Welcome back, children! We’ve been accused of being altogether too cozy with the Thing Upstairs here at The God Project Dot Net, so we decided to start a new feature in the interests of fairness and balance. Henceforth, every Tuesday will be Atheism Tuesday, where we will explore the ideas of a prominent Gloomy Gus. You’re welcome.
I figured we’d start at the top. Who’s the scariest atheist of all? No, not Ben Affleck. It’s Karl Marx. Everybody knows he outlawed God in his worker’s state, and for years religion was more or less illegal in Communist countries. A friend who grew up in Moscow at the end of the Soviet era tells me the city had one church, one synagogue, one mosque – all as showpieces, or propaganda. God was not a Komrade.
Marx wrote a lot. Crouching in the carrels of the British Museum, sifting through historical evidence of the looting of the workers by the bourgeois pigs. Reams and reams of the stuff, and you know what? Precious little on religion. Marx was a true atheist: he just didn’t care.
I recently found a handy collection called Marx on Religion, edited by John Raines. It’s 242 pages, presumably scouring the Marxian output for every shred of a thought on religion, and most of it doesn’t even mention God. Like I said: Marx didn’t care. His primary target wasn’t the God delusion, but Hegel.
Marx’s best-known comments on religion are contained in the essay “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (1844). Hegel was a kind of pantheist, but he definitely believed 19th century German society was the culmination of the journey of the World Spirit. Marx hated 19th century German society. He hated Hegel.
And Marx definitely thinks religion is bad for revolution:
“Man makes religion, religion does not make man …. 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.”
And in another essay, three years later:
“The social principles of Christianity justified slavery in antiquity, glorified medieval serfdom, and, when necessary, also know how to defend the oppression of the proletariat, although they may do so with a piteous face.”
All this may be true. No doubt. But so far as I can tell, the famous non-believer Marx never bothers to address the ultimate question whether God Itself exists. He was a man of the world.