Disclaimer: this text is probably NSFW.
Among the many imaginary friends I wish I had, one woke me up this morn when I was trying to locate something I hadn’t searched for in a while.
“What are you looking at,” he asked.
“The exact location of a famous quote,” I said.
“Why,” he (or was it she) asked.
“Because I’m tired of it being misquoted and I’m also tired of Believers and nutjob Deists thinking it’s their ammunition.”
“You’re being combative again,” s/he asked.
“I’m debating – mostly with myself and social networking sites on the internets.”
“Oh, that sounds constructive.”
There was an extended pause and my friend lit another cigarette with his well-worn zippo and jostled her pith helmet. (Wait. He? She? Yes, now that I’ve gotten to the pith helmet he was definitely a she; and she wore nothing else. There will be no more gender confusion from here on out.)
On the left side of my desk are four books. One is an English version of Das Kapital part 1. The other is the German version of the same book plus parts 2 and 3. The German versions, btw, are 1969 paperback editions from Ullstein Verlag that I picked up at a Antiquariat many years ago. We’re talkin’ brick books here, people. Obviously bricks are just like the proverbial luggage that I carry with me everyday and fail to cope with. I will admit that reading Marx is a struggle; I’ve been doing it for years and often find myself stuck on the same long-winded paragraph for days. I mean, Marx is whacked-out. At times I feel as though while his pen was moving he must have been toking on a fatty, trying to avoid the inevitable violence he was promulgating. Anywho. My friend saw me dabbling in a page or two in Das Kapital and she took a swig of an early drink, another puff of her fag and spread the old chestnuts in front of us that were waiting to be cracked.
“Well, old chap,” she said. “I see you’re focused once again on the opium of the people.”
“It is my drug, darling.”
“Well. That is what you think. But. Reading that nonsense. So much of which, by the way, is unfortunately attributable to his having lived within the British Empire. What a ghastly thought, you know. Because of him some people on this planet actually think that we, the British, had something to do with his conniving. The sad part of it all is that the only thing Das Volk know from him is a misquote.”
“How right you are, my darling. That too is something that I need to understand,” I said as she kneeled before me blowing smoke into my belly button.
“What does that old outdated and long defeated nonsense really matter now anyway? You must have other priorities” she said as her head and pith helmet began their servicing quest just after she flipped her fag into the corner near my stereo system where I wondered if it would burn out or burn us.
And so I tried to recall where in Das Kapital Marx had written religion is opium of the people. And that made me realize how long it had been since I’d dabbled. Even though I was preoccupied from my friend below I have been and always will be, at this level, a multi-tasker. I eventually recalled that Marx’s famous (mis)quote was not from Das Kapital but instead in the forward to his paper: “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.”
As I blew my goo and it got all over the pith hat of my lovely I also thought about something else that has always bothered me about this quote. Usually its translation into English, one I will post below, can be quite elegant, but I prefer the German original. As we all know, German is the language of Sturm & Drang, of Beethoven and Diesel, etc. – of over engineeringpar excellance.
Das Fundament der irreligiösen Kritik ist: Der Mensch macht die Religion, die Religion macht nicht den Menschen. Und zwar ist die Religion das Selbstbewusstsein und das Selbstgefühl des Menschen, der sich selbst entweder noch nicht erworben, oder schon wieder verloren hat. Aber der Mensch, das ist kein abstraktes, ausser der Welt hockendes Wesen. Der Mensch, das ist die Welt des Menschen, Staat, Societät. Dieser Staat, diese Societät produziren die Religion, ein verkehrtes Weltbewusstsein, weil sie eine verkehrte Welt sind. Die Religion ist die allgemeine Theorie dieser Welt, ihr encyklopädisches Compendium, ihre Logik in populärer Form, ihr spiritualistischer Point-d’honneur, ihr Enthusiasmus, ihre moralische Sanktion ihre feierliche Ergänzung, ihr allgemeiner Trost- und Rechtfertigungsgrund. Sie ist die phantastische Verwirklichung des menschlichen Wesens, weil das menschliche Wesen keine wahre Wirklichkeit besitzt. Der Kampf gegen die Religion ist also mittelbar der Kampf gegen jene Welt, deren geistiges Aroma die Religion ist.
Das religiöse Elend ist in einem der Ausdruck des wirklichen Elendes und in einem die Protestation gegen das wirkliche Elend. Die Religion ist der Seufzer der bedrängten Kreatur, das Gemüth einer herzlosen Welt, wie sie der Geist geistloser Zustände ist. Sie ist das Opium des Volks.
The great thing about reading this text every once-a-once, motivated by combative exchanges with believers and others who fail to see that they are truly in a catatonic state (of mind, body and soul) thinking the earth and everything else was created five thousand years ago and that their existence today is about nothing more than entitlement, is that it gives me hope. Being the illegitimate child of philosophical learning means that I don’t have to do anything and by doing nothing I can do almost everything with the utmost seriousness and un-use-ability. It also means that a female can come by the night before and while eating sushi off her parts I can also contemplate the (mental) reality of Das Volk. Hence the reference here today to my combative nature compelled by social networking sites on the internets, i.e. FB where someone posted something on his wall about how thankful he was that the “founding fathers” weren’t the same as the cold hearted religious nutjubs that occupy American’t today. I say pfui! They are the same. And the reason they are the same is because the founding fathers were unable to defeat the burning seed that is religion and so they made their compromises. The compromises, of course, were not enough. To this day those compromises conveniently coincide with man’s willingness to subject himself to authority and totality. For you see, there seems to be a mentality in my beloved United Mistakes that thinks it can look upon an infant history for some kind of reassurance that all is not lost. Indeed, I tend to think all is most certainly lost. And. Not just religion is the opium of the people but believing in anything else without fact is just as good a narcotic.
Before I close/continue here a rather elegant, poetic and what I consider a free interpretation/translation of Marx’s famous quote from Christopher Hitchens (warning: this is not an exact translation of text above, for that see “list of external links”) and his small but powerful book “Letters to a Young Contrarian”. Btw, I’m posting all this stuff in this way in order to both confuse and help so that some may put a little effort into grasping what was actually said and thereby in so many ways misunderstood – and more importantly misquoted. At the least, Karl Marx was not promoting atheism – as so many wish/hope to believe. What he was really up to was putting something out there – something that has obviously been detrimental to mankind in the hopes that a rational few might catch on and (re)act accordingly. Perhaps, in a strange way, the founding fathers of what is obviously now the united states of American’t were up to something very similar – putting something out there so that a few might catch on and (re)act accordingly. But (as usual) I digress.
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition that needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of woe, the halo of which is religion.
Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man will wear the chain without any fantasy or consolation but so that he will shake off the chain and cull the living flower.
- Zur Kritik der Hegel’schen Rechtsphilosophie – Wikisource
- Selected Essays by Karl Marx/A Criticism Of The Hegelian Philosophy Of Right