Last form of alienation

December 17, 1999

The bishop of Oxford makes the excellent point that the writings of 19th-century atheists tend to be unread. ("Unsuitable tenants for an empty sanctuary", THES, December 10.) How I wish the bishop had followed his own advice. If he had spent a little time reading the introduction to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, he might not have interpreted Marx as a man determined to destroy religion as a pernicious evil. The bishop made Marx sound more like a 20th-century Stalinist than a 19th-century atheist.

The bishop would have read Marx suggesting that, if intellectuals want religion to lose its power and influence, they should criticise secular forms of "human self-alienation". In other words, without an awareness of the pernicious evils of the secular world (such as capitalism) religion will continue to function, as Marx writes, as "the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless condition".

Put differently, as long as there is real suffering in the world it will find religious expression. It follows that religion will be the last form of alienation to fade away in the classless society of the 21st century.

Paul Smith Glasgow

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