You Might be a Marxist If ... You Believe God Hates Capitalism


To all religious believers who have ever questioned the capitalist system:

One of the biggest intellectual frauds in capitalist society is the widespread belief that capitalism is compatible with the teachings of major religions such as Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Capitalists have a vested interest in getting you to believe that capitalism is a spiritually wholesome and irreproachable way of life in order to make you more willing to accept and uphold the system. If they can make you believe that capitalism is endorsed by the great religions and is part of God’s plan for the world, then they can get you to believe that anti-capitalism is a sin and that whoever opposes capitalism is an enemy of God, religion, and morality, and your personal enemy as well. The capitalists’ goal is to divide the working class against itself by pitting workers who are religious believers against workers who fight capitalism, whether those class-conscious workers are religious or not. This is a highly effective way to weaken working-class resistance to capitalism and to prevent the growth of solidarity among workers.

Marxists are well armed against this bogus belief because they understand that the ideological content of a society’s culture, which includes its religions, becomes permeated by the ideology of the class that owns and controls the means of production. In other words Marxists recognize that ruling classes have the power to corrupt and distort religion for their own selfish ends. These distortions are the source of many religious beliefs that are anti-progressive, anti-people, and anti-worker. Thus in a capitalist society, mainstream versions of the major religions are so steeped in the self-serving ideology of the capitalist class that they become little more than capitalist versions of those religions, teaching their adherents to believe that God loves capitalism and reserves special places in heaven for capitalists and obedient workers who cooperate with the system no matter what cruelties it inflicts on human beings.

Is it really true that the Buddha or the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam could love the capitalist system? Let’s look a little deeper into this question by considering the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—also known as the ethic of reciprocity. Most of the major religions count some version of this rule among their fundamental teachings. If capitalism is really compatible with religion then its fundamental principles should agree with the Golden Rule. Here are a few versions of the rule as stated in the teachings of some major religions:

Buddhism: Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a

Christianity: In everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you; for this is the law and the prophets. Jesus, Matthew 7:12

Islam: Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith

Baha’i Faith: Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself. Baha'u'llah, Gleanings

Confucianism: Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.
Confucius, Analects 15.23

Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. Mahabharata 5:1517

Jainism: One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated. Mahavira, Sutrakritanga 1.11.33

Taoism: Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain and your neighbor's loss as your own loss. Lao Tzu, T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien, 213-218

Now let’s ask one simple question: Does capitalism agree with the Golden Rule, this basic ethical principle of reciprocity taught by so many of the world’s religions? We must first identify the fundamental principles of capitalism in order to see whether they agree with the ethic of reciprocity. What are those principles? It is often said that the basic principle of capitalism is “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” or “capitalism is about giving everyone an equal opportunity to succeed,” neither of which seem contradictory to the Golden Rule. The only problem is that these premises are absolutely false; capitalism has nothing to do with fairness or equal opportunity. Remember that capitalists have the means to poison the cultural environment with all sorts of false ideas to make capitalism seem more acceptable to the people. The idea that capitalism is about fairness and opportunity is one of those false ideas that have been fed to the people by the preachers of capitalist-friendly perversions of morality and religion. The fundamental principle of capitalism is exploitation of the worker, and that means an unfair day’s pay, an unfair day’s work, and unequal opportunities. It also means repression of workers at home and colonialism and imperialist wars abroad. That’s the complete opposite of the ethic of reciprocity. The capitalist doesn’t want to treat you the way he wants to be treated. He wants to take the whole pie and leave you with the crumbs, and if he has to lie, steal, and kill in order to get it, then he’ll do just that. He wants to exploit you, and in order to do it he imposes conditions on you and the entire working class that he would never agree to impose on himself. In fact, if capitalists started practicing the Golden Rule they would cease to be capitalists at all and the entire capitalist system would collapse. Thus the very existence of capitalism depends on having a class of people willing to flout, ignore, distort, destroy and spit upon the Golden Rule. Perhaps God could love and forgive the capitalist, but he could never love capitalism.

