For the past year I’ve been reading a lot about religion and revolution. It began when I found the New Oxford Annotated Bible that was my father’s “bible” in his last 25 or so years. I found it about a year after he died among a pile of books of his I had brought home from his funeral.
I was first struck by the fact that my mother had given it to him as a Christmas present in 1990 with the inscription, “For your enjoyment and illumination, Love, Barbara.” I was further struck by the underlinings, markings and pieces of paper all throughout it which made clear he had used it a lot.
And so, finally, about 65 years after I started going (being taken) to church at a very early age, I decided to read the Bible from beginning to end, and I did, over a period of 4-5 months.
This experience got me going with what has become my “religion and revolution,” long-term reading and writing project. I’ve read about 15 other books since then, some about the Bible and religion, especially liberation theology, some about the historic practice and theoretical debate and interaction between God believers and socialists and revolutionaries over the last 170 years, since the publication by Marx and Engels of The Communist Manifesto in 1848.
I’ve begun to focus on one key personal objective for all of this past and future reading: to try to pinpoint what is at the root of the failure, by and large, of both organized religion and organized Marxism/socialism to do what Marx called for in words inscribed on his grave: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”
Neither those who follow the teachings of Jesus, the Hebrew Prophets, the Prophet Mohammed or Buddha, nor those who use Marxist tools of analysis and see themselves as socialists, have been able to prevent the destructive and dehumanizing corporatization of much of the world. More urgently, the world as a whole is facing the very real and immediate threat of societal and ecological unraveling as extreme weather events occur over and over again. These are already happening as the atmosphere and oceans are heated up, primarily because of the production and burning of oil, gas and coal.
Despite this very serious reality, our situation is not hopeless. There is concrete evidence that large numbers of people around the world want and are willing to organize for much more just, democratic and earth-protective societies. Two of the most recent examples are the Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn campaigns, happening within two countries that have been leading the corporatization and imperialist charge for a long, long time.
Then there is Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, saying this, and so much more, about our situation:
“All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. We need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.” P. 78
And Fidel Castro, unquestionably the most prominent Marxist revolutionary of the Western Hemisphere, had this to say about religion and revolution:
“The Church says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself;’ this is exactly what we preach through feelings of human solidarity, which is the essence of socialism and communism, the spirit of fraternity among people, which is one of our most valued goals. The Church says, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness;’ well, lying and deceit are among the things that we most severely criticize and censor.’” Fidel and Religion: Talks with Frei Betto, p. 243
Maybe the human family needs to experience, collectively, a sense of hopelessness about our future after experiencing weather disaster after weather disaster, which we are seeing right now all over the world. Perhaps that hopelessness will lead us to recognize that the strength we need to bring about change requires tapping into a power much stronger than the fossil fuel industry and its allies in the corporate and governmental worlds.
We don’t know exactly when and how that mass sea-change in understanding will lead to the critical mass of action needed. Clearly, the process is underway. In the meantime, those of us who understand how bad our situation is, particularly those of us who are spiritually grounded, must continue to speak out and take action.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writing and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.