F A Ridley 1940s

Socialism and Religion

Source: An undated pamphlet published by the Engels Society, 21 Lime Tree Road, Heston, Middlesex. By internal evidence, it was probably published in the late 1940s.
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Socialism is a system which in politics expresses itself as republicanism, in economics as communism and in religion as atheism.—August Bebel

The problem of religion is one that is important both in the practical and the theoretical spheres. How comes it that mankind in the past has devoted so large a portion of his energies to the investigation of alleged ‘spiritual’ phenomena to the point of neglecting his proper material environment? And in practice, whence comes the enormous power of organised religion—a power which has dominated what passes for ‘civilisation’ almost throughout its entire existence? A power which, whilst shorn of much of its former influence, still wields today an extensive authority throughout the world. And not only throughout the primitive world of barbarism but also among the ‘civilised’ and professedly scientific nations of the contemporary world.

This important question has naturally aroused much interest and discussion during those comparatively rare epochs in human history in which mankind has been free to think at all about such matters. It goes without saying that, throughout by far the greater part of history, it would have been found distinctly dangerous to ask such questions, indeed impossible, with any measure of legal and personal impunity. Such tribunals as the Inquisition saw to that very effectively! For that matter, in modern Germany and Japan it would have been the reverse of safe to question the divine origin of the ‘herrenvolk’ (‘master-race’): in Japan, ruled by the divine descendants of the Sun-Goddess, it would have been distinctly hazardous to draw attention to too many eclipses of the Sun! Not even in Europe does complete religious liberty exist today: in Franco Spain, as in the Ireland of De Valera, the power of the Roman Church still preserves almost mediæval proportions.

In particular, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries an extensive critical and scientific literature was devoted to these questions. For these epochs of capitalist growth and progressive expansion afforded extensive scope for religious toleration and for scientific and disinterested religious investigation. In such works as Frazer’s monumental Golden Bough, and its French and German counterparts, the origins of ‘natural’ religion were subjected to an exhaustive and critical survey, as were also the ‘higher’ cosmopolitan and supernatural religions. The origins, dogmas and general history of Christianity as the traditional religion of Europe were, in particular, made the subject of an elaborate and learned criticism from the time of Voltaire down to the latest researches of our own day.

As a result of these sequential investigations the natural origins and character of religion, including Christianity, are now tolerably well-known. On some details there is, no doubt, still room for controversy. But, in broad outline, we now know what religion is, in what kind of mental environment it originally arose and to what kind of intellectual attitudes its alleged ‘truths’ appealed. And since this is so, can we wonder that the rationalistic critics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—the contemporaries of Voltaire, Renan, Huxley, Darwin, Spencer, Grant Allen and Frazer—believed confidently that, its origins and nature once known and ascribed to purely natural causes in human immaturity and ignorance, religion would speedily and automatically vanish from the social scene?

We now know that these too optimistic ‘rationalists’ were wrong: their ‘rationalism’ was not sufficiently rational! For religion has not died out. On the contrary, in many respects, it has increased its power. And it has done this because religion is not only an intellectual but a social product. Because, as a given society declines, it requires soporifics to drug the multitude. And religion is primarily a social , and not an intellectual phenomenon. For Marx laid bare its essential nature in his classical epigram: ‘Religion is the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions, the opium of the people.’

For, as a social product, and one at that which arises in a society divided into classes and based on exploitation, religion discharges a necessary role in that type of society, and cannot die out while such an exploiting society continues to exist. Hence the socialist criticism of religion differs profoundly from the purely intellectual criticism of capitalist scholars. For religion is necessary to the class state and to class society in general. And, as such, can only perish with it. Hence, no amount of merely expository or destructive criticism, useful and necessary as such criticism is in itself, can finally destroy religion. Only the coming of a classless society can do that, by abolishing the social antagonisms which necessitate its existence. It is from this standpoint that the problem of religion is examined in the following pages.

Note: Many books written by bourgeois specialists can be strongly recommended in their own particular fields. Frazer’s Golden Bough is, of course, a whole literature in itself. Among shorter works we may specially recommend Grant Allen’s Evolution of the Idea of God and S Reinach’s Orpheus, a History of Comparative Religion . The social limitations of such works must, of course, always be borne in mind. It is unfortunate that there is no definitive Marxist book on the subject: such a book would be one of the most valuable additions to contemporary literature. Probably the best single book ever written by a Marxist on a religious theme is still Karl Kautsky’s masterly book The Foundations of Christianity, written when its author was still a Marxist. Everyone interested in the subject and having the time should read this excellent work. The classics of Marxism contain, of course, many valuable observations: in particular, Engel’s Feuerbach ; Lenin’s On Religion ; NI Bukharin’s Historical Materialism . I must add that none of the works quoted above deal at all fully with the subject nor show much specialised acquaintance with its particular problems. I do not know any existing pamphlet or short work on the subject that is suitable for general reading. The SPGB formerly had a pamphlet which was a work of undoubted merit, though too prone, in my opinion at least, to adhere to the peculiar theories of Herbert Spencer on the origins of religion, but I understand that it is now out of print.

Part I: The Origins and Nature of Religion

If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.—Voltaire

I: The Two Roots of Religion

Religion implies the belief in the existence of a god, or gods, with whom human beings can establish relations and from whom they can receive benefits. Usually, though not quite invariably, it also implies belief in the immortality of the ‘spiritual’ element in man: his soul. In practice, religion expresses itself in various forms of worship and intercession, both public and private. By means of such rites, as the Greek philosophers used to observe, mankind ‘does business with the gods’ and establishes reciprocal relationships.

The phenomena that together make up religion are unquestionably of extreme antiquity. Undeniably they can be traced back far beyond the dawn of civilisation to a very early stage in human social evolution. Indeed, if we assume magic to have been the earliest form of religion, which is probable, religion must be traced back almost to the earliest human societies. Amongst animals, as far as any test is possible, nothing that can be called religion seems to exist; indeed it is most improbable that any creature except man has any capacity for abstract reasoning. And the same was presumably true of the very earliest types of ‘ape-men’ who formed the very earliest societies that came in time to be fully human. We are necessarily dealing with conjectures, but religion in its primitive magical form can be traced with some certainty to the ‘neolithic’ (new stone) age, and may well have originated still earlier in the ‘palæolithic’ (old stone) age. In such vast periods of time dates mean nothing: say, anything from 20,000 to 100,000 years ago. [1]

The history of religion is therefore of vast antiquity, and is coeval in its entirety with many levels of cultural development. Between the witch-doctor beating his drum in the primitive rituals of the Congo, down to the intricate splendour of a High Mass in St Peter’s, Rome, a vast cultural cycle has been spanned. In investigating the evolution of religion all these stages of religion must be kept in mind. Only so can we do adequate scientific justice to the subject.