It is clear that capitalism is an outrage against the Golden Rule. But what kind of society would be in agreement with the Golden Rule? Clearly it would be a society without exploitation, oppression, poverty, or war. The New Testament Book of Acts describes just such a society created by the early Christians. It sounds to this writer like a society based on the Golden Rule.

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common .... Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. Acts 4:32–35 

This is a society without capitalists, in which the people are unified rather than divided by class; where there is no poverty, exploitation, or war; where property is held in common, and where wealth is distributed to every member according to need. Consider in particular the statements about common property and distribution according to need. These principles are shared with the kind of society Karl Marx had in mind when he described communism in Section I of Critique of the Gotha Program:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour ... has vanished ... after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banner: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

All sincere religious believers and proponents of the Golden Rule should consider which form of society is more in keeping with the teachings of the great religions and the ethic of reciprocity: capitalism or the communism of the apostles and Karl Marx. And I respectfully ask all believers to consider that you may have more in common with Marx than capitalist distortions of religion have led you to believe.

Photo by Mikol, cc by 2.0

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  • Walt, thank you for those quotes. You just made my day!

    Posted by Paul White, 02/16/2011 12:55pm (13 years ago)

  • "The history of early Christianity has notable points of resemblance with the modern working-class movement. Like the latter, Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed people: it first appeared as the religion of slaves and freedmen, of poor people deprived of all rights, of peoples subjugated or dispersed by Rome. Both Christianity and the workers’ socialism preach forthcoming salvation from bondage and misery; Christianity places this salvation in a life beyond, after death, in heaven; socialism places it in this world, in a transformation of society. Both are persecuted and subjected to harassment, their adherents are ostracised and made the objects of exceptional laws, the ones as enemies of the human race, the others as enemies of the state, enemies of religion, the family, the social order. And in spite of all persecution, nay, even spurred on by it, they forge victoriously, irresistibly ahead. Three hundred years after its appearance Christianity was the recognised state religion in the Roman World Empire, and in barely sixty years socialism has won itself a position which makes its victory absolutely certain.
    If [it is asked] . . . why, with the enormous concentration of landownership under the Roman emperors and the boundless sufferings of the working class of the time, which was composed almost exclusively of slaves, “the fall of the Western Roman Empire was not followed by socialism”, it is because . . . “socialism” did in fact, as far as it was possible at the time, exist and even became dominant—in Christianity."

    Engels, On the History of Early Christianity, MECW, vol 27, pp. 447-48.

    "It is the duty of a Marxist to place the success of the strike movement above everything else, vigorously to counteract the division of the workers in this struggle into atheists and Christians, vigorously to oppose any such division. Atheist propaganda in such circumstances may be both unnecessary and harmful . . . To preach atheism at such a moment and in such circumstances would only be playing into the hands of the priest and the priests, who desire nothing better than that the division of workers according to their participation in the strike movement should be replaced by their division according to their belief in God. . . . We must not only admit workers who preserve their belief in God into the Social-Democratic Party, but must deliberately set out to recruit them; we are absolutely opposed to giving the slightest offence to their religious convictions, but we recruit them in order to educate them in the spirit of our programme, and not in order to permit an active struggle against it."

    Lenin, The Attitude of the Workers' Party to Religion, CW, vol. 15, pp. 407-09.

    Posted by Walt, 02/15/2011 10:18pm (13 years ago)

  • David, as a retired Baptist pastor who also considers himself to be a Marxist and most definately believes that God does indeed hate capitalism, I am very encouraged by your article. However, I'm equally discouraged by several of the comments below that indicate that while some of the writers might "welcome religious people to struggle side by side for necessary change in the world today" they would never truly welcome people like me into the Party (as evidenced by James' comment: "There is no place for religion in a true communist society and that should be made clear").

    Are these people aware there are clergy persons who are members of CPUSA? Is it their desire to expel them?

    I have considered joining the Party for years. But it is comments like many of those below that make me feel I would never really be welcome or accepted by many CPUSA members.

