that derive from that Mind. This interconnection is the Holy Spirit, a dynamic ongoing interaction between the cosmic mind and humanity. Jesus, the Son, links God the Father and humanity as a divine presence on earth in human form during a brief period of human history. He was equally divine and human, and left a legacy of model behavior and ethical teaching.
Someone who thinks that way about the Trinity, encountering Avakian’s comments on the doctrine, would likely respond with the thought, “How trite” or even “How insulting.” He/she might even think he’s showing contempt for the masses, who are, I repeat, overwhelmingly Christians---people Avakian says it’s necessary to “unite [with] as broadly as possible.” How do you unite with people as you insult them?
Avakian links the Trinity to patriarchal values. It’s actually more complicated than that. There were sects in the early Christian movement that conceived of God as a Trinity of Father, Mother and Son. Or Father, Sophia (Wisdom, conceived of as female), and Son. Of course he is interested in critiquing the Christianity that won out, and one would not expect him to examine defeated Gnostic Christianities. But his whole discussion of gender in early Christianity is simplistic.
Earlier, while asserting that Jesus had accepted and promoted patriarchy (p. 20), Avakian had linked the cult surrounding his mother (the “Virgin Mary”) with the control of women and their sexuality as male property. Here (pp. 124-5) he returns to that theme. He notes quite properly (if flippantly, accompanied by [Laughter]) that there is an incongruity in asserting that Jesus was born of a virgin and yet tracing his lineage (as Matthew 1:16 does) through “Joseph the husband of Mary.” (Luke 3:23 states “it was thought” he was son of Joseph.) Avakian notes that her genealogy does not count. “Why? Because she’s a woman” (p. 124).
None of this is wrong, and it actually echoes some feminist scholarship on the Virgin Mary cult, but it is entirely one-sided. Avakian notes that Mary’s “role is to be the loving, long-suffering mother of Jesus,” which is to say, a model of oppressed womanhood. He adds she serves as “a kind of ‘intercessor’ for people in their supplications to God” (pp. 124-5). But he does not pause to consider the possible implications of the fact that Christianity wound up positing Mary as an object (maybe the most popular object) of veneration for believers, who have for centuries publicly and privately worshipped her as the “Mother of God” and the “Queen of Heaven.” Her cult may have drawn upon and absorbed pre-Christian “earth mother goddess” cults; its relationship to patriarchy in what was in any case a highly patriarchal society by the time Christianity emerged is a question worth studying.
It is significant that Paul wrote that in Christ there are “no more distinctions…between male and female” (Galatians 3:28); that he sends his letter to the Romans via a female deacon (Romans 16:1); that early Christians produced the Acts of Paul celebrating the works of Thecla, a female associate of Paul who preaches and baptizes. It is not enough to simply recount the Eve story, or cite 1 Timothy 2:11 (Pauline authorship contested) on how women should be silent in church (p. 123). The whole issue of how women were impacted by Christianity (as opposed to pre-Christian forms of patriarchal religion, or patriarchal traditions surrounding the Christian world during the last two millennia during which patriarchy has prevailed throughout class society, everywhere!) is a complex one deserving mature analysis.
Again switching gears, Avakian discusses how (male) Muslim immigrants to France from patriarchal societies in North Africa, encountering what from their “traditional framework” seems an “excess of freedom” for women, may be drawn to deeper religiosity, and how globally conditions of uncertainty cause people “to gravitate to a powerful father figure…” But since “a powerful father figure in a human form is not enough for many people,” “there is an assertion” (by someone) of “the image of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God---for whom, lo, the powerful head of state is a representative…” (p. 128).
That sort of situation in the U.S., Avakian notes, has produced the acute controversy about gay marriage, not that such marriages would “undermine and destroy patriarchy” since patriarchy “is already the case in many gay relationships” (p. 129). But the Christian Fascists’ objective in opposing gay marriage is to “enforce ‘traditional morality’” (p. 131). Avakian devotes several pages to this question, without considering the fact that many Christians without specifically fascist inclinations but inclined towards biblical literalism believe with Paul (Romans 1:26-7) that homosexual acts are “unnatural” and opposed by God and so oppose gay marriage on such grounds. It is quite remarkable that the chair of a party that up to 2000 contained language in its program about “eliminating” homosexuality under socialism can conflate this or that degree of religiously-based homophobia (or at least, opposition to gay marriage) with “fascism” at this point.
Patriarchal, Christian Fascist forces in the U.S. promote corporal punishment. But, Avakian ringingly pontificates: “Let us be clear: female children, and children in general, should not be seen and treated as the property of their parents, and their father in particular. This is not the world we are aiming for…” (p. 133). There follow several pages on comments about proper child-rearing and the debate about “permissiveness,” culminating in the bold-print conclusion “we need revolution” (p. 135).
