Books on Science and Religion #14: Marxism and Dielectical Materialism

Books on Science and Religion #14: Marxism and Dielectical Materialism

john_kenneth_galbraithUnder capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.

John Kenneth Galbraith

August 31, 2014

Materialism in the 19th century materialism came in many forms and guises. Already, we’ve reviewed several of them already in our series of blogs on Richard Olson’s book Science and Scientism in Nineteenth Century.

Perhaps the most famous – and certainly the most notorious – of those 19th century materialisms is what later came to be called dialectical materialism. Developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, it became the basis for communism and systems of government around the globe. Like the scientific materialism of Vogt, Moleschott, and Buchner that we reviewed last week, dialectical materialism portrayed itself as based on a true scientific understanding of reality. In actuality, like scientific materialism, it was based on French ideas about socialism and on positivist thinking, on 19th century German philosophical arguments of Hegel and Feuerbach, and on various other social and intellectual developments of the time.

Hammer_and_sickle_red_on_transparent.svgBefore looking in more detail at the mid-nineteenth century origins of Marxist materialism, let’s first look at the death toll inflected by 20th communist governments on their own populations – a rough indicator of the social impact of this so-called “scientific” materialism. We also review the Baha’i perspective on communism.

The Black Book of Communism

Wikipedia has two sites that look at mass killings exacted by communist regimes on their populations in the name of dialectical materialism – Mass Killings Under Communist Regimes and The Black Book of Communism. The estimate typically given as to the numbers of people killed by such regimes is between 85 to 100 million. The usual reference is the 1997 book on the topic called The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression written on the basis of studies by a number of European academics.

Here are the estimates in the Black Book by country:

  • The_Black_Book_of_Communism_(front_cover)65 million in the People’s Republic of China
  • 20 million in the Soviet Union
  • 2 million in Cambodia
  • 2 million in North Korea
  • 1.7 million in Africa
  • 1.5 million in Afghanistan
  • 1 million in the Communist states of Eastern Europe
  • 1 million in Vietnam
  • 150,000 in Latin America (mainly Cuba)
  • 10,000 deaths “resulting from actions of the international Communist movement and Communist parties not in power.”

Notice that these numbers are very large, dwarfing the numbers of those killed by religious wars (reference: List of wars and anthropogenic disasters by death toll.) For example, the Catholic Crusades led to 2 to 4 million deaths, the 30 Years War between Protestants and Catholics in the 17th century led to 3 to 12 million deaths, the French wars of religion in the 16th century led to 2 to 4 million deaths, and the notorious Catholic Inquisition led to 2,000 deaths. Also notice that in contrast to 20th century mass killings, the wars of religion were as much political as they were ideological.

The political scientist R.J. Rummel wrote extensively and widely about the topic. In The Killing Machine that is Marxism he summarizes his conclusions:

Marxism has meant bloody terrorism, deadly purges, lethal prison camps and murderous forced labor, fatal deportations, man-made famines, extrajudicial executions and fraudulent show trials, outright mass murder and genocide. [Construction of a Marxist utopia was] a war on poverty, exploitation, imperialism and inequality – and, as in a real war, noncombatants would unfortunately get caught in the battle. There would be necessary enemy casualties: the clergy, bourgeoisie, capitalists, ‘wreckers’, intellectuals, counterrevolutionaries, rightists, tyrants, the rich and landlords. As in a war, millions might die, but these deaths would be justified by the end, as in the defeat of Hitler in World War II. To the ruling Marxists, the goal of a communist utopia was enough to justify all the deaths.

lenin_marx_engelsBut note that capitalism has had its share of mass killings – one need only think of the horrific European and North and South American institutions of slavery or the corporate over-lordships of the British East India Company, the Dutch East India Company, and other colonial exploitations (for example, the brutal exploitation and 2 to 15 million deaths in the Congo by King Leopold II of Belgium.)

Some Baha’i Views on Communism

The Baha’i Faith condemns all forms of materialism, including communism, and calls on them to give an accounting of their successes and failures. The Universal House of Justice in The Promise of World Peace writes:

The time has come when those who preach the dogmas of materialism, whether of the east or the west, whether of capitalism or socialism, must give account of the moral stewardship they have presumed to exercise. Where is the “new world” promised by these ideologies? Where is the international peace to whose ideals they proclaim their devotion? …

Most particularly, it is in the glorification of material pursuits, at once the progenitor and common feature of all such ideologies, that we find the roots which nourish the falsehood that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive. It is here that the ground must be cleared for the building of a new world fit for our descendants.

Only communism is singled-out for direct mention.The Century of Light, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, says the following:

Alone among these would-be agents of violent change one broadly based movement was proceeding systematically and with ruthless clarity of purpose towards the goal of world revolution. The Communist Party, deriving both its intellectual thrust and an unshakeable confidence in its ultimate triumph from the writings of the nineteenth century ideologue Karl Marx, had succeeded in establishing groups of committed supporters throughout Europe and various other countries.

Struggle_session_against_class_enemyCommunism, tragically, singled out religion and class as its enemy:

Convinced that the genius of its master had demonstrated beyond question the essentially material nature of the forces that had given rise to both human consciousness and social organization, the Communist movement dismissed the validity of both religion and “bourgeois” moral standards. In its view, faith in God was a neurotic weakness indulged in by the human race, a weakness that had merely permitted successive ruling classes to manipulate superstition as an instrument for enslaving the masses.

Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, describes communism as one of mankind’s three false Gods:

God Himself has indeed been dethroned from the hearts of men, and an idolatrous world passionately and clamorously hails and worships the false gods which its own idle fancies have fatuously created, and its misguided hands so impiously exalted. The chief idols in the desecrated temple of mankind are none other than the triple gods of Nationalism, Racialism and Communism, at whose altars governments and peoples, whether democratic or totalitarian, at peace or at war, of the East or of the West, Christian or Islamic, are, in various forms and in different degrees, now worshiping. (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 112)

marx340aMarx, Engels, Historical Materialism, and It’s Goals

Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) were both from wealthy middle-class German families. Marx was schooled at the University of Bonn and then the University of Berlin. There, he joined a group of radical thinkers known as the Young Hegelians that included David Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach, two of the main thinkers responsible for laying the groundwork for German materialism. Engels initially avoided school but ended up in Berlin as an artillery officer – and also a member of the Young Hegelians. Both were active writing newspaper articles exposing social injustice. They met and became close friends in Paris 1844, both having become materialists and socialists.

