091: THE OPIUM OF THE PEOPLE

“Welcome to Zingcreed, the totally unique Christian/Atheist  blog where anything can happen. In this personal polemic I think aloud about religion and the world. I hope you get something out of it!” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

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“Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”
“A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of Communism.”
“Religion is the opium of the people.”

These are arguably Karl Marx’s 3 best known sayings. His infamous “Opium” quote was obviously one I would have to cover eventually, as one of Zingcreed’s subplots is to look at how Christianity and socialism/communism are intertwined.

I have already mentioned or quoted Marx in several Posts. Being a Londoner I have also stood under the same lamp-post he broke in a stone-throwing  jape one night when drunk, I have drunk in the same pub in Tottenham Court Road where he used to drink; I visit the British Library (the replacement for the reading room of the British Museum where he used to do his research) and where I now do mine. Like Marx I don’t write for publication, but to clarify my ideas. By using WordPress I hope to get some input from passers by on the cyber highway, but you stand aloof. This week I have been “viewed” by readers in Malaysia, Puerto Rico, Germany and the US (all countries I have visited). I’d love you to write a comment in the box at the bottom of the Post. I don’t use links, tags, categories, twitter or facebook and I’ve only told half a dozen acquaintances about Zingcreed, so how you found me I have no idea. But nearly 900 visits to Zingcreed since November 2012 I find kinda intriguing! Keep coming!

The quote in full:
“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 a soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people.” (i)

I think that shows a lot of sympathy on Marx’s part, not to mention perception. What’s more it probably sums up the state of European Christianity pretty well at that time. Marx didn’t write a lot about religion. What little he did say I shall try and summarise in a future Post. Remember this is the horrible blasphemous atheist who took his daughter Eleanor to church to hear performances of beautiful church music like Handel’s Messiah, and who summarised the gospel story for her as “Jesus was a poor carpenter who was killed by rich people.”(ii) Sounds like my own agnostic parents and me!

Let’s see what one of Britain’s leading authorities on Marx makes of it:
“Marx’s comments here have often been read as containing a positive evaluation of religion as a vehicle of protest. But, if so, then it was an extremely backhanded compliment. Religion may well represent humanity’s feeble aspirations under adverse circumstances, but the whole tenor of the passage is that religion is metaphysically and sociologically misguided and that its disappearance is the necessary precondition for any radical amelioration of social conditions.” (iii)

“Without knowing why religion had come into existence, how can we know how it can be made to disappear? As we see above, Marx is essentially arguing that human beings invented religion only because their life on earth was so appalling, so poverty stricken. …Remember that in the nineteenth century opium was a painkiller, a solace, rather than a recreational drug.

For example, in Das Kapital, Marx comments that nursing mothers coped with their early return to the production line by stupefying their hungry babies with opiates such as “Godfrey’s Cordial” which made them  “wizened like little monkeys”. The infants “shrank up into little old men”.

Opium has 3 features:
(1) it induces a feeling of euphoria
(2) it relieves pain and hunger. etc
(3) used regularly it destroys the body and mind
-What a metaphor for the Christian religion!

It is to bring relief from the torments of industrialisation which promised so much but extracted from the worker such a terrible price. So, as long as the miseries of life on earth still exist there will always be religion  Once the cause is removed and the disease is cured the symptom religion will wither of its own accord. It should not be suppressed or abolished. Under the right conditions it disappears on its own.” (iv)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Marx’s 3 criticisms of religion
Karl Marx’s personality – a balance sheet
Alienation according to Karl Marx
Marx’s Christian roots
Jesus or Marx? A fun quiz for all the family!
The Christian roots of communism
Similarities between Christianity and socialism
Rosa Luxemburg’s insights into Christianity and socialism
Two red Jewesses
Is communism a religion in its own right?
Jesus’s communist brother James (i) his life
Jesus’s real political message
Alphabetical Zingcreed index

Sources:
(i) Selected Writings p.8
(ii) Wheen, Francis “Karl Marx” Fourth estate (1999)
(iii) McLellan, David “Marxism and Religion”  Macmillan (1987) p.13
(iv) Wolff J. “Why read Marx today?” OUP (2002) p.19

[indexed & linked, t&c]

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