Avakian next addresses the question of why the Bible Belt of the U.S. has also been the “Lynching Belt,” and how fundamentalist religion has historically justified and abetted slavery, then the Jim Crow laws, while Black preachers in the South (Martin Luther King included) have been unable to break with the system and “cannot lead the struggle” (pp. 136-49). A brief note on “Christian Fascism and Genocide” reminds us that the Bible says homosexuals should be put to death, and that Avakian in 1998 had called Pat Robertson’s comments on crime and punishment “an unmistakable suggestion of a ‘final solution’ against the masses of people in the inner cities…” (p. 150). Ten years later, following major setbacks to the religious right, and their diminished influence in national politics as shown in the current presidential campaign, this sort of talk seems overdramatic. And Avakian has still not provided a persuasive analysis or even operational definition of “Christian Fascism.”
Part Three concludes with assertion that belief in sin and in religion in general constitutes a “slave mentality.” Interestingly enough Avakian paraphrases Malcolm X (a profoundly religious man): “I didn’t come here to tell you what you want to hear” (p. 153). What Avakian’s come to say is:
Lerner supports abortion as something that should be “safe, legal, and rare,” believing that it is “very emotionally painful” for the woman involved---something Avakian says “is not true” (p. 186). Lerner as a religious man believes in “the miracle of life flowing through us,” something Avakian ridicules to accompanying “[Laughter]” (p. 187), and even “[Applause]” (p. 189).
Thus Avakian targets Lerner---who has worked with the RCP to some extent (and is a Not in Our Name signatory)---for not being an atheist, not a communist, not a supporter of the RCP’s conception of the “Christian Fascist” threat. One wonders why Avakian’s polemic made no mention of Lerner’s Zionism or support for Israel’s incorporation into NATO.
The point of the entire section appears to be that while religious believers can and must play a role in making revolution (led by the RCP), at this time---when common opposition to imperialist war, mounting repression at home and the meltdown of the economy provide the basis for broad alliances---Avakian wants to focus on the popularization of atheism as a defense against the (still undefined) Christian Fascist threat.
Finally, Avakian turns to Armstrong’s book A Short History of Myth (2005) and questions her interpretation of the nature of myth. “A myth,” she writes, “…is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information [but because it gives] us deeper insight into the meaning of life” Her book begins with a discussion of the Paleolithic hunt and its relationship to organized belief and ritual, examines how in the Neolithic period the earth and agricultural labor shape myth, and how religion as we know it grows out of myth from around 800 BCE.
Obviously the “truth” here is symbolic, cultural, anthropological, psychological. When she suggests that, “We are myth-making creatures,” and we need myths to “help us realise the importance of compassion . . . to see beyond our immediate requirements. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a ‘resource,’” she is not saying we need to literally believe in gods and goddesses but making an observation about the prevalence of myth in human history. She ends up suggesting that at present the function of myth can be fulfilled by absorption in a novel. (I would add it might be fulfilled by various irrational but powerful beliefs in contemporary political life, particularly as they pertain to leaders assigned mythical qualities)
But Avakian, uncomfortable with the idea that (as Armstrong puts it) “our mythical belief was” (note the past tense) “true in some way” accuses Armstrong of “pragmatism and instrumentalism,” and “positing a subjective definition of truth” (p. 203). I doubt that she (or many Marxists, for that matter) will be moved by Avakian’s invocation of Lenin’s rejection of “philosophical relativism” as a rationale for denying any “truth” in myth. Avakian in his “away with all gods” campaign simply misunderstands Armstrong’s effort. It is perhaps appropriate that the volume end at this level of sophistication.
Avakian concludes with a reiteration that the theory of evolution is correct; that religion is the opium of the masses; that human nature is not fixed but changes over time; and that people can be liberated through socialist revolution. All true, certainly. But shouldn’t one ask why, following the defeat of the socialist revolutions in the USSR and China, people have flocked to religious movements? Why were the efforts to inculcate atheism so disappointingly partial, and so quickly reversible? Might they have been too crudely and insensitively applied, based on imperfect analysis of this phenomenon of religious belief?
Has Avakian made any theoretical leaps in this book? Or is he rooted behind, and preaching from, a pulpit of bombastic banality? He has not convinced me that he intimately understands the three Abrahamic religions very well, has given their study his best shot, or can empathize with those who embrace those religions in such a way as to disabuse them from their God-centered worldviews. He has not convinced me that Christian Fascists threaten the American people in the foreseeable future with theocracy or genocide. I’m not convinced at the end of 237 pages that this book can or should become a “major social question.”
The RCP has publicly acknowledged its “culture of appreciation, promotion and popularization” of Avakian. It’s conducting a missionary effort to promote the author as a great thinker and leader. I guess we’ll see what becomes of that.
Maybe at the end of the day Avakian believes Armstrong: “A myth…is true because it is effective.” Maybe this book and campaign will indeed “emerge onto the scene with great impact.” But frankly, my response to that is: [Laughter].
I’m with Bultmann. I think we need to demythologize. Away with all gods, indeed! And away while we’re at it -- away with all “condescending saviors.”