In 1848 – the same year that the Revolution of 1848 swept Europe, Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, the best known of revolutionary pamphlets. It ended famously:

… the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing Engels_1856social and political order of things.  …  The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

Working Men of All Countries, Unite!

Over the next 35 year, Marx and Engels worked together in England to buttress, augment, expand on and explain their reasonings (and to maneuver their theory into the leading radical analysis of 19th century European society).

At its core, their approach relies on a Feuerbachian materialistic analysis of religion and society augmented by Hegelian add-ons. Feuerbach argued that human beings created God in their own image and therefore awareness of God is a false consciousness. Marx agrees, but argues further that human ideas about all aspects of reality – all of our forms of consciousness – are in similar way created by our “materialistic modes of production.” (If is sound a bit convoluted, it’s because it is.)

Here is how the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes Marx approach to religion – and then to materialism in general:

With regard to religion, Marx fully accepted Feuerbach’s claim in opposition to traditional theology that human beings had created God in their own image [but] criticizes Feuerbach on the grounds that he has failed to understand why people fall into religious alienation and so is unable to explain how it can be transcended. Marx’s explanation is that religion is a response to alienation in material life, and therefore cannot be removed until human material life is emancipated, at which point religion will wither away.

marxist theory of alienation(Alienation, in Marxist theory, means “estrangement of people from aspects of their human nature” and is derived from Feuerbach’s theory of religion.}

The Encyclopedia continues. Marx and Engel’s “premises of the materialist method” are that

… human beings are essentially productive, in that they must produce their means of subsistence in order to satisfy their material needs. The satisfaction of needs engenders new needs of both a material and social kind, and forms of society arise corresponding to the state of development of human productive forces. Material life determines, or at least ‘conditions’ social life, and so the primary direction of social explanation is from material production to social forms, and thence to forms of consciousness.

As the material means of production develop, ‘modes of co-operation’ or economic structures rise and fall, and eventually communism will become a real possibility once the plight of the workers and their awareness of an alternative motivates them sufficiently to become revolutionaries.

When the false consciousness produced by alienation falls away – when the workers are no longer exploited by class enemies – then a communist society will emerge, according to the Marxist vision of the future.  Such a society is one that is “classless and stateless, based upon common ownership of the means of production with free access to articles of consumption, and therefore the end of economic exploitation. … economic relations no longer would determine the society. Scarcity would be eliminated in all possible aspects. Alienated labor would cease, as people would be free to pursue their individual goals.”

But is this scientific?

But how much of this is scientific? Given that it’s a highly theoretical construct mainly unsupported by empirical arguments, probably its better to say it is “scientistic”. Olson summarizes how he sees it as follows:

There is no doubt that Marxism was a scientistic movement. That is, it openly sought to extend methods derived from mathematics and the natural sciences to deal with social phenomena. 

But suppose we were to conclude it was scientific? Then

… even if we were to agree that Marxism was and is indeed scientific, that would not justify the most important inference that Marx, Engels, and subsequent Marxists have wished to draw: That it was therefore also correct in all of its claims.

Next Blog

Next week, we move to England, Victorian culture, and its changes of attitude towards science.


This is the 14th in a series of blogs on the modern science and religion literature. The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he wrote Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution with Courosh Mehanian. He worked in Japan for 10 years before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.

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25 thoughts on “Books on Science and Religion #14: Marxism and Dielectical Materialism

  1. When I was growing up in the former communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, I believed what the propaganda told me, that it is scientifically proven that there is no God. I did not read the proof, but I had assumed that it is proven, since they told me so. When I came to America, and I no longer believed in Marxism, one day I started thinking, what proof do I have, that there is no God? And I found none. So I had to convert from atheism to agnosticism. And so at the same time I lost my contempt for religion. In retrospect, this propaganda was terrible. I am glad I live in a free country.

  2. I grew up on a college campus in the middle of New Mexico – both my parents were mathematics teachers – and the mindset was that religion wasn’t true and God didn’t exist, but that it was OK if people believed in it. So, in some ways it was exactly the same as for you.

    When I became a Baha’i through highly-charged mystical experiences, I found myself believing in God. I’ve been working since then to understand the dogmatic anti-God, anti-religious mindset that was so influential among academics and the educated and to see where it came from and why it is so highly divisive.

    Isn’t it highly interesting that Steven Pinker seems to believe the same propaganda as they taught back in Czechoslovakia? He writes;

    To begin with, the findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures—their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies—are factually mistaken.

    Then, in a quote that could have been taken directly from Marx (or from Marx’s co-materialist Buchner), he writes:

    In other words, the worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science. … The scientific refutation of the theory of vengeful gods and occult forces undermines practices such as human sacrifice, witch hunts, faith healing, trial by ordeal, and the persecution of heretics.

    The facts of science, by exposing the absence of purpose in the laws governing the universe, force us to take responsibility for the welfare of ourselves, our species, and our planet. For the same reason, they undercut any moral or political system based on mystical forces, quests, destinies, dialectics, struggles, or messianic ages.

    And in combination with a few unexceptionable convictions— that all of us value our own welfare and that we are social beings who impinge on each other and can negotiate codes of conduct—the scientific facts militate toward a defensible morality, namely adhering to principles that maximize the flourishing of humans and other sentient beings.

    This humanism, which is inextricable from a scientific understanding of the world, is becoming the de facto morality of modern democracies, international organizations, and liberalizing religions, and its unfulfilled promises define the moral imperatives we face today.

