Sunday, February 7, 2010

Engels on Early Christianity

Frederick Engels and Early Christianity

Thomas Riggins

This is the season to remind all our Christian friends of the relationship between Christianity and Marxism-Leninism and the working class movement. Engels ("On the History of Early Christianity") tells us that there are "notable points of resemblance" between the early working class movement and Christianity.

First, both movements were made up of oppressed poor people from the lower ranks of society. Christianity was a religion of slaves and people without rights subjugated by the state and very similar to the types of poor oppressed working people that founded the earliest socialist and worker's organizations in modern times.

Second, both movements held out the hope of salvation and liberation from tyranny and oppression: one in the world to come, the other in this world.

Third, both movements were (and in some places still are) attacked by the powers that be and were discriminated against, their members killed or imprisoned, despised, and treated as enemies of the status quo.

Fourth, despite fierce persecution both movements grew and became more powerful. After three hundred years of struggle Christians took control of the Roman Empire and became a world religion. The worker's movement is still struggling. After its first modern revolutionary appearance as a fully self conscious movement (1848) it achieved a major impetus in the later part of the nineteenth century with the growth of the First and Second Internationals, and the German Social Democratic movement. It too is now a world wide movement with Socialist, Social Democratic and Communist parties spread around the world. [The rise and fall of the USSR was a bump in the road the consequences of which have yet to be determined.]

The Book of Acts reveals that the early Christians were primitive communists sharing their goods in common and leading a collective life style. This original form of Christianity was wiped out when the Roman Empire under Constantine imposed Christianity as the official religion of the state and set up the Catholic Church in order to make sure that the religious teachings of Jesus and the early followers of his movement would be perverted to protect the interests of the wealthy and the power of the state.

With few exceptions, all forms of modern day Christianity are descended from this faux version, based on a mixture of Jewish religious elements and the practices of Greco-Roman paganism, and only the modern working class and progressive movements (basically secular) carry on in the spirit of egalitarianism and socialism of the founder of Christianity.

Engels points out that there were many attempts in history (especially from the Middle Ages up to modern times) to reestablish the original communistic Christianity of Jesus and his early followers.

These attempts manifested themselves as peasant uprisings through the middle ages which tried to overthrow feudal oppression and create a world based on the teaching of Jesus and his Apostles.

These movements failed giving rise to the state sanctioned Christianity of modern times. Engels mentions some of these movements-- i.e., the Bohemian Taborites led by Jan Zizka ("of glorious memory") and the German Peasant War. These movements are now represented, Engels points out, by the working men communists since the 1830s.

Engels reveals that misleadership is also a problem in these early movements (and still today I would add) due to the low levels of education found amongst the poor and oppressed. He quotes a contemporary witness, Lucian of Samosata ("the Voltaire of classic antiquity"). The Christians "despise all material goods without distinction and own them in common-- doctrines which they have accepted in good faith, without demonstration or proof. And when a skillful impostor who knows how to make clever use of circumstances comes to them he can manage to get rich in a short time and laugh up his sleeve over these simpletons." The Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwell types have been around for a long time. I am sure readers can add a long list of names.

Stay tuned, part 2 coming up.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dignitas Personae

Some Reflections on "Dignitas Personae"
[PAEditorsBlog Archives--2008]
Thomas Riggins

Mixing up science and religion usually does no credit to the cause of scientific understanding. The latest instruction from the Vatican on bioethical issues is a case in point. The Saturday New York Times, 12-13-2008, ("Vatican Issues Sweeping Bioethics Document" by Laurie Goodstein and Elisabetta Povoledo) has a report that illustrates this.

It took six years for the Congregation of the Faith (formerly, and better known, as the Inquisition) to come up with 32 pages of dogma relating to human sexuality and procreation. The Vatican is opposed to in vitro fertilization, cloning of humans, pre-implantation embryonic gene testing, and research on embryonic stem cells the report says.

Why? Well, because "babies should only be conceived through intercourse by a married couple" and "every human life-- even an embryo-- is sacred." If you did not know the difference between an acorn and an oak tree you would not be a credible botanist. And if you can't tell the difference between a two celled conceptum and a human being you don't know much about biology either. This did not stop the Vatican from making pronouncements on the subject.

"Dignitas Personae" (misnamed "The Dignity of the Person") inveighs against "the morning after pill, the intrauterine device and the pill RU-486, saying these can result in what amounts to abortions." It is clear that the personhood and dignity of women and of the human beings that might develop from concepti are not taken into consideration.

If the Vatican ban on these birth control devices were to be carried out millions of women would suffer from unwanted pregnancies, not have the right to control their own bodies, and their personhood would trampled on in the name of unscientific religious dogma.

There would also be millions of unwanted children born into misery, poverty and short diseased ridden lives. Some "Dignity of the Person." All because some cranky old men who don't particularly like women (and may be overly fond of children) can't tell the difference between an acorn and an oak.

Why is the church against in vitro fertilization? The head of the Catholic Medical Association, Kathleen M. Raviele says "God creates through an act of love." But not always. What about rape? Is God creating through an act of love then?I don't think so. Raviele continues, in the lab "It's the technician who's creating. What in vitro does it separates the creation of a child from the marital act."

That is just ridiculous. If God does the creating he does all of it. The technician just facilitates the fertilization-- which is still a marital act if the people are married and want to have a child this way. And as far creating a potential person is concerned, its just as much an act of love when any two consenting adults arrange a way in which to have a baby.

Josephine Johnston of the Hastings Center (which does research into bioethics) is quoted as saying, "The idea that [in vitro] is not done within the spirit of marital love, I find very strange." Not so strange when you consider that religious dogmas are held out of irrational prejudices and not based of objective scientific criteria.

Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer in Rome stated the church issued "Dignitas Personae" in order "to give voice to those who have no voice." In other words, to give voice to two celled concepti on their way to becoming blastocysts. Too bad it doesn't give voice to the millions of poor and oppressed real persons living in poverty and war zones around the earth whose dignity and humanity would be preserved or restored by the very procedures the church seeks to ban.