A student came to my office yesterday to practice her English, so we talked about all kinds of things. How curling her tongue may or may not help her pronounce heavy ls, whether talking to herself may improve her English and why she really didn’t know the history of Tomb-sweeping Day (清明节: Qing Ming Jie). My Bible knowledge came in handy as she pondered aloud the fairness of God in hardening Pharaoh’s heart (apparently, the culturally-focused introduction to Christianity she gets as an English major runs pretty deep—or at least to the controversial).
Perhaps the most interesting part of the conversation was her view of God. It started as “I believe in Jesus Christ.” From there, during the next hour of various conversations, “Jesus Christ” turned into “God”, then “someone that gives justice”, then “the moon god in Rome”, then the god who lives on the moon in a cartoon she saw where “everything is silver and everyone is happy”.
At one point, she asked if I believed God was with me. Given her range of religious knowledge, I didn’t expect my affirmation to shock her like it did. She couldn’t accept that I actually believed it in any way that influenced my life. It took five minutes and multiple dictionary queries to convince her that I actually thought God was real.
I was eventually to find out why: her teacher had explained that Karl Marx had proved scientifically there was no God.
When I asked her why she believed in her various expressions of deity she managed a circumlocution of the “opium of the people” theory.
I wish it had been an April Fool’s Day joke.
Here’s what Marx said:
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)
I agree—in part. I know intimately those oppressed creatures; I inhabit a heartless world; I endlessly experience spiritless situations. I left a society where religion is often illusory to live in one where it is officially abolished. Somehow, the peoples’ real happiness hasn’t been effected in either.
Maybe religious forms aren’t efficacious. I’ve followed plenty of religious forms that proved worthless.
Maybe religion’s removal wasn’t the solution. My student is still looking for an opiate of some form.
Maybe knowing a God that’s really with you is what we’re all looking for.
Maybe that’s really what my student’s halting English and broken ontotheology were communicating.