    What is amazing to me is how unaware Pinker is. How he doesn’t know how his words are merely echos and reverberations in the halls of history. Make no mistake, Pinker is a smart guy. But his vision is blinkered by ideology. This is science as religion, not science as science.

    1. Pinker is an atheist, but the last quote from him that you provided, clearly could not have been like from Marx, since he writes ‘For the same reason, they undercut any moral or political system based on mystical forces, quests, destinies, dialectics, struggles, or messianic ages.’
      This is very different from Marx, who did believe in establishing a moral and political system based on dialectics and struggles. And in fact Marx also wanted to abolish religion. While Pinker writes here “This humanism, which is inextricable from a scientific understanding of the world, is becoming the de facto morality of modern democracies, international organizations, and liberalizing religions, and its unfulfilled promises define the moral imperatives we face today.”
      Notice that in the above quote he writes that humanism is becoming de facto morality of liberalizing religions. While Marx wanted to abolish all religion, as he wrote, and I saw that passage in his writing. He also wrote there that religion is opium of the masses. He was terrible. No wonder that Communist governments made a lot of effort to persecute and discourage religions. A lot of priests and ministers in the former Czechoslovakia, where I was born, were arrested, also a lot of monks and nuns, and a few were even killed. That is very different from the humanism that Pinker is advocating.

      1. Tom, thanks for pointing this out. I agree that Pinker is not a Marxist, as you point out. But its clear that the constellation different types of materialism that arose in the mid-19th century – Marxism was only one of them – are the substance of Pinker’s beliefs.

        1. The Pournelle chart deals with various ideologies. You could put Humanism hypothetical at the 3/5′ between Egoists Anarchism or Objectivsism at 1/5′ and Communism at 5/5′. Aside from Neo-Objectivists, Religious Humanists, and Religious Communists all ideologies ranging from 1′ to 5′ have religious followers and irreligious ones. Generally with some exceptions, all followers of the 5′ ones are irreligious.

          There are ten circles on the chart which form two lines (one right line from 1/5′ to 5/1′ and one left one from 1/1′ to 5-5′). 1/ is state as the ultimate evil and 5/ is state worship while /1′ is iirationalism and /5′ is reason enthroned. The closer to state worship or 5/, the more people are likely to be killed by it. It is one things that disparate ideologies like Communism and Nazism share despite being opposed on the other scale of reason versus irrationality.

          Tom Martin, I’m just curious about how the Czech and Slovak Republics are doing right now in the post Soviet era? Which one were you born in now that they are separate countries?

          1. I was born in Prague, which was the capital of the former Czechoslovakia and is now the capital of the Czech Republic. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are doing OK now, certainly better than formerly under the Communists. Though there is some disappointment in both countries about how democracy has developed there, people are complaining that there is too much corruption, and including corruption in government. Also people are complaining about unemployment. The unemployment rate in both countries is similar to what it is in the US, so not very high, compared to some countries like Greece and Spain, where the unemployment rates are terrible. Still, many are comparing the unemployment situation with what it was under the Communists, when there was instead a labor shortage, so if one lost his or her job, it would have been easy to get another job, even if the job was not what one wanted. And to the contrary, if someone refused to work, even though he or she was able-bodied, not studying any more, and not yet retired, then that person was subject to punishment, a prison sentence, for being a parasite. So if you did not have a job and could not find soon a job you liked, you had to get a different type of job instead, so you would not be arrested for parasitism. So it was not an ideal situation, but at least you were not in a situation of some people today, who have been looking for a job in vain for months already. If they apply now for an inferior job, they can be told they are overqualified, so they are in a Catch-22 situation, they can’t get a job for which they are qualified, but they can’t get an inferior job because they are overqualified. Under Communists, there was a labor shortage, so the personnel department would gladly accept even an overqualified candidate, rather than leave a position unfilled. So that was an advantage of the Communist system, even though in many other ways the Communist system was much inferior. But some people idealize the old times, speak about good old times. So in the Czech Republic, in recent elections, the Communist Party won about 12% to 14% of the vote, terrible. Even some non-Communists are still very suspicious of America, still think America is a very evil imperialist country that loves wars. So there is quite a lot of support for Putin among plenty of Czechs, who think America is bullying Russia. Terrible. Though I have not heard any anti-Americanism from my cousins, they know well how their parents were victimized under the Communists, for reasons like that our grandfather had been the owner of a large farm, so in the Communist view he had been a terrible kulak. And another reason was that our uncle Karl was a refugee in the west. So our family and relatives suffered a lot of discrimination. So naturally our relatives were much more pro-Western than many other Czechs.
            In Slovakia there is far less support for the Communists, since most Slovaks are still Catholics, and some of the rest are Protestants, so atheists and agnostics are much fewer than in the Czech Republic, where most are indeed atheist or agnostic. Only about 25% of Czechs remain Christian, most of them Catholic. Other churches in the Czech Republic are very small, and some Christians consider themselves Christian while refusing to join any denomination. When Czechoslovakia became independent in 1918, from Austria-Hungary, with new freedom of religion, many Czechs left the Catholic church, including my maternal grandparents. Before then, some jobs were open only to Catholics, including teachers, so my grandfather had to pretend to be still Catholic, and attend church mass, because he considered it very important to be a teacher, so he could influence Czech kids against the rulers of Austria-Hungary. The Catholic church hierarchy supported the rulers, so that was one reason why so many Czechs left the church after independence in 1918. Modernism became popular among Czechs, some even became atheist, like my grandfather (the other grandfather, the one who had been a big farmer, remained in the Catholic church). Many Catholics were only lukewarm Catholics, remained in the church but disagreed with some Catholic doctrines, like my father. In 1948, the Communists took over in a coup, and their anti-religious propaganda was very successful among the Czechs, so by the time the Communists fell in 1989, only about 30% of Czechs were still Christian. But the Slovaks remained in general far more conservative, so most remained Catholic.
            A big problem in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia is the Gypsy problem. There has been a lot of anti-Gypsy prejudice for centuries, since Gypsies arrived in Europe from Asia. They generally did not assimilate, they used to be traveling, doing things like repairs and music to make money, generally living in poverty, but not wanting to become employees, they were generally independent businessmen, but there has been for centuries a lot of mistrust between Gypsies and us non-Gypsies, who are called gadjos by the Gypsies, a lot of hostility, so consequently a lot of Gypsies felt it is not a moral transgression to steal from us non-Gypsies, since we were often considered their enemies. So Gypsies got a reputation as criminals. Under the Communists, they were forced to settle down, no longer migrate, their business activities were forbidden, and so they were forced to become employees. Over the 41 years of Communist rule they lost the knowledge how to be businessmen, and they were state employees instead. Then when the Communist regime fell in 1989, Czechoslovakia transitioned to capitalism, labor shortage ended, instead unemployment began, many employers did not want to have any Gypsy employees, due to the prejudice against them as thieves, drunkards etc. So consequently by now the great majority of able-bodied Gypsies now, in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and in other countries, are unemployed and on welfare. It is a terrible situation. Also most Gypsies don’t like education. Before education became mandatory, almost all Gypsies were illiterate. So after it became mandatory, many Gypsy kids were assigned to special schools for the retarded. Not only because of their resistance to education, but also because many Gypsy kids did not know any non-Gypsy language well, most spoke only Romany well. By now there is much more linguistic assimilation, most Czech Romany kids by now have Czech as their native language, rather than Romany, some don’t speak any Romany any more. Yet still many of the kids are assigned to schools for the retarded, some parents are glad about that, because they want their kids in a predominantly Gypsy school, so they would not be bullied by non-Gypsy kids. Bullying is a big problem. Though in fifth grade, I did have one Gypsy classmate, and he was not bullied, he was very extroverted and had plenty of friends, unlike me, I was very shy, and unable to assimilate, even though I was a Czech kid, like almost all kids in that school. So I was bullied a lot. So it can depend a lot on the personality of the kid. The Gypsy kid spoke Czech very well, with no trace of a foreign accent. Though he was not a good student, his grades were like those of the dumber kids. I have no idea if he was dumb or just lazy.
            So anyway, the Gypsy problem is the toughest problem in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In Slovakia the Gypsies are a considerably higher percentage of the population, about 10%. Many live in ghettoes, in both countries. And they often don’t care about birth control, they have often large families, so the percentage keeps increasing.
            Not many Muslims have moved into the Czech Republic or into Slovakia, so they are not a large lower class like they are in Western Europe. So they are not much of a problem in those two countries. Though still, a few Czechs are afraid of them and are even advocating outlawing Islam, due to alleged totalitarian tendencies and alleged hate against non-Muslims. Still, a much larger percentage of Czechs don’t want to have a Gypsy neighbor than how many don’t want a Muslim neighbor.