When we investigate the history of religion from the standpoint of the widest possible perspectives it becomes obvious that we are confronted with, broadly, two main species of religion. With substantial accuracy we may style these as, respectively, ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ religion. In our next two sections we will glance at the historical sequence of these two main types of religious evolution. Here we will glance at their social origins and character.

‘Natural’ religion is the religion of primitive races; that is, of races which have not yet attained to the cultural level of civilisation, using this last word in a Marxist sense to denominate not only a general level of material efficiency and cultural attainment, but, specifically, a society divided into classes and regulated by the class state. ‘Natural’ religion, contrarily, is the religion of primitive races who have not yet reached this last level; who still live in tribal communities based on common ownership of the means of production—which latter are obviously very primitive in such a society; and amongst whom class divisions are either unknown, as in the most primitive races, or at least are weak and undeveloped. [2]

These two types of religion are entirely dissimilar both in their character and in their motivating social causes.

In the case of ‘natural’ religion we are dealing with very primitive societies who carry on an unceasing battle with nature in order to wrest an uncertain existence from a hostile environment. Amongst peoples in this social stage religion becomes a ‘heavenly’ reflex of their actual life here below. And, as such, it is compounded chiefly of fear and ignorance, the two chief social features in all such primitive societies. Its gods are either personifications of natural forces, before which primitive man trembles, but which he does not understand: the Sun, the Moon, the Fire, the Thunder, etc. Or they are the ghosts of great chiefs, hunters, warriors, perhaps primitive agriculturalists, whose memory is held in reverence by the tribes which have solved their problem of existence under their leadership, or by means of their prowess in the chase or in war, the two chief occupations of all primitive races.

Hence, ‘natural’ religion, the religion of all pre-civilised races, is a religion motivated by fear and misunderstanding of natural forces. It is the product of man’s fear and ignorance of nature . Contrarily, its social roots are very feeble, and it does not reflect social antagonisms and social oppressions, at least, to any great extent, since history for such societies has not yet reached the point at which classes have grown up alongside the expanding means of production at which the class state presses heavily upon the enslaved masses.

We are consequently driven to this inevitable conclusion: primitive races profess a common type of religion which springs in general from a single source: misunderstanding, and, in direct consequence, fear of the terrifying and unknown forces of nature and of natural phenomena, upon which savage society depends for existence and before which it is so largely helpless.

With the expansion of the means of production and the consequent simultaneous and reciprocal growth of a class society, of the class state, and of civilisation, the above state of things inevitably passed away. Along with the demise of primitive society there vanished concurrently the type of religion which was the reflex and expression of that society. In its place there developed a new and distinct type of religion: the religion of ‘civilised man’; and therefore in itself the inevitable expression of the class-divided society and of the oppressive class state, which came into being concurrently with ‘civilisation’ itself. To this ‘civilised’ type of religion we apply the term ‘supernatural’, in sharp distinction to the ‘natural’ religion of primitive societies.

Supernatural religion differs sharply from natural both in its social origins and in its generic characteristics. Like all religion, like its predecessor, it is still based on fear and ignorance: the historic twin roots of religion. But on social rather than on natural fear. As society becomes progressively more civilised: that is, as it simultaneously acquires more knowledge of and more control over natural processes, its dependence on and consequent fear of nature becomes continuously less. For example, a citizen of a modern state has no reason to expect death by reason of the failure of the municipal water supply, unlike the dwellers in primitive societies, where droughts still take a heavy toll of human life. Nor does he fear the thunder, nor expect the wrath of celestial powers whenever an eclipse of the moon takes place. As civilisation advances, fear of nature declines along with growing knowledge of and power over its processes.

But fear and ignorance of nature are not the only kind of fear and ignorance. As civilisation progressively advances and frees mankind from the domination of natural forces, it concurrently enslaves it to social forces expressed in the exploitation of a class society and oppression by a class state. All civilisation hitherto is synonymous with slavery and exploitation of the majority by the ruling minority.

Consequently, in civilised society fear of man, of the ruling classes and of the class state which is their embodiment, takes the place of primitive fear of nature. Hence, in the ‘higher’ supernatural religions which accompany the rise of civilisation social causes predominate over natural causes. To revert to our previous illustration, the citizen of a modern capitalist state knows the nature of eclipses, and no longer lives in fear of drought, but he nonetheless has the liveliest fear of unemployment, bankruptcy and military conscription; all of which are social causes, unknown to primitive and inseparable from (capitalist) civilised societies.

To sum up this necessarily brief discussion of the nature and evolution of religion: as a product, for all its supernatural pretensions, of human society, religion reflects the fundamental nature of that society. And hitherto human society has passed through the primitive classless society of barbarism and the class-divided societies of civilisation. Religion is at all times and places the product of fear and ignorance: but these last assume different forms in different societies: respectively, fear of nature, and fear of exploitation and of the ruling classes who direct and symbolise that exploitation.

To complete our preliminary survey of religion it therefore behoves us to glance at these two sequential species of religion: the natural and the supernatural, according to our terminology. After which we shall be in a better position to investigate the current problem presented by religion in our contemporary world.

II: Natural Religion

In our contemporary society with which we are here primarily concerned, ‘natural’ religion, that is, the religion of primitive races, is merely a problem of historical interest. Consequently we only need touch upon it briefly.

How did religion originate? Of the various theories propounded, the respective merits of which still provoke controversy, two, in particular, stand out. According to the ‘animistic’ school, represented pre-eminently by such anthropologists as Tylor and Frazer, gods originally came into existence as the personification of the forces of nature: of the Sun and Moon, Dusk and Dawn, Fire and Thunder; all of which natural phenomena are incomprehensible to primitive peoples. According to the ghost-theory of Herbert Spencer and Grant Allen, gods always, or at least usually, represent the spirits of the dead ‘heroes’, who appear to their followers in dreams and are thus conceived as still alive in some spirit-land. Homer expressed the universal opinion of barbaric societies when he wrote that Sleep and Death were ‘twins’, and no barbaric race can distinguish between them. Consequently if the dead appear in dreams, in order to appear they must still be alive somewhere else! Hence the inevitability in such societies of the conceptions of personal survival and immortality.

