Happy Easter Weekend, friends and comrades. I just finished my yearly viewing of 1973’s Jesus Christ Superstar and thought I’d jot down a think piece. Let’s talk about anarchism and religion. I’m sure the title has already scared some of you off and honestly I can’t blame you. Religion has been cursed by hypocrites, sadists, corrupt narcissists, and pathetic bigots for thousands of years and that bitter reality hasn’t changed much. Organized religion has been and continues to be used as a tool by the ruling classes to prey on the weak and vulnerable. Anarchism doesn’t emphasize “no gods or masters” for nothing. So why do I think we have anything more to discuss here? Why not just condemn religion as an opiate of the masses and spend my time on something more productive? I’m here because I have a confession for you all. I love religion and believe it has a lot to contribute to revolutionary practice, but only if we can exorcise the demons within. Religion, in its purest form, is a testament to human creativity, curiosity, and solidarity which are all things anarchists can appreciate. Fanatics and the State have shown us the dangers of weaponized religion, but I firmly believe the ideals and knowledge of religious thought are valuable enough for us to fight for.
Let’s get one thing straight first. I am not saying that you need to go buddy up with your Joel Osteen reading neighbour who pickets mosques and funds gay conversion camps. Some folks are simply lost and confused while other folks are sons o’ bitches and their “religion” is just used as a frail justification for hate. Can they be reasoned with? I’d like to think so, but let’s put him aside for the time being. It’s not reasonable to think that you’ll be able to understand or accept everyone’s perspective regarding their personal religiosity. You don’t need to be his friend and should oppose his shitty worldview with everything you’ve got, but that doesn’t mean all Christianity is bad nor is religion in general. We’re more rational than that and should’t be dealing in absolutes (Only a Sith deals in absolutes). I’d prefer for us to examine religion on its own unencumbered merits. Cynical as I am, even I can’t just view religion as a mere black and white issue based solely on its shitty representatives.
Why do I care so much about changing religion’s bad reputation in our movement? Personally, I have seen the positive aspects of religious practice outweighing the negatives time and time again. I’d also argue that my dedication comes largely from my upbringing. I grew up with half the family being strictly Anglican while the other half dabbled with a little of this and that. My mother would place herself firmly in the “spiritual, but not religious” camp for most of my childhood. She’d practice Wicca, burn sage, give thanks to Buddha for luck, and place gargoyles around the house to ward off evil (and piss off my devoutly Christian aunts). I owe a lot of my charitable nature to my time spent in the church. I truly connected with the stories of fellowship, love, and generosity and took it all to heart. I went to Vacation Bible School for many of my summers and I loved the moral teachings of Christianity. I lost touch with organized Christianity when I confronted my aunt about her and her friends booing Darwin symbols on cars outside of our church one day. I asked her why and she just told me “it’s because they’re wrong” to which I reminded her about Jesus loving people and not judging them. My aunt told me that I just didn’t understand, but I knew hypocrisy when it was smacking me square in the face. I stopped going to Vacation Bible School and church services soon after. Religion still intrigued me though so I continued to appreciate and study from afar. I ended up graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and still get asked to this day if I’m gonna be a priest. That’s a whole different degree, folks.
It’s easy for me to say “hey, let’s all get along” but it’s far more difficult in practice. You see full well how hateful and cruel some so-called believers are and how their faith is weaponized against the downtrodden in our society AND YET here I am saying “they’re all right”. Firstly, read my second paragraph. I don’t want you to befriend sacks o’ shit (nor should you tolerate hate of any kind), but I also don’t want my comrades to place all religious belief in the same sack and call it a day. Plenty of good is being done by religious folks through charities, places of worship, and community initiatives. Bread banks and soup kitchens that operate out of churches and mosques, free meals at gurdwaras, charity drives, and the operation of homeless shelters are all things that should be celebrated regardless of where they’re coming from. I ain’t about to tell a person to stop being compassionate just because they’re driven by religious conviction. Our anger should instead be focused on the corrupt megachurches, the lobbies that toy with social policies, the televangelists that gleefully rob the poor, and the faux charities that somehow require a 6 or 7 figure CEO to function. Religion isn’t the real problem here. Religious ignorance and the hoarding of wealth are the true issues that hold many comrades back when it comes to giving religion a seat at the revolutionary table.
I also wanted to emphasize why the study/knowledge of religion is important in a revolutionary world. Willful ignorance is the death of tolerance and there are many out there who refuse to understand religion for varied (often stupid) reasons. You have your militant atheists like Richard Dawkins who condemn religion every 5 seconds or so while also praising pedophilia and eugenics (not all atheists are Richard Dawkins obviously, but fuck that guy). Some have been lied to again and again by the media and now believe that every Muslim is a terrorist, every Sikh is a Muslim, every Christian is Fred Phelps, and every Buddhist is Richard Gere. Finally, some people just don’t know where to start when they want to learn about religion. People just don’t have the time to look into the differences between Russian Orthodoxy and Mormonism or why the Bodhi tree is significant in Buddhism and that’s pretty understandable. I dedicated 5+ years of my life to studying religion because I desire knowledge and I realize the importance of religion even today. Religious beliefs aren’t going to disappear and it’s imperative that we, as allies and seekers of truth, study religion and combat the ignorance of our enemies. Our foes and their ass-licking followers can always be counted on to spread their shitty opinions so we owe it to our religious brothers, sisters, and non-binary comrades to stand fast against any and all attacks on peaceful religious thought and practice.
Galileo once said “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” Religion and revolutionary thought do not need to be kept separate because religion can be an intellectual and reasoned pursuit in itself. It’s easy to condemn religious folks as lemmings who follow old texts and values, but to do so is to ignore religion as a testament to the very human ideals of creativity, reasoning, and community. Religion has brought a lot of meaning into people’s lives especially those who would otherwise feel beaten down by a needlessly cruel system that doesn’t typically value them as people. While I would agree that a person shouldn’t need a “magic man in the sky” to feel a sense of self-worth, it is ultimately a simplistic argument to suggest self-worth is easy to obtain without a hand up from the gutter. As long as a person is happy and compassionate, who are we to judge if their hand up came from a prophet or a thesis? Revolution begins when we all work together and this means going against our own archaic ideas of what’s revolutionary. We aren’t doing ourselves any favours by ignoring possible allies or remaining uneducated in our chaotic world just because someone wears a niqab or gives thanks to Santa Muerte. Just some food for thought and thanks again for reading. Solidarity, my friends.