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Monday, December 25, 2006 

To Have Done With the Spectre of God

After the Second World War, throughout the economically developed world, religion, especially Roman Catholicism, had to abate its centuries-old claim to direct people’s inner lives, their sexuality, their social and moral existence. A large portion of humanity thus reaped the fruits of the long anti-Christian struggles of the eighteenth century, initiated by the bourgeoisie and pursued even more vigorously by the labour movement, one of whose most valuable legacies was secularisation and the relegation of religion to the private sphere. The air we breathed was all the healthier, in that the age-old messianic strain that had permeated Christianity, having completely deserted the churches and abandoned transcendence, nourished all the utopian currents of the 1960s, hated so fiercely today by those who wield hegemonic power. In addition, the device of recruiting the imaginary, which for over a thousand years had been the monopoly of Christianity, was largely overtaken in its means and methods by the society of the spectacle that was coming into being. To some extent, the spectacle, which is essentially the profane realization of religion, took great care not to finish off its work of overtaking the religious; rather than doing away with religion, it kept it in its repertoire in the form of historical drama. It is this drama that it is presenting again today.

With the fall of Stalinist bureaucracies in Eastern Europe and the collapse of revolutionary ideologies that had been so useful in keeping the social system in equilibrium, capitalism ended up in a blind-alley of its own success, facing only itself. The more it unifies the planet through the relentless penetration of the commodity, the more it relies on false divisions to divert from their attempts directly to confront it those whom it exploits and whose lives it destroys. Of course, it does not create these divisions from scratch, and no conspiracy theory is needed to explain this process; it is its own historical movement – including its false trails (such as strengthening radical Islamism in order to weaken Soviet state capitalism) – that employs and amplifies pre-existing racial, ethical, sexual, religious and social divisions. That is why today we are witnessing the artificial resurgence of historic antagonisms between Christianity and Islam; of their old power only the ideological core of the religion survives, together with some set rituals that ensure the greater or lesser subservience of minds and bodies, especially where the religious can lean on the secular arm for support. Some people think they have discovered a clash of civilisations, whereas in today’s world there is only the single barbarism of the hamburger and the mobile phone. Others (representatives of a frustrated Muslim bourgeoisie that would like to enjoy its share of the capitalist pie) think they’re experiencing a re-run of the Crusades. And superimposed on this deadly mug’s game is the reactivated confrontation between Western democracy and totalitarianism that had made the system work so well for more than half a century. Let us add, however, that in emphasising all these false oppositions, we are not over-stepping the mark by creating an equivalence between perceived everyday situations that cannot be compared. Just as during the Cold War it was preferable for everyone, proletarians included, to live in the so-called free world rather than in the so-called Communist world, one would have to be in particularly bad faith if one did not admit that in an Islamic society people’s lives are even worse than just about anywhere else, even if they are not women, homosexuals or atheists, simply because they have to conform to the outrageous prohibitions and prescriptions of public morality.

In this equally tragic replay, the same situations are producing the same resort to nauseating tactical alliances; just as in the era of triumphant Stalinism appalling agreements such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany were made against what was even then called liberalism, today similar alliances are formed between the licensed critics of a liberalism once again wrongly described as extreme, and the worst Islamist regimes or organisations. What is in play when these deals are struck is still the abandonment of any kind of moral scruple, leading to the worst of confusions. Let us then spit on the inept Chávez, who shows no hesitation in supporting the criminal Ahmadinejad while at the same time taking himself for the executor of the will of God; let’s spit on those European leftists who, confusing, as is their wont, an oppressed population and its alienated representation, offer their ridiculous support to the ultra-reactionaries of Hamas; let’s spit on those British Trotskyists who make common cause with Islamo-fascists at local elections; let’s spit on all those who, under the pretext of fighting imperialism, appear not to feel in their bones everything that is repugnant and unworthy in offering their hand to some proponent or other of religious dogmatism.

Our atheism is not a philosophical or logical position. It is, like the atheism of de Sade, the tone of a way of life, the palpable fluid in which we can breathe and in which our imaginary can enjoy its powers. The atheism of the positivists and other anti-clericals who pile up proofs of the non-existence of God appear to us like a fruit incompletely detached from the tree of a monotheism finally transformed into a simple ideology of transcendence. Our atheism is rather the radiant, joyful atheism of the Cyrenaics or of Lucretius, and, on the tangible level, it expresses the position of universal immanence that one finds among all animist peoples, for whom the sacred is none other than the sense of nature’s presence. This is why the idea of a single omnipotent god appears to us so ridiculous and so tedious. And we cannot forget that this god, created in the worst image of man – an old, somewhat obsessive male – has always been used to justify the mental poverty of anthropocentrism and its voracious stranglehold on the wonder of the world. Should the imagination, drawn par excellence towards the excesses of poetic invention, be satisfied with such a sad figure on the horizon of its questioning?

The alleged return of the religious that the spectacle keeps trotting out for our benefit will in no way alter a fundamental fact: God died, and died definitively, more than a century ago; he was replaced by the religion of Capital, whose prophet is money, a prophet who, as we see in China today, unleashes passions all the more since it does not have to encumber itself at the same time with religious transcendence. But for peoples long subjugated by monotheism, whatever that may be, the ghost of God still prowls about, like an empty wineskin that is filled with the illusory answer to all the frustrations, rancours and oppressions ceaselessly generated by the economy and the class that reaps the benefit from them. And, like a lowering threat, this spectre weighs on the collective imaginary, polluting its language, purloining its hopes and curbing its impulses. To free oneself from this threat is to risk the only worthwhile adventure, that of freedom. So let us affirm once again the intrinsically blasphemous, anti-religious, and thus liberating character of poetic language, and our visceral disrespect for any submission to the empty bluster of the divine.

Paris Group of the Surrealist Movement
25th December 2006

Translation approved by the PGSM

This is indeed a thought provoking article. I do like how they try to tweek the concept of atheism. I think it makes some progress. I'm still highly critical of atheism, however ; it assumes it knows far more than it actually does. I'll keep it as an "on the one hand" tool, however, but I will freely be spiritual and even religious if I want to as well, and will leave bombasticism to the bombasts.


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