It is the opium of the people1
Such a line is seen as an atheistic challenge to a duel. The Christian response has been varied depending on where on the progressive-Conservative Christianity continuum one finds oneself. The more progressive a Christian or Church is, the more one agrees with Marx. But the problem with following liberal Christianity here is that there is also greater likelihood of denying the essentials of the faith. We should note that Marx denied the existence of "eternal truths" and thus in the nullification of both religion and morality.2 Following him here would make it impossible to also follow Jesus.
However, the more conservative a Christian is, the more one not only rejects not only Marx's statement here, the more one gives a thumbs down to all of what Marx said. So we might want to question the Conservative Christian response to Marx's declaration about religion. And we can do so in this way. Suppose Marx had seen how Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. used their respective faiths to help liberate people, would Marx have qualified his statement about religion? In other words, was Marx's statement derived from the definition of either religion or Christianity, or was his statement a simple observation? And if it was a simple observation what are we doing to change that perception?
The Conservative Christian response to Marx and Marxism is to attack it on two different fronts. The first front is to attack Marx and Socialism by pronouncing them guilty by association. That first condemning association is that of Socialism with the Soviet Union and Red China. The second association is with Nazi Germany.
In pronouncing Marx and Socialism to be associated with the failures and atrocities of the Soviet Union and Red China, Conservatives show themselves to have missed reading the not so fine print regarding what both Marx said and Socialism stands for. What they missed reading was first, Marx's goals; and second, some of Marx's means. Marx's goals revolved around making man independent and autonomous, especially in terms of what he does. According to Marx, this can only occur under a certain set of social relations where there is neither dependence by nor domination over workers, both of which result in exploitation.
So while Conservative Christians emphasize what Marx said about the State owning and/or being in control of private property, credit, communication, transportation, factories, and use of farmland,3 they overlook Marx's high regard for democracy, what he said about workers being in control, and that the private property to be owned by the state was Bourgeoisie property used for production. It was his perception that the Capitalist way of life was that of enslaving workers without owning them as slaves.
Here, two points must be made. With regard to Marx wanting to abolish private property, Marx was concerned with the Bourgeoisie's private, property of production because it was being used to subjugate people. We should also note that the Bourgeoisie has also been engaged in the abolishing of private property. This was noted in the first grievance in Occupy Wall Street's (OWS) Declaration Of The Occupation Of New York City (click here) which refers to how millions of people lost their homes to banks as banks applied a maximize profit ethic to the business of mortgages. That ethic caused the violation of Constitutional rights of mortgage holders (click here).
The other point is that just because there was State control, doesn't mean that Marxism or Socialism were being followed. Chomsky notes that both Lenin and Trotsky moved away from Socialist principles by turning to the right (click here). Their turn to the right was a turn to elite-centered governance as opposed to worker councils. A similar point is made by Russian Marxist and contemporary to Lenin and Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg (click here). Noting that since the first tenet of Socialism is worker control over production, it is obvious that the Soviet Union was socialist in name only (SINO if you will). It is also obvious that the same applies to Red China. This is because the state was run by elites rather than workers.
Thus, the Conservative Christian attempt to find Marxism and Socialism guilty for the crimes of the Soviet Union and Red China becomes empty. An elite-centered hijacking of the revolutions perhaps gave a partial form of Marxism and Socialism but lacked the substance. The form consisted of government size and control as well as collectivism. The Marxist/Socialist substance of both who was in control and how they controlled was missing. Thus, Conservative Christians, as well as other opponents, use the 'Socialist' label as a pejorative on any government they don't like and this is especially true with our own government when under the control of the Democratic Party.
A side note here is that Conservative Christians should be aware that a partial or even full structure doesn't always convert into the idea. For example, the structure of our government, according to the Constitution, allows for the possible creation and maintenance of a Democratic Republic. However, a hijacking of the government by wealthy elites has stopped our government from performing as a government of the people. Rather, it is acting as a government of special interests. Polls reporting public approval of our government bear this out.
The call for state control has caused Conservatives to confuse Nazi Germany with Marx and Socialism too. The latest example of such confusion can be found in a Heidelberg blog quote post (click here). This post is based on a book by George C. Watson called, The Lost Literature of Socialism (click here). But, just as any attempt to link the Soviet Union and Red China with Marxism should be done by comparing the working concepts used by those two countries with the concepts Marx advocated, so the same should be done with Nazi Germany.
|Promised to and did destroy Democracy in Germany||Highly regarded Democracy|
|Highly nationalistic and racist||Emphasized the International|
|Was supported by big business. Protected but regulated ownership of this Bourgeoisie private property||Abolish Bourgeoisie private property because of its subjugation of the workers|
|Create a glorious German Empire under one leader/savior||Make man independent by undoing Capitalism while establishing the Proletariat|
Just as how the direction provided by Lenin-Trotsky was substantially different from Socialism and Marx, we see even a greater difference between the Nazis vs Marx. And though it is more understandable to confuse the Nazis with Lenin-Stalin, to try to call Nazis 'Socialists' or 'Marxists' is irresponsible. It is done in order to discredit everything Marx said and stood for. And if people have no reason to listen to Marx, then they have no reason to listen to his criticisms of Capitalism. And it is in his criticisms of Capitalism where we we have the most to gain from him.
