Human alienation goes deeper than Marx allowed.
Karl marx taught that religion dehumanizes man. The more one puts into God, the less there is left over to put into man. How can man be free to project his own social utopia if there is a God ruling over him? To that assumption Marx added a second conviction for which he is famous: that religion is the opiate of the poor and the oppressed. Unjust societies produce it, and the just society will cause it to disappear. Hence, he predicted that religion was certain to wither away.
Three telling criticisms, however, can legitimately be raised against the Marxist viewpoint.
First, Marx never really faced up to Jesus Christ and the prophetic tradition in the Bible. It is preposterous to speak of the religion of Amos or Jeremiah, Isaiah or Jesus, as a narcotic of the oppressed. Their words were designed to make the rich oppressors uncomfortable rather than put them at ease, and surely were good news to the poor. Jesus did not side with the authorities against the poor. He did not go off somewhere in the desert, fleeing society to pursue a pure life. He advocated and lived out a revolution of love that oriented him to a stand on the side of the needy as he dedicated himself to God’s kingdom and its justice.
Max Weber distinguishes between world-rejecting religions and world-affirming ones; the latter see themselves as responsible to transform culture in the service of God. The Christian message should be seen as this kind of faith, having within it a powerful impulse to change social conditions. Something Pascal said applies to Marx: “Let them at least learn what is the religion they attack before attacking it.”
The one-sidedness of Marx’s critique of religion is tragic. Had he placed his ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more