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Critique of Religion and Market Religion and Post-colonialism

by Franz Hinkelammert and Sebastian Pittl
Critique of religion as critique of fetishism is a critique of earthly gods, which are false gods. "Man is the highest being for man." Marx develops it further in other words and formulates his idea of the liberation of man in the Communist Manifesto. There he says: "In place of the old bourgeois society with its classes and class antagonisms comes...the free development of all. "
Critique of religion and market religion
by Franz Hinkelammert
[This article posted on 4/30/2018 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

With modernity, a new critique of religion is developing. Its interest is not in the religious in the narrow sense. It is concerned with society as a whole: to what do people attach their hearts? To which earthly and which heavenly gods? A common thread runs from the prophets in the Old Testament to Pope Francis. In the middle: Karl Marx.

Karl Marx is a critic of religion. He focuses it on the critique of earthly gods. For him, they are directly linked to the economy. Marx quotes Christopher Columbus as saying: "Gold is a wonderful thing! He who possesses the same is master of everything he desires. Through gold one can even make souls enter paradise. "1

This fascination determined by gold characterizes the conquest of America. Already the Indígenas had recognized during the Conquista: Gold is the god of the Christians! And indeed, they were hardly mistaken. The Peruvian liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez tells about it: "It happened that a chief called all his people together. Everyone was to bring what gold he had, and everything was then to be pooled. And he said to his Indians: 'Come, friends, this is the God of the Christians. So we want to dance something before him, then go to the sea there and throw it in. Then when they learn that we no longer have their God, they will leave us alone. "2

In the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes considers money as the blood of Leviathan. The philosopher uses this name to refer to the emerging capitalist market. For him, Leviathan is the mortal god among the immortal god who inhabits heaven. At the beginning of the 20th century, the French writer Léon Bloy takes up this idea in a book to which he gives the title: The Blood of the Poor. In it, he states: money is the blood of the poor.

A few years after Bloy, the philosopher Walter Benjamin adopted this position in his fragment Capitalism as Religion3 and thus reignited the debate. The same thesis can be found, albeit more distantly, in the sociologist Max Weber, when he asserts that "the old many gods, disenchanted and therefore in the shape of impersonal powers, are rising from their graves. "4 Money is undoubtedly one of the most important of these impersonal powers. Today Pope Francis speaks of the idolatry of money and the deification of the market.

The market is an earthly god

Returning to Karl Marx, he analyzes a capitalism whose central reference is the market. This market he considers from the beginning as an earthly god. In the preface to his 1841 dissertation, Marx says that "philosophy"-here already to be understood as a critical theory-sets its "spell [against] all heavenly and earthly gods that do not recognize human self-consciousness as the supreme deity. "5 A little later, Marx focuses his critique of religion on the critique of these "earthly gods."

Marx thus considers "human self-consciousness" to be the "supreme deity"-it is opposed to all "heavenly and earthly gods." In his 1844 Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, he uses the formula "man as the supreme being for man" instead of "human self-consciousness." He writes: "The critique of religion ends with the doctrine that man is the highest being for man, that is, with the categorical imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a degraded, an enslaved, an abandoned, a contemptible being. "6 For Marx, man is a degraded being as soon as anything else is declared the highest being.

Thus, Karl Marx submits a criterion of distinction for both religion and the gods of these religions, which must not be confused with an attack on religion itself. This differentiation holds true even if Marx assumes that religion becomes superfluous as soon as man recognizes himself as the supreme being for man. However, if it turns out that religion does not become superfluous, then this criterion for the "distinction of the gods" retains its validity.

Marx says: God has become man.

Implicitly - I would like to claim - Marx thus puts forward a thesis that can hardly be reconciled with the widespread conception of him: God became man. However, this is not a thesis in the religious sense, but in the anthropological sense. Marx also sets forth what man does when man becomes the supreme being - God, if you will - for man. This thesis, too, hardly corresponds to popular conceptions of him: then man overturns all conditions in which he is "a degraded, a subjugated, an abandoned, a contemptible being." In these few words Marx sketches a praxis for which another world is possible. With such a practice, man finds self-realization. And he thus faces the capitalist market, its money and its capital.

Thus I have worked out the paradigm of Marx's critique of religion and at the same time the paradigm of Marx's humanism - a humanism of praxis. It seems to me that it is the paradigm of critical thinking in general.

False gods want human sacrifice

The later Karl Marx takes this critique of religion further. But he is always concerned to criticize religion in the name of man, not in the name of any true god. Gods are always false gods as soon as they demand human sacrifice. Marx calls these false gods fetishes. Conversely, therefore, gods that do not demand human sacrifice are not false gods. This can be concluded even if Marx is silent about it. Undoubtedly, Marx develops his entire critique of religion in the tradition of the Jewish and Christian critique of idols. Therefore, my thesis is: Marx's critique of religion is ultimately idolatry critique, i.e. idolatry critique.