    Posted by Paul White, 02/15/2011 4:20pm (13 years ago)

  • Regarding Eric's comment: How can you be a marxist and implacably hostile to religion but still work with religious people for change? Or maybe "implacably hostile" is just way to strong of a phrase. As a Marxist I'm not implacably hostile to anybody who works for change, nor am I implacably hostile to their ideas. I don't think a Marxist should be so rigid and dogmatic and close-minded to think he or she knows everything, has got everything figured out and everyone is duped or lying.

    Posted by JustWonderin', 02/13/2011 9:40pm (13 years ago)

  • Thank you for this interesting article. While I agree with the thrust, which is that capitalism is incompatible with humanistic trends in the teachings of many world religions, I disagree with the idea that this understanding makes one a Marxist.

    Marxism is a complete philosophical system on its own, based on dialectical and historical materialism; a rich, rewarding, and dynamic philosophy intimately intertwined with the realities of day-to-day struggles to change the world.

    Marxism as a philosophy is implacably hostile to Utopian or mystical systems of understanding the world.

    Communists (as people) welcome religious people to struggle side by side for necessary change in the world today.

    -- Eric Brooks

    Posted by Eric Brooks, 02/13/2011 5:33pm (13 years ago)

  • Hi James. I don't know if David will come visit to address your concerns, but if you don't mind, I'll throw an opinion at you... regarding them. On a surface-level, I must agree with you. The "dogma" attached to religions, and the "fear of the wrath of God" crap shows that religious ORGANIZATIONS can be just a control-freak-infested as any other "club" of ranks and hierarchies. But try to separate religious "organizations" from a natural "religion" that you see all around you every day, and thats the miracle of Earth and life. If you take even the tiniest look around you, you'll see miracles of every shape and size... from the design of a raccoon's eyeball to a bird pancreas to a human ear... speak nothing of the plants and insects and microbial stuff. If you grapple with it all for awhile, you'll have to eventually own-up to all the miracles around you, and the miracle that is YOU, alive in this potential wonderful dream called reality. Just skin, and its abilities to heal and protect... is HUGE... on the ol' miracle meter. The owning-up to all these miracles happening in and around you... is also a religion... but it has not been "adorned" by all the paraphernalia (robs, rituals, sceptorsscepters, rankings, etc) of man religious organizations. Its still quite "clean", and its definitely "natural", as we've owned-up to how much of it is happening naturally... in and around you/us. To ponder that all those seen and verified-by-you-as-miraculous events... coming together around you... OUT OF HAPPENSTANCE... is quite a long reach. Humans can't even simulate a single leaf or bird eyeball, and the world you and I participate-in... is just packed to the gills with trillions of them. (Gills are a miracle too).

    THIS knowledge... can be your religion. Lets say you think NO LIVING THINGS, not even plants, should ever be killed, and that we should wait for all our food to FALL before we eat it. (ie. no crop[ping/killing plants, wait for the food to fall as the season's name tells us, and don't pick it, and share it with all other living things). Yes, it would take us planting the Earth FULL of orchards and groves, and living amongst them instead of trucking the food. Quite a large undertaking to pull off. But just the same, lets say you decided that it is YOUR belief/religion, that no living things should ever die unnaturally. This is a religion... if you will allow your definition of the word religion to loosen that far. You don't need to participate in the goofy rituals, pomp, and hoopla of these Grand Order of the Alibaba Temple of the Shrine-crap. You know better... or at least it sounds like these types of things leave a bad taste in your mouth. I don't blame you. They do the same for me. But keep in mind that you are quite allowed to design your own religion, and basing it upon nature and massively-witnessed miracles all around you... is a wise idea. Don't look for others to pal-up with you over it, except maybe folks like me. Often, folks like to be told stories, and you and I don't really HAVE the story about how and why all these natural miracles are happening everywhere we look around us. We've seen many a cock'n'bull organization try to paint up a story on how it all came to be, but your investigations and personal thought-up stories of how and why these miracles exist... is likely much more accurate than any organizations. You're allowed to have a personal religion. That is one wonderful thing about the definition of the word "religion". Its wide open prairie and you don't have to follow ANY rules that other religions try to impose. You DO have to follow rules/laws of the land, or go to jail, though. (such as trespassing/ownership laws). So, even though you might believe the Earth is to be freely shared by all, another (type of) religion (capitalism) are the policies used by the police guns and many militaries. I think I sense that you are in fear that once we get rid of the pyramid scheme called capitalism, that another hierarchical "religion" or "order" will just be imposed on everyone, and off we go again... having to answer-up to stupidity... or else. (Much like the "join the free marketeers, or else" done to USA 18 year olds these days).

