Marx the Parson

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“Religion is the opium of the people. ” This probably is the most famous quote of Marx on religion. As it is the case for all of Marx’s works, it is hard to comprehend and comment on it. Seeing the whole quote could be helpful: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. ” (Marx 1).

So religion brings relief to the sufferings of everyday life. But the tone of this quote, I believe, is different than Marx’s normal vicious and raucous one. Although Marx’s thoughts on religion are often considered negative, the fact that he doesn’t define religion as the disease but just a symptom could imply that religion is not that “evil” after all. Could this, probably subconscious but definitely more understanding, view on religion cause Marx turn Marxism into a religion? This possibility is what we will try to understand in this essay.

Having studied Hegel, Marx understood how Hegel claimed that God created the world as an “other” to himself to understand himself better. But far from agreeing with this view Marx saw more truth on Feuerbach’s statements that “human beings created God in their own image” and instead of believing in this they should replace it with “radical humanism” and enjoy their species-qualities (Wolff 17,18). Though Marx accepted these views he couldn’t stop asking why humans would create God. His answer was: “Religion was created because the life on earth was so appalling, and so poverty-stricken. (Wolff 19).

As Jonathan Wolff, who carefully interpreted Marx’s views on religion, underlines to remove religion we have to remove its “secular base”, the defects of the world. “Once the cause (the earth that gave rise to it) is removed, and the disease cured, the symptom religion will wither of its own accord. Therefore religion is not to be suppressed or abolished as such. “(Wolff 21). Now there are a several things problematic about Marx’s view on religion. Firstly just like Hegel, he does not consider all the religions but just Christianity and Judaism.

Not even Islam, which clearly has a wider population than Judaism and is far from being part of the industrialized world (in that time, and maybe even still). Secondly, he bases his argument mostly on the sufferings and alienation caused by industrialization and sees these as the secular base of religion, but it certainly existed even before this. This is an interesting fact for a man who has thought on the human nature in relation to all commodities to disregard the human psychology, to not be able to consider all the different reasons when there is no commodity involved.

However, we cannot deal with all these issues at the same time. Therefore the third and most important problem for now is the parallelism between his view of the religion and the way he forms Marxism. In certain aspects Marxism becomes a religion itself. To its believers it provides a certain criteria system that helps them construe and comment on the world and happenings around them. It also gives a way for salvation by identifying the evil from which mankind should get rid of and creates a possibility for a heavenly image on earth.

Do these sound wrong or unfamiliar in any way so far? This view could also explain Marx’s callous attitude against opponents or even people that weren’t in full agreement with him. The overall tone in his writings supports this view too. His writings and thoughts without the touch of passionate and ambitious sentences would just be another complaining essay written by an economist, but in his essays he is “preaching in the garb of analysis and analyzing with a view to heartfelt needs. ” (Schumpeter 6).

This way he not only speaks to the modern positivist mind, but also to the ancient human conscience. It provides a new wave of hope to a very large mass of oppressed people (like Jesus, or even Muhammed did maybe). And of course, ironically, the obscure language and the lack of clear definitions and guidelines on questions like how and when, caused many different interpretations of the same base, just like in all big religions. On the other hand Marx’s own thoughts are a reaction to the same “secular base. What would Marx have to discuss if there was no capital? He wouldn’t even have a title for his major work! Even today we have not yet reached the “inevitable” goals Marx has set for us, according to him we have not yet become true species-beings, instead we are stuck in this alienated world. Since we still have Marxism in our minds, then could this be “only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself” as Marx defines religion himself (Marx 2)?

As I mentioned before the reason why Marxism was created very similar to a religion could be the subconscious understanding view towards religion in general, probably stemming from the psychological part of human, that even Marx had preferred to disregard most of the time. However far fetched this might sound maybe after realizing this and all the schism his thoughts has caused and gone through Marx really said “I’m not a Marxist” and remained an atheist.

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