by Bjorn Watland
On a crisp November evening at the University of Minnesota, a surprisingly large crowd gathered in a basement auditorium to hear from Sunsara Taylor, an unapologetic Revolutionary Communist and militant atheist. Hearing the views of a communist isn't as shocking as it may be in other arenas of the public; however, it isn't often that a communist will admit that they're also an atheist. Taylor is not ashamed of either her Revolutionary Communism, or her atheism, as she presented Bob Avakian's book, Away With All Gods.
Taylor's presentation began with a description of the horrors that await readers of the bible. "I wouldn't give this book to young children to read," Taylor said. She called the bible, "the most blood-thirsty book," mentioning specifics such as the practice of stoning women who were not virgins on their wedding night; God commanding soldiers to kill children, men, and women who have known a man, but to leave the virgins for themselves; and the series of plagues sent by God.
Taylor claimed that the New and Old Testaments can not be separated from each other, as some more progressive Christians try to do. Jesus is often separated from the horrors of the Old Testament, however, by what basis would you consider Jesus to the divine without fulfillment of the prophecies found within the Old Testament? "Jesus is not someone you would want to follow or should follow," Taylor exclaimed. "He didn't end slavery; instead he taught how slaves should be obedient to their masters. He didn't stop patriarchy. He continued to preach that disease and illness are caused by sin."
Taylor explored the concept of sin. Sin is caused by the "fall" of humanity. Christians believe that Eve was deceived by the Devil to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and then deceived Adam. What this means for women who inherit this original sin, are special punishments: painful childbirth and obedience to their husbands. The problem with this treatment of the nature of humanity is that it creates a society that is patriarchal. Taylor said these ancient myths should not be carried on today in the modern era.
Next, Taylor tied in ancient biblical myths with practice in society today. She cited California's Proposition 8, which defines marriage as one man and one woman. Proponents of a heterosexual definition of marriage use the bible to argue against gay marriage. However, the bible doesn't even treat marriage as between one man and one woman. King Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines. "Sex existed long before people made up religions, and marriage is defined by societies, not by a god," Taylor reasons.
The next section Taylor dove into was the differences between science, religious faith, and to a lesser extent, art. "Science is not cold and bereft of meaning," said Taylor. The difference between art and religion is that art does not mandate that you accept it as a representation of reality. "Humanity cannot live without art, but must live without religion," Taylor said, quoting from Avakian's book.
Near the end of her presentation, Taylor attempted to tie in the rationality and reason of science, atheism, and communism.
Taylor, like the books she presented, was not meant to be nice to religion and not meant to take ideas lightly. She asserted the idea of the Golden Rule only works on an individual level, and not in societies. Scarcity is no longer a problem in the world. We have the means to provide shelter, food, and safety to every person on the planet. We can feed the whole world, but people in food producing countries are starving because food is produced, and exported to "imperialist countries, like this one," asserted Taylor. We need to get rid of the means of production relations that are based on exploitation and rid ourselves of class distinction.
What are the options for the individual, according to Taylor? "Faced with the horrors of the world, you have three options," Taylor said. You can grab all of the goodies and possessions through a global network of exploitation, close your eyes to the exploitation, or open your eyes and confront the oppression and change the world you live in.
Taylor did not hold back in her presentation. During the evening she called Sarah Palin a Nazi for the practice of charging rape victims for rape kits because they contained emergency contraception. We should not feel good about being American, no matter the President, because we are a nation which dropped two atomic bombs on cities in Japan, have killed a million people in Iraq, and carry out secret CIA operations, such as hidden prisons. She asserted that abstinence-only sex education has genocidal implications. She believes that humans have no inherent nature to be good or bad, and that the problems we see today were caused by the emergence of classes, private property and the state. In order to change the world, you must act in opposition to the oppressor in order to benefit the oppressed.
From the audience, a number of people raised concerns about the viability of a communist society, citing examples of failed attempts in the USSR and China. Taylor lauded the successes of Maoist China in raising the life expectancy from 33 years to 65 years as the country transitioned from feudalism. Among those who raised concern, one was an anthropologist, another an economist and another merely had concerns that humans, as animals, had a capitalist nature that is difficult to overcome. She handled criticism of communism, which made up the majority of the discussion afterwards, very well. As a speaker, she was confident, assertive, and concerned about understanding the point of view of the questioner.
Bob Avakian's book, Away With All Gods, as presented by Taylor, is different from other atheist books, like those from Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris in that it proposes a radical political agenda as an opposition to religious fundamentalism.
Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists (CASH) presented Sunsara Taylor. CASH is known as, "The Best Damned Group on Campus," are an affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance and have been serving atheists, skeptics, and humanists since 1991. For more information about CASH, visit www.cashumn.org.
Bjorn Watland is a board member of Minnesota Atheists and Camp Quest of Minnesota. He also serves as an editor for the SSA eMpirical.