          2. Tom, very interesting. The Czech Republic does have seven parties in the Chmaber of Deputies.

            (Moderator: edited list out for length, as the precise political makeup is off-topic. Please do not include expansive lists from wiki sources in posts).

            You forgot to mention the issue of the EU in Czech politics given how many Eurosceptics I mentioned above. Also, what is the issue with Hungarians in Slovakia? Back to Euroscepiticism, all Euroscepticism parties are on the rise all over Europe and all over the political spectrum. A party is pro EU, EU sceptic, or neutral. As above, there is only one pro EU party. Ok, now Slovakia then and its National Council.
            (Moderator, deleted wiki entry on the politics of the region. The reply was to comments about anti-Muslim sentiment, so I have preserved the part of the comment that is on-topic.)

            Also, anti Islam politics in these areas? I knew of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. France does the biggest Muslim population in Western Europe and the National Front is the third biggest party there. Marine Le Pen may even be elected President in 2017. There are Islamists in Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom which also has other issues like sharia patrols which also happen in Germany as well. Flemish Interest, Party for Freedom, and Britian First/British National Party as well as German Freedom Party are the parties for each of the countries I mentined. Switzerland did have that minaret ban which was propsed by the Swiss People Party. I would also like to mention Sweden and its Sweden Democrats as well. All Anti Islam parties also share Euroscepticism in common.

