Between Marx and Christ


Karl Marx derided religion as myth. He described it as an opiate which is taken to help us cope with our oppressions and social injustice. And he attempted a better solution: He offered the hope of a classless society based on the belief that the problem with humanity is the acceptance of private property. The possession of property placed the owners in a class distinct from those who lacked property. The Bourgeois versus the Proletariat. The solution, therefore, is to abolish this thing called ‘private property and the animosity would vanish. All mankind would eventually work together to build a better world where there is neither lack nor surplus.

However, as the experience of several decades later would show, he only succeeded in replacing a ‘myth’ with another myth. The communist ideal actually produces in the societies that adopt it two classes: the dictator and his subjects. It replaces the supposed oppression of the capitalists with the tyranny of the despot, bringing along a whole sackload of torture, misery, and fear. Far from being a solution, the attempt to abolish classes only worsens the problem.

So, we need to look more closely at the ‘myth’ he attempted to replace.

There is little doubt that religion can indeed be (and often is) no more than an opiate for many. It relieves them from the harshness of their present lives. In fact, many scholars argue that this is why people believe in God in the first place: they desire someone who will resolve all the problems and inequities in human life and identify this being as ‘God’.

This is a distortion of religion, however. True religion, as the apostle wrote, is to care for widows and orphans in their affliction (James 1:27). Far from being an escape from the problems of life, true religion (which is biblical Christianity) is an encounter with the problems of life.

The Christian religion, when correctly understood, believed and practised, does not lead to oppression (whether via class, race, or gender). This is because it is centred on love: God’s loving us and us loving our neighbours without regard to their status or position. The central symbol of the Christian faith is the cross and the empty tomb. We find the holy God, who created all things, man inclusive, stripping down to take up our human nature with all its limitations and entering into our world with all its miseries. And he took upon himself all that was evil in our world (pain, misery, death), destroying them on the cross. Furthermore, he rose from the dead to herald the restoration of all things, a task to be fully consummated in the future when Christ returns.

So, we see that religion, true religion, is not escapist but transformative. God loves his world, broken though it is, and has come to renew it. When he entered into our universe, he held the hand of the weak, cured the pain of the wounded, healed the disease of the leper, and wiped away the tears of the sorrowful. And he leaves to all who follow him to follow in his steps.

Contrary to Marx, the problem with our world goes beyond class or private property; it reaches much deeper. It stems from the condition of the human heart. In the words of Charles Colson, “The world is not divided into white hats and black hats; it is not divided into good people and evil people. Rather, good and evil coexist in every human heart.”

And it takes religion, true religion, to deal with it. Christ did not abolish class because he knew that was not the problem. Neither did he condemn private property, for both concepts are parts of God’s good creation which have merely been distorted by sin. Renewal, and not elimination, is what our world needs.

False theories of salvation, like Marxism, will attribute the human problem to some aspect of God’s creation (such as class, money, sex, etc) and seek to eliminate that thing. The biblical Gospel, which is synonymous with true religion, correctly sees that all creation is corrupt and in need of redemption. And this is what God has both accomplished and is working out through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christianity and Communism

Communism is one of the great ideologies to have arisen on the earth. Spanning across cultures as diverse as Russia and China, it is truly a global movement. It has enjoyed, and still enjoys, wide appeal because of its concern for  the  suffering and oppression of the lower classes of society. Ironically, the system (and others close to it, like Fascism) has spun out so much misery and oppression for the very people it has claimed to deliver.

I reflected on the falsehood of this system while reading The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. As a worldview, Communism is opposed to MLK AutobiographyChristianity in at least three areas:

  • A materialistic view of history: All of history is a result of the conflict of economic forces. Our thoughts, ideas, culture are all products of the mode of production in our society. This is what drives everything. God does not exist.  Neither is there any spiritual reality behind man. Given all this, it is not hard to see how leaders in communist nations could have resorted to all kinds of inhuman torture and oppresion. If man is a mere material entity, then there is nothing really significant about him. This view flatly opposes the Christian belief in a spiritual being who created all things, including man, and presently governs and rules over his creation.
  •  Ethical Relativism: The Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, observed, ‘If there is no God, everything is permitted’. In the absence of God, right and wrong disappear. You can do whatever you want, of course, so long as you can get away with it. Communism’s denial of God destroys the basis for moral absolutes. The Christian worldview, on the other hand, grounds all moral principles in the nature of God himself. Honesty, truth, justice, love are all obligatory because they are expressions of God’s nature.
  • Political totalitarianism: Under communist rule, the individual is subordinated to the state. True, communism is supposed to result in a classless society where property and all resources are held in common. However, in practice, communist ideology has always raised up oppressive dictators who will use any means in quenching  protest or opposition. Under the system, individual rights and liberties become secondary. All that matters is the will of the state. As Marin Luther King puts it, ‘man becomes a depersonalized cog in the wheel of the state’. The Christian worldview by contrast liberates the individual by limiting the power and authority of the state. Man is made in God’s own image and therefore he has intrinsic worth. No one is little. The rights of each are sacred and inviolable. This outlook forms the basis of the democratic system of government.