Monday, February 27, 2012
Abridged from Karl Marx, “Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction,” cited in Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, pp.134-140:
Man has found in the imaginary reality of heaven, where he looked for a superman, only the reflection of his own self. He will therefore no longer be inclined to find only the appearance of himself, the non-man, where he seeks and must seek his true reality… The foundation of irreligious criticism is this: man makes religion, religion does not make man…
Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people…
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about their condition is a demand to give up a condition that requires illusions… Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chains not so that man may bear chains without any imagination or comfort, but so that he may throw away the chains and pluck the living flowers…
It is therefore the task of history, now the truth is no longer in the beyond, to establish the truth of the here and now. The first task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, once the holy form of self-alienation has been discovered, is to discover self-alienation in its unholy forms. The criticism of heaven is thus transformed into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.
From Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, p.159:
The idea that our political, legal, economic, moral, religious, and metaphysical theories are deeply conditioned by the world into which they are born, in which they live, and from which they die, especially by the economic class struggles of that world, is expressed by Marx in a single word, “ideology.”
It is a familiar Marxist commentary upon religion that it is ‘the opium of the people’, a comparison also made by both Freud, for whom religion and ‘intoxicating substances’ are alternative strategies for dealing with the human predicament (Freud, The Complete Psychological Works, vol.21, p.75), and Nietzsche, who refers to Christianity and alcohol as ‘the two great European narcotics’ (The Portable Nietzsche, p.507).
These substances to which religion is likened are, for these critics, addictive painkillers that treat symptoms of disease rather than the disease (or dis-ease, i.e. ‘common unhappiness’) itself.
But Marx differs from Freud and Nietzsche in his diagnosis of religion as distracting from not a necessary and natural (psychological, and essential) hopelessness but from an unnecessary and social hopelessness. The next series of Atheism for Lent posts will further examine Marx’s critique of religion as ideology.