His scathing observations of the history of Christian social principles quoted earlier perhaps indicate the main reason for his cynicism, but Karl Mannheim also points to the privatisation of religion, when he writes that ‘[t]o live consistently, in the light of Christian brotherly love, in a society which is not organized on the same principle is impossible’ (Ideology and Utopia, pp.194-195). But whilst such pessimism may be a function of his sceptical atheism, Marx’s hermeneutic of suspicion provides an opportunity to ask some hard questions of our own faith.
How do our religious beliefs and practices function materialistically? In other words, what sort of material social relations do they legitimise?
How do our religious beliefs and practices functino ideologically? Or, how do they act as the legitimation of an imaginary or unreal relationship with our own and others’ real conditions of existence?
What kinds of injustice and suffering do our beliefs and practices legitimise by tolerating the economic and political ways in which the social order is currently structured?
Does Christianity mask special interests as the common good? ‘Whose wars does it bless? Does it leave unchallenged the nationalism and consumerism that lie at the heart of so much of the world’s suffering?' (Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, p.171). How might our beliefs and practices do this? Does, for example, ‘spiritualizing, allegorizing, inwardizing, and futurizing the Kingdom of God’ make Christianity latently compatible with the social evils that it otherwise manifestly disavows? (p.198).
How else is the critical potential of Christianity – the critique of idolatrous religion and unjust politics inherent to the Christian religion itself – neutralised?
How can our beliefs and practices be more than a painkilling opiate? How can they be more than a deodorant to mask the bad aroma of today’s capitalistic society?
To rebut the charge of being the “opium of the people,” in which Marx and later Lenin summed up an irrefutable historical experience, is more than a matter of theory: it is a matter of political and social practice. And it is for Christians and their Church to give this practical proof (Roger Garaudy, Marxism in the Twentieth Century, p.163)If religious beliefs are projections of humanity’s highest attributes that simultaneously justify their lowest – by ideologically validating oppressors and consoling the oppressed and thereby encouraging social complacency...
...what happens to my faith?