The Neo-Marxist Perspective on Religion

In contrast to Marx’s view that religion was a conservative force, neo-marxists recognise the role that religion can play in bringing about radical social change.

One of the earliest Marxists to recognise this was Engels, who saw similarities between some of the early Christian sects that resisted Roman rule and late 19th century communist and socialist movements.

So from a neo-Marxist point of view, while Christianity may have originated as an oppressive force, it is possible for it to ‘evolve’ into a source of resistance which has the potential to bring about radical social change.

Otto Maduro – the relative autonomy of religion 

neo-marxism religion otto maduro.png

Otto Maduro was a neo-Marxist who argued that religious institutions have a degree of freedom from the economic base. Religious institutions do not always work for the benefits of powerful elites, they can act independently (with autonomy).

Going even further, Maduro argued that in some societies, religion might actually be the only institution through which people can organise for radical social change.

Writing about Latin America, Maduro does argue that Catholicism has traditionally tended to act as a conservative force. It has tended to support the political and economic elites, even if they are military dictatorships.

However, towards the middle of the 19th century, some catholic priests became increasingly critical of the radical inequalities in Latin America. These priests took up the cause of landless peasants and became supporters/leaders of movements for social justice. One example of this is the Liberation Theology Movement (forthcoming post). In the late 1970s especially, Liberation Theology was very critical of the wealth and power of The Bourgeoisie in Latin America, and were vocal supports of wealth redistribution.

Maduro argues where oppressed and impoverished populations have no outlet for their grievances other than the church, the clergy are ‘forced’ to represent them.

Related posts:

You might also like to check out this post on Marxist/ neo-Marxist theory and methods.

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On the hypocritical parenting of tech billionnaires

Given the trend towards toxic childhood, it should come as no surprise that young children are being increasingly exposed to technologies such as iPads as part of very early socialisation, and it should be no more surprising that such exposure is having an effect on children’s behaviour.

Some small children have been spotted by teachers trying to turn book pages by ‘swiping left’, according to teachers from the National Education Union, while paediatric occupational therapist Sally Payne blames technology for the fact that some small children are starting school never having learnt to hold a pencil.

Whether such technology led socialisation practices end up being detrimental to those children who are exposed to them remains to be seen, but what’s interesting is that so many of the techno-elite are taking steps to limit their own children’s exposure to such technologies. Below are just a few examples:

Tech Billionnaires children.png

So what’s going on here?

It seems that our technological elites have an intuitive feeling that the products they have created are maybe harmful for children, in the sense that they are addictive, and so take active steps to limit their own children’s use of such products.

At the same time, however, they are more than happy to take the billions of dollars they’ve made from these products and run companies which actively seek to addict more and more people, including children, to the precise same products they want to protect their own children from.

This kind of hypocrisy really speaks volumes about neoliberal silicon valley culture: such a morality is surely only possible in a hyper-individualised culture? A culture which allows people to innovate and take absolutely no responsibility for the social cost, as long as they’ve got enough time and money to protect their own nearest and dearest from the negative consequences of their bread and butter.

Sources:

The Week Issue 1170

Pic Source – http://waldorfpeninsula.org/

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On Sir David Attenborough and Boaty McBoatface: Reinforcing the Social Class Order?

I can’t help but analyse the launching of the Sir David Attenborough polar ship through a social class lens. The whole affair just seems so terribly middle class: possibly even a ritualistic reinforcing of the social class order and a kick in the teeth for the good ole’ working class, as well as for anyone with a sense of humour.

