Monday, April 28, 2008

Drive-thru Ideology

We live in an age where intellectual discourse often peaks with the bumper sticker. This demonstrates two things: First, that we aren't a very thoughtful society. Second, that we are more interested in scoring rhetorical points than in honestly investigating an issue. This second point leads to another: We may be willing to quote scholars out of context in order to give the impression that our view is scholarly; and if such a quote can be made into a slogan, all the better.

A good illustration of this is Marx's famous statement that "religion is the opiate of the masses". I have heard this phrase used often in the public square to imply that religion is something that people use to escape from reality, in the same manner as recreational drug use.

But this isn't what Marx meant. Marx, it will be recalled, was centrally concerned with class struggles. The historical context of this statement was the Opium wars in China, in which the Chinese were made addicted to opium by the British in order to control them. Marx's statement, therefore, was not an intrinsic comment about what religion ultimately is. Rather, his statement was an extrinsic comment about how religion is used by those in power. Marx was an atheist of course, but that's not what he was trying to communicate in this statement.

(reposted from OregonLive)

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