Actually, both schools of thought probably contain an element of truth, and it is not always possible to decide between them in the case of particular cults. For example, was the Jewish God, Jahveh (usually mis-spelt Jehovah), originally a primitive thunder-god from the Sinai region, where the Jews seem to have originally adopted his worship, or a primitive Hebrew hero, worshipped after his death? Similarly, was the Scandinavian god, Odin, whom the primitive English worshipped, a personification of the Sky, or a primitive Norse ‘Führer’, an aboriginal ‘Hitler’? There is nothing inherently improbable in either explanation.

At any rate, whatever the precise origin or origins of a particular barbaric religious cult may be, there can be no room for doubt with regard to the social character of such particular cults. Every ‘natural’ religion accurately reflects the primitive unsophisticated barbaric society of which it is the celestial replica. In the great epic poems characteristic of such societies, such as the Greek Iliad, or the Scandinavian Sagas, the ‘gods’ are merely glorified men who spend their existence fighting and drinking—like their earthly worshippers; and who periodically descend from Olympus or Valhalla (the Norse heaven), to fight men or seduce women. And, as befits the gods of barbaric peoples, in the composition of such ‘reflex’ deities, brawn predominates decidedly over brain!

Another point must be noted. Barbaric societies are but little troubled by abstract ideas, and the uncertainties and complexities of civilised life are unknown. Hence the religions of the nature peoples are naive, unsophisticated, joyous; not ‘sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought’; and in their exercise concrete visual acts take precedence over abstract speculations, since the theology of such primitive peoples is elementary in the extreme, in striking contradiction to the complicated metaphysics which usually characterise the theological systems of the ‘higher’ (civilised) religions. [3]

To sum up: the ‘natural’ religion of barbaric peoples reproduces faithfully the elementary social organisms that characterise such primitive social states. Above all, it reflects as in a mirror the helplessness of such societies before the dark and unknown powers of an incomprehensible nature. Obviously, in the civilised societies of today such religions have little meaning. The artificial revival of antique paganism in recent Germany and Japan is not due to natural but to political causes! The ‘supernatural’ religions of today are as different in their character as in their motivating cause. Accordingly, we propose to glance briefly at this species of religion before turning our attention to the current problem of religion in present-day society.

III: Supernatural Religion

With the advent of civilisation and concurrently of class society and the class state, barbarism began to disappear, and along with it the type of religion which we have seen above to be characteristic of barbarism. In its place there arose, at first, probably gradually, another and quite different species of religion; one which reflected the new and radically different social conditions which came into existence along with civilisation and class society at some unknown period before the dawn of recorded history. [4]

In Marxist (that is, in scientific) terminology words like ‘civilisation’, ‘classes’, ‘the state’ etc, are used in a definite and precise sense; unlike bourgeois ‘science’, in which such terms are used in an extremely vague and haphazard manner, frequently undistinguishable from sheer mumbo-jumbo charlatanry. By the term ‘civilisation’ we imply a social order in which the means of production have expanded to the point where, for the first time, they yield a surplus wealth over and above the lowest needs of current society for immediate consumption. This wealth is owned and utilised in the form of private property, by the ruling class for the time being, which maintains its exploitation of the subjugated masses by the agency of a novel institution unknown in primitive society, that is, the class state: that ‘particular power of suppression’, to employ the masterly definition of Engels. In all societies so constituted, from those of the oldest civilisations, Ancient Egypt and Ancient Babylonia, down to and including those of our own day, this fundamental state of things exists. In all such societies, accordingly, the class struggle for control of surplus-value and for the consequent right to exploit, remains the decisive social factor.

Against the background of a society so constituted it is obvious that the primitive type of religion (in itself the reflex of an altogether different and more elementary society in which social antagonisms were relatively undeveloped and weak), could have no conceivable relevance and would, in fact, have been absolutely meaningless. For ‘Man—Society—made God in his own image’! And a ‘civilised’ god can only be the work of ‘civilised’ men! Despite the recent ludicrous efforts of the German militaristic disciples of Ludendorff and Alfred Rosenberg, along with their Japanese Shintoist colleagues, to revive primitive pagan cults amid modern industrial conditions, the incongruity between the ideology of the machine-age and the nature myths (the Swastika, the ‘Solar Wheel’, the (Japanese) Sun-Goddess, etc) of primitive rustic paganism is altogether too great. The table-manners of the antique barbaric gods are simply impossible in a modern civilised society.

Unquestionably, the fundamental difference between ‘natural’—barbaric—religion and ‘supernatural’—civilised—religion, is to be found in the broad distinction already noted above: that is, in ‘natural’ religion it is physical nature that predominates; whereas in ‘supernatural’ religion it is social forces, antagonisms and contradictions, which play the decisive role. Barbaric religion is a reflex mainly of Nature ; whereas civilised religion is a reflex mainly of Society : the accurate mirror of its social inhibitions and contradictions.

If we turn from the purely speculative consideration of the subject to the consideration of the positive evolution of religion this fact becomes crystal-clear. The earliest ‘civilised’ religions arose in the earliest civilisations; Egypt, Chaldæa, etc. These religions represent the faithful reflex of the societies wherein they originated. For example, each city-state in Egypt and Chaldæa had its own local God. The importance of the state-god waxed and waned proportionately with the temporal political and military fortunes of his terrestrial worshippers here below! Thus, when Assyria, by utilising iron weapons for the first time in the history of war, became the dominant empire in western Asia (c 800BC), simultaneously, Assur, the local Assyrian god, was elevated to the first place in the heavenly hierarchy: viz, the social discovery of iron for military purposes led to alterations not only in the terrestrial, but, equally, in the celestial sphere! Similarly, when the Egyptian city of Thebes became the capital of a united Egyptian empire, Amon, the city-god, became supreme over the other gods. Indeed, throughout the entire history of civilisation heaven faithfully reflects the vicissitudes of earth! The growth of equality in heaven accompanies the growth of inequality on earth!