Sir David Attenborough.jpg

My reasoning is as follows:

  1. 124 000 people (most of whom are likely to be working class, because most people are working class) voted to call the ship ‘Boaty Mcboatface‘, however, this democratic decision was overuled by ministers (who are mainly drawn from the upper middle classes) who instead decided that a more appropriate name for a Polar research vessel would be the name ‘Sir David Attenborough’.
  2. I know he’s a national treasure, but he’s a very upper middle class treasure: Sir David Attenborough attended a Grammar School in the early 1940s, before the Tripartite System. As far as I’m aware this basically meant his parents must have paid for him to go there, as at that there were no such thing as as state-funded grammar schools. So a bunch of middle class people decided to over-rule the working class majority’s naming decision and name the boat after a thoroughly middle class person.
  3. I guess all of the above is not surprising: given that this is a polar research ship that’s likely to be chock-full of postgraduate level scientists, most of whom will  no doubt come from Russel Group Universities which are, again, chock full of the middle classes (80% are from the middle classes). Add in the weight of cultural and social capital that will bias the selection to a prestige research vessel, and I’d be amazed if more than 5% of the research-crew would be from working class backgrounds.
  4. There is still a ‘Boaty McBoatface’ – but it’s a robotic submarine which can be programmed to go off and do its own research, later returning to the main boat. Just pause to think about the class-related imagery here: the larger ‘mother’ ship has a middle class name, the visible, the regal, the symbol which is to be revered; while the vessel with the name the majority voted for is a satellite, submerged, invisible, on ‘auto-pilot’, servicing the main ‘good ship middle class’.

Boaty.jpg

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this?

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Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom – ‘Distraction Politics’ of the very highest order?

The British Press have been all over Donald Trump’s four day visit to the United Kingdom… but predictably the focus has been mostly on the trivial details of the itinerary, the ‘intense’ security surrounding the event and Trump’s ‘outrageous’ off-the-cuff comments about Brexit, rather than on the substance of Trump’s pro hard-Brexit arguments or on the logic behind why thousands of people are protesting about his being here.

The BBC News coverage, for example, made a great deal out of the stringent security methods surrounding Trump’s first visit, and there was lots of coverage of Trump ‘in transit’ to various elegant places, such as Blenheim Palace, where we were reminded that while this wasn’t a state visit Trump still gets the Grenadier Guards playing the national anthem, a full-on Banquet, and he gets to meet the Queen.

Trump UK state visit.png

There was, of course, coverage of the protestors outside Blenheim palace, where a couple of them told us that they didn’t like the politics he represented, or his misogynistic and racist attitudes, but this was largely stripped of any deeper logic or substance.

There was also lots of commentary on the (non)-content of the interview Trump gave to The Sun Newspaper on Thursday 12 July during which he criticised Theresa May for not listening to his advice on Brexit and pursuing a ‘soft-brexit’, suggesting that this would now mean that a ‘trade-deal’ with the USA would be very unlikely, and even lamenting the fact that Boris Johnson had stepped down from Politics, stating that he would make a great ‘Prime Minister’.

According to Chomsky, the function of such ‘outrageous comments’ is to keep ‘all eyes on Trump’ and to distract us from the wider neoliberal republican (and Tory) agenda which seeks to dismantle government protections for the average working person, and make it easier for elites to destroy people and planet for short term profit.

Chomsky outlines his views in this video, and I suggest everyone watches it:

Chomsky makes some pretty ‘hardline claims’ in this video, mainly that in reality Trump is part of a broader republican administration who knows exactly what they are doing: they have an extremely neo-liberal agenda to dismantle every part of government which protects the poor and the planet. In America the Republic Government is currently doing this, by taking away workers rights, pollution laws, consumer protections and by basically destroying the planet for short term profit.

The function of Trump needs to be understood in this context: all the time we focus on him and his personalised politics, we are not focussing on the real issues: the fact that the Republican Party are the most dangerous organised institution in human history, worse than the Nazis: because the Nazis never actually intended to destroy all life on earth for their short term gain, only some lives! (NB these are Chomsky’s words – in the video- not mine!)

Back to the media coverage of Trump – the subtle art of distraction away from the harsh realities of neoliberal politics?

Here I just want to focus on how the BBC coverage distracts us, both in the US and the UK…don’t forget that any 10 minute news item could focus on any aspect of the issue….

Firstly, at least 20% of the coverage is on triviality – itineraries, security, personalities, which has nothing to do with politics. Time wasted here.

Secondly, Trump’s comments in The Sun give us a distorted idea of how politics work – he personalises politics – giving us the impression that Theresa May is ‘free’ to heed his advice or not, that’s not how politics works, individuals are generally much more constrained.

Thirdly, Trump greatly simplifies the issues…. As he’s got the power to decide whether or not the USA does a trade deal with the UK… it’s the republican party more generally that decides that, remember he’s embedded in a power elite, he’s not a ‘lone operator’…. However, in the media, he appears like a lone operator, that’s why the elite love him so much, it’s just total obfuscation.

Fourthly…. Trump today (Friday, one day after) actually called his interview with The Sun ‘Fake News’ and denied criticizing Theresa May, even though the whole thing is recorded: another great distraction tactic, keeping the media focused on him, again away from the issues.

Fifthly… some protesters are protesting because they are against precisely the reality that Chomsky points out…. They are against people destroying the planet for the short term gain of an extremely wealthy ultra-minority. Yet does the media tell us this: no – most people are there protesting because they don’t like Donald Trump the man, the misogynist, again personalising and individualising the issues which are fundamentally social.

I’ll leave it there for today, just a few comments to illustrate what  Chomskian analysis of the mainstream media coverage of Trump’s visit to the UK might look like!

Picture Sources

All pictures screen captured from BBC News at 10.00, Thursday 12th July.

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The Functionalist Perspective on Religion: Summary Revision Notes

According to Functionalism, religion acts as a conservative force by reinforcing social norms and promoting social solidarity. This post is A summary of the key ideas of the main Functionalist theorists of religion: Durkheim, Parsons and Malinowski.

This is a work in progress, please click the links above for more detailed posts!

Emile Durkheim

  • Studied Totemism among Australian Aboriginal clans in which the sacred totem represented different clans.
  • Religious symbols are simultaneously symbols of God and Society, and thus when people worship religion they are also ‘worshipping society’, religious symbols serve as a simplified representation of a more complex whole, reminded individuals that they are merely small and part of a much ‘bigger picture’.
  • Religion acts as a constraining (conservative) force: through religious worship (ceremonies) the ‘collective conscience’ is imprinted on the individual: they literally ‘feel’ the weight of the community on them.
  • Religion reinforces a sense of belonging and shared identity to society.

Bronislow Malinowski

  • Argued religion had more specific functions than Durkheim:
  • Religion helps individuals to deal with the psychological stresses which occur in times of social change – such as births, marriage and deaths. Beliefs can help people ‘make sense’ of death for example and can act as a source of catharsis for the bereaved.
  • Religious rituals also help society through the disruption to social order caused by life changing events such as death.
  • Religion helps people deal with situations which they cannot predict or control – e.g. the Trobriand Islanders used religious ritual when fishing in the dangerous, unpredictable ocean, but not the calm lagoons.
  • Unlike Durkheim does not see religion as reflecting society as a whole, nor does he see religious ritual as ‘worshipping society’.

Talcott Parsons

  • Saw the main function of religion as being the maintenance of social order.
  • Religion promotes value consensus: many legal systems are based on religious morals for example.
  • Like Malinowski Parsons saw religious beliefs and rituals as helping maintain social order in times of social change (such as death) and to help individuals make sense of unpredictable events.
  • Religion can also help people make sense of contradictory events.

Criticisms of the Functionalist Perspective on Religion

  • Religion does not always promote harmony: it can promote conflict: there may be conflicts within religion, or between religions for example.
  • Ignores the role religion can play in promoting social change
  • Secularisation means that religion performs fewer functions today: thus functionalism may be less relevant.
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Britain’s recent involvement in torture – a good example of a ‘state crime’

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee It’s been 15 years since allegations first emerged of Britain’s involvement in the torture of those suspected of the 9/11 terror attacks, and earlier this month (July 2018) an official report has finally been released which reveals the ‘true’ extent of Britain’s compliance with the USA’s programme of torture.

uk torture

According to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), Britain’s involvement amounted to at least 13 occasions of British agents witnessing suspects being mistreated and having been informed (but done nothing about) of mistreatment by their foreign counterparts or detainees more than 150 times.