    And, I don't blame you for having that fear. Controlism and empowerment is a very addictive phenomena, just like enjoyments/materialism. The herd has been programmed to hate communism, when actually its a hatred of the old Soviet Union. The word "communism" is still rejected as a pot pipe. And so, we will likely need to use "communalism" instead. We will likely need to remind the herd that communion, communications, community... 3 of the most loving phenomena to be found anywhere... are all based on the word commune. Folks don't see the hippies, flower power, dogs and sitars, make love not war, anti-establishment... when you mention communism. But they do when you use "commune". Moneyless, ownerless, hippy communes tried to teach love, sharing, caring, cooperation instead of competition, etc... but so does Christianity... when followed "pure". Unfortunately, many of these religions that once started pure and clean... went dirty when the decided that competing over false idols called money and ownership was somehow OKAY. They went corrupt. Make sure YOUR new personal religion doesn't do the same. Will you die of starvation if you hold your ground and refuse to participate in pyramid schemes like capitalism? Likely. Its a sad state of affairs, but in the face of all the imposed rules and dogma of the runaway competer's church called capitalism, hold your own... and be sure to inform others around you that you are a force-in, not a volunteer participant. Denounce, renounce, and speak against competer's religions such as capitalism... EVERY CHANCE YOU GET, even if it costs you friends. You've done the legwork. You've done the investigation regarding your own religion's proofs. No, you don't have the full story yet, but that doesn't mean you'll be buying into anyone's hoopla-infested story telling. Their stories are good for a giggle, but yours has the goods. Try to find a line of separation between "religion" and "religious organizations", if you please. Take it easy, J!

    Posted by Wingnut, 02/13/2011 8:06am (13 years ago)

  • There is another saying of the prophet Muhammad that is well known. "Pay the laborer before his sweat dries."
    Islamic scholars agree that this clearly means that workers have certain inalienable rights. Mainly, to be treated fairly and justly. To do otherwise is sinful.

    Posted by Mike Greer, 02/13/2011 2:01am (13 years ago)

  • I'm sorry but I can't abide by this. Yes it is true that religion better fits with communism than capitalism but Religion is just another class system enforced on man and is essentially a lie. Religion itself is just another way to enforce rule and power over people for finacial gain. There is no place for religion in a true communist society and that should be made clear.

    Posted by James, 02/12/2011 12:23pm (13 years ago)

  • This,dear brother David S. Pena,is a breath of fresher air-we much too often,in our Party hear-If... you believe God hates socialism or If... you believe God hates Christians,If... you believe Allah hates Islam,or some other misinformed tragic and dangerous,ignorant(of Marxism)nonsense.
    We all need to carefully review Critique of the Gotha Program. We will find that it does not read what we have thought it to,apparently. Your interpretation is on the mark.
    Eager to read more from you-we need this.
    Keep on.
    Keeping on.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 02/11/2011 1:51am (13 years ago)

  • I don't think that God favors one political system over another since he promised he would stay neutral after he flooded the world during the Noah's Ark episode. However, I do find Capitalism to be a very selfish and self-serving ideology that does nothing to advance civilization as a whole.

    Posted by Jay Greif, 02/10/2011 12:00pm (13 years ago)

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