When we turn to more advanced forms of religion than pagan polytheism the same phenomenon recurs. According to the writers of orthodox text-books on the history of comparative religion, the broad distinction in religious evolution is that between ‘polytheism’—belief in the simultaneous existence of many gods, and ‘monotheism’, that is, the belief in one god alone. But, in actuality, there is no absolute distinction between the two forms of belief. The historic link between polytheism and monotheism is found in ‘monolatry’, that is, the belief that many gods exist, but that one alone (‘ours’, of course), is superior to all others. This was for centuries the belief of the Jews, the ‘discoverers’ of Monotheism. And Monotheism itself did not originate among the Jews as a result of speculative reasoning, but was due essentially to the hostility of the surrounding pagan peoples at the time of the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews (c 600BC), the gods of whom became accordingly quite inacceptable as objects of worship. Hence the Jewish god, Jahveh (Jehovah) was left as the solitary tenant in a vacant heaven.

The highest forms of religion faithfully reflect the highest forms of society. This age-old truth is seen with particular clarity in the case of the great cosmopolitan and ethical religions which have arisen in Europe and Asia during the course of the last 2500 years: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and their modern off-shoots. These ‘universal’ religions reflect with the fidelity of a mirror the social evolution of civilisation throughout this era. They are cosmopolitan because society during this period had been steadily widening its boundaries and advancing from the tribal, first to the national, then to the cosmopolitan sphere. They are ethical, since in a society founded on the exploitation of the many by the few mere brute force is insufficient to hold the masses in subjection: for this last purpose, an ethic is required; that is, the masses must be persuaded to do what it is against their real interest to do, and submit voluntarily to exploitation on earth in the name of heaven! And they all presuppose the regime of classes, private property and exploitation, not as temporary social phases, but as something fixed and eternal: ‘the sacred rights of private property’! Such universally found commandments as ‘Thou shalt not steal’, ‘Thou shalt not covet’, ‘Thou shalt not kill’, etc, etc, presuppose a state of society based on private property, inequality and violence. It is one of the most glaring paradoxes of all ‘civilised’ ethics that every society based on social theft and murder by the rich must peremptorily forbid individual theft and murder by the poor as an essential prerequisite for its existence!

Space is not, unfortunately, available to pursue in any detail the very interesting and instructive question of the social evolution of the higher religions. A word, however, may be usefully added on that of the one which most concerns us Europeans: viz, Christianity. Historically, this last may be described as the faithful reflex of the last phase of classical society. As the Roman Empire unified the local city-states of the Mediterranean, so, concurrently, Christianity unified the local religious cults that were their ideological expression. For example, the Greek writer, Plutarch (second century AD), went on record with the observation that every city-state (Polis) to be counted as such must have two things: ‘A god and a town-hall’—viz, seat of government. The Roman Empire abolished the second and the Catholic (Christian) Church the first. Similarly, it is well known that the rise of individualistic capitalism in the sixteenth century led to new forms of Christianity, in the reformed Churches, which accommodated themselves to the new competitive ethics so different from those of feudalism. For example, punctuality is pre-eminently a capitalist virtue. Protestantism is the first religion to make it a religious virtue: the proletarian who is late at the factory gate cannot be in time at the door of heaven! One could give countless similar examples.

To sum up accordingly the first part of this pamphlet: Religion has historically passed through two main epochs. The era of barbarism throughout which religion expressed chiefly man’s fear of and helplessness before Nature. And the era of civilisation, in which religion was primarily an instrument in the hands of the successive ruling classes and which primarily reflected fear of these classes and of the fundamental social antagonisms which have, hitherto, dominated every class-ruled society.

One further point may be added. Under capitalism and, in particular, under monopoly-capital, the most advanced form of capitalism which brings all its contradictions to a head, the first, natural root of religion, man’s awe of natural phenomena, becomes extremely weak, and indeed, in the most advanced countries almost disappears with society’s growing mastery of natural forces due to the machine-age. Whereas the second, social root in insecurity and in social disharmony acquires a terrible and altogether unprecedented power due to the previously unheard of intensity of prevailing social contradictions expressed in war, crisis and universal instability. Hence, in dealing with current religion it is its second, social root that almost exclusively concerns us as, even a generation ago, Lenin had already specially insisted. The second part of this pamphlet is written from this last point of view.

Note: In this brief analysis of the fundamental characteristics of religion we have not, unfortunately, the space to delve deeply into special problems of theological criticism. But we may relevantly add that the idea of ‘god’, though due essentially to social and not to intellectual causes, is also a logical absurdity from the purely intellectual standpoint. For if, as the theologians say, everything has to be made by someone, and therefore, the universe must have been made by god, it is, in the first place, obvious that the universe—the all—is not a thing , but a name, or rather an abstraction: no one can see or touch the universe, but only some part or aspect of it. And, in any case, if the universe must have a maker, so by the same logic must god, and so on, ad infinitum! In any case a ‘first cause’ is an absurdity, since by the term ‘cause’ we understand something that is, also, an effect of a previous cause.

Moreover, we know the world to be full of pain and misery. Such a world could not possibly originate from an all-good and all-perfect god who, by definition, could not create anything not, also, good and perfect. This point was made once for all by the old Greek philosopher, Epicurus: God must be either all-powerful or all-good, or neither, if we conceive him as the author of so imperfect a world: one in which all animals must struggle for existence and in which as has been aptly said: ‘History is the conjugation of the verb “to eat”.’ But, of course, such quibbles are not ‘the foundations of belief’: they are merely excuses—and very bad ones!—for not giving up a belief that was necessitated by social conditions in past eras. It is only the lack of real evidence that brings the ‘evidence societies’ (who peddle such puerile arguments) into existence.

We could, of course, continue to pick holes in theology indefinitely. For example, if the ‘soul’ had a beginning, it must have an end, etc, etc. But here we are concerned with the social realities of religion, not with the verbal acrobatics of its professional apologists. When a thing is old and profitable one can always find reasons for justifying it, and not always in conscious bad faith!

Part II: Religion and Society

Religion is the opium of the people.—Marx

I: Religion and the Class War

The fundamental and decisive fact in every social order that has arisen since prehistoric times has been the class war for control of the surplus-value produced by that society. And the control of surplus value, of ‘the means of production’, carries with it automatically control of the state, of ‘the particular power of suppression’ (Engels) and of cultural processes in general. Historically nothing is more certain or well-established than that, in the words of Marx, ‘the [dominant—FAR] ideas of every age are the ideas of its ruling class’. Since the publication of the Communist Manifesto (1848), which first laid the foundations of an exact social science, only prehistoric survivals can be found to dispute this primary fact of social development.

The part that official religion has played in this age-long process is evident on every page of the historical record. As ‘the opium of the people’, as a drug, a soporific to deaden the effect of an inevitable social misery in a class-ruled society; religion has played always an important and often a decisive role in every known class society that has hitherto existed.

