Marxism and Religion

By Rosen, Bernard | Monthly Review, September 1988 | Go to article overview

Marxism and Religion


Rosen, Bernard, Monthly Review


Let me offer a few words on the letter of Philip Eden, "Theology of Liberation Viewed Historically," which appeared in February 1988 issue of Monthly Review.

Eden writes that

the attitude of socialist revolutionaries toward religion was based on the historical class position and actions of tile Church. The result was the adoption of a stand against religion, in some cases for atheism. This antireligious position has been exploited by the Church hierarchy to alienate all Catholics, including the poor, from Marxism and social revolution.

The last sentence of this quotation has truth in it. However, the first two sentences are off the mark and should not go unanswered.

Marx and Engels studied history &om primitive times onward, including the development and changes in religion. The Holy Family, The German Ideology, Capital, Anti-Duhring, Ludwig Feuerbach, and The Dialectics of Nature-works written either jointly or separately by Marx and Engels-illustrate how deeply they delved into the origin and development of religion. And in doing so, they developed their own particular Weltanschauung with regard to society and religion.

What was that Weltanschauung? Religion is a species of fictitious knowledge bound up with superstitions, myths, and fantasies concerning society and nature. Marx's well-known aphoristic remark"the criticism of religion is the basis of any other criticism"-showed how much he considered religion to be tied up with all aspects of societal structure and culture.

True, the class position and actions of the Church on behalf of the upper classes stimulated the polemical zeal and opposition of Marxism against religion and its priestly advocates. True, atheism is one of the theoretical foundations of Marxian, proletar*an socialism. But this should not lead one to say that Marxian atheism "was based on the historical class position and actions of the church." To hold such a view belittles Marxism as a profound world outlook and limits it to narrow pragmatic considerations.

Liberation theology is a strong feature of the recent Latin American cultural and political scene. Therefore, the practical problem arises as to how Marxist movements should react and relate to that phenomenon. The answer is both negatively and positively.

Marxist philosophical materialism and atheism cannot be reconciled with Christian philosophical idealism and theism. How can one reconcile Marx's view that "religion is the opium ofthe people" with theology?

In one form or another, directly or indirectly, and depending on the relationship between classes and the frame of mind of the broad masses, Marxism combats religion. In most instances the attack is, and should be, indirect. Thus by advocating the complete separation of church and state, fostering an expanded secular public system of education, stimulating the development of science and industry, sponsoring secular art, and widening positive knowledge among the masses, anti-religious propaganda is carried on and the "fictitious knowledge" of society and nature is gradually undermined. …

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