          3. The parties in the Czech Republic Chamber of Deputies are not Euro-sceptic, except I think for the Communist party, which I think wants out of EU, I know they want out of NATO, and they want the Czech Republic to be very friendly to Russia. They are quite paranoid of the West. There is one right wing Eurosceptic party which did get one delegate elected to the EU parliament, I think it is called Freedom party or something like that. But to get elected to the Czech Chamber of Deputies, a party needs to get more than 5 % of votes, which this party did not get. Concerning anti-Islam parties, the largest is the DSSS, which is strongly anti-Gypsy, talking much more about Gypsy crimes etc. than Islam, since there are so few Muslims in the Czech Republic. I think it too is Euro-sceptic. But it is a small party, too small to have any hopes of getting anyone elected to the Chamber of Deputies, or even the European parliament. Its predecessor, the DS (Workers Party) was banned several years ago for racism, so they simply changed their name to DSSS, and I think they are a bit more careful about not advocating outright racism. There have been also some anti-Gypsy comments made by several prominent politicians of the Úsvit (Dawn) party, including its leader. The leader argues though that he cannot be racist, since he is part minority himself, his father is Japanese, though his mother is Czech. And he does actually look somewhat Japanese. He lived for a time in Japan, where he says he was the target of some racist comments. Well, OK, but some racists are racist only against some races or only one race, like against Gypsies. And he seems to be like that. Anyway, his surname is Japanese, I think it is Okamura, if I remember correctly. Quite a character. His party advocates changing the constitution to allow referendums for various issues. But after all, one reason we have politicians, is so they will be hopefully much better informed on the issues than the average voter. The German Weimar republic often held referendums, and of course it ended with Hitler coming to power. The referendums were sometimes blamed as part of the problem in the Weimar republic. I don’t really know the policy of the Dawn party on the EU. It barely crossed the 5% threshold for getting into the Chamber of Deputies in the most recent election.
            Hungarians are a tiny minority in the Czech Republic, but they are the largest minority in Slovakia, over 10% of the population. They live mainly in southern Slovakia, where in some towns they are the largest group. Some southern villages are almost 100% Hungarian. The border between Slovakia and Hungary was drawn quite unfairly to Hungarians, at the end of WWI, but the main reason it was drawn that way was to provide a defensible border, along some large rivers. And in fact when the Communists temporarily took over Hungary in 1919, they launched an invasion into Slovakia. But then they were defeated, mainly thanks to Romanian troops. The Czechoslovak army was still being built at that time, most of it was fighting in Russia, in the Russian civil war. So they were not able to get out of Russia in time to fight the Hungarian Communists. So if it were not for Romanian help, the Hungarians would have re-occupied all of Slovakia.
            Nowadays the main problem has been a recent decision by the Hungarian parliament to award Hungarian citizenship to any Hungarian in neighboring countries who requests it. So in response the Slovak government has threatened to outlaw double citizenship, so the Hungarians there would have to choose between having Hungarian and having Slovak citizenship, they could not have both. But I have not heard that any such law has been passed in Slovakia already.
            But otherwise there is not much problem between Slovaks and Hungarians in Slovakia. The Hungarians do have some minority rights, like to have schools teaching in Hungarian. In such schools Slovak is taught as a second language, it is a required subject, but still math etc. are taught in Hungarian. I think any minority in Slovakia has such a right, even Gypsies. But I don’t think there are any Romany language schools for Gypsies. Very few Gypsies have enough education to be able to be a teacher, and the few who do likely don’t speak any Romany or speak it very badly, and of course nobody has published math etc. textbooks in Romany. The Gypsies are about 10% of the population of Slovakia, but most live in the east, mainly in their own slums at the edge of towns and villages. They are blamed for a lot of the crime, thought unlike what some think, plenty of Gypsies do not commit crimes. But it is hard for Gypsies to find work, most are on welfare. On the other hand, the Hungarian minority is mostly middle class, just like most Slovaks nowadays, so there is not this type of conflict between Hungarians and Slovaks. The Gypsies are just as distrustful of Hungarians as of Slovaks. But in censuses, most claim to be Slovak or Hungarian, rather than Roma, so they would look more respectable to the census workers. Though one can usually recognize that somebody is Gypsy by the way he or she looks, basically like light-colored Pakistanis or Indians, since that is where they came from. Some racists shout at them to go back to India, though of course hardly any modern Gypsy has ever visited India.
            Some Czechs and other Europeans think the Hungarians are Asian racially, since the Hungarians originally came from the area around the Ural mountains, maybe even from east of the mountains, from western Siberia, where the languages most closely related to Hungarian are still spoken. But as the Hungarians traveled gradually from the Urals to Hungary, they assimilated Slavs and others along the way, when they came to Hungary, they found Slavic peoples living there, and they intermarried with them, and sometimes also with Germans and Romanians living at the borders, or later also among them, so that by now the Hungarians are just as white as the Slovaks, so one cannot tell a person is Hungarian by looking at him or her. And even the Hungarian language has been somewhat influenced by Slavic languages. In fact the consonants of Hungarian are identical to Slovak consonants, except one consonant is missing nowadays in spoken Hungarian, since the consonant written ly, which used to be pronounced as a palatal l, like the Slovak soft l, written l’ in Slovak, is nowadays pronounced the same as Hungarian and Slovak j, namely like the English consonantal y, like in yard or in yes. There has been also some Slavic influence on Hungarian in vocabulary and grammar, including word order. Like most of the words for the days of week are Slavic. Still, much of the vocabulary, including almost all of the basic vocabulary, and most of the grammar, is still very much Uralic, so not Indo-European at all.

          4. Tom, interesting info on the Czech Republic. Due to the Iron Curtain and the Cold War, most Americans (which includes me) tend to think of the former Warsaw Pact as backs ally Russia. We expect people from there either to be Athiest or (insert nationality here) Orthodox Church (or insert nation here Evangelical Lutheran Church in the case of the Baltics).

            How many Czechs belong to the Moravian Church (a Protestant church that sprang up there like the Hugenots in France or the Waldensians in Italy)? Interesting fact is that there were Protestants all throughout Europe initially, but the Counter Reformation shrunk it down to Great Britain, Switzerland, and the Nordics (which includes the Baltics).

          5. First, as far as the Baltics are concerned, most Lithuanians have remained Catholic, hardly any are Lutheran. Latvians and Estonians are often Lutheran, but many are instead non-Christian, often agnostic or atheist. Both Latvia and Estonia have large Russian minorities, many of whom are Eastern Orthodox. Hardly any Russians are Lutheran or Catholic.
            Now concerning the Czech Republic. About ten percent of the population is Slovak, many of whom are still Catholic. The rest is mainly Czechs, most of whom are now non-Christian, some of whom are monotheist, but many are agnostic and many, especially those who keep voting for the Communist party, are atheist. In recent elections the Communist party has received around 14%. These people are still nostalgic for the past, when the Communist Party was the elite, with special privileges.
            About 20 or 30% of Czechs are still Christian, most of them are Catholic. About 100,000 are in the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, which is a relatively new denomination formed after Czechoslovakia became independent in 1918. It is a relatively liberal denomination that tries to be theologically intermediate between Catholics and Protestants. Another 100,000 are in the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, which is a union of Lutherans and Calvinists. Other denominations are much smaller, ranging from about 23,000 in case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to tiny groups that have only one congregation.
            One of the small denominations is the Unity of Brethren, which has about 3,000 members. This denomination, like the Waldenses in Italy, precedes the Reformation, being founded already in the fifteenth century during the Hussite wars. It survived the persecution which preceded the Reformation. Other denominations were exterminated before the Reformation. Some, like the famous nudist Adamites, were persecuted already by the Hussite Church, but then the Hussites themselves were persecuted out of existence. But then Luther, Calvin and other Protestants founded the Reformation. At that time the Czech lands became predominantly Protestant, with the Unity of Brethren being one of the largest denominations. After the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, which started the Thirty Years War, the only church which remained legal in the Czech lands was the Catholic church, and the Protestants, including the Unity of Brethren, were fiercely persecuted, some murdered, some went into exile, most of the population lived in serfdom, they now got Catholic masters, who forced the serfs to convert to the Catholic faith. Some of the exiles were in a community of the Unity of Brethren, which settled in Saxony. These became the Moravian Church. But soon only Lutheran doctrine was allowed to be preached in Saxony, so the Moravian Church changed to basically Lutheran doctrines. Many of them later emigrated to America. I don’t know if any members of the Moravian Church are left in Saxony. The remaining Moravians probably were assimilated into the Lutheran church. The Moravian church sent missionaries to many countries, but their biggest success was in Suriname, where a quite large percentage is in the Moravian Church. In other countries few are in the Moravian Church. I have not heard if the Moravian Church has gained any members in the Czech Republic. So there might be none. But as I said, the Unity of Brethren is of the same origin.