In the very earliest civilised societies of which we have any exact knowledge, the sacerdotal theocracies of the pre-classical archaic world prior to Greece and Rome, the role played by religion in sanctifying social inequality and oppression was decisive and overwhelming. In the oldest civilised societies, such as Egypt, Babylonia, Crete, ‘God and the State’ were virtually synonymous terms. (Though, we may add, Bakunin and his disciples were quite wrong in maintaining that the latter was derived from the former. Whilst undoubtedly influenced by religious ideas the earliest states did not originate from the ‘idea of god’, but from the concrete fact of the development of the means of production and the simultaneous development of classes.) The very name of the ruler of the oldest known civilisation, that of Egypt, derives from religious auspices: viz, ‘Pharaoh’ is derived from ‘Per-Ea’, ‘the Great House’; the Temple. And has not the most learned of ancient philosophers, Aristotle, left it on record that the Egyptian priests, the first ‘leisured class’ in history, were the creators of civilisation?

The colossal monuments left behind by this earliest civilisation, the giant Pyramids which still stand in the Egyptian desert, were about equally temples and tombs. Indeed, the imagination recoils before the spectacle of the ruthless slave-driving of whole generations necessary in a pre-machine age to erect these massive mausoleums. Literally, whole generations of slaves must have perished worn-out in the task of building an adequate memorial to the ruling class of the first known civilisation, symbolised in the Divine Pharaohs, for whom the Pyramids originally served as tombs: a necropolis of exploitation!

When we turn to subsequent ages and civilisations we are confronted with the same or a closely similar spectacle. The Roman Empire, the greatest engine of exploitation known up to that date, identified its religion with the worship of Cæsar, of the Emperor: and as to what sort of ‘gods’ the frenzied Caligula, the sadistic Nero, and the perverted Elagabalus were, even ‘official’ history bears eloquent testimony! And, so far as we know, none of the numerous moralists throughout antiquity protested against the frightful exploitation of the slave-majority by the free minority. [5]

Nor is it any different essentially when we turn to the ‘higher religions’, such as Christianity and Islam. For if, as is not at all unlikely, Christianity itself started as a ‘revolutionary’ mass movement against Roman society, as Eisler and others have sought to demonstrate, and as some of its surviving early scriptures seem to indicate (viz, ‘the Apocalypse’, etc), it is at least certain that it was soon effectively captured by the ruling classes of the day and became an instrument in the hands of the class state. [6]

In that respect, the ‘conversion’ of the Emperor Constantine (fourth century AD), was the perversion of (the original) Christianity. Even reputable bourgeois historians now admit that the Roman Emperors of the Decline, in adopting Christianity as the state religion, were motivated primarily by political and economic motives rather than by considerations of a purely religious character. They needed ‘moral cement’ wherewith to hold together their cracking administrative structure, and to arrest the decay of their exhausted civilisation in the era of the Barbarian Invasions. For a time it was doubtful whether Christianity or Sun-Worship (Mithraism) would best fulfil this social role. Eventually, however, a combination of favourable circumstances enabled the Son of God to prevail over the Sun-God. Both gods, in any case, would have functioned in much the same way in that society!

Since its official adoption as a state-religion Christianity has faithfully acted as the docile instrument of the class state; it was always for the classes [7] against the masses; for the exploiters against the exploited. Under the peculiar conditions of the Middle Ages the Church indeed became itself the dominant force in society and the exploiter-in-chief. According to a moderate computation, one-third of the land of Europe was ecclesiastical property throughout this period: and this in an agrarian society when land was (in feudal law) real property, that is, the kind of property which pre-eminently bestowed social prestige and political power. It is well known how during this epoch, the golden age of (Catholic) Christianity, the Church waged the most frightful wars in the so-called Crusades (c 1100-1300 AD), and that its ‘Gestapo’, the Inquisition, bloodily and most effectively suppressed every free movement of the human mind throughout this entire era, during which a ‘law against dangerous thoughts’ (to employ modern Japanese terminology) was in unbroken operation.

And we may add there is strong reason to believe that the Inquisition was an engine of conscious social at least as much as religious repression. The heretical sects which it drowned in blood were the radicals of their period: indeed, some of them belong to the category of Utopian communist sects. The rack and stake of the Inquisition served both God and Mammon impartially. As Kautsky has aptly remarked: ‘It was a fanaticism of avarice masquerading under the forms of faith.’ [8]

And all this transpired during the era of the greatest Church-power: ‘the Ages of Faith’! For it is a matter of common knowledge that mediæval culture was entirely dominated by the Church. Its leading theologians, St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, were the highest cultural authorities. Throughout this whole millennium (c 500-1500 AD), the word ‘clerk’ denominated equally and impartially either a person in holy orders, or a literate person able to read and write; the two were regarded as virtually identical in mediæval Europe, as in modern Tibet.

Nor has the situation been essentially different in modern times, even though religion has, in general, not exercised the overwhelming power that it enjoyed during the preceding era. From the time of that great ‘rebel’ Luther, who urged the German princes to ‘stab and slay’ their serfs revolting against intolerable oppression (1525) during the ‘Peasants’ War’ (Bauernkrieg ), ‘the social record of Christianity’ has been one of almost unbroken subservience to the rich and powerful. As Engels himself demonstrated, Lutheranism reduced the free peasants of Germany to the level of serfs. If Calvinism was revolutionary in its social effects, it was only so in the interests of the new bourgeois exploiters, the lords of money, against the older feudal exploiters, the lords of land. As Tawney and others have shown it actually worsened the lot of the poor. It is notorious how the (reformed) Anglican Church has always been the obsequious tool of the English ruling class: ‘God bless the squire and his relations and keep us in our proper stations!’

And subsequent religious history is the same. Every social revolution from the French to the Russian has had to meet the full fury of the Churches. (According to some historians, it was the influence of Methodism which prevented the French Revolution from spreading to England.) In both its ideology and its property-relationships official religion has only played one role in the class war: that of chaplain, apologist, and, where necessary, active auxiliary to the ruling class.

The lack of real democracy on earth is made up by a fictitious democracy in heaven.

