Marx, Religion, Alienation and how it is Relevant to Society Today Pt 2
This hub is a continuation of Marx, Religion, Alienation and how it is Relevant to Society Today Pt 1. Read it here.
In contemporary society, conceiving religion as a tool of oppression is much more subtle than during Marx’s time when the church had political power. Today, many governments are secular, and in multi-religious places like Singapore, while authorities do not undermine religious influence, it is acknowledged and dealt with much rationality, discretion and silence. Ironically, many secular states do encourage and expect their citizens to adopt religious beliefs, especially in South East Asian countries where people are classified into specific religious faiths based on their ethnicity, and atheism is not recognized by the government.
I think that the idea of religion being a form of social protest is very relevant to modern society. One good example is of religious songwriters, like Kristen and Keith Getty, who write Christian hymns such as O Church Arise and The Power of the Cross. When people sing songs that inspire them to change the status quo instead of accepting and tolerating the hardships and unfairness of life, religion then becomes a form of protest against their present reality, as they desire social change.
Funnily, while believers would regard these songs as divinely inspired, Marx would argue that these writers are expressing their alienation, when ill-health, tragedy, or spiritual illumination stirs in them a desire to express their feelings through writing religious music. In fact, Marx would say that writing is an act of self-deception as the joy derived from praising God through their writing is artificial and baseless because the god they worship is merely a figment of their imagination.
Nonetheless, I believe that religious rituals such as hymn singing, offering of incense, going to the temple or saying prayers often direct one’s mind to that of the glorious heavenly realm. In the process, this might actually stir up thoughts that trigger a yearning for social change (Marx, 1967)
Interestingly, religion has found its place in the capitalistic market as a commodity sold to people. For example, religious music bands travel internationally to market their music, and technology allows religious leaders to sell their teachings in books, online recordings and iphone applications. Marx’s notion of religion being a tool of oppression by the ruling class and the opium of the people would now be extended to include
One of the interesting trends in contemporary Christianity is the burgeoning of many different versions of the English translation of the Bible. Although all these versions originate from the same Hebraic language, their differing translation styles appeal to different readers. The King James Version used to be regarded as the authentic and authoritative version of the Bible. While having many versions of the Bible fits the idea of postmodern individualism, it begets the question of how religiosity will evolve without a collective consensus of a ‘supreme’ version of Scripture (Beck, 2006).
The impact on religion and hymns is interesting. Might Marx, being the skeptic towards religion, remark that these different translations are a modern day manifestation of the need to reinterpret or modernize one’s concept of God and religion to suit one’s needs? Hymns texts were revised from archaic language to modern speak, but giving hymn texts a colloquial facelift is a different ballgame. Perhaps he might observe alienation in modern consumer societies, and reason that this trend of turning scripture into easy reading would better fit our desire for a god who has the endearing qualities of a companion instead of one who is distantly powerful as the king of their life.
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