Karl Marx Is Dead—And So Is Dialectical Materialism (for the most part)


Nietzsche famously said, “God is dead.” His great intellectual forebear, Karl Marx, was born on this date in 1818, just five years after Søren Kierkegaard, who has the same birthday. Marx is perhaps the best-known atheist of the 19th century. He grew up in a German-Jewish home. But it is said that he converted to Lutheranism when he was only six years old. Either it didn’t take, or it didn’t last.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

He was a militant atheist during his college years at Bonn and Berlin. He was drawn to a group called “the Young Hegelians.” A major figure of this group was Ludwig Feuerbach, who influenced Marx and probably inspired much of the atheist element in Marx’s “dialectical materialism.” For Feuerbach, God is nothing more than a projection of the human imagination. Religion is but a dream. And it is a dream with a mixed reputation. It expresses the guilt and remorse characteristic of the human condition, and then pretends to offer a solution. Humans find it pretty hard to escape this fantasy, since it serves a useful purpose.

Marx extended the motif, calling religion “the opiate of the people.” More drug than dream. The corrective he envisioned would replace the need for a beneficent transcendent being with a social arrangement that would ensure tranquility and economic stability. His dialectical materialism provided the metaphysical framework for his communist utopianism. As materialist, he asserted that all is matter, including the human person. But his materialism affirms an evolutionary history that leads dialectically to utopian finality, where society progresses from “each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The path to this ideal condition would be painful but necessary. It would be mediated by revolution.

Sadly, this much of the Marxist vision has been realized; but its glorious outcome has been more nightmare than dream. Neither Marx nor Feuerbach offered any real arguments against the existence of God. Instead, they embrace the nonexistence of God as a kind of article of faith. They imagined that all who believe in God do so without objective warrant. But pervasive belief in God must be explained—and got rid of—somehow. Thus they offered psychological and sociological explanations for religious belief. This created space for Marx’s theoretical speculations, which gained surprising traction in his day. His dialectical materialism is mostly a thing of the past. Communism has been exposed as a vicious means for dictatorship rather than equality. But the attitude persists that religion is a private matter that tends rather to debase humanity than to realize humanity’s highest aspirations.

This is a powerful catalyst for secularism. If religion is ungrounded, the most it can offer is private solace. But the heart grows restless with solace that has no objective ground. And so humanity turns to substitutes, seeking always to make a better life without God. It matters not whether God is dead—as Nietzsche proclaimed. What matters is whether the heart appropriates what reason supports. Our need for spiritual solutions to pervasive problems is some evidence that spiritual solutions do exist. But that possibility can only be taken seriously if evidence for religious truth is considered fairly and objectively. No path to a better world is worth trying if it doesn’t start there.

As I noted in a previous post for today, Søren Kiekegaard sought to awaken recognition of these facts about humanity and spiritual values. Too bad Marx didn’t listen to Kiekegaard.

The Great Dane—Remembering Kierkegaard


Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Today is Søren Kierkegaard’s birthday. He was born May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Denmark. He’s been called a Christian existentialist, a fideist, a satirist, and “the melancholy Dane.” He was concerned about the disconnect between Christian profession and the lived reality of true Christianity. He called his contemporaries to a deeper personal encounter with God. And he wrote with penetrating insight about the failure of the purely aesthetic life—what we today might call secularism—which seeks pleasure without discerning its natural and ultimate end, namely, despair. Kiekegaard’s contribution is considerable, even for the evidentialist. In fact, his sermonic style may be of value to the apologist who insists on the value of evidence. E. J. Carnell, mid-twentieth century, did the most to bring Kierkegaard’s insight into an overall “combinationalist” approach to apologetics. Carnell wrote:

There can be no question that Søren Kierkegaard gave a profoundly convincing defense of the third locus of truth.

Carnell was speaking of a “third way of knowing,” which respects the tendencies of the human heart, properly submitted to God, to discern religious truth. In this, Kierkegaard (and Carnell) were like Blaise Pascal, who spoke of “reasons of the heart which reason cannot know.” Carnell’s commentary on Kierkegaard continues:

What Christianity has always assumed, Kierkegaard made explicit. . . . Saving faith is not simply an intellectual assent to objective facts. Faith is cordial trust; it is a concerned, inward response to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Until the end of time, therefore, men who remember what it means to be a person will defend the supremacy of truth as inwardness. God sent His Son to make us good, not simply to make it possible for us to recite the creeds of the church.

Carnell is saying that few apologists have noted this vital aspect of Christian belief and conduct. But he issues a caveat:

But what must be questioned is the prudence of Kiekegaard’s attempt to secure inward truth by opposing it to objective evidences. It is from his lips, not those of the biblical writers, one learns that faith must believe what understanding finds contradictory—and for that very reason. Scripture’s healthy balance of the loci of truth has been upset by Kierkegaard. Rationality was bequethed by Jesus Christ as a light by which men may penetrate the darkness of error. ‘The true light that enlightens [gives a spiritually rational nature to] every man was coming into this world’ (John 1:9). Being a rational creature, thus, man must proportion his spiritual commitments to what the mind can conscientiously clear. Apart from this distribution of authority edification is impossible. . . . Saving faith germinates only after the mind is first convinced of the sufficiency of the evidences. If Christ taught plain logical nonsense . . . a balanced man would turn aside from Him as one to be pitied, not trusted. The reason why we are able to trust Christ is that He spoke and lived in a way which is congenial with our axiological expectations.

For Carnell, our “axiological expectations” include both what is existentially compelling and what is rationally convincing. “Faith” without the soul’s commitment may not be faith at all. But what is faith if it is not grounded in good reason? For anyone can have faith in anything.

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Other posts in this series . . .

Assessing My Need for an Apple Watch


I didn’t think I’d find the Apple Watch very interesting. The #1 reason is that I was sure it would be priced beyond my reach, for a timepiece. The #2 reason was that I thought it would be more timepiece than anything Apple should be willing to brag about.

Then I watched the various short tutorials at the Apple website. It does seem to have some nice features. Certainly, if you want to, you can pay $10k for a special edition. But for a few hundred you can get the same technology with less but completely satisfactory luster.

Still, a few hundred dollars? I wear a watch I paid less than a hundred for and everybody thinks it’s a Rolex. And I have a smart smart phone, the iPhone 6. I could strap it to my wrist.

If Apple and its loyal customers have watch envy, they have some catching up to do. They may want to drool over “The World’s Most Expensive Watches.” For my money, I’d go with the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatnour. Unfortunately, it’s priced at 1 million Swiss francs, and I have only a few dozen francs left over from my last trip to Zürich.

I think I’ll stick to my policy of waiting for the second or third generation Apple Watch before I buy the first—at a discount.

Here’s a New Yorker cartoon that captures the tech zeitgeist, and my own mood, in good humor:

Daily Cartoon: Friday, April 24th – The New Yorker.

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