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 are also an atheist. Sunsara Taylor is not ashamed of either her Revolutionary Communism, or her atheism, as she presented Bob Avakian's book, "Away With All Gods, Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World."
Sunsara Taylor's presentation began with a description of the horrors that wait to greet the curious reader of the Bible. "I wouldn't give this book to young children to read," Taylor mentions, also calling the Bible, "The most blood-thirsty book." The specifics from the Bible she mentions are the practice described 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 leave the virgins for yourselves, and the series of plagues sent by God.
Citing these examples from the Old Testament of the Bible, Sunsara Taylor makes the statement that you cannot separate the New and Old Testaments, as some more progressive Christians might like 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 exclaims. "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 explores 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, is a special punishment or curse, which is painful childbirth and obedience to their husbands. The problem with this treatment of the nature of humanity, is that it creates a society which is patriarchal and these ancient myths should not be carried on today in the modern era.
Next, Taylor ties in ancient Biblical myths with practice in society today. She cites Proposition 8 in California, which defined 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, in the Bible, has hundreds of wives and hundreds of 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 dives into is all about the difference between science, religious faith, and to a lesser extent, art. "Science is not cold and bereft of meaning," says 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 quotes from the book.
Taylor has peppered her presentation with fleeting mention of being a communist, and mentioned some of the experiences that have formed her opinion of religion, such as attempting to defend an abortion clinic from violent protesters and actually reading the Bible only to learn about the horrible treatment of women, and other violence found throughout the book. At the end of her presentation, she attempts to tie in the rationality and reason of science and atheism and communism.
Taylor, like the books she is presenting, is not meant to be nice to religion, and not meant to take ideas lightly. She asserts that 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," asserts 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 follows. You can grab all of the goodies and possessions through a global network of exploitation, close your eyes to the exploitation or you can open your eyes and confront the oppression and change the world you live in.
Taylor does 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 who is 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 asserts that abstinence only sex education has genocidal implications and the Bible fuels it. 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 in a short time 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 is confident, assertive, and concerned about understanding the point of view of the questioner.
Bob Avakian’s book, "Away With All Gods," as presented by Sunsara 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.