Marx then accepted without question feuerbach s con

This preview shows page 18 - 21 out of 47 pages.

Marx, then, accepted without question Feuerbach s con- tention that man has invented God in his own image. This is one of those claims that seems obviously true, and a dazzling, liberating, insight to those disposed to believe it, but a crude, insulting and subversive misrepresentation to those who do not. But we can be clear that Marx s sympathies are with those who wish to debunk religion. And we should note that the signi fi cance of this debate extends far beyond academic theology. For to attack religion was also to attack the con- temporary political authority which took itself to be founded early writings 18
on religion. This is why the atheism of the Young Hegelians posed such a threat, and why, as individuals, they could not be tolerated. However, Marx was not content with Feuerbach s position. Once the truth was revealed, and religion exposed for the sham it is, Feuerbach felt that largely his work was done. The truth would be passed from person to person, and religion could not survive this intellectual assault. It would disappear, and human beings would be able fully to enjoy their species-essence ’— their truly human qualities without the distraction, and indeed the barrier, of God. Marx believed this to be a super fi cial analysis. Although Feuerbach had understood the phenomenon of religion, he had not addressed its causes. But without knowing why religion had come into existence, how can we know how it can be made to disappear? Marx argues, essentially, that human beings invented religion only because their life on earth was so appalling, so poverty-stricken. This is the context of his notorious remark that religion is the opium of the people (M. 72 ). Now for certain modern readers, this may make religion sound not too bad at all. But we have to remember that in the nineteenth century opium was a painkiller. Though, no doubt, it also had its recreational uses, its prime function was as a solace. For example, in the later work, Capital , Marx comments a number of times that nursing mothers coped with their early return to the production line by stupefying their hungry babies with opiates. In one particularly disturbing footnote, Marx describes the visit of a Dr Edward Smith to Lancashire early writings 19
to report on the health of the cotton operatives, who were unemployed owing to a cotton crisis caused by the American Civil War. Dr Smith reported to the government that the crisis had several advantages. The women now had the leisure to give their infants the breast, instead of poisoning them with Godfrey s Cordial ”’ (an opiate) ( Capital 518 ). In another footnote, a couple of pages later, Marx quotes a Public Health Report of 1864 , which says that infants who received opiates shrank up into little old men , or wizened like little monkeys ( Capital 522 ).

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture