From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

Calvin Knew About Marx

From the Institutes, Book 1, ch. 3, section 2 – “Therefore it is utterly vain for some men to say that religion was invented by the subtlety and craft of a few to hold the simple folk in thrall by this device and that those very persons who originated the worship of God for others did not in the least believe that any God existed. I confess, indeed, that in order to hold men’s minds in greater subjection, clever men have devised very many things in religion by which to inspire the common folk with reverence and to strike them with terror. But they would never have achieved this if men’s minds had not already been imbued with a firm conviction about God, from which the inclination toward relgion springs as from a seed.”

It was Karl Marx who said that religion, and Christianity in particular, is the “opiate of the people”, designed to keep them in subjection to the economic powers that be. 300 years before Marx, Calvin recognized that objection! His response is that you can’t dupe people into believing there is a God, unless they already in some way are aware that there is a God.

OK, Calvin didn’t know Marx himself. But he knew the ideas – put into different words and in different contexts, but the same ideas. This fortifies my sense that there are very, very few new questions  – rather there are the same questions that come up again and again in very age. Who are we? How did we get here? What are we supposed to do? And yes, who is this God that every age and every culture is aware of, however dimly.


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