Dietzgen, God and the Totality of Existence

An excellent post by Larry Gambone over on his Porcupine blog (also published at the Carnival of Anarchy).

Believers and Non-Believers.

“Neither God nor Master!” is an old anarchist slogan first stated by Bakunin, and a mighty fine one. But how does this jibe with the many anarchists, like Leo Tolstoy and Dorothy Day who were believers? Then again, how about the anarcho-pagans and their Goddess? How can such two widely divergent viewpoints be reconciled? Or can they be reconciled?

I say they can be reconciled to a degree. First off, what does one exactly mean by “God” ? For Bakunin, God was a vengeful authoritarian monster, a purely imaginary and human creation modeled upon earthy despots – a tyrant of infinite dimensions – one that had to be overthrown to liberate humanity. As long as people were beholden to such a horrible fantasy, they were in mental and spiritual chains and thus incapable of liberating themselves from their human masters.

This cruel monster is the God of religious “fundamentalists” everywhere, and to this extent Bakunin was absolutely right. But talk to the anarcho-believers, and this is definitely not how they see God. For them the Divine is benevolent, agree with Bakunin that the Monster is a human creation and reject it. Tangentially, many proto-anarchist Gnostics saw the Old Testament God – the one who creates, murders, curses and destroys seemingly in fits of psychopathic or infantile folly, not as God, but as Satan.

Fine, we now have an evil God and a kind one, and the anarcho-believers follow the latter. Such a God is not a “master” anymore than the eco-system is a “master”. It just is and one goes with it, or one does not. If you don’t go with it, you are “punished” by your own foolish behavior and not by some Super Cop In The Sky, in the same way we are being “punished” by Global Warming for the stupidity of polluting the atmosphere.

Neither Evil, nor Master, but surely the God concept is still irrational and a purely human invention? Maybe our believer comrades have a screw loose somewhere in wanting to believe in this fiction?

To answer this query we have to turn to the German American libertarian socialist philosopher Joseph Dietzgen, (1) who discovered the underlying materialist aspect of the God concept. A dialectical philosopher, he sought the rational kernel within all thought and belief. For Dietzgen, the basis of all rational thought was the interconnectedness and unity of all existence, also known by philosophers as the Absolute, the Universe or the Totality. It is this unity of existence that is the materialist basis of the God concept, or as he put it, …the all-perfect Being, with the conception of God, with the Substance of Spinoza, with the “thing in itself” of Kant, and with the Absolute of Hegel, has its good reason in the fact that the sober conception of the Universe as the All-One with nothing above or outside or alongside of it, is the first postulate of a skilled and consistent mode of thinking… (2)

When you think about it, the Totality of Existence or the Universe does have the classic attributions of God – it is infinite, it is greater than anything else, and since everything is interconnected and every action ultimately effects every aspect, one can even stretch the notion to include a degree of omniscience. The basic idea is not wrong, it is what people do with it. The reification and anthropomorphication of the Totality creates the God that atheists deny…the infinite, eternal, is not personal, but objective. (3) [my emphasis]

The Totality is not too far removed from the Tao, or for that matter, (even though they have become reified) Dharma, Karma and Rita of Hinduism and Buddhism. And is not The Great Spirit of the First Nations more of a Creative Force-Totality than the personal God of the Abrahamic religions?

Now, I agree that the folks who desire a personal God, let alone those who crave a Celestial Monster to bully them, will not find the Totality satisfying, and this problem I cannot even begin to resolve. But what it ought to do, is make non-believers more sympathetic to believer comrades and to realize that both of us share a certain spiritual-philosophical common ground.

1. The Joseph Dietzgen Page
2. Joseph Dietzgen, Some of the Philosophical Essays, p. 274
3. Joseph Dietzgen, Popular Outcome of Philosophy, p. 437
This has been published in the Carnival of Anarchy

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