Religion, Marx held, was a significant hindrance to reason, inherently masking the truth and misguiding followers…The antithesis to this alienation is freedom. Thus, to propagate freedom means to present individuals with the truth and give them a choice to accept or deny it…
Bonhoeffer comes to mind immediately when I read this. For him, the encounter of the disciple with Jesus is precisely the moment Marx speaks of: a moment where an individual is presented with the truth and given a choice to accept or deny it. So, of course, we see that one’s perception of religion as an alienating or a liberating force is directly tied to whether or not one perceives religion as true.
Of course, Marx is right about religion, i.e., he’s right about the fact that religion can and has been a hindrance to reason, to truth, and to proper guidance. These consequences, however, do not seem unique to religion, and are concequences that are present whenever someone isn’t privy to the truth. Marx is a bit off, it seems, when he seems to imply that the religious are privy to the fact that they are covering up the truth.
Even so, what is about religion that makes the religious (me) seem like they’re intentionally masking the truth and misguiding others? Perhaps it has something to do with the disparity between the ideals that are often expressed in religious contexts and the actual living out of those norms in society. It seems likely that if the religious were less hypocritical (myself included), Marx might have seen us as people who, at least, “believed their own bullshit.”
This brings us to our second prophet…er…I mean…sociologist:
[Emile Durkheim] was deeply interested in the problem of what held complex modern societies together. Religion, he argued, was an expression of social cohesion…Religion is very real; it is an expression of society itself, and indeed, there is no society that does not have religion. We perceive as individuals a force greater than ourselves, which is our social life, and give that perception a supernatural face. We then express ourselves religiously in groups, which for Durkheim makes the symbolic power greater. Religion is an expression of our collective consciousness, which is the fusion of all of our individual consciousnesses, which then creates a reality of its own.
Durkheim points out something that is contributing to Marx’s prophetic delusion: religion, often times, is an apotheosis of the social consciousness. It is an appeal to God to justify the moral baseness of the society that “seeks” God’s approval. Of course, religion’s deification of the collective consciousness is merely the deification of the individual writ large.
My self perpetuated apotheosis is out of control. Every step I take, I take in Me. I often conceive of myself as better than I actually am. More immune to harmful things and more motivated by the Divine than others. (A parenthetical paradox: this is an ironic form for apotheosis to take. Indeed, it is odd that I can deify myself by pretending to be more focused on the Divine than I actually am. It is, I think, a power grab. Its an attempt to make myself greater.)
There is, however, another religion. It is different from the one that Durkheim and Marx describe both in that it is grounded in the incourigibile phenomenlogical truth of the experience of the Divine and in that it responds to that experience with a subersive expression. It is not an expression of the social consciousness. It is an expression of the compassion of the Divine. This, it seems, is the religion of Jesus.
Marx and Durkheim, then, are prophets that point to me and properly describe my religion as one that masks the truth (that I am not God) and elevates the is (us) to the ought (Divine).
God, give me the eyes to see the Truth and the balls to live in accordance with what I see…pretty please.