And what has been said above of Christianity is equally true and could easily be duplicated, had we the necessary space, in respect of other religions also. For example, Islam has always stubbornly opposed even the bourgeois revolution: Arabia and Afghanistan, still strongholds of Mohammedan clericalism, are almost completely feudal. Kemal Atatürk had to suppress it in Turkey in order to carry through the bourgeois revolution there. Whilst Hinduism, by means of its doctrine of reincarnation, has cleverly allayed the discontent of the Indian masses with their frightful conditions in this life! Even the originally rationalistic Buddhism has, in modern Mongolia and Tibet, become an obscurantist and oppressive priestly despotism.

To sum up: as far as the class struggle is concerned, official religion is, and always has been, on the side of the exploiters. Indeed, granted its social background, it could not have been anything else. And the same is true today.

Note: In dealing with the reactionary role of religion in past societies we are, of course, dealing with the official religion in such societies. In fairness we must add that another type of religion has existed on which Christian Socialists lay great stress. We refer to such movements as those of the Lollards and Anabaptists which were anti-ruling-class, and in some cases, even ‘communistic’ in their tenets. It is undeniable that such movements existed, that they reflected their contemporary class antagonisms and were, even, to a certain extent, revolutionary in their relation to contemporary states and society. To that extent accordingly they must be excepted from the strictures passed above on their official counterparts, the ‘orthodox’ churches. We must not forget that in a pre-scientific society religion necessarily became itself an instrument of the prevailing revolutionary class war.

We must add, however, that their ‘communism’ was pre-scientific and therefore backward -looking: ‘When Adam delved and Eve span where was then the gentleman?’, as the Lollards phrased it: viz, in the beginning class distinctions did not exist. In all such Utopian ‘Communism’ history chases its own tail. Moreover, most of these movements were dominated by clerics—for example, John Ball and Thomas Munzer, etc. Had they succeeded they would have inevitably become themselves theocracies. Voltaire has summed up, once for all, the social character of all theocratic communism in his satirical description of the clerical ‘communistic’ state founded by the Jesuits in Paraguay (eighteenth century): ‘In Paraguay perfect communism existed: the Jesuits shared the wealth; whilst the Indians shared the work!’

II: The Churches and Society

In the preceding section we have summarised the historical role of religion throughout all earlier periods. It remains to glance at the contemporary attitude of the Churches in present-day society.

By far the most powerful, best organised, and logically consistent of the Christian Churches is the Roman Catholic Church. This originally mediæval and feudal institution almost foundered in the storms of the Reformation era which witnessed the opening-up of the world market and the earlier phases of the bourgeois revolution against feudalism and clericalism. By a skilful combination of terror and demagogy the Catholic ‘Counter-Reformation’ extricated the Church from its dangerous situation and, under the brilliant direction of the Jesuits, made a masterly adaptation to the rising capitalist social order.

Today, the Papacy is fully alive to the urgency of social questions, and even to the imminence of social revolution. If this ancient institution does not really know much about the next world it undeniably knows quite a lot about this one! It has not wasted its 1900 years’ historical experience. And to meet its current dilemma it pursues a two-faced and subtle policy: here, we only touch upon its social aspect.

Despite its claims to Divine origin the Roman Church is an institution with a very strong sense of ‘survival-values’. It was not an accident that the biologist, Lamarck, who invented the theory of ‘creative evolution’, was a pupil of the Jesuits: to arrive at his theory of ‘the giraffe’ which deliberately ‘grew a long neck’ in order to survive, all he had to do was to study the evolution of the famous Order! Today, the Papacy knows that it is in even greater danger than at the time of the Reformation. For whilst it survived Protestantism it could not possibly survive Communism, which would necessarily be fatal to all religion, The Pope may, or may not, be ‘infallible’, but he knows this only too well!

There is no doubt at all that the fundamental aim of the present-day Papacy is at all costs to defeat Communism. All its other aims are subordinate to this one. It fights for its life; and it knows it! To defeat the Social Revolution it resorts, as at the Reformation, to a combined policy of demagogy and terror. On the one hand, the Popes issue encyclical letters denouncing the ‘abuses’ of capitalism, and demanding a ‘square deal’ for the masses. On the other hand, whenever the masses attempt to secure a ‘square deal’ for themselves it backs terrorist movements against them. It is well known how actively it assisted Hitler and Mussolini to come to power; and how fiercely it denounced Bolshevism whilst the revolutionary phase of the Communist International endured. And the whole world knows how strenuously the Roman Church exerted its worldwide activity on behalf of Franco during the Spanish Social War.

Its pronouncements leave no room for doubt as to its motives: it was not taken in by the myth of (bourgeois) democracy promulgated by the Stalinists and their allies during the Spanish war. The Church knew as well as we do, that in our era the alternative to Fascism is revolutionary Communism, and not bourgeois democracy. On this point, at least, the extreme Left and the extreme Right agree! Hence, in Spain as elsewhere, the Church fought for its life against the ‘Red Peril’. It will do so again whenever Social Revolution threatens and it will always support Capitalism—with whatever mental reservations, since the Roman Church is a pre-capitalist institution—when the alternative is revolutionary socialism.

The Papacy is itself a totalitarian institution. For it, socialism is not a question of politics but a ‘moral’ question. This is so. It is, indeed, fantastic to imagine that either Christian pre-scientific doctrine or Christian servile ethics could survive in a communist and libertarian society. Hence, as Cardinal Newman predicted long ago: whenever and wherever the Social Revolution appears, it will find the Catholic Church in the forefront of its enemies. And the workers of Spain, Ireland and Mexico, etc, know this already from bitter experience! [9]

We accordingly conclude that the Roman Church—the one Christian Church which is still a world-power—stands in the front rank of the opponents of socialism.

The remaining Churches can be dismissed briefly since they have little real power, and that only local. Moreover, they are not organised on the efficient totalitarian lines which characterise Roman Catholicism.

In general, they can be described as anti-revolutionary and anti-socialist, though some more blatantly so than others. For example, the surviving Calvinistic Churches: the State Churches of Scotland and Holland, are hotbeds of black reaction. Still worse, if possible, is the South African Church which adds colour to class hatred. The above is somewhat ironic when we consider the prominent role played by the Calvinist Churches in the bourgeois revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, ‘predestination’ automatically becomes counter-revolutionary after victory!

