When Religion Really is the Opium of the People

It must be granted that the Marxist critique holds true for a great deal of religion, and in particular for a great deal of nineteenth-century religion.  The doctrine of the Tractarians, for example, helps to illustrate the critique.  Suspiciously enough, the doctrines of priesthood and of apostolic succession were rediscovered by Anglicans just at the time when the state was beginning to deny in its practice any real difference between nonconformity and the Church of England.  High churchmanship replaced social eminence as the mark of the staunch Anglican.  The ascetic disciplines which the Tractarians commended were of a kind possible only to a leisured class; their sacramental doctrines were irrelevant in an industrial society.  F.D. Maurice wrote of their view of baptism in 1838: “Where is the minister of Christ in London, Birmingham or Manchester, whom such a doctrine, heartily and inwardly entertained, would not drive to madness?  He is sent to preach the Gospel.  What Gospel?  Of all the thousands whom he addresses, he cannot venture to believe that there are ten who, in Dr. Pusey’s sense, retain their baptismal purity.  All he can do, therefore, is to tell wretched creatures, who spend eighteen hours of the twenty-four in close factories and bitter toil, corrupting and being corrupted, that if they spend the remaining six in prayer — he need not add fasting — they may possibly be saved.  How can we insult God and torment man with such mockery?”  There was another side to the doctrine of the Tractarians; but of a great deal of what they and churchmen of every persuasion taught the Marxist critique was and remains true. (108-109)

Alasdair MacIntyre | Marxism and Christianity


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