The Guardian’s “How to Believe” series

I suppose I first encountered this long-running series when Bishop Alan Wilson wrote essays about the Book of Common Prayer. Since then, I’ve become addicted, even though I don’t often have the time to read all of the entries with the care they deserve. Clare Carlisle wrote about Spinoza, which took me back to a theology colloquium at Harvard I participated in. To be honest, we read Descartes and Spinoza, and Descartes left the more prominent mark on my thinking. Still, reading her essays reminded me of what a fascinating and challenging thinker Spinoza was.

The current topic is Karl Marx, written by Peter Thompson. Here’s what he has to say about Marx’s understanding of religion:

The critique of religion as a social phenomenon did not connote a dismissal of the issues behind it. Marx precedes the famous line in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right with the contention that religion was the “sigh of the oppressed creature in a hostile world, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions” and that an understanding of religion has to go hand in hand with an understanding of the social conditions that gave rise to it.The description of religion as the heart of a heartless world thus becomes a critique not of religion per se but of the world as it exists. What this shows is that his consideration of religion, politics, economics and society as a whole was not merely a philosophical exercise, but an active attempt to change the world, to help it find a new heart. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it,” he wrote in his famous 11th thesis on Feuerbach, the phrase carved on his gravestone in Highgate cemetery.

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