    2. Could you write me something about your mystical experiences? I sure have not had any mystical or otherwise supernatural experience, so I remain an agnostic.

        1. I don’t really understand your sentence. Is ‘touches’ a plural noun or a singular verb? It does not seem to make sense to me either way. Maybe if you try to rephrase the sentence in some other words, I would appreciate it.

          1. Hi Tom.

            Touches? The plural form of the verb touch. It means, in this context, “talks about” or “references” or even mentions.

            What happened to me is that I grew up in a community of college professors who were very rational and if disposed towards religion fell under disfavor. Religion was looked down on.

            But as a young man, I was left without any goals to pursue that were meaningful to me. So, I ended up searching for truth and meaning. For me, growing up in the high-desert and mountains of New Mexico, the sky – the stars at night, the milky-way, the totally seductive beauty of the moon, dawn, dusk, thunderstorms, cumulus driving to 30,000 feet – was my You-Tube. It was always there. I knew how big the universe was – it was right there in front of me – and occasionally it showed me wondrous things and seemed to speak to me directly. Those were many of my mystical experiences.


          2. Stephen, thanks for telling me a little about your experiences, I appreciate that.
            Concerning grammar, the verb ‘touches’ is third person singular of present tense. Not plural. It means the subject of the verb is singular. I don’t mean to be nitpicking, I know you are not a linguist, unlike me, but I just thought you should get to know this, it seems to me like basic grammar information, not something for which one needs a linguistics course to learn it. So surely you learned it in school before. Though of course we have all forgotten a lot of what we have learned in school.

          3. Hi Tom:

            I’m not sure we are talking about the same text with respect to the word “touches”. The original was this. Is this the usage you are talking about:

            Look at which touches on the experiences I had.

            Here, “” is singular. If I had referenced more than one thing it would have to be “touch”. Do you agree? This usage of the word “touches” is very common in reasonably high-level literary English. If necessary, I can send you a number of references which touch on it. :>)


          4. Yes, now with the web site address added, the singular verb ‘touches’ is correct. Interesting that the original comment left out the web address.
            Anyway, that web site does not really speak of true supernatural mystical experiences. Lighting and such stuff is natural.

      1. I know the question wasn’t directed at me, but I’d like to answer because I have had mystical experiences throughout my life. By the time I was in college, I had a reputation for being clairvoyant; I could see auras; if you held up a playing card with its back to me, I could tell you what it was. I saw things before they happened.

        I also had several experiences that made me wonder if there wasn’t such a thing as reincarnation. First, you have to understand that I had a firm belief in Christ and the God He reveals in the Bible. BUT I was completely done with religious institutions and church dogmas, which, as near as I could tell bore little resemblance to what Christ taught. Because of this, reincarnation made no sense to me logically. What rational God would train our souls by putting us through lives we couldn’t even remember without the help of an expensive guru?

        So, with this world view, I had a series of three visions, I guess you’d call them, in which I was a young concubine in the court of an Egyptian noble, a French woman fleeing the Revolution with my fiancé, and Geoffrey Plantaganet, bastard son of King Henry Plantagenet. In each case, I died. The concubine—whose name I didn’t even know—was hiding in a storage room with other women when raiders broke in and killed us. I begged for mercy and the marauder put a sword through my throat. I felt it. It was quite vivid. My French woman, called Marie, was a commoner—I don’t know why she was fleeing. She drowned with her lover. Geoffrey was killed in a lance duel, with a shaft through the heart and laid out under a tree where, in my vision, his father, Henry appeared to him to ease his passing. I was writing during this one and ended up with a long poem that I later set to music. Forgotten now.

        I experienced each of these as if I were that person. The only one I could confirm as historical fact was the last one because I knew the name. I looked up Geoffrey Plantagenet and discovered that he had, indeed, died of a wound to the chest during a joust.

        Now, what did it all mean? Was I all three of those people? I knew that Bahá’u’lláh said there was no reincarnation as commonly believed, so I asked a Bahá’í (I wasn’t a Bahá’í at the time) what he thought. He pointed out to me several things: 1) Bahá’í scriptures said that communication in the next world will make our speech look like animal yapping. 2) They also said that those who have gone into the next phase of existence can affect us here—for good only, and 3) They noted that when a person is in a deep state of meditation or other altered state, they might touch on the soul of someone who has gone on and communicate with them.

        So, when I put those three things together, I theorized that I had, in states of meditation or delirium (in the case of the last incident), touched on a soul who communicated their personal experience of death to me so perfectly that I felt I had experienced it.

        Why those three souls? I have no idea. Geoffrey possibly because my theatre group had done a production of The Lion in Winter and I had found him to be the strongest character in the play. So affinity, possibly. Why that message? Because my father had died of heart failure several years earlier and I was still struggling with death. In a way, the experiences both calmed my fears, and let me know that there were other worlds of God. (I also put to rest the idea that if you die in a dream you die for real).

