Socialist arguments against religion

Photo IWW, Joe Hill, the writer of The Preacher and the Slave

Will there be pie in the sky for us when we die?

By Phil Hall

Socialist arguments against the use of religion are not always arguments against the idea of an ordering presence in the universe, or against an Earth and a cosmos full of meaning, or against a transcendent expansive all including love, or against beautiful metaphors that equate prophets of love to sons and messengers of ‘God’.

Nowadays, socialist arguments tend to put questions of spirituality to one side and focus on developing practical ways to achieving social justice for believers and non-believers alike. Enlightenment socialists believe in the freedom of belief. Liberation theologists are welcomed with open arms into the socialist ranks.

Liberation theologists are welcomed with open arms into the socialist ranks.

The socialist argument against religion is that it has been used as an ideological tool to control ordinary people. The socialist argument against religion can be summed up like this: the rich tell ordinary people, using the megaphone of a church pulpit, that being a victim, that allowing themselves to be exploited, used and abused, makes them better people.

Ordinary people, robbed of control over their own lives, working like dogs for private companies and then cast aside onto the rubbish heap, according to religion, should comfort themselves with the possibility of receiving a future reward in heaven.

The rich told ordinary people for centuries, through the religion they sponsored and supported, that there would be pie in the sky when they died.

The rich told ordinary people for centuries, through the religion they sponsored and supported, that there would be pie in the sky when they died.

People who own less, or little, or nothing usually feel that they have had their labour and human potential stolen. We work to make a profit which other people steal from us. This is a cause for depression and despair.

But we have our injured sense of self soothed by religion; by priests, ministers, imams and gurus. These religious authorities ask us to view our relative poverty and lack of power over the outcomes of our lives as a condition of moral superiority.

Of course, the wool of religion can only be pulled over people’s eyes so long as ordinary people are uneducated, and so long as they need religion as a mental refuge and way of self-comforting and justifying their feeling of failure and helplessness. If the lies were true about our societies, as George Monbiot, the British journalist ecologist and social activist says:

If wealth were the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.

The poorest of us make great sacrifices and often work incredibly hard. But when ordinary people are uneducated and busy trying to survive, they don’t always have the time to study in order to identify the actual reasons and causes of their difficult economic situation, and rise up to change thier society to make it fairer. There is no time to read Paulo Freire or Robert Tressell.

These religious authorities ask us to view our relative poverty and lack of power over the outcomes of our own lives as a condition of moral superiority.

Confronting the power of a mafia takes enormous courage, and support from your whole community, whether that mafia is a criminal organisation selling drugs under the counter, or a criminal organisation selling drugs over the counter and protected by lawyers and powerful friends in government. It takes great courage to oppose the powerful.

Religion asks you to have faith your life will get better if you ‘trust in God, when the reality is different and contradicts that belief. Things will not get better until we uproot capitalism. the whole aim of most companies is to pay you less for more work and give you poorer conditions. It is easier to hide your head in the sand like an ostrich when facing corporate mafias that are so powerful. Some lf these mafias own vast arms companies. They declare war at the drop of a hat and are responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands. Instead of opposing them and suffering the consequences, we prefer to imagine everything will get better.

Religion asks you to have faith your life will get better if you ‘trust in God, when the reality is different and contradicts that belief.

Nowadays, religion is less and less the preferred ideological tool of the oppressor. They, the powerful and wealthy, own the mass media and exert most of their power to influence and persuade through that. But when religion was the preferred tool of the powerful it taught nonviolence because a peaceful response to violent oppression, in other words submission, is always preferred by the oppressor. The people who suggest it are lionised.

First, to throw off the chains of the slave drivers in factories and offices requires unionisation and solidarity: organised collective opposition to exploitation. There are only a handful of good capitalists and eventually, even these sell off their companies to people whose only motivation is to squeeze even more profit out of people.

Next, opposition to oppression requires the creation of political parties. You need new laws and political parties to push them through. Political parties who, alongside the Trade Unions, fight for pensions and safe work conditions, for free health care and education.

Religion argues for submission. Socialism opposes that cop out.

But when all that is achieved, we must face the cruel reality that changing the rules of the game is not enough, because there is no game. Ultimately, when ordinary people really try to get more control over their lives and the fruits of their labour and partially succeed under the existing rules of democracy, the response is a fist: subterfuge, targeted assassination, eventually a coup and then the imposition of tyranny. How do you confront this? Religion argues for submission. Socialism opposes that cop out.

The socialist argument against religion is also that it can sometimes prevent people from thinking clearly.

The socialist argument against religion is also that it can sometimes prevent people from thinking clearly. If you are a mystic, lost in mystical thoughts and mumbo jumbo about nature and guardian angels, djinns, destiny and reincarnation, and the idea of a big angry eye in the sky judging your every little movement, then you are far less likely to behave rationally and in concert with others; far less likely to be able to develop a clear strategy to combat oppression and exploitation and change society.

The socialist argument against religion is not a spiritual argument, and socialists are only concerned with the spiritual beliefs of religion when they are disempowering. It is true that socialism, as a product of the enlightenment, looked down on religion as obscurantism, but they were not concerned with debunking unprovable ideas that were intrinsic to people’s culture and well being, rather they were concerned to oppose the use of religion by the powerful as a tool of social control.

When religion ceases to be a useful tool for social control and instead starts to become a rallying cry against oppression, when progressive religious ideas that stress social solidarity and social justice come to the fore, then that is the moment when the powerful abandon religion as a useful tool of social control and rely more on the mass media and think tanks. When religion begins to oppose the powerful and wealthy that’s they begin to search for a new atheist priesthood to oppose it.


The Preacher and the Slave


By Joe Hill

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:


You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

And the starvation army they play,
And they sing and they clap and they pray,
Till they get all your coin on the drum,
Then they tell you when you’re on the bum:

Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out,
And they holler, they jump and they shout
“Give your money to Jesus,” they say,
“He will cure all diseases today.”

If you fight hard for children and wife,
Try to get something good in this life,
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight:
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain:


You will eat, bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry;
Chop some wood, ’twill do you good,
And you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye.