New Age Atheism: A Bourgeoisie Tendency

Lenin said and I quote “Atheism without Marxism is incomplete and inconsistent.” Adding more to his comment, he also said that atheism is a natural and inescapable part of Marxism. Given this, a question probably arises as to which non-marxist things makes atheism inconsistent and incomplete? The answer to this question constitutes the objective of this article.

New age atheists are undoubtedly materialist: the revelation of modern science- mostly natural science- as they quote in their assertion. And also because it makes no sense to be an idealist and an atheist at the same time. The problem with them is that they ignore the historicity of this materialism. They claim that their body is made up of matter and they are an evolved creature but they gives no attention to the historical setting under which this material body evolved. Can we imagine ourself to have evolved in isolation without a society? Do history support it? I claim the answer to be negative. Human history informs us rather about what Foucolt calls ‘bio-history’. It means that the evolution of the body at a certain stage coincided with the society-formation. It is saving primitive communism when we say that in all human society there have been classes which struggled against each other. It is in this background that Karl Marx asserted that “the history of hitherto existing society is the story of class-struggle.” What this long explanation aims at is very simple: A materialist must see the class struggle that goes on. To put it differently, an atheist must see the class struggle that goes on. Lets move one more step ahead: The societies are characterized by a culture that echoes the interest of the dominant class. Also, these societies hint at a rather unique phenomena which is the very basis of materialism: The ideas, thoughts and concept of every class is the result of the material condition that they belong to. Having said this, I think the new age atheists do not give adequate consideration to the class-based idea of religion among people. They openly criticize religion but do not realize that the proletarian view of religion and the bourgeoisie view of religion is different. Where Proletarians’ view it as a ‘hope in hopelessness’ and a ‘sigh in the backdrop of oppression’, the capitalists view it as a faculty of legitimacy for their capitalist economic enterprise because it lays special attention to charity. Here, the new-age atheist fails to recognise the link between capital and religion. Religion is used by the bourgeoisie to maintain their dominance because on one hand they exploit people by their capitalistic enterprises and on the other hand do charity to withhold any criticism. The prolertariats are ignorant of any natural sciences given their material deprivations. They do not know any thing about science. In such a context, an open war on religion will only add up to the fanaticism of religion on part of the poor people- the working class. This is exactly why, as mentioned above,“atheism without Marxism is incomplete and inconsistent”. The new age atheists’ approach is wrong. They should criticize capitalism more than religions. Simultaneously, they should press for the socio-economic upliftment as well as a scientific education for the poor because in this process they will learn about the contributions of modern science to be conscious of themselves- that is to say, to be a materialist or to be an atheist in the extreme cases. Claiming to be materialists, and ignoring the historicity of materialism is the greatest failure of New Age Atheism.

All these said I shall now write about why I called new age atheism a bourgeoisie tendency. Firstly, I should say why I called it a tendency, not a movement. It is because it is incomplete and unrepresentative of the majority of people- the working class. It is just a product of the leisure-hour-study of few countable people. To me, it is marxism that could be called a movement because it aims at both scientific explanation of the human history as well as the welfare of the people, not to mention it’s high ideals of communist society. New Age Atheists on the other hand are only targeting the readable middle-class or bourgeoisie people. Even if they claim that they target the common people, it means nothing since they do not have the same tendency to criticize Capitalism- which is an actual solution to the problem. As to why I call it a ‘Bourgeoisie‘ rather than a ‘Proletarian‘ tendency can be explained by the same logic.

Just to add emphasis on what I have so far said, I cannot resist but say how many times does ‘The Richard Dawkins Foundation’, orchestrated seminars on the the relationship between Capitalism and religion. For how many times, did Sam Harris demonized Capitalism as opposed to religion, particularly Islam? Why does a life-long leftist Christopher Hitchen became a votary of Iraq invasion narrative of U.S, despite knowing that it was out and out a capitalistic venture of U.S to appropriate the resources of Iraq? The deficiency of proper answer to these questions is sufficient to hold strongly as to what I have attempted to show as the weakness of the ‘New Age Atheists‘. They are by and large liberal and, in most cases, as much sympathetic to capitalism as they are inconsistently against religions.

Ali Ahmed Sabir
Department of History, Jamia Millia Islamia

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Written by Ali Ahmed Sabir

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