German philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl both embody the antithesis of religion. Through this attack, they set a precedence for atheism.
Rationalism and irrationalism were two diametrically opposed schools of thought that developed in 18th century Europe. The rational thinkers expressed supreme confidence in science and reason. The Enlightenment philosophers, as these rational thinkers were called, believed in the inherent goodness of man, as well as the ability of science to transform both the individual and the entire society. Karl Marx (1818-1883) belonged to this school.
The irrational thinkers on their part, represented the direct opposite of reason. They opposed all Enlightenment ideals and values such as democracy, law and order, emancipation and any form of respect for freedom. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) stood at the forefront of irrationalism. Instead of reason, Nietzsche advocated the need to “unlock the inner mysteries of life and release the hero … that lies hidden within.” Nietzsche was sounding the need to the use of brute force to transform man and his society.
The meeting point between Marx and Nietzsche was their hatred for religion and all forms of Godly expression.
Nietzsche and the Search for Man’s innermost Hero
The center of Nietzsche’s philosophy was the search and satisfaction of the dark, hidden, mysterious and innermost desires of man. This search did not require the intellect nor reason. Instead, it required the destruction of all obstacles that stood on the way to discovering these instinctual desires. One such obstacle was religion which required excessive conformity in the form of loyalty, pity and piety, morality and countless commandments with their do’s and don’ts.
In Nietzsche’s scheme of things, the search for mans hidden desires was not only the essence of life, but also represented a journey to inventing a higher form of man – the superman or the over-man whose duty it was to rule the world. “It is necessary” Nietzsche said, “for higher man to declare war upon the masses to end the domination of inferior men?
Nietzsche saw the liberation of the mind and the attainment of his higher man only through the destruction of Christianity and the God it represented. “God is dead” he declared, and with Him, Christian morality. A brave superman has nothing to do with God or Christian values. “One loses force when one pities” Nietzsche declared. “Pity stands in antithesis to the basic emotions which enhance the energy of the feeling of life. It has a repressive effect.”
Karl Marx and the Opium of Religion
While Nietzsche saw religion in general and Christianity in particular as obstacles to the realization of his superman, Marx saw it from a different light, in no way sympathetic, though. In Marx’s eyes, religion was merely “the opium of the masses” which dulled the brains of its followers, turning them into objects of exploitation by their capitalist masters. Marx also shared Nietzsche’s conviction that religion and Christianity did not work for the good of the masses.
Since the church played an important role in the rise of capitalism, the ownership of property and the exploitation of human services in the name of God, Marx had no smile for it. Marx especially blamed religion for creating a new kind of poverty very different from material poverty which was rampant in industrial Europe. This new “poverty of the human spirit” as Marx called it, was thanks largely to religion.
Marx denounced all Christian teachings about man’s role in the world. While Christians glorified God for everything under the heavens, Marx saw life as a struggle that was shaped by economic forces, pure and simple. In Marx’s view, human history was simply a class struggle that would eventually culminate in the triumph of the exploited masses. Religion’s promises of a better life in heaven appealed very little to Marx.
Apostles of Nietzsche and Marx
The gospel of atheism preached so fanatically by Nietzsche and Marx appealed greatly to over-zealous individuals who experimented with it in different ways. Nietzsche’s greatest apostle was Adolf Hitler, who vowed to create a new race of Germans with the express aim of ruling the world. Hitler therefore initiated a holocaust which cost the lives of six million Jews whom he considered of an inferior race. Believing he had attained super-man status, he ignited the Second World War which kept the world bleeding for six long years.
As for Marx, his doctrine of communism has become synonymous with atheism and open hatred for religion. Despite the growing force of religious globalization or worldwide evangelization, most (if not all) leading communists have refused to embrace religion or have done so with extreme caution or under pressure. In the eyes of the communists, religion is simply an instrument of capitalist penetration.
To support their claims, they point to the role of Christianity in the colonization of Africa and also the role of the church in the collapse of the Soviet Union, the first communist empire.
- Bober, M.M. Karl Marx’s Interpretation of History. 1965.
- Jan de Vries. Perspectives in the History of religion. 1977.
- Peril, Marvin et al. Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics and Society. Dallas, 1989.