Thursday, March 17, 2011

Religion as Ideology: Marx (4)

Religion attempts to overcome evil and sin with ‘high-sounding stories’ of love, justice and forgiveness (Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rainbow, Michel Foucault, p.108), just as the state’s narrative of common good will attempts to overcome individual self-interest. And since religion is the archetype of politics’ (Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, p.151), the critique of religion is the presupposition of the critique of the state and of socio-political relations in general.

But, as Westphal summarises, ‘Marx is telling the story of the ways in which religion not only endures but eventually embraces evil’ (p.152).

Marx writes, clearly bitterly, that

…[t]he social principles of Christianity justified the slavery of Antiquity, glorified the serfdom of the Middle Ages and equally know, when necessary, how to defend the oppression of the proletariat, although they make a pitiful face over it.

The social principles of Christianity preach the necessity of a ruling and an oppressed class, and all they have for the latter is the pious wish the former will be charitable.

The social principles of Christianity transfer the… adjustment of all infamies to heaven and thus justify the further existence of those infamies on earth.

The social principles of Christianity declare all vile acts of the oppressors against the oppressed to be either the just punishment of original sin and other sins, or trials that the Lord in his infinite wisdom imposes on those redeemed.

So much for the social principles of Christianity (Marx and Engels, On Religion, pp.83-84).

For Marx, both religion and the state are illusions, then, manifestly professing to overcome, yet latently preserving, current socio-economic divisions and injustices.

[T]he political illusion consists in the unreality of the community and general will, which is so prominent in political self-consciousness, and in the unrecognized reality of conflict among the classes generated by the division of labour…

Similarly, the religious illusion consists in the unreality of the happiness it promises and in the unrecognized reality of the class interests at work in ethical-religious and metaphysical-religious ideas (Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, p.157).
For Marx, ‘religion offers an illusory comfort and politics an illusory community’ (p.156), both forming unreal illusions that purport to overcome but actually sustain the real worlds of sin and self-interest.

Thus they are illustrative of what Westphal calls “The Illusion of Overcoming the World,” to which we shall return shortly.

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