Marxist Theology – Atheism
Marxist Theology is clearly stated by Lenin, “Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze…1
“We Communists are atheists,”2 declared Chou En-lai at the Bandung, Indonesia Conference in April 1955. This Chinese communist leader captured the fundamental theological ingredient of Marxism-Leninism in one word: atheism. Today, Marxists-Leninists prefer two words: scientific atheism.
From the university days of Karl Marx to the present, official spokesmen for Marxism have been consistent about the content of their theology—that God, whether known as a Supreme Being, Creator, or Divine Ruler, does not, cannot, and must not exist.3
God is considered an impediment, even an enemy, to a scientific, materialistic, socialistic outlook. The idea of God, insists Lenin, encourages the working class (the proletariat) to drown its terrible economic plight in the “spiritual booze” of some mythical heaven (“pie in the sky by and by”). Even a single sip of this intoxicant decreases the revolutionary fervor necessary to exterminate the oppressing class (the bourgeois), causing the working class to forfeit its only chance of creating a truly human heaven on earth: global communism.
Marxist Theology – Marx’s Theological Beliefs
In Marxist theology, religion as “the opium of the masses” was a later development in the mind of Karl Marx. His atheism was conceived in the heady arena of philosophy, not economics or sociology. When Marx became an atheist at the University of Berlin, he was not thinking about surplus value or the dictatorship of the proletariat. He was thinking about the philosophies of Prometheus, Georg W. F. Hegel, Bruno Bauer, David Strauss, and Ludwig Feuerbach.
“Philosophy makes no secret of it,” said Marx. “Prometheus’s admission: ‘In sooth all gods I hate’ is its own admission, its own motto against all gods, heavenly and earthly, who do not acknowledge the consciousness of man as the supreme divinity. There must be no god on a level with it.”4
In a circle of radical Young Hegelians that included Ludwig Feuerbach and Frederick Engels, Marx became an atheist. Atheism was embraced by the group, with Feuerbach proclaiming, “It is clear as the sun and evident as the day that there is no God; and still more, that there can be no God.”5
Accepting Feuerbach’s conclusion that God is a projection of humanity’s own making, Marx boasted, “Man is the highest being for man.” Indeed, Marx explains that this view signals the demise of all religion: “The criticism of religion ends with the teaching that man is the highest being for man....”6
For Marx, then, humanity is God. We created God in our own image. We created religion in order to worship ourselves. The notion that God is merely our projection is contained in Marx’s assertion that man “looked for a superhuman being in the fantastic reality of heaven and found nothing there but the reflection of himself.”7
Because Marx believes that we are God, he also believes we must seize control of reality and shape it to our specifications. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways,” says Marx; “the point, however, is to change it.”8 Because the institutions of society rested on a foundation of theism, Marx determined to change all social institutions and re-establish them on atheistic foundations. To this end, Marx and Engels, in the Communist Manifesto, called for the “forcible overthrow” of all existing social conditions.
This call was based on Marx’s dogmatic atheism, and not on dispassionate societal observation. Marx’s economic theories—and, indeed, his entire worldview—were tailored to fit his theology.
Marxist Theology – Significance of Theology in Marxist Theory
While some attempts have been made to minimize atheism’s role in Marxist theology (especially in recruiting naive Christians and other religious people to participate in Marxist-Leninist activity, such as the Liberation Theology movement), Marxists are privately aware of their fundamental need for an atheistic foundation.
Marx’s search for “scientific truths” to bolster his atheism led him to conclusions that shaped his communist theory. As he moved from the philosophical basis for atheism into the socioeconomic realm, he reached the conclusion (based upon his atheistic assumptions) that religion is merely an anti-depressant for the oppressed working class. His summary of this explanation has been quoted throughout the world, even though it was not his original basis for atheism. “Religion,” said Marx, “is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”9
Marx’s friend and fellow atheist, Engels, declared, “We want to sweep away everything that claims to be supernatural and superhuman, for the root of all untruth and lying is the pretension of the human and the natural to be superhuman and supernatural. For that reason we have once and for all declared war on religion and religious ideas and care little whether we are called atheists or anything else.”10
As with Marx, Engels foresaw a time when all religion would cease. He contended that when society adopts socialism, i.e., when society takes possession of all means of production and uses them on a planned basis (thus eliminating the working class’s economic bondage), religion itself will vanish.
Marxist Theology – Conclusion
In theory and practice, Marxism reflects its atheistic base. To be a Marxist demands adherence to atheism. To be a good Marxist entails being a propagator of atheism. To be the best Marxist is to see atheism as part of the scientific, materialistic, socialistic outlook and to strive to eradicate all religious sentiment.
From the heady days of Marx and Engels through the era of Lenin and Stalin and on to the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Marcuse, etc.), the Red Brigades, Herbert Aptheker, William Z. Foster, Paul Robeson (winner of the Stalin Peace Prize), the Communist Party USA, Gerda Lerner, Eric Foner, Howard Zinn, International ANSWER, Antonio Gramsci, Gyorgy Lukacs, Walter Benjamin, Eric Hobsbawn—the trial of Marxism continues along its atheistic theology.
From The Communist Manifesto (1848)11 to the latest manifesto entitled Empire (2000), the quest for a godless world continues. Empire was written by Michael Hardt of Duke University and Antonio Negri and published by the Harvard University Press. Negri, associated with the Red Brigades, was responsible for much mayhem across Europe. He and Hardt instruct us, “Our pilgrimage on earth, however, in contrast to Augustine’s has no transcendent telos beyond [purpose beyond this world]; it is and remains absolutely immanent [here and now]. Its continuous movement, gathering aliens in community, making this world its home, is both means and end, or rather a means without an end.”12
National Review referred to Empire as “the Communist ‘hot, smart book of the moment’”13 and Foreign Affairs magazine referred to it as “[a] sweeping neo-Marxist vision of the coming world order.”14 Theists everywhere recognize, as did Feodor Dostoevsky, that “[t]he problem of Communism is not an economic problem. The problem of Communism is the problem of atheism.”15
Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.
1 V.I. Lenin, Complete Collected Works, 45 vols. (Moscow, USSR: Progress Publishers, 1978), 10:83.
2 James D. Bales, Communism: Its Faith and Fallacies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1962), 37.
3 See David B.T. Aikman’s Ph.D. dissertation entitled “The Role of Atheism in the Marxist tradition.” (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Services, 1979). Aikman covers all aspects of Marxist atheism in his 500+ page dissertation.
4 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Religion (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1974), 15.
5 See Richard Wurmbrand, My Answer to the Moscow Atheists (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1975), 16. Also, see Wurmbrand’s Marx & Satan (Bartlesville, OK: Voice of the Martyrs Publishers, 1990), 13, for Marx stating, “Then I will be able to walk triumphantly, Like a god, through the ruins of their kingdom. Every word of mine is fire and action. My breast is equal to that of the Creator.” Wurmbrand contends that Marx was involved in Satanism.
6 Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, Collected Works, 40 vols. (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1976), 3:175.
7 Ibid., 3:182.
8 Karl Marx, On Historical Materialism (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1974), 13.
9 Marx and Engels, Collected Works, 3:175.
10 Ibid., 3:463.
11 The latest American edition of The Communist Manifesto was published by Haymarket Books (Chicago, 2005), and edited by Phil Gasper, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame de Namur University in northern California.
12 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 207.
13 National Review, September 17, 2001, 28.
14 Hardt, back cover.
15 Whittaker Chambers, Witness (New York, NY: Random House, 1952), 712.