I was reading a bit about Marx last evening and was struck by his assessment of life as essentially tragic. He could not be more right. However, his view that the church’s worship is a ruse (an opiate for the masses), was his greatest blindness. Religion, as far as Marx was concerned, is merely a glorified version of humanistic psychology. As you know, he felt that the reason people congregate in religious settings is because they seek the succor which the church seems to dispense. While I would cautiously affirm this in a Christocentric, rather than an institutional sense, as a purely-human endeavor, it obviously fails. It is not that comforting words from a member of the clergy are ineffective on an emotional level, but unless they are anchored in the objectivity of a crucified God-man, my belief is that the enabling language will fail to actualize its lofty aspirations. When it comes to themes of injustice, exclusion, greed and alienation, Marx has much to commend him; I cannot say the same for his understanding of religion, however.

The agnostic/atheist priest in Jesus of Montreal strikes me as a follower of Marx in this respect. Below is a conversation the priest (P) has with another character (C) in the movie…I think you’ll find it telling:

P] Have you ever been here on a Sunday when it's packed?   
Have you seen the Haitian charladies             
the Guatemalan refugees, the elderly and forsaken? 
It's a gathering of universal misery.                     
They don't care about the latest archaeological findings in the Middle East.                   
They want to hear that Jesus loves them and awaits them.            
C]That justifies selling plastic statues of Jesus and bottles of St. Joseph's oil for money?           
P] That Jesus is less than a rock poster.                   
 And is holy oil less effective than cocaine at $125/ gram?                   
Not everyone can afford psychoanalysis.                   
So they come here to be told 'Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.'  
It comforts them, a bit.
To round out the discussion (for those of us who usually just click on the videos before deciding to read the post), I found an interesting commentary on this problem of human need with respect to the church. This clip from ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look‘ illustrates the disconnect between modern spirituality and Christianity from the other side. In other words, what happens when people come to the church looking for succor, but find vitriol? The portrayal of the clergyman in the following clip is quite different from the one in Jesus of Montreal; though they both ‘see’ something equally true about the human condition and the role of the church. Here the vicar is depicted as a man who is frustrated with his parish as well as the vapid, feel-good spirituality that masquerades as Christianity. Marx’s case would have failed if this individual typified the state of pastoral care in the church. No doubt, the hyperbole involved in the sketch makes him an unlikable character, yet one feels a bit for him. The humor is based on the fact that he fails to appreciate the emotional context surrounding the visit, and (perhaps rightly) expects modern spirituality to show some deference to Christianity rather than the other way around. [Achtung! Some material may not be appropriate for sensitive viewers.]