The second front of the Conservative Christian's attack on Marxism is found in comparing Marxism with Capitalism. And it seems that when making this comparison, Conservative Christians seem to exhibit tribalism and myopia. That is that they endorse the status quo while only viewing the immediate result of Capitalism to their own neck of the woods. For R. C. Sproul Sr. declared that Marx was wrong in stating that the rich get wealthy only through the impoverishment of others.4 Sproul stated that in the world of business, one man's gain becomes gain for others including the poor.
But did Sproul consider how many times trading partners produce winners and losers? After all, foreign trade is part of Capitalism. NAFTA, for example, forced Mexican farmers to compete with subsidized American agribusiness which forced these farmers to either immigrate or work in factories. And as the cost of factory labor in other countries motivated businesses to move manufacturing, these new factory workers found themselves out of a job and into illegal immigration where they work for less than what the legal market pays (click here and there) and are sometimes trafficked.
In addition, American environmental standards are not followed by some of our trading partners. Thus, the factory operators could exploit the local environment because those who benefit the most from these factories, from owners to American consumers, live elsewhere. And because they live elsewhere, the people who must deal with the environmental impact of these factories are invisible or are counted as nonpersons. We should note here that sometimes trade is also done at the end of a barrel of gun. Chomsky notes that Haiti serves as an example of that both in the early 1900s as well as recently.5
Now consider what Marx said about wage labor and how the rich benefit by impoverishing others. A worker's primary compensation is his or her wage. That wage, according to Marx qualifies the "labor power" of the worker to be considered a commodity just as any other raw material or product.6 We could then reason that as the personal effort and work of a laborer is commodified, the worker is dehumanized by being relegated to being a disposable object of profit. If we include globalization with the law of supply and demand to labor, we see that as globalization increases the labor supply, wages drop. And so the work often flows to where the lowest wages are and thus job competition means unemployment or an acceptance of poverty wages for workers whose location normally demand higher wages.
So this brings us back to OWS's Declaration Of The Occupation Of New York City and another one of their grievances which states:
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.7
And though Sproul acknowledges how Marx could be considered a prophet who foresaw how lobbying efforts could affect a country's economics, such an admission provides a mixed message regarding how Capitalism works. On one hand, Sproul brags about how Capitalism has raised the standard of living for everyone, but on the other hand he acknowledges how there are those who profit by cheating. The implication is that that cheating has not significantly corrupted the positive results he attributes to Capitalism. Unfortunately for Sproul's defense of Capitallism, many of America's strongest companies benefitted from what Chomsky calls "state capitalism." This is where business transactions, some of which are unnecessary, with the government has supported businesses allowing the masses to take the risk while keeping the profits for themselves.8 In addition, Sproul seems unaware that his country has one of the greatest wealth disparities in the industrialized world.
We should also note, as alluded to before, how war and interventions have played an important part in America's economy. This is true both before WWII, as witnessed to by the writings of former Marine Corps Major General, Smedley Butler (click here and there), and after WWII as documented by historian, William Blum (click here).
Sproul's defense of Capitalism and antagonism to most of what Marx said is typical of Conservative Christians. And the purpose of writing this is not to challenge people to become Marxists. Rather, the purpose is that we take seriously Marx's analysis of Capitalism so that we don't unintentionally confirm the quote at the beginning of this post. One can learn from Marx's analysis here without becoming a Marxist in how one responds to Capitalism's problems. Personally, though I agree with much of his analysis and some of his solutions, his emphasis on the rule of the Proletariat and his ends justify the means attitude have to be totally rejected. And, as a Christian, I have to reject his denial of God and "eternal truths."
Of course, the above describes Conservative Christianity in today's world. What should give Conservative Christians reason for pause is Rosa Luxemburg's observations of the Russian Christians in the early 1900s who sided with the Capitalists and opposed the workers (click here). Regarding Conservative Christianity, it seems to be trying too hard to prove the Left's description of the Church as being just another institution of indoctrination to maintain the status quo for the benefit of those with wealth and power.
- Sproul, R.C. The Consequences Of Ideas: Understanding The Concepts That Shaped Our World, Crossway Books, 2000, pg 144