For Karl Marx, the critique of religion becomes a critique of fetishism. Admittedly, critique of fetishism can be equated with critique of idolatry. But still, for Marx it is not a simple play with words, but a shift of his focus. The later Marx does not even mention the heavenly gods anymore, but only the earthly ones. He defines them - concentrated on market, money and capital - as fetishes.

Criticism of religion always runs the risk of being directed at a particular religion. Marx, however, formulates a universal claim. Consequently, he cannot limit himself to the critique of Christianity, from which he started. He must continue his critique of religion as the basis of his critique of political economy. It is now directed against earthly gods that can be experienced and can therefore also be carried on scientifically. These become visible in the earthly gods - in that these visibly transform man into a "degraded, a subjugated, an abandoned, a contemptible being". How these earthly gods accomplish the transformation of man and what laws they follow in the process - this is what the critique of political economy has to prove.

Subsequently, Karl Marx expands his categorical imperative: "Capitalist production therefore only develops the technique and combination of the social production process by simultaneously undermining the spring sources of all wealth: the earth and the worker. "7 Not only man becomes a subjugated being, but also nature, which for Marx is the extended body of man. There is no human life without the life of nature.

Critique of religion as critique of fetishism is a critique of earthly gods, which are false gods. However, it must provide a criterion for what it calls "false." Marx had already formulated the same criterion in the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: "Man is the highest being for man." Marx develops it further in other words and formulates his idea of the liberation of man in the Communist Manifesto. There he says: "In place of the old bourgeois society with its classes and class antagonisms comes an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. "8

The Marxian criterion is here extended to the universal emancipation of man, which excludes no one. Such a concept of freedom far exceeds the bourgeois one. There, bourgeois society and its members are free, even if some have to starve. For Marx, however, freedom starts from the liberation of the body. It can at the same time be considered a criterion of justice: "To each according to his ability, to each according to his need. "9

Revolution in heaven as on earth

Latin American liberation theology is placing itself in a new relationship with Marxism, especially since the beginning of this century in the wake of the collapse of Soviet socialism and its consequences for Marxist thought. This is happening in a direction similar to that taken many decades earlier by Leonhard Ragaz, the founder of the New Ways, albeit with different arguments.

What has happened in the last decades is not completely new. Hegel had already claimed that no revolution was possible without reformation. After the Second World War, and especially in Chinese communism, the thesis was spread, which also seems to me to be true: No revolution on earth without a revolution in heaven. Such a thesis implies of course the reverse: No counter-revolution on earth without counter-revolution in heaven.

No revolution on earth without a revolution in heaven.

Today's Pope Francis refers to this counterrevolution: "One of the reasons [of today's injustice] lies in the relationship we have established with money, because peacefully we accept its domination over us and over our societies. The financial crisis we are going through makes us forget that at its origin there is a deep anthropological crisis: the denial of the primacy of man! We have created new idols. "10 Francis further concludes, "God is perceived by these financiers, economists, and politicians as ungovernable, even dangerous, because he calls man to fully realize himself and to oppose every form of slavery. "11

The Pope's statement is in line with Karl Marx's statement about man as the highest being for man. The Pope's thesis is in response to the Reaganian theology of counterrevolution, which is clearly being perpetuated by Trump and which has apocalyptic fundamentalism as its foundation. Through this counterrevolution, the class struggle from above is explained in extremis. The pope challenges a God who calls man to secure his self-realization in the ceaseless struggle for liberation from every form of slavery. In so doing, he presents a God who himself shares the humanism of Marx's praxis.

This position for man as the highest being for man is thus transformed by Francis into a revolution in heaven. It now enables movement in the left. The consequence of Marx's humanism of praxis is valid: market, money and capital are there for man, not man for the market, for money and for capital.

The confrontation with counterrevolution cannot be limited to ideological analysis. We must carry forward the Marxian critique of religion in today's conditions if we are to meet the challenges of the present effectively.

Columbus, in Letter from Jamaica, 1503. - Karl Marx: Das Kapital, Vol. I. MEW, vol. 23, Berlin 1968, p. 145.

Cited in: Gustavo Gutierrez: God or the Gold. Freiburg 1990, p. 197.

Walter Benjamin: Capitalism as Religion [Fragment]. In: Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser, 7 vols, Frankfurt am Main 1991, vol. VI, pp. 100-102.

Max Weber: Science as a Profession. Stuttgart 1995, p. 34.

Karl Marx: Difference of the Democritical and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. Preface. MEW, vol. 40, p. 262.

