Dana Milbank finds the fortitude to struggle through Rick Perry's 2008 book, On My Honor: A Personal Compendium of Contemporary Ignorance and Religious Bigotry. (OK, I invented the subtitle -- superfluously.) Notes Milbank:
Among the things Perry "deems" harmful: universities (students "have been taught that corporations are evil, religion is the opiate of the masses, and morality is relative"....
It is self-evident that some corporations are, and morality is, but I'd like to specially pause for Perry's conventional distortion of Karl Marx's observation -- "religion is the opiate of the masses" -- which habitually is loosely quoted, as well as quoted out of context. Here's the German philosopher's more complete, original version:
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. 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. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
If one reads Marx widely, or merely skims his writings, the realization that he was a far better sociologist than economist rapidly sinks in. His insights into 19th-century Europe's social tumult are often stunning in their originality and brilliant in composition -- especially when juxtaposed with the sonorously dry economics of Das Kapital, which even Fidel Castro once confessed he was unable to finish. The above passage, though, beautifully mixes both disciplines. And in it, Marx is clearly sympathetic to religion as both an "expression" and "protest" of "real [economic] distress." His was no high-handed denunciation of the masses' ignorance; it was a recognition of real, material human needs, which were ignored by government authorities and complicitly sanctioned by finely robed sorcerers.
Implicit -- to me -- in Marx's observation is that with socioeconomic justice could come a sensible return of, should we continue the metaphor, opium usage. His marvelous construct -- "The demand to give up the illusion about [the people's] condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions" -- can be read in a way in which "illusion" refers only to the illusory here and now; which is to say that Marx, in this passage, anyway, does not deny at least the possibility of the metaphysical there and later. He's merely saying that in conditions of vast socioeconomic inequality, the most fundamental precept of most organized religions (an afterlife) is a cruel co-conspirator of secular oppression.
Whatever. All I do know about a possible afterlife is this: If I ever slip into one and hear a "debate" between Karl Marx and Rick Perry, I'll know I'm in heaven.