This week we look at one of the most famous critiques on religion in general from Karl Marx, who is famously quoted calling religion the opiate of the masses, or the opium of the people.
While I have some thoughts on that – and we’ll get there – I want to engage with some other stuff he says first.
- He says society produces religion, which he calls an “inverted consciousness” from and “inverted world.” I don’t think there’s anything false about this statement, though I feel like it’s meant to be offensive in some way…I’m not sure. First of all, sure, I’d agree in large part that society, or the state, in some way creates religion – they certainly use religion as a means to many ends. But, really what religion is is humanity’s way to try and get close, or stay close to God. The roots of the word are the same for ligament, which of course are the things that tie our bones together so we don’t fall apart. So religion is a way to try and hold on to what we know of God, thus all the rules and rituals and whatnot. But remember that Jesus rebuked the religious leaders because their religion had led them far from what it was meant to; far from the heart of God.
So to say that society or people create religion is accurate. I mean, sure God gives the commandments and other mandates in the Bible, but the way by which they are carried out or ensured is what creates religion.
And as far as the “inverted” statements go, I’m guessing he means that religious people, Christians in particular, are upside down, or perhaps he means more like backward instead of upside down, but I think Kingdom people would agree – that we’re upside down, not backward.
That’s exactly what Jesus did – he flipped religion on it’s head and showed that the Kingdom way is opposite to what they all thought it was. We ARE inverted people because following Christ is counter cultural to the world.
2. Later he calls religion a “fantastic realization of the human essence” meaning that religion is fantasy created by humans because “the human essence has not acquired any true reality.” I guess what he means is that because humanity has no true reality we have created religion AS our reality. Marx goes on to claim that religion is merely “illusionary happiness” and he demands for us to find our “real happiness.”
but I wonder what this real happiness is. What happiness do we have in and of ourselves? What hope, Mr. Marx, do we have in this devastatingly broken world we live in? What “real” happiness do you speak of? Are we to find happiness in a world that is void of the divine, therefore meaning that all evil in the world is actually justified? What happiness is there for the poor when the rich get richer because of the way the system is set up? Is it happiness to find marriages broken up due to infidelity? Why not? I’m sure the sex made the one person happy, and if we are only making up our own rules in life to find the happiness of human kind, where is the line drawn?
I just have a hard time trying to envisage this “happiness” he hopes we’ll find in humanity, when humanity is so distorted.
But this is part of the “opium of the people” thing; He says we all buy into religion because it appeases our fears and angers, it gives us common ground and we allow ourselves to be governed by it. It suppress us and keeps us from finding, what he’d call, true happiness, I guess, but again, I just don’t know what it is he sees for humanity – anarchy?
3. It all basically boils down to Marx’s proposal that religion is just an illusion; something made up to put people into groups in order to control them. I guess it’s seen as brainwashing or whatever. He claims that by criticizing religion, we will become disillusioned, meaning we will no longer rely on the illusion and thus we’ll see some sort of truth that exists outside of religion (I just want to say to this point, I’m okay with the idea of criticizing religion to find truth – it’s more criticizing faith or the person of Jesus that I think is dangerous. However I think that’s probably more likely what he’s actually getting at.).
Basically Marx argues that if we get rid of the illusion of religion we will find the true selves; we will revolve around ourselves instead of around a religion, we will govern ourselves instead of being governed by religion. In short, it’s all an illusion and truth is found by discarding it.
But this all reminds me of a quote from a famous French poet, Charles Boudelaire – “The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you he doesn’t exist.” or as Verbal Kent says it…
(GREAT MOVIE BY THE WAY – THE USUAL SUSPECTS! WAS MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE FOR YEARS! STILL IN MY TOP 5)
Anyway, I guess, I kinda get what Marx is saying to a degree, and of course I’m going to fundamentally disagree too because I’m a believer, right? But I just come back to the quote, which I love: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” That’s like this. Has the Devil convinced Marx that he doesn’t exist, and therefore neither does God or the need for religion? Maybe. sounds like it. and that’s a dangerous thing.