Karl Marx: On the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Introduction. MEW, vol. 1, p. 385.

Karl Marx: Das Kapital, vol. I. MEW, vol. 23, pp. 528/530.

Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party. MEW, vol. 4, pp. 459-493.

Karl Marx: Critique of the Gotha Program. MEW, vol. 19, p. 21.

Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, November 24, 2013.

Pope Francis: address to the ambassadors of Kyrgyzstan, Antigua and Barbuda, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and Botswana, May 16, 2013.

Book tip → Michael Ramminger/Franz Segbers (eds.): "Overturning all conditions ... and toppling the powerful from their thrones." The common heritage of Christians and Marx. Hamburg/Münster 2018, 240 pp.

Franz Hinkelammert,
*1931 in Emsdetten/Germany, is a social philosopher, economist, and liberation theologian. He is a professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Universidad Nacional in Heredia, Costa Rica. He is the author of many works on liberation theology, critique of capitalism and globalization.
fjhinkelammert [at]


Globalization of hope
by Sebastian Pittl
[This article posted on 4/13/2019 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Postcolonial theology is of greater importance today than ever before and makes a relevant contribution to understanding contemporary challenges. Guiding it is the question of the multi-layered interconnections of Christianity, modernity, and colonialism - and their consequences.

More than 85 percent of the globe has a colonial past. In addition to the great colonial empires of England and France or the former empires of Portugal and Spain, modern colonial actors include the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Denmark, the United States, Russia and Japan. The wounds of this period are still open today. In addition, there are new wounds caused by an aggressive neo-colonialism, which is also a central theological challenge today. As examples, one need only think of the worldwide overexploitation of resources by international corporations; of the pressure exerted by Western countries on many states of the "South" to conclude free trade agreements that destroy domestic markets; or of the consequences of climate change, caused primarily by Western states, from which in a disproportionate way precisely the populations of the poorest countries suffer.

What is now called "Western modernity" is so deeply shaped in its formation by the structures and history of colonialism that it cannot be adequately understood without an analysis of the same. Not only is the rise of Europe as the leading economic and military region of the world inconceivable without colonial history, but also essential elements that are now considered achievements of a modern "Western" civilization, such as international law or human rights, have their origins in colonial contexts. In philosophers such as Kant and Hegel, moreover, the disastrous interconnections of the Enlightenment and modern racism become apparent.1

As legitimizing instances of European conquests and the "civilizing mission "2 that followed, but also as critics of the murder, mistreatment, and enslavement of indigenous populations, Christianity and its missionaries were enmeshed in European colonial history from the very beginning. The activities of missionaries not only had a massive impact on societies outside Europe, but also contributed significantly to the formation of Europe's view of itself and the world.3

Postcolonial Research

From what has been said, it is clear that the topic of "theology and postcolonialism" is neither a matter of the past nor something that concerns only non-European contexts. Contemporary postcolonial research does not only focus on challenges for the countries and churches of the so-called "global South", but takes a look at a fundamental condition under which every encounter of people, cultures and religions takes place today, also here in Europe.

At the same time, the term "postcolonialism" refers to a very specific approach to deal with this global condition. What is explicitly called "postcolonialism" or "postcolonial studies "4 is a research perspective that, starting from the prominent studies of Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhaba, and others, has established itself in recent decades, first and foremost in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Proponents of postcolonial studies are not the first to critically examine Western colonialism. Analyses of and resistance to colonialism, especially in the colonies, themselves go back as far as the beginnings of the European colonial system. Prominent Christian examples in this regard are the two Dominicans Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de las Casas, who already at the beginning of the 16th century vehemently criticized the establishing Spanish colonial system, but also manifold indigenous resistance movements. In recent decades, the various liberation theologies in particular have addressed the issue of colonial and neocolonial structures.

With postcolonial studies, there is a twofold shift from these earlier forms of critique of colonialism. First, the locus of analysis and critique shifts to Western, initially primarily U.S., universities. Second, the creative reception of poststructuralist theories shifts the focus: the attention of postcolonial studies is initially less on economic and political structures than on the construction of systems of meaning and signification, that is, language, texts, and discourses.

Postcolonial theory is not a homogeneous doctrine.

Consequences for theology

It is probably thanks to the successful establishment of postcolonial studies in the Anglo-Saxon academic world that the first approaches to postcolonial theology were also developed in the USA after the turn of the millennium. In contrast, the reception of postcolonial thought within German-speaking theology has been very hesitant. On the contrary, as interest in liberation theology has waned over the past two decades, attention to the topic of colonialism within German-language theology actually seems to have declined.

