Stephan T. Mayo
Professor of Philosophy
The great architect of the international workers revolution, Karl Marx, set out as an objective to critique all of the societal props that were, in his view, maintaining the Middle-class capitalist dominance over the oppressed and exploited working class. Religion stood high on his list as a mythical appeasement mechanism wielded by the ruling class over the workers. It functioned as “the opiate for the people,” a kind of drug that eased the harsh pangs of the underlying reality of their subsistent wages, social alienation and enslavement. Religion provided “pie in the sky when you die” so that worker disgruntlement under capitalism would not break out into revolt due to the fact that their sacrifice now would be rewarded in the afterlife. This notion that religion is merely a sop to tamp down the reality of harsh and emendable current conditions has recently made a comeback. Recent studies show that religious belief and practices are highest in the poorest and least technologically developed countries and that the more developed a country is the least religious is its population. These trends have been used to support the Marxist critique of religion.
Theistic criticisms of the Marxist analysis accuse him of reduction of religious belief to one of its manifestations, thereby missing the true essence of religion. Rather than denying outright that religion has the psychologically comforting effect of ameliorating harsh economic conditions, many theists grant this consequence of religious belief. However, that leaves standing the actual evidence and reasonableness of the theistic position. These would still be present even if religion were more psychologically disturbing and anxiety producing than an atheistic outlook, as many of the scrupulous can attest.
Using the analogy of patriotism, it is quite clear that the patriot enjoys positive emotions when singing anthems, saluting the flag, celebrating national holidays or listening to patriotic oratory. She could also be comforted that, despite her personal struggles in the current economy, her Nation is great and doing well. However, patriotism does not necessarily mean that one is an uncritical jingoist (“my country right or wrong”) One could remain loyal to the country while descrying the excesses of patriotic fervor and while being highly critical of one’s nation’s foreign or domestic policies. To draw the analogy, the religious need not make the comfort they draw from their faith to be the primary basis of it. To be an enlightened citizen one can appreciate the strengths of one’s nation and its promise while recognizing its failures and weaknesses. For the faithful the affirmation of their religion may recognize its evidential reasonableness while acknowledging the emotional excessiveness and irresponsible complacency for bad and emendable social conditions that many religious believers fall into.