On the Inhumanity of Religion


"One says that I repeat myself. I will cease to repeat myself when we correct ourselves." -- Voltaire

The publication of The Resistance to Christianity[1] has brought to me from several friends the reproach that I manifest with respect to religion an interest that it doesn't merit. If I have taken a slightly malicious pleasure in writing On the Inhumanity of Religion for their sake, this isn't -- they well know -- in order to justify myself in their eyes. I no longer desire to render infamy more infamous, an attitude much in fashion in a society too preoccupied to denounce its decay so as to undertake to remedy it.

By adding my personal contribution to the critique of the celestial institutions, I only strive to attribute to a trifling spark of life the gift of subverting a by-gone world, which hasn't finished propagating the agonizing idea of universal death.

Although my friends are, according to the fortunate expression of Prevert, much more "untouched by God" than I am, I am less assured that he is not dragging us -- stratified by the centuries of brutalization and obscurantism -- into one or the other inclination to renunciation, sacrifice, guilt, secret mortification, in brief, to a manner of cultivating the absence of life that, while taking exception in a loud voice and secretly annihilating it, is never far from the cult of carrion, in other words, religion.

I thought that it might not be useless to remove from the folds of our consciousness these mordid germs of the Spirit, in which the heaven of the gods and ideas engender themselves.

The triumph and collapse of political illusions in the 20th Century have demonstrated the aptitude of emancipatory discourse to dissimulate the angers and resentments of everyday comportment, which surprise us one fine day, after lying in wait for the first pretext that comes along, by suddenly popping their corks [se debondent] in Rwandan, Yugoslavian or Algerian barbarities.

The displeasures that Sade unleashed on an unreliable God [le jean-foutre Dieu] did not prevent him from taking pleasure in evocations of tyrannies that, in the name of the liberties of nature, yielded nothing to the worst of religion's crimes.

That the churches were transformed into pigpens under the Jacobinism of 1793, and into garages under Stalinism, this has not washed the churches clean of their maismas, on the contrary. In 1958, burning the Koran -- the book that has caused the most books to be burned, from the library at Alexandria to the library at Cordoue, which was devastated by the Almohades -- didn't place the Iraqi people on the road to democracy. Fanaticism has triumphed over the Godless ideologies with the same cruel strictness that the totalitarianism of the priests honors itself with.

To combat a barbariam of contrary meaning, sectarianism triumphs, even at the heart of its defeats. Vilification of the religions too often makes them seem right or reasonable [a leur rendre raison]. I do not disavow the puerile pleasure of primitive anticlericalism, but even Rabelais didn't hope that the last scandal of the last Pope would suffice to expulse the pestilence of the devoted from the earth.

We will not destroy the universal superstitution without destroying its supports; we will not revoke the celestial mandate without finishing with the economy that produced it and perpetuates it.

Judeo-Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, the various sects and their cohorts of rabbis, parish priests, Imams, pastors, gurus, bonzes and lamas, are the last avatars of two thousand years of exploitation of man by man. They will only disappear in the shipwreck of market civilization, under the cover of a human civilization founded on the refining of desires, not on the psychological and social mechanisms of a system that is hostile to nature.

To examine that which remains of religious comportment in us, even in the most authenticated scorn for religion -- this is what appears worthy of several lines.

The collapse of traditional values has illuminated the only value, long occulted and scorned, that today imposes itself with the serene violence of a paradoxical novelty: that part of humanity that each person develops in and around him- or herself.

What have I to do with someone like Voltaire, who led a just fight against the intolerance of the priests and [yet] owned interests in a maritime company that traded in black slaves?

Does it not happen that we discover more generosity, vitality, tenderness [and] understanding in the everyday comportment of people who have been seduced by the baubles of Judeo-Christian, Muslim or Buddhist mythology than among a number of so-called revolutionaries who are ornamented with ideologies and inquisitorial spirits?

The many believers who are simply loyal to a religious education, to the folklore of the rites of passage, to the idea that some hot-shot [Manitou] psychoanalyst is going to take charge of their distress -- don't they evoke the inveterate smokers who sometimes implore the graciousness of the Cancer-God, sometimes laughing at themselves from the moment that they recapture their will to live and shake off the fear and the unavowed desire to die?

Those who, without the least desire to proselytize, have the whim to cherish some belief -- it isn't to haze and scorn them that we try to disencumber them from the renunciation of oneself, which implies superstitution [is involved].

It is better to encourage the propensity to creation and happiness in them. Don't the pleasures of love liberate young Islamized women from the veil more surely than prohibitions, which always worsen stupidity and barbarity?

Rather than crushing infamy, I prefer the unceasing aspiration to live better -- that is to say, more humanely. Constancy and vigilance are necessary. We will need them, judging from the facility with which religion, so incompatible with guilt-free pleasure, today wagers on re-converting and consuming itself in cults of pleasure, everywhere asceticism has worn itself out.


One will not be surprised to find here, in what concerns the genesis and concomittant development of the economy of exploitation and religion, the theses that were banalized in Pour une internationale du genre humain.[2] None of the ideas that I defend find themselves reiterated without being enlightened or having the arrangement of circumstances in which I did or did not make conjectures about their appearance get specified. Will one say as much about the works in which fashion takes a seasonal glory from the simple fact that they vulgarize and harp on the same ideas so as to strip them of their radicality, by diluting a few drops in the water-dish of alienated communication?

To have readers teach me to desire to be re-read on occasion, it is sometimes necessary that consciousness issuing from a single person encounters another living consciousness and attains its supercession.

As for those who misunderstand: I will demonstrate nothing, I will only show in what manner beings are inhumanely disposed of, according to the order of things, and how I would love it if things were humanely disposed of, according to the order of beings.

I content myself with exposing my point of view. Share it, take exception to it, ignore it, as you wish.

It is sufficient for me to have the pleasure of going my own route, with neither ideology nor belief, neither expectations nor hopes; to somehow or another try to hear the difficult harmony of the passions, to sharpen the consciousness of a human and terrestrial nature that is just beginning to appear.

I do not wish to be followed, I only aspire to be preceded. O, my laziness, by your favors give me the homage that I accord you!

[1] Raoul Vaneigem, La Resistance au Christianisme (Fayard, 1993). Click here for a translation of this book's "Foreword."

[2] Raoul Vaneigem, Pour une internationale du genre humain (Le Cherche-Midi Editeur, 1999).

Written by Raoul Vaneigem, and published under the title De l'Inhumanite de la Religion by Denoel (2000). Translated from the French by NOT BORED! August 2006. All footnotes by the translator.

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