Monday, May 18, 2009

Marx and religion, another look

Asking the right god question
by Gregory Rodriguez
Dallas Morning News

Forget Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. These atheists du jour have nothing on the most famous anti-theist of all time. Good old Karl Marx is still the most eloquent and thoughtful nonbeliever, and his "religion is the opium of the masses" is still the best one-liner in the business.

But as famous as that zinger is, it's too bad that most people have never read the sentences that come before and after it. Marx was a whole lot more sympathetic to religious faith than most people give him credit for. He saw religion as a source of solace that should be abolished only until the sources of people's pain – an unfair economic system – had been eradicated.

"Religious suffering, " he wrote in 1844, "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.

"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo."

Marx wasn't just another hater of religion as a childish fantasy or a retreat from rationality. He saw faith as a symptom and not the disease, and he was interested in faith not in terms of right and wrong but because of what it told him about the human condition.

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