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Los Angeles Diary: The Politics of Secular Faith

It’s raining in Los Angeles. I sit inside of Antigua’s coffee in Cypress Park, where the motto is “community, progress, sustainable”. It is a phenomenal place to sit and have tea. Today, I order the black jaguar, a black tea blend that needn’t any milk to be creamy, delicious. I generally drink my tea with oat milk, which for some time was impossible to get in Los Angeles. To my side, community organizers, like myself, speak about an employee of Community Coalition, a community organizing group in South LA (South Central). They wonder if they are all friends with her.

The rain has stopped. The sun has come out. Those minutes of rain, intense and pulsed by the shop’s rock and roll playlist, were pure joy. What’s it about this city, specifically living in this city, that makes rain so enjoyable. It may be because there’s a hint of positive destruction as if the loud and obvious domination going on in this city has begun to end with rain when it takes oversight, smell, taste, and thought.

Martin Hagglund’s book “This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom” is on my mind and in front of me, digitally. According to Hagglund, “a secular faith seeks to postpone death and improve the conditions of life”. Socialism instead of religion is how a Vice.com writer presented the book. I’m reading Hagglund’s book as something close to Spinoza’s except Hagglund prescribes freedom in Democratic Socialism. As a member of DSA LA, Hagglund’s analysis and recommendation for democratic socialism hits home. However, as my mind during the rain taught me, I, like many humans, feel faith in pure destruction, and it being the beginning of new modes of production and social relations.

According to Samir Amin in the book “Eurocentrism”, the idea of imminent justice was invented by the Egyptians, the same idea that was applied to govern Europe which shared a crucial similarity to Egypt: a slave mode of production. This slave mode of production hardly existed in Africa as per Walter Rodney’s book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, where slavery had to do with trading slaves to the Arab world and then to Europe, and so was not a universal phenomenon. This idea of imminent justice was developed and flourished in the antiquities and in Middle Ages Europe, before the days of radical bourgeois action, proto-socialism and socialism, and the enlightenment, which coincided with the end of domination of feudalism and the birth of capitalism, as Water Rodney discusses in the same book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” It continued to flourish with the atheism of revolutionaries. Religion, in the west, and in the rest of the world, has been a notorious terrain and tool of domination, using this idea of imminent justice for political and economic power.

With that said, secular faith can also lead to a disaster. Being the opposite of god believing, atheism does not mean that secular faith cannot be and become a notorious terrain and tool of domination. For one, atheism does not mean that the means of production are in an oligarch’s hands. I am sure that many oligarchs are atheists. The same has to do with technology and the means of social service, etc. As countless anthropologists point us to, religion walked hand in hand with agriculture, the first goddesses having to do with how to produce more. Some even argue that the state emerges from religion and the need to manage agriculture, and especially surplus. Why couldn’t atheism also be used to do the same, and then used to manage a surplus, as underlying rituals for the sake of production in the end owned by the dominant who can very well be atheists. Well with democratic socialism, the fact is that socialism provides a reason for why this would not happen: an ethic. Thou shall care for your fellow person in a way that hegemonic faith and power does not. The beauty of Hagglund’s book is that he does not stop where Spinoza does: freedom here leads to socialism, for freedom means collective freedom. “Secular faith is committed to persons and projects” is how Hagglund puts his definition of it.

Poet Tongo Eisen Martin puts it best:

The start of mass destruction
Begins and ends
In restaurant bathrooms
That some people use
And other people clean.

This secrecy he captures, practiced in a dominated world has no real key for we have no idea what is going in in people’s heads. Hagglund’s ideas on secular faith as radical atheism are brilliant, inspirational, and should be read. What we do know is that we are in need of an alternative, one that tones the destructive impulse in many like myself who are fed up with domination and want a change, and organizes a reality out of the possibilities that come with a positive conviction. May this conviction be religious or not, it’s important that it takes a stand about the world, and seeks to be in solidarity with brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, orphans, humans.

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