How to be Happy [2] | Out of the ashes of Communism and Christianity


Thanks for the comments on the post about happiness the other day. I’ve been mulling over the idea of happiness, and why we are perhaps the most unhappy society ever, and linking it to a new direction my thinking seems to be being drawn in.

As I’ve written before, I’m really interested in the charred remains of what we might see as the grand failed projects of Eastern Europe and the West: Communism and Christianity. Both have been superceded by the steamroller of Capitalism, which burns all, consumes all and turns all to waste…

The vacuum which Consumer Capitalism has come into concerns the failure of Christianity and Communism to deal with the root problem of the human condition: alienation – unhappiness by another name.

I’ve been reading The Philosophy of Marx, and in it the author discusses Feuerbach:

Feuerbach sought to explain ‘religious alienation’, i.e. the face that real, sensuous men represent salvation and perfection to themselves in another supra-sensuous world (as a projection of their own ‘essential qualities’ into imaginary beings and situations – in particular, the bond of community or love which unites ‘humankind’). By becoming conscious of this mistake, human beings will become capable of ‘re-appropriating’ their essence which has become alienated in God and, hence, of really living out fraternity on earth.

He goes on to say that thinkers like Marx:

attempted to extend the same schema to other phenomena of the abstraction and dispossession of human existence. They sought, in particular, to extend it to the constitution of the political sphere, isolated from society, as an ideal community in which human beings were said to be free and equal.

Alienation, in other words, is a problem identified by Feuerbach and Marx. For Feuerbach religion actually functions to perpetuate alienation because it is a projected fantasy that prevents us entering into proper fraternity. Marx then took this principle and applied it to alienation from our labour.

The problem I am pondering – and doing so as a total amateur needing some better thinkers to get to grips with this – is that Christianity and Communism have both failed because they have both failed to understand the mulitple dimensions of our alienation – as I set out in the first post on happiness.

So what should we do in response to these twin failures? What we cannot do is fill the gap with stuff – and the endgame of consumerism has shown this. What we must work towards is a synthesis built out of the lessons of the twin failures of Communism and Christianity.


2 responses to “How to be Happy [2] | Out of the ashes of Communism and Christianity”

  1. Good post Kester, I was actually thinking of writing about Marx and alienation too! I’ll track back to you if I do.

    I think Marx’s observations about alienation in terms of economics are spot on. Although it helped me tremendously to understand what exactly he meant by alienation. He uses it in the same sense that German philosophers like Hegel use the term, basically that two things belonging together have been ripped apart.

    In this case, human essence and human existence have been ripped apart. So for the essence to come apart from human existence is merely to say that humans are not living in accordance with how they ought to live. Of course Marx would say Communism fixes this, but again it’s not an either/or here. I like your last line:

    “What we must work towards is a synthesis built out of the lessons of the twin failures of Communism and Christianity.”

    But I would also add that we need to learn form the failure of capitalism as well.


  2. I wonder if society’s emotional intelligence could do with significant bolstering? Ditto empowerment. Being treated as if one has worth can offer an immediate boost. Systems press people into roles, constricting and stifling them and fostering dependency. But then that’s how the sociopathic powers-that-be prefer us; we are easier to control. And we’re back to emotional intelligence.

    I also think there’s an awful lot to be said for enabling reconnection with a greater amount and variety of life forms. We may keep pets and grow flowers and shrubs in a garden but apparently some research has shown that people are healthier and more content in areas with a higher concentration of greenery. Other research identified a soil microbe which appears to alleviate depression