The report found that British agents weren’t directly involved in torture themselves, but the strategy of British intelligence was to ‘outsource’ the interrogation process to those who they knew used ‘enhanced techniques such as stress positions, sleep deprivation and beatings.

The British effectively turned a blind eye to the fact that the USA was in breach of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. They were so ‘blind’ in fact that they ignored the fact that at one detention centre detainees were kept in containers so small that they could neither stand or lie down, getting around this particular breach of human rights by simply building interrogation portacabins which were large enough to comfortably accommodate the prisoners.

So why did this happen?

Following 9/11 the security and intelligent services were under intense pressure to find and prosecute those responsible, but also to find information which might prevent future terrorist attacks. The problem with using such techniques, however, is that they might well just serve to increase recruitment to the same terrorist networks the authorities are trying to quash.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This seems to be a good example of Britain being involved in a ‘state crime’, also a good example of the extent of barriers to researching powerful actors: it’s taken 15 years for this official report to be conducted, and even this doesn’t tell us the whole story: Theresa May refused permission for four key officers to give evidence on national security grounds, so the true extent of Britain’s complicity in state crime may not surface for many years to come!

Sources:

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A few sociological observations on England’s progress through the World Cup…

I don’t care too much for football, and I’m most certainly not an English nationalist, and yet I’ve got thoroughly caught up in, and even enjoyed watching England’s progress through this 2018 World Cup (England-Colombia accepted, at least until the very final kick of the ball).

In this post I just present a few sociological musings on the World Cup 2018…..

Come on England

The World Cup is most definitely a media spectacle…

It strikes me that what I’m enjoying is not just the football, it’s the whole month-long media-spectacle surrounding the event: without the media-hype I just don’t think it would be the ‘World-Cup’…. I mean let’s face it, there’s at least 30 minutes ‘studio discussion’ before the group-stage games, and now England are the semi-finals, this pre-amble has increased to 90 minutes, not to mention all the coverage during the day, on T.V. and radio, not to mention social media.

And of course, this year, the ‘youngster’s in the squad have upped the media-integration even more, with (well-managed) use of social media and goal-celebration dances taken from Fortnite….

There’s even instructions out on how to do it… as in this Guardian article

Celebrities co-opting the World-Cup?

Then of course there’s the inevitable celebrities and their ‘support messages’…as in this BBC 1 minute long trailer… I do wonder how many of these celebs even like football?

Celebrities world cup

In fairness, I do know that Russel Brand is a genuine ‘fan’ so fair play, he’s ‘earned’ his place in video, but the rest of the them… this might just be a vessel for self-promotion?

The role of the BBC in constructing ‘World Cup Fever’ ?

Is it just me, or is ITV coverage just a bit ‘wrong’? I don’t actually even regard ITV as a legitimate part of the process of World Cup construction… it’s more of a passenger IMO, it’s just not the same as the BBC.

I mean Gary Lineker is about as ‘England in the World Cup’ as you can get (at least in the last three decades), and there’s no adverts, so you just get to soak up more the atmosphere, and it’s not just Garry: Breakfast Time does a pretty good job hyping up the event too.

BBC world cup

Would it even be a World Cup without Gary ‘crisp-muncher’ Lineker’?

And yet it’s not quite hyperreality!

For all the media-construction, and even talk of ‘hyping it up’, I can’t quite bring myself to call this a truly hyperreal event (as some postmodernists might argue) … because the games take place, well, in place, and there’s clear rules and a time-limit, and I can pop out there for myself if I want to!.

England in the World Cup: A ‘friendlier’ sort of nationalism?

