Marriage of Collectivism and Religion
Posted by Jerry on February 16, 2006
Collectivism is an ideology that trumps the supremacy of a group over an individual. It is the lack of a strong or coherent identify of the individual self. Many philosophers believe that it is impossible to know, let alone define, what the “self” really is. They argue that identity is only derivable from the Other-than-Self. Sartre, among others, held this belief as the crux of his philosophy and his formulation of the Being-for-Itself. In fact, according to Sartre, a person would be acting on bad faith and would be insincere in making any claims of “I am” because not only is one’s consciousness always changing and never static but also there isn’t any concept of self-consciousness that is unamendable to objectification by the Other.
Sartre’s entire metaphysics places individuals in a state of constant conflict against each other. According to Christine Daigle who discusses Sartre’s key concepts in Philosophy Now, Issue 53, “Sartre made such a good case for this conflictual relationship [that] he had made it impossible for him to elaborate a workable ethics…. Sartre is struggling to establish an ethics that rests on reciprocity and authenticity.”
My own view is that a metaphysic that does not recognize the identity of the individual is a metaphysic of Collectivism. And any such metaphysic that is based on collectivism simply does not allow or permit any coherent and consistent ethical or moral theory to be formulated which can be applicable universally without individual conflict. Hence, every attempt to extrapolate an ethics from such a metaphysic will inevitably run into problems and dangerous inconsistencies.
Collectivism, by definition, has to mean the supremacy of the ethic of a group over the individual — the repression of a minority voice or opinion, the lack of self-determinate autonomy. Any mob mentality has to smother individual mentality. Human beings do not think alike, behave the same way, and have similar tastes or opinions. Thus, the concept of majoritarianism (the basis of democracy), mob mentality (collectivism), sacrifice of the one for the many or the other (utilitarianism and altruism), necessarily has interpersonal conflict inseparably built-in to the ethical system. A universally applicable ethics of no conflict cannot ever arise from such a system unless it is accompanied by force or divine dogma, which itself presumes a conflict and is therefore a contradiction. (This hopeless of view of universal ethics has been so deeply and unquestioningly accepted by society that now people believe it is impossible to live in a society where there can be no conflict among free and rational human beings.)
People can gather in groups and be affiliated with collective bodies based upon their chosen or accepted values. However, the attempt to spread those values upon an entire population by force or doctrine without accepting or recognizing the right of the other to choose their values is the essence of ideologies based on collectivism – at their very fundamental root, they begin by the violation of the rights of the individual; thus, they cannot possibly sustain any ethical principle that can be universally applied to all individuals.
This is where religion comes into play. Religion and cultural collectivism share an insidious synergy. An alliance of religion and collectivism necessarily leads to gross, widespread, and unspeakable violations of human rights in all cases. As I said earlier, collectivism is an ideology that simply cannot justify any ethics that could even fake a veneer of benevolent morality. Religion, however, comes in and easily paints a layer of supernaturally justified morality on the ethics of a collectivist ideology.
Violence and the violation of human rights comes most easily to those societies that have no concept of individualism; hence, no idea of individual human rights. What religion provides is a unifying and collective vision to rally around; but even more importantly, it provides a moral–and often claimed to be divine–justification for collective action. Thus, religion firmly grounds the locus of morality outside and beyond the rational faculties of an individual and in some irreproachable dogmatic authority of a supernatural Being.
For example, the collectivist tribalism observed among Africans engaged in looting, plundering, rape, and chaos reflect the interplay between their faith and their collectivist culture. Many of these Africans are Christians and many of them are Muslims, both engaged in bitter tribal war and “ethnic” cleansing. They equally revel in their depraved existence in violence; although, for the most part, the Christian Africans concede to their own genocide and thus remain consonant with their religious ethic of self-sacrifice whereas the Islamic Africans remain consonant with their religious ethic of jihad against the “infidels.”
Collectivist mobs in India have incited many protests and riots over religious, political, cultural, and social issues: each mob justifies their enforcement of morality by their respective religious beliefs: Hindu, Islamic, or Christian beliefs (e.g., Shiv Sainiks plundering cybercafes, Islamic Jihad against the “decadence” of the free West, and the Christian demand to violate freedom of speech by banning offensive movies).
The tendency of collectivist cultures to quickly take up arms and tear the limbs off of other people or destroy someone else’s property reflects not directly a zealous practice of their respective doctrinal beliefs of religion, but their mind-set of non-identity, drowned in a mass of collectivism, that recognizes no individual body, no individual property. Religion only provides the veil of moral justification.
Their claims to religiously motivated actions merely cloaks their tribalism and evil in glossy euphemisms of “moral fiber,” “unity,” “community,” “traditional mores,” “martyrdom,” and “heavenly reward.” Their religion provides them with the psychological and spiritual justification for their violent actions that their collectivist ideology cannot possibly provide.
In the above examples, regardless of how many voices speak out in dissent of those activities, if collectivism is the mind-set of the majority, all they need is religion to paint a veneer of a high-minded moral principle in order for them to feel justified in not only suppressing the minority dissent, but also in carrying out their dastardly evil acts.
Collectivism is not only just a philosophical ideology; it is an incredible evil in itself. It is not enough to just study philosophical ideologies as abstract principles; rather one must think of the ramifications in concrete reality if those principles were to be put into practice. By advocating the impossibility of defining the notion of “self” and thereby abdicating the “self,” philosophers like Sartre are committing grave errors in thought, which has often led to grave evils in reality.