        This explained a lot to me. It explained, for example, why I knew so many women who believed they’d been Marie Antoinette or Anne Boleyn in a previous life. Logic dictates that there cannot be more than one Ann Boleyn, but there they were and some had clearly had experiences similar to mine. So the search that Stan O’Jack sent me on by laying out those three complimentary ideas resulted in me finding a cogent explanation for what I and many other people had experienced.

        Anyway, that’s one of the mystical journeys I went on. There have been others, chief among them, the sequence of events that led to me becoming a Bahá’í.

        1. Thanks, Maya, that is amazing. Being so clairvoyant, that you can determine what a card is, or finding out how Geoffrey Plantagenet died, in a vision, before you could verify it in a history source, that is remarkable, it sure can’t be explained scientifically, at least so far. It sounds supernatural.
          My father told us once of a somewhat similar experience that he had. He got the thought that a friend is telling him good bye, and later he found out that at the same exact minute that friend had died in a hospital. Sounds like ESP, though ESP has not been proven scientifically.
          Maya, what do you think, what could be the reason why some people get mystical or other supernatural sounding experiences, while others, like me, never seem ever to get them?

          1. I think it’s like any talent on some level. Mozart could put together entire symphonies in his head. I can’t do that. But I do have relative pitch, which means I can hear harmonies naturally and usually without trying. That’s also a fairly rare talent in any given group of people. Writing is something else I do naturally that a lot of folks can’t, as much as they’d like to. I have friends who are pretty tone deaf to music—can’t even tell if their instrument is out of tune. They have to learn to hear it. My husband is one of those people who simply wanted to do music so badly, that he taught himself to hear pitch. He’s a brilliant guitarist, composer and music producer now. He was also an atheist when we married. He’s now a Bahá’í.

            Individuals have all sorts of native abilities that others don’t have. That’s only one aspect, I think. Another is priming or sensitivity which can be learned. If I’m listening for a certain sound, I’m more likely to hear it. If I’m shopping and looking for garments of a specific color, I’m more likely to see them. In other words, I’m primed to hear or see those things. According to the Bahá’í Writings a factor in touching on another soul is being in a particular state of mind that’s conducive to it. Some folks do this with meditation—not necessarily formal meditation, but being in a state of heightened awareness that’s achieved by quieting the physical and turning “inward” for lack of a better description.

            Now, this isn’t to say that someone who’s not “primed” for such experiences can’t have them, but if your mind is closed to the idea, it may be harder. I wrote a novelette entitled “Content with the Mysterious” that deals with this exact subject (in fact, it’s serialized on this site). It was inspired by a statement made by an atheist contributor to one of my favorite magazines—Skeptical Inquirer. She said, “I’m not allowed to have mystical experiences. I’m a skeptic.” To me, that statement completely contradicts what it means to be a skeptic. A skeptic should be open to whatever explanation for phenomena is the most complete, regardless of where it comes from. It’s more the mindset of dogmatist who insists that they can’t think or experience certain things just because.

            When I had the Geoffrey experience, I was rather loosely tethered to consciousness myself, because I was extremely ill at the time. I might have passed the whole thing off as a fever dream and an overactive imagination if I had not followed up on it and found that the known facts supported the experience.

            So, I think spiritual awareness is like any other talent or ability or susceptibility. Everyone has it, but not in the same way or in the same degree.

          2. Thanks, Maya, for your answer. Maybe with me it is purely a lack of talent. I am a skeptic too, an agnostic. But I think I am open to religious or mystical experiences, at least I want to be. So since the time I stopped being atheist and became agnostic, I have prayed a number of times, to God, or more recently also to gods, to whoever supernatural might be listening. I have prayed for faith, for some knowledge, to find out, whether by a spoken word from God, an angel or a god or whoever, or by witnessing a miracle, or getting knowledge some other way, to find out whether God exists, or gods or who supernatural might exist, and whether any of them have inspired any reliable scriptures, so I could get some answers from such scriptures. But so far at least, no answer of any type. So I remain an agnostic.

          3. Miracles—now there’s a big subject. What would you consider miraculous? Me, I consider it miraculous that a faith founded by a poor carpenter’s son from Galilee or an Indian prince who set aside His wealth to seek truth, or a Persian nobleman who spend 40 years of His life in exile has spread to transform the life of billions of people. I find it miraculous that Bahá’u’lláh’s faith could not be crushed by the combined efforts of the Persian and Ottoman Empires.

            I had a friend who became a Bahá’í and then later went back to being an agnostic. He did sort of what you did, he asked for physical miracles. There were three. I can’t remember the first two, though one had something to do with a friend making pancakes for breakfast and another had to do with peanut butter. God passed each of these tests—the miracle occurred, but my friend decided they were too trivial. So he told God that if an old girlfriend who didn’t even know where he’d moved to called him in a certain period of time, he’d believe.

            Guess what? She called. He still didn’t believe.

            It wasn’t until after I became a Bahá’í that I looked back and realized how many “angel” and little personal miracles I’d had. I remembered that my two older sisters (neither Bahá’ís) had brought the faith to my attention in some way when I was a teenager. One mentioned the faith to me and my mom when we went to visit her once. The other gave me a Seals and Crofts album for my birthday. My favorite song on the album was “Nine Houses” which is about the nine great religious teachers that founded the major religions. I had no idea.

            But the one that really got me was this: You may recall that Bahá’u’lláh means “the Glory of God” and that He proclaimed His mission in 1863. Some years after I’d become a Bahá’í, I was looking through a photo album of my mom’s. There was a series of picture of the front of the little pioneer Presbyterian church I attended as child and where I found the most sincere congregation of Christians I’d ever known. There was a sign out in front of the church that read: “Anderson Grove Presbyterian Church, Dedicated in 1863 to the Glory of God.” That church was where I had a life-changing experience that made me question church doctrine.

            The thing with my miracles was, I didn’t know they were miracles when they happened and I wasn’t asking for them. You may have received an answer, and simply missed it because you were looking for a Bible story book angel instead of the real kind who tend to be human.