Of course the number of England flags draped out of people’s windows increases during the World Cup, as do the number of on-display beer-belly and football-tattoo combos, but this isn’t a small-minded, intolerant, closed kind of nationalism, it’s a ‘liminal’ type of sports-specific nationalism that’s maybe a little less angry and a little more vulnerable than your Brexit nationalism?

England flags world cup

I definitely think there’s something nationalist about the event: I mean being taken back through our nation’s footballing history is a mainstay of the narrative in the media-coverage, it’s even takes ‘solid form’ in our ex-England players fronting BBC’s coverage, and then of course… ‘football’s coming home’. OK, going down the home homeland route of analysis maybe a bit strong, but then again?!

Certainly the way the World-Cup is constructed in the media, it’s a very inclusive, multicultural, open to all ages, and family-friendly event. A ‘soft-brexit’ kind of nationalism if you like, having said that, I’m sure there are plenty of places and pubs in the UK where those England flags and those tattoos are most definitely not expressing an open and tolerant idea of England!

Anywhere, I’ll leave it there for today, just a few sociological ramblings….

Come on England!

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The Marxist Perspective on Religion

From Marx’s materialistic perspective, religion serves to mystify the real relations between men and inanimate objects.

In reality, according to Marx, nature is an impersonal force which imposes limitations on man’s capacity to act, but nature can be understood scientifically and manipulated rationally, via technology, potentially for the benefit of man-kind.

However, through religion, humans project personal characteristics onto nature: they invent gods which they believe have control over nature, and come to believe that the way to manipulate nature is to appeal to these gods through ritual or sacrifice.

Religion as the ‘Opium of the People’

In Marx’s own words:

‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. it is the opium of the people’.

marxist perspective religion

According to Marx, one of the main ‘functions’ of religion is to prevent people making demands for social change by dulling pain of oppression, as follows:

  1. The promise of an afterlife gives people something to look forwards to. It is easer to put up with misery now if you believe you have a life of ‘eternal bliss’ to look forward to after death.
  2. Religion makes a virtue out of suffering – making it appear as if the poor are more ‘Godly’ than the rich. One of the best illustrations of this is the line in the bible: ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
  3. Religion can offer hope of supernatural intervention to solve problems on earth: this makes it pointless for humans to try to do anything significant to help improve their current conditions.
  4. Religion can justify the social order and people’s position within that order, as in the line in the Victorian hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’:
  • The rich man in his castle
  • The poor man at his gate
  • God made them high and lowly
  • And ordered their estate.

Such lines make social inequalities seem as if they are ‘God’s will’ an thus unchangeable.

From the Marxist Perspective, religion does not only ameliorate the sufferings of life, effectively creating false consciousness

Marx believed that the ‘objective’ truth was that the proletariat (i.e. most people) suffer deprivations because of their exploitation by the Bourgeois (namely the extraction of surplus value empowers the minority Bourgeois class and leaves the majority of the proletariat with insufficient money to lead a decent quality of life), however, people fail to realise this because religion teaches them that all of the misery in life is God’s will.

Or in Marx’s own words:

‘In religion people make their empirical world into an entity that is only conceived, imagined, that confronts them as something foreign’.

Religion and Social Control

Religion also acts as a tool of social control in a more direct sense: according to Marx and Engels:

‘The parson has ever gone hand in hand with the landlord’.

This was especially true in feudal England when the landed classes’ decisions were frequently legitimated be religious decree: as Marx and Engels saw it, the bourgeois and the church supported one another: the former generously funded the later, and church legitimated social inequality, thus maintaining the established social order.

The non-necessity of religion under communism

Religion is only necessary under exploitative systems where the majority of men do not control the conditions under which they labour, under systems where men work for someone else rather than for themselves: in such systems, religious doctrines which teach that ‘you are insignificant in the eyes of gods/ the supernatural’ make sense, and serve a useful function for those who are in control of and who benefit from said exploitation.

