Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Marx (and now Obama): "Religion is the Opiate of the Masses"

Marx penned this elegant aphorism in l843. And Barack Obama essentially rephrased Marx when he stated on April 6 that [working class people] “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion…as a way to explain their frustrations.” The similarity of the statements by Marx and Obama provided an opportunity for the neo-con William Kristol (who I read only with distaste) to mount a strong attack on Obama in his Op-Ed column in yesterday’s New York Times.

What Kristol doesn’t mention in his column is that Marx got it right (at least on this score). Organized religions do spin fairy tales that help the oppressed, including working-class Americans, deal with the vicissitudes of life. This seems especially true at times like the present when the cracks in capitalism become visible, and cause economic pain to all but the super-rich.

However, I have to agree with Kristol that in Obama’s April 6 speech, this usually eloquent and considerate speaker stumbled badly when he paraphrased Marx’s succinct summary of religion. I am, and continue to be, a strong supporter of Obama. And Obama was of course correct in his Marxist analysis of the economic pain that leads people to “cling” to religion (together with guns and antipathy). But Obama exhibited highly questionable judgment in making such a statement. It is both insensitive and impolitic to throw this kind of sentiment in the faces of true believers. Their natural responses will be at best indifference, and far more likely anger at the disparagement of the source of their deeply held religious beliefs. This kind of statement stands in violation of our American principle of tolerance of the beliefs of others. And events subsequent to Obama’s April 6 statement demonstrate its ability to precipitate ongoing attacks from many quarters, including his rival for the Democratic nomination.

I hope that Obama manages to proceed with his impressive campaign for the presidency without any further errors in judgment as serious and potentially far-reaching as the one he has just committed.