Did you hear the one about the Marxist who praised religion?
Sometimes truth issues from a most unlikely source.
- Melchizedek, king of Salem, appears as if from nowhere to bless Abraham, patriarch of God’s covenant people (Genesis 14).
- Balaam, who presents as a pagan priest in some ways, repudiates Israel’s enemy and blesses God’s people (Numbers 23).
- “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just” (Dan 4:36-37 ESV).
One could read these stories and wonder, “A ‘pagan’ speaking truth to God’s people? What’s wrong with this picture?” But truth is not the exclusive property of any people. Truth is built into the creation order and hard-wired into every imago Dei human. The fall has corrupted, but not obliterated, that imprint. And it’s intriguing when truth comes from an improbable speaker.
I thought of that observation recently when I viewed a video (see below) produced by Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Law School. Dr. Christensen reported on a conversation with a Marxist economist from China who was finishing a Fulbright fellowship at Harvard. Christensen asked this man if he had learned anything surprising or unexpected in his studies. Without hesitation, the economist replied, “I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy.”
What’s this? A Marxist extolling the virtues of religion? Wasn’t it Karl Marx who famously said, “Religion is the opium of the people”?
Here’s the larger context of that well-known quote:
The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. … It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. …
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. (quotation from Wikipedia article entitled “Opium of the people.”)
The Fulbright scholar professed himself a Marxist. Yet, his founder’s convictions notwithstanding, this Marxist economist (a citizen of atheist China, another irony, this one political) recognized and affirmed the positive and vital effect of religion on the practice of democracy.
Of course America’s founding fathers understood this truth (even if many in today’s political class want to suppress it). As President John Adams observed, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The Marxist told Dr. Christensen that democracy works not because a government was designed to oversee what everybody does, but rather because most people most of the time voluntarily choose to obey the law. “In your past most Americans attended a church or synagogue and were taught there to respect the law. Americans believed they were accountable to God.”
As Dr. Christensen notes, the implications for the future are troubling.
As religion loses its influence over Americans, what will happen to our democracy? Where are the institutions that will teach the next generation of Americans that they too need to voluntarily choose to obey the laws. If you take away religion you can’t hire enough police!
Are we now discovering the futility of applying a constitution designed for “a moral and religious people” to an increasingly irreligious society?
– Gary Brumbelow
See these related posts:
The OXYMORON of Atheist Compassion
Atheism’s Death Wish: The Roots of Cultural Suicide
Nathan MillerFebruary 2, 2015 - 10:07 am
Edmund Burke wrote (emphasis added):
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free.Their passions forge their fetters.”
Our American society has moved from disdain for “unbridled passions” through tolerance of them and today, in many and growing sectors of society we laud the “goodness” of man choosing to live a life of unbridled passions. We are forging our own fetters – with gusto.
adminFebruary 2, 2015 - 10:47 am
Great quote from Burke, Nathan. Thanks.
Darrow often speaks of that “internal self-government” without which there is no freedom.
The apostle Paul captures your second paragraph when he writes about those “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Phi 3:19 NAU).
Thanks for reading and responding.
Ivan DenizacFebruary 2, 2015 - 11:03 am
According to my perspective even if I deduce that the article is referring to christianity I still see the need of defining what is meant by religion. In this times it is not enough to present the need of religious freedom since humanistic mindset will prevail.
Question based on both, John Adams’s quote and the last quote of Gary Brumbelow, “Isn’t this suggest that the Constitution is presently inadequate and need to be changed for one that fits the current immoral society of the United States for a constitution that is based on Truth that will work even with immoral people?” If this argument is both philosophical and politicly true, by the present state of democracy a change of constitution will led to a worst state since the majority will be wrong as most of the time is. Therefore we should take a deep look of what democracy is in a current immoral society; in my opinion is the way to destruction with a constitution that does not apply to destructive people.
Do not get me wrong, these are just ideas and real questions because of this good article that put me to think. Thank you very much Gary Brumbelow.
adminFebruary 2, 2015 - 9:30 pm
Thank you for reading and responding. I find your question intriguing. I had not thought about the angle you presented. But I think that, no, the constitution is not the problem and changing it is not the solution. The solution is that Christ’s followers do what he commissioned us to do: make disciples. This is a different process than merely teaching people to go to church, read their Bible, pray. It is a whole-life obedience to all that Jesus commanded. As Darrow says in his book, Recovering Our Mission, we need to “overwhelm the nations with the nature and character of God.”