Under communism, where man controls the conditions of his labour, he is essentially ‘for himself’, and thus will have no need of religion. Under communism, where reality is ‘fair’ religion will not be required, and so will simply whither away.

 

religion opium masses

The original text where Marx’s ‘opium’ line first appeared in 1844.

 

Evidence to support Marxism

There is a considerable body of historical evidence which supports the Marxist view of the role of religion in society: for example the traditional caste system in India was supported by Hindu religious believes (in reincarnation for example); and in Medieval Europe Kings ruled by the ‘divine right of God’. Possibly the most ‘extreme’ example, however, is in ancient the ancient Egyptian belief which held that Pharaohs were both men and gods at the same time.

A more recent example, drawn from the USA, lies in the support that Republican politicians have enjoyed from the ‘New Christian Right’ who, according to Steve Bruce (1988), support ‘a more aggressive anti-communist foreign policy, more military spending, less welfare spending and fewer restraints on enterprise’.

The new Christian right have persistently supported more right wing (neo) liberal candidates – such as Ronald Regan in 1984 and George Bush in 2004 – when the later was elected, an exit poll found that two thirds of voters who attended church more than once a week had voted for him.

While it might be debatable how successful the religious right in the USA are in getting their candidates elected to political power, what does seem clear is that they do tend to support more economically powerful sectors of the political elite, suggesting support for the Marxist view of religion.

Criticisms of the Marxist perspective on religion

Firstly, it is clear that religion does not always prevent social change by creating false class consciousness. There are plenty of examples of where oppressed groups have used religion to attempt (whether successful or not is moot here) to bring about social change, as we will see in the neo-Marxist perspective on religion.

Secondly, religion still exists where there is (arguably) no oppression: the USSR communist state placed limits on the practice of religion, including banning religious instruction to children, however, religious belief remained stronger in the 20th century in Russia and Eastern Europe than it did in the capitalist west.

Thirdly, and building on the previous point: just because religion can be used as a tool of manipulation and oppression, this does not explain its existence: religion seems to be more or less universal in all societies, so it is likely that it fulfils other individual and social needs, possibly in a more positive way as suggested by Functionalist theorists such as Durkheim, Malinowski, and Parsons.

Sources

Adapted from Haralmabos and Holborn (2008) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, 7th Edition, Collins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On the unrealistic expectations of GCSE and/ or A-level students?

People(*) are more 10 times more interested in ‘how to get an A* or an A grade’ than in ‘how to get a B or C grade’…. at least according to the following comparison of Google searches between April 2017 and March 2018 (I’m being a bit lazy here, sitting on a train trawling my drafts for an easy post!)

How to get an A

This is especially depressing since students are approximately 3* less likely to get an A/A* than they are a B/C grade….

How many people get an A in sociology.png

So students may be ‘aiming high’, but most of them won’t get there!

(*I assume students, but I don’t know that for certain, because the above data tells us nothing about who is searching for such information!)

Sources

A-level results breakdown – from Schoolsweek

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Saudi women behind the wheel… A genuine step towards female liberation?

On the 24th of June 2018, Saudi Arabia finally allowed women the freedom to drive, and more than 120 000 Saudi women have already put in applications for driving licences.

Saudi women driving.jpeg

This change is part of ‘Vision 2030’, a package of social and economic reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) designed to help modernise Saudi Arabia. Along with being allowed to drive, women have recently been granted the freedom to attend sporting and recreational events and have been given greater access to jobs.

But is this apparent move towards ‘female empowerment’ really that significant? There are other, more conservative forces in Saudi Arabia which are very much against these reforms: as recently as 2017 the Grand Mufti, Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric, declared that driving was ‘a dangerous matter that exposes women to evil’, and the regime has also recently persecuted a number of feminist activists.

There’s also the fact that women still have the legal status of minors and need to permission of male guardians to study, travel, work or marry, so we’re still a long way off formal legal gender equality!

Source

The Week, issue 1183.

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