On the other hand, the Anglican Church, whilst at bottom probably equally reactionary, is so less openly in that it permits a certain amount of ‘Leftism’ among even its higher clergy: it goes without saying that this presents no real danger to the existing social order. Thus we have a ‘red Dean’ of Canterbury and have even had a ‘pink’ Archbishop! However, since the state controls the purse-strings in the form of endowments, it may safely be presumed that Anglicanism, in the future as in the past, will be the faithful servant of British capital and British Imperialism. The recent Education Bill, introduced by a Tory minister, evidently predicates a closer alliance in Britain between Church and State in the coming era for the purpose of promoting a common reaction.

The same goes for the others as well. The ‘revolutionary Church’ of the ‘Christian Socialists’ is a revolutionary myth. Historically, in the pre-capitalist days of such sects as the Lollards and Anabaptists, there were, undoubtedly, ‘heretical’ Churches that can accurately be called revolutionary, having regard for the circumstances of their time. But that is all ancient history. It is a far cry from the revolutionary Anabaptists of the sixteenth century to the smug Baptists of the twentieth: from Jan of Leyden to ‘Spurgeon’s Tabernacle’. [10]

The case of the Russian ‘Orthodox’ Church, recently re-established by Stalin, is a special case, and, as such, merits a word. In Tsarist days the Russian State Church was one of the most ignorant, intolerant and obscurantist of all. The brutality of its ‘Holy Synod’ was notorious. And its charlatan-in-chief, Rasputin, had become a bye-word. The official recognition recently given for political reasons to this Church indicates undoubtedly the growing compromising character of the Stalinist regime and its increasing reversion to power-politics. Every class revolution in decay tends to compromise with religion. The example of Napoleon’s ‘Concordat’ with Catholicism is a well-known instance (1801). The latest Stalinist policy demonstrates that even an originally socialist revolution is liable to retrogression in the cultural sphere if it remains indefinitely backward and isolated. Only international socialism can abolish religion.

Regarding the non-Christian world we have already alluded to its reactionary character. For example, the pacifist role of the Hindu ‘Mahatma’, Gandhi, is a most powerful contemporary obstacle to the Indian Social Revolution. Whilst Islam, as remarked above, is still an anti-socialist barrier of feudalism. In Japan, the militarist cult of Shintoism was artificially revived by the Japanese warlords as a barrier against revolutionary ideas. But Emperor-worship is unlikely to survive the defeat of Japan. The Deity has now become a Democrat!

To sum up: as the social utility of religion becomes less, and as the Social Revolution gains ground, everywhere organised religion allies itself more closely with the forces of reaction in other spheres. The gods form a ‘united front’ against the Revolution! For the Revolution digs a common grave for all the gods!

Note: Space does not permit us to deal with ‘freak’ cults, such as Christian Science, Theosophy, etc. In any case, the time has long gone past for the foundation of new religions. The old ones already have sufficient difficulty in keeping afloat!

III: Religion and Socialism

After what has been written above it is unnecessary to devote much time to the question of the relations of Socialism and Religion: they necessarily mix about as well as oil and water! We have already seen what were the historical causes for the appearance and growth of religion and how it arose out of fear and ignorance; fear and ignorance in savage societies before the incomprehensible phenomena of nature; fear and ignorance of the uncontrollable forces of civilisation and of the social tyranny which is inseparable from the operations of a class-dominated society. In this last respect, the aphorism of that shrewd bourgeois politician Napoleon, ‘I regard religion not as the mystery of the incarnation, but as the mystery of the Social Order’, is abundantly borne out by history. Indeed, before Bonaparte, Robespierre had expressed to perfection the role of religion in a society based like all class societies on fundamental inequality and injustice: ‘Atheism is aristocratic. The idea of a god who avenges outraged innocence and punishes triumphant crime, is essentially the idea of the people.’

Or in other words, if there is no justice here, there must be somewhere else!—an obvious case of ‘wishful thinking’! ‘If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him’: this remark of Voltaire is absolutely correct of any society based on exploitation, even if the circumstances of his era prevented Voltaire himself from drawing this correct conclusion.

For, we repeat: there is nothing accidental about the rise and historical role of religion. It is a mere waste of time to try to kill it by argument or ridicule where the social or natural causes exist that inevitably result in its reappearance. To attempt to do this is, indeed, the cardinal error of bourgeois rationalism which lops down the branches of religion but leaves its roots untouched. Wherever injustice and fear exist men will seek a remedy elsewhere, if none exists here. Hence as an Anglican bishop recently naively remarked: ‘Ages of fear have always been ages of religion.’ For example, after the Roman slaves had failed to win their social liberty under Spartacus (73-71 BC), they resorted to the ‘spiritual’ salvation of Christianity.

Hence, to seek to abolish religion in a society founded on exploitation is futile. The ancient Greek and Roman freethinkers such as Epicurus and Lucretius demolished every theological argument as well as their modern successors have done, but when Paganism passed from the scene it was Christianity, not Atheism, which took its place. And, we may add, the mediæval freethinkers who perished at the stake of the Inquisition could testify that the change, as far as freedom of thought was concerned, was merely from ‘the frying-pan into the fire’!

If, however, it follows from the above that religion cannot die out or be abolished in a class society, it follows equally and by the same reasoning that it could not survive under the world-order of international socialism. Once a communist order was fully established the twin foundations of religion, ignorance and fear, would be torn up by the roots. International socialism, by doing away with class exploitation and by developing to the fullest possible extent the unfathomed productive potentialities of the machine-age, hitherto hardly touched under capitalism, would make poverty and insecurity absolutely meaningless terms in an age of universal plenty. Whilst war, the third partner in the unholy capitalist trinity, would necessarily pass into oblivion along with the competitive capitalism and imperialism which is its sole efficient cause.

All the social roots of religion would thus simultaneously disappear. And, of course, it goes without saying that the last remains of barbaric ignorance and superstition which still survive from pre-civilised eras would vanish before the impact of universal free education based on the scientific humanism that is inseparable from socialism, and no longer twisted as today by class domination into a mere machine for producing standardised wage-slaves, mechanical minders of machines, and servile robots.

Whosoever therefore is capable of reasoning scientifically from cause to effect must realise that the universal arrival of scientific socialism means inevitably the definitive end of religion; which, deprived of all reason for existence, would become a mere anachronism in such a society: a modern version of Mohammed’s coffin floating unattached in space without visible means of support. Under world socialism we shall arrive at that pleasing state of things humorously depicted by Anatole France in one of his novels, where the then reigning Pope is forced to earn his living on the race-course whilst discharging his official duties as a spare-time occupation! Can we wonder that the Papacy dislikes the prospect?

