The Drugs Aren’t Working!

You’re all familiar with the quote, often misunderstood, from Karl Marx about religion being the opiate of the people. The actual quote is

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.

Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

I’m not much on philosophy, but what I get from this quote is not so much that Marx thought that religion was the drug that helped the masses numb themselves from the harshness of reality, but that reality was “heartless” and religion made a partial attempt to fill that void in some way, albeit unsuccessfully, by using a promise of a simple life and a glorious afterlife, all based on a false premise. But that’s not the point of this post.

I’m convinced that Karl Marx had no experience with Islam. Which makes sense. His focus was on Western capitalist society, and at the time he lived and wrote, there were no Islamic countries that came close to being described as either western or capitalistic. His understanding of religion was that it was used by the working class to make their miserable lives seem better, or to give them hope that, while it wasn’t so good today, tomorrow promised an eternity of bliss. His experience with religion was European, which was predominately, if not completely, Christian in the 19th Century. So he was speaking of one religion – Christianity.

Shift to Iraq. Or the Gaza Strip. Or any number of hotbeds of Islamic fundamentalism. Today, as I write this, an Islamic suicide bomber walked into a hotel in Baghdad and blew himself and 13 other people into a gelatinous wall covering – at least where the walls were left standing. He (she?) was motivated by a hatred of foreigners occupying his country, or perhaps it was another, and slightly different, sect of his religion he had a longstanding gripe with. We’ll never know. But he did it, gratefully, voluntarily, and in his mind, spiritually, because his religion told him it was his duty to do so.

This story is a repeat of the one the day before, and the one the day before that, and the one the day before that, back to the first suicide bomber, whenever that was. And unless you believe in miracles, it will continue forward through the future ad infinitum, ad nauseum (truly!).

And Islam, as an established religion, has been with us for 1375 years.

What I want to know is: When are the opiates going to kick in?

5 thoughts on “The Drugs Aren’t Working!

  1. This is excellent writing with a really nice punch at the close.

    I feel fairly sure that Marx was speaking of more than one religion,though. Although his father had converted to Lutheranism to get ahead in Prussia, Karl came from a long line of rabbis. So I don’t think his criticism of religion was limited to Christianity. Of course, he neglected to mention that the Jewish opiate would have to be kosher.

  2. Thanks! Both of you.

    I forgot Judaism, so you’re right, that would also have been uppermost in his experience. Even if Jews were a small minority, they usually exceeded their actual influence in the perception of most at the time. But Islam probably was not even on his horizon.

    I wonder what he would say now?

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