It is important that a counterpoint be made to this. This for three reasons: First, the examination of historical and contemporary forms of (neo-)colonialism is of greater importance today than ever before for a theology that wants to remain capable of speaking in the face of the global challenges of the present (migration and flight, destruction of the global ecosystem, neo-imperialism, terrorism and fundamentalism, et cetera). Second, the perspective of postcolonial studies can make a relevant contribution to the understanding of these challenges that can be profitably received by previous forms of their theological treatment (for example, liberation theological). Third, postcolonial theorizing is increasingly used by churches with colonial histories in developing local theologies, making engagement with these discourses relevant also in terms of promoting intra-church understanding.

Guiding questions here are the connection between (theological) knowledge and power, the challenge of developing an understanding of mission under postcolonial conditions, the multi-layered interconnections of Christianity, modernity, and colonialism, and the consequences of taking colonial and neocolonial experiences seriously for speaking God, understanding the Bible, theology of religion, and church pastoral ministry and development cooperation. Even within the critical strands of contemporary Western theology, such as feminist or political theology, latent Eurocentrisms are evident, as theologian Saskia Wendel demonstrates. She underscores the importance of postcolonial theory in exposing these Eurocentrisms.

"Postcolonial" pontification

Postcolonial theory is not a homogeneous doctrine, but a diverse, sometimes even contradictory assemblage of different methods and tools that are significantly shaped by the specific challenges of their respective contexts.

Pope Francis, a pope from the "end of the world, "4 has in recent years not only inscribed in a series of remarkable symbolic gestures the "margins" of the globalized world at the center of an institution that has long claimed to be the highest representative instance of both secular and spiritual power.5 In doing so, he has also criticized-in sometimes drastic images-the structures of domination and exclusion of the neoliberal "empire" of our day. Already in 2013, even before the great migratory movements of 2015, he spoke on Lampedusa of a "globalization of indifference" that makes people insensitive to the suffering and the "cries of others." Repeatedly in recent years and months, he has also used the image of a "Third World War" spreading piecemeal. The driving force of this "war", from which above all the "weakest" and "last" would suffer, was a "whole network of interests, [...] money [... and] imperial or economic power".6 Francis contrasts this destructive dynamic with the vision of a "globalization of hope". This is something that grows primarily "among the poor," in postcolonial language one would say the "subalterns," as the actual subjects of change. For Francis, the globalization of hope is necessarily multiform, as are the people and cultures of this earth.

It seems not inappropriate to measure the relevance of a contemporary mission theology also by the extent to which it is able to contribute to such a "globalization of hope". A postcolonially informed mission theology will try to make this contribution in humility, without naïve claims to purity and innocence, but in awareness of colonial entanglements in the past and present, and in an effort to show solidarity with the poor and excluded, regardless of denominational or religious affiliation. Christian hope can undoubtedly not be reduced to liberation from economic, political and symbolic marginalization. But the fact that it transcends these does not mean that it can be indifferent to them. As the Spanish-Salvadorian Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuría noted more than thirty years ago, Christian hope transcends the inner-worldly commitment to justice, liberation and reconciliation precisely because it does not - in the truest sense of "trans-cendere" - bypass this commitment but rather passes through it, thus driving it, correcting it and only in this way finally also transcending it.7●

Cf. Achille Mbembe: Critique of Black Reason, Berlin 2014.

Cf. Pope Alexander VI's papal bull Inter Caetera II (1493), which divided the territories yet to be "discovered" and conquered outside Europe between the Spanish and Portuguese empires.

Cf. Clemens Pfeffer: Koloniale Repräsentationen Südwestafrikas im Spiegel der Rheinischen Missionsberichte, 1842-1884. in: Stichproben.Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien 12/22 (2012), pp. 1-33.

Thus Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, in his greetings immediately after his election as pope in 2013.

Sebastian Pittl: From Rome to Lampedusa: The Eccentricity of the Church in the "Center" of Europe, in: Quart (2/2014), pp. 13-14.

Cf. Pope Francis: press conference on the return flight from Bangui to Rome, November 30, 2015.

Cf. Ignacio Ellacuria: Historicity of Christian Salvation. In: Jon Sobrino (ed.) Mysterium Liberationis. Basic Concepts of the Theology of Liberation. Lucerne 1995 (1995), pp. 313-360, 318.

○The text is based on the introduction of Theology and Postcolonialism. Approaches - Challenges - Perspectives. The book was published following the conference on the topic held in March 2017 at the Institute for World Church and Mission (IWM) at the Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt am Main.

Abridged and revised by Geneva Moser

Sebastian Pittl,
*1984, studied theology, psychology and philosophy in Vienna and Madrid. Since 2015, he has headed the research area of Intercultural Theology at the Institute for World Church and Mission in Frankfurt am Main. He is editor of the anthology Theology and Postcolonialism. Approaches - Challenges - Perspectives. Regensburg 2018.
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