          4. That Presbyterian church was still Christian, even though it was dedicated in 1863 to the glory of God. So that even though it is an amazing coincidence, it can still be just a coincidence, rather than a proof that God inspired them to dedicate the church in 1863 to the glory of God.
            Likewise, you did not tell me how that old girlfriend found out where that former boyfriend lived. So it might be she did some good detective search, rather than being told by God, or by some angel, where he lives. So that too might not be supernatural.
            So I would need something clearly supernatural, that could in no way be explained by natural means. Like seeing somebody suddenly cured, who I knew had been told his disease was terminal. Or somebody missing an arm and suddenly the arm has grown back. Or seeing someone being dead, and suddenly he or she rises healthy, like Lazarus or others in the Bible, who were allegedly raised by Jesus, Peter, Paul, Elijah and Elisha, from the dead. Elisha allegedly was already dead, but a corpse of some man was allegedly thrown into Elisha’s grave, and when the corpse touched Elisha’s bones, he woke up and rose from the grave, apparently healthy, according to the Bible.
            Or Moses allegedly saw a fire in a bush, but the bush was not being burned up at all. Or he was allegedly able to overrun Egypt with frogs and other plagues. Or he and other Israelites allegedly saw and collected manna in the desert six days each week, but never on the Sabbath. Had I seen something like that, I could not explain it naturally, it could be explained only supernaturally. There is no natural cycle that happens every seven days, with six days manna found but on the seventh day, never. And on the sixth day, a double dose, so the Israelites allegedly had enough food for the Sabbath. That just can’t happen naturally. But a church being founded in 1863 and dedicated to the glory of God, that can happen naturally.

          5. “That Presbyterian church was … dedicated in 1863 to the glory of God. …it can still be just a coincidence, rather than a proof that God inspired them to dedicate the church in 1863 to the glory of God.”

            You misunderstand me, Tom. I’m not saying it’s “proof” of anything. In fact, my whole point in my last comment was that physical miracles are only proof (and then maybe not) to the person to whom they happen. They’re trivial. Which is why the Prophets of God downplay them and try to make us understand that they ARE trivial. Alas, we’re still fixated on them, asking for “signs and wonders” which are useless. They’re also ineffective. Jesus says it Himself, “Even if one were to rise from the dead, you would not believe.”

            Maybe the church sign is a coincidence, but considering all the other “coincidences” in my life that related to the Faith (which would never be allowed in a work of fiction), it seemed a sign to me that there was something beyond my physical senses at work in my life. Especially, given what happened in that parking lot within yards of that sign when I was about 9. That something was a confrontation between my Protestant mom and a couple of Catholic mothers that made me question at that early age what it meant to be Christian or to say I believed in Christ.

            “Likewise, you did not tell me how that old girlfriend found out where that former boyfriend lived. So it might be she did some good detective search, rather than being told by God, or by some angel, where he lives. So that too might not be supernatural.”

            I have no idea how she found him. Neither did he. Neither did she. She just got this wild notion out of the clear blue sky to contact his family and ask where he was. What gave her that notion at the exact time he was actively thinking about her? Who knows? And I never once mentioned angels. As I said, all my angels (except the ones who taught me about death) were living people. And since I believe that every human on the planet is supernatural, I have no trouble allowing that there’s more going on than we can sense physically. In fact, I personally believe it’s irrational to think that there isn’t more to human interactions that what can be seen and heard. I know we can be in contact with each other in ways beyond speech. I’ve experienced it far too many times not to know it. I’d have to be intellectually deaf, dumb, and blind not to know it.

            Sometimes I take it for granted. I stop taking it for granted when I meet someone who has trouble conceiving of anything beyond the physical.

            “Like seeing somebody suddenly cured, who I knew had been told his disease was terminal. Or somebody missing an arm and suddenly the arm has grown back. Or seeing someone being dead, and suddenly he or she rises healthy, like Lazarus or others in the Bible…”

            I think your definition of a miracle is different than mine, and I don’t expect those definitions will ever overlap. Though my mother, who fought breast cancer from the time she was in her late thirties, did have a recurrence of the disease when she was in her early sixties. She scheduled surgery to remove a tumor, and asked her Bahá’í community to pray for her. When she went back for her pre-op, the tumor was completely gone.There’s also at least one account of Bahá’u’lláh bringing a dead man back to life, very much in the same spirit that Jesus cures the lame man—to show that His authority extended beyond the physical.

            But I have to ask, so what? I think the Manifestations of God were capable of doing physical miracles (parlor tricks, in effect) because they understood the physical laws of God in a way that we can’t. What we discover a drop at a time, they seem to just “get”. I can pull harmonies out of the air and sing them the first time I hear a song. I can also blend with just about any other voice no matter how quirky. It looks like a miracle to most folks, but it’s just an additional sense I have of music and an understanding of how to use it.

            The greatness of God isn’t in His ability to do dumb human hat tricks to amuse the natives. It’s in the way His teachings can transform our souls, our persons, our societies, our world—if we allow them to. The miracle of the Church was only a “miracle” for me—a divine coincidence that allowed me to see my life as a continuum and a process rather than a sequence of unrelated events.

            In a word, it made me aware of my evolution.

          6. Maya, you are minimizing the evidence of miracles by quoting Jesus as ridiculing people who ask for signs and wonders. It is true, that is there in the Bible, but there is also a lot in the Bible, including quotes from Jesus himself, pointing at miracles as evidence. Of course it is just one of the ways the Bible is contradictory, including even when quoting Jesus. The New Testament is full of contradictions, including on important issues, far more than the Old Testament.
            Anyway, your belief in your clairvoyance and even in being somehow able to prophesy events before they happen, sure made it much easier for you to believe in God and in supernatural stuff in general. It was not Baha’u’llah’s writings that persuaded you to believe in God. It was the miracles you believe you experienced. So miracles are important in persuading people, especially miracles that the people experience, but also some are persuaded by reading about miracles, or hearing about miracles, especially if hearing from somebody they trust a lot.

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