What then are, or should be, the present relations of the revolutionary socialist movement with religion? Obviously, if and when the revolutionary workers seize power in a given society they will establish immediately the secular state and secular education, according to the principle: ‘The free Church in the free State’. Equally obviously, they will rely on education and propaganda to abolish the remnants of religion in the new era. Despite clerical scares, the ‘Red Peril’ is a civilised and civilising force: it will not make use of the methods of the Inquisition. Of course, if, as has so often happened, the Churches support counter-revolutionary movements then naturally the workers’ state will take strong measures against them as counter-revolutionary agents. But such obvious methods of self-protection have nothing in common with the persecution of religion as such, which would be offensive to the humanitarian ethic that is an integral part of international socialism. The workers’ state will rely on education, on scientific socialist propaganda, and, above all, on the progressive achievement of the socialist society which will make religion superfluous. The Churches have more reason to fear that than a thousand persecutions.

In the meanwhile, prior to the conquest of power, the revolutionary socialist party continues its necessary propaganda against all manifestations of capitalism, including those which belong to the sphere of religion. Whether it is necessary to attack religion specifically depends on local and on particular circumstances, but every reactionary movement of the Churches in our current society should be duly noted and exposed. It goes without saying that a revolutionary party has no official relations with religion: though whether a specific ‘anti-religious’ test is necessary for each individual member is, again, a matter for local and particular decision in view of the existing circumstances. Under no consideration, of course, would any party member posture on religious platforms nor angle for Church support.

To sum up: Religion is a social phenomenon in present-day society. Hence no amount of merely negative and critical propaganda can destroy it. Only the positive achievement of a classless society can do that by abolishing its causes. The war against the gods is, henceforth, equivalent to the class war for a socialist society: Forward to the Social Revolution!

Epilogue: The Death of the Gods

Man is a bridge and not a goal.—Nietzsche

There is little more to add. Religion in its present form becomes ever more obviously a parasite on the exploiting civilisation and society of which it is the ideological expression. As the machine-age develops it becomes more and more an absurdity, and its specific dogmas approximate ever more closely to self-evident mumbo-jumbo. More and more, as his historic role becomes ever more retrogressive, the priest becomes a mere witch-doctor battening on ignorance and fear, and droning his meaningless incantations with an ever more wearisome monotony. Men of intellect like Calvin or Newman are no longer found in institutions the ‘evidences’ of which become continually feebler. The gods are old: they have become senile: it is time for them to die!

But they will die no natural death. Capital will keep them alive even, if necessary, by artificial stimulants! As the capitalist civilisation declines, as war follows war, each more ‘total’ and soul-destroying than the last, religion again plants its feet firmly on the familiar ground of fear, and, like the fabled giant, grows stronger with every contact. In this society, religion will never die out. This is, above all, an age of fear, and fear and superstition are age-long twins.

Only the Social Revolution will destroy religion by abolishing its effective causes. Thereafter, man takes the place of god. An evolving earth succeeds a static heaven as Humanity, now, at long last, master of his own destiny in a free society, moves ever onward from the ape-man of yesterday to the man of today, and to the superman of tomorrow. Today gods and capitalists stand together: tomorrow, gods and capitalists will fall together.

‘Chase gods from the skies and capitalists from the earth.’ Forward to the Social Revolution! Mankind comes of age!


1. In the caves of the Pyrenees which have been recently excavated, and which were certainly inhabited in the neolithic age, magical, that is, primitive religious ideas are clearly indicated in the drawings of animals on the cave walls. These drawings are typical of ‘sympathetic magic’ (that is, the representation of the animal on the cave wall was believed to attract the animal itself). It is still a hotly disputed question, and one on which final agreement has not yet been reached, whether the most primitive races still extant, such as the Australian Bushmen, the Congo pygmies, and the Polar Esquimaux, have anything that can properly be called a religion.

2. ‘They are without a god and without a government. In all matters they are ruled by custom’, as a Danish explorer described the Polar Esquimaux, still in the social stage of primitive communism.

3. Climatic considerations also play their part in such primitive religions of nature: for example, Greek Paganism was sunny and cheerful, like the blue skies of the Aegean beneath which it arose. Norse Paganism, contrarily, was sombre, brooding and sad, reflecting faithfully the gloomy terrain of the dark North. In the case of the last named, we may add that its ‘hell’ was cold : the terrors of heat are unknown near the Arctic circle, whilst those of cold are only too familiar!

4. As we are still dealing with the prehistoric era no exact dates can be given for the origin of civilisation. The estimate of 5000 years, given by older authorities for the total duration of civilisation, is certainly too short. (This was the estimate of Lewis Morgan, the great American anthropologist in his well-known book Ancient Society . But the known history of Egypt and Babylonia goes back nearly as far as that, and it is evident that civilisation was already well advanced in prehistoric times. Cf Gordon Childe, What Happened in History .) Nor can we go here into the still hotly disputed question of its origin. Did civilisation arise in a single centre whence it spread outward—the ‘diffusionist’ theory—or did it arise independently in a number of climatically favourable centres? In the opinion of the present writer, both views are compatible with the materialistic interpretation of history, though on the available evidence the latter seems to be the more probable explanation.

5. In a booklet on the Servile Insurrection of Spartacus we have given some precise details regarding the nature and extent of this exploitation. See FA Ridley, Spartacus: The Leader of the Roman Slaves , second edition, Frank Maitland, Ashford, nd 1962.—MIA..

6. Cf R Eisler, John the Baptist and the Messiah Jesus .

7. Sic: the text should surely read ‘for the ruling classes’—MIA.

8. In ferocious cruelty the clerical exploiters kept well abreast of their secular allies. For example, compare the classic reply of an Inquisitor (thirteenth century) who was asked how to distinguish between ‘heretics’ and the faithful: ‘Kill them all, my son; at the Day of Judgment God will know how to distinguish!’

9. The chief social encyclical letters of the Popes are ‘Rerum Novarum’ by Leo XIII (1891), the so-called ‘Workers’ Charter’, and ‘Quadragesimo Anno’ (1931) by Pius XI. Both contain very explicit statements of the Catholic position with regard to socialism, plus a good deal of demagogic criticism of monopoly-capital. However, if what we hear is correct, the Vatican is still persona grata in Wall Street!

10. A curious feature of contemporary Anglicanism is its ‘modernist’ movement which combines relatively radical and scientific views on religion with the most die-hard Tory reaction. The famous ex-Dean of St Paul’s, Dr Inge, is a case in point.