I was somewhat surprised by the comments on my post "Slouching Toward Bethlehem." It brought to mind my experience in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass. All of us on the faculty were thoroughly liberated types with not an ounce of religious belief among us, but the graduate students were rather different. Half or more were seriously devout in one version of Christianity or other. I think I have told the story in my Autobiography of the series of evening lectures I gave to fifteen or more students as a way of supplementing what they were getting during the day. One evening, I was speaking about Marx's views on religion, and as it happens it was raining. At one point I remarked, in an aside, "Of course, there is no God." At that precise moment there was an enormous clap of thunder. I was later told that the students took it as a sign. I have been going along blithely assuming that anyone moved to follow this blog would share my secular view of the universe but it appears that is not so.
It was wonderful to hear from Carol Wolman, who was [if you can believe it] my student fifty-four years ago! I recall Carol as a very bright, slender, pretty blond woman with a sceptical view of the world, but I suppose she is older now. Strange. She is still that young Radcliffe student to me. Checking my records to confirm my recollections, I came upon the following comment about one young woman who shall remain nameless: "misses [Professor Raphael] Demos, but hopes that [Paul] Tillich will be a suitable father figure. God!" [I have complete records on all of the work done by every student who has ever taken a class with me, going back to 1954. Even then, I was auditioning for a summer stock performance of Goodbye, Mr. Chips.]
Chris is quite right about Marx, though I think Marx considered capitalism a more invasive and corrosive solvent of tradition than perhaps Chris credits him with. By the way, Marx's famous remark that religion is the opiate of the masses is usually somewhat misunderstood [but clearly not by Chris.] Opium in those days was an acceptable narcotic for those who could pay for it, deadening the senses and assuaging the pain of capitalist social reality. Religion, Marx suggested acerbically, played that role for the masses, who could not afford the drug.
On a different subject entirely, I have been turning over in my mind what I want to accomplish in the course I will teach next Spring at UNC Chapel Hill on Marx's economic theories. A quick check on-line of UNC's offerings in the Economics Department confirmed that there is no course or seminar offered in which anything remotely like Marx's economic theories could make an appearance, so I shall be plowing virgin land. For the sorts of complicated administrative reasons with which I am all too familiar after a half century in the Academy, the only rubric under which my course can be listed is an advanced graduate "special topics" number, but I plan to get the word out to undergraduates in Philosophy, Economics, and Political Science that they are welcome. I will be very interested to see whether anyone shows up.
My lectures will be full of detailed arguments and numerical examples, of course, but the central idea I want to get across is that capitalism is not to be identified simpliciter with rational economic behavior, the only alternative to it being some poorly developed or debased falling away from that ideal state of affairs. There was a time when it would not have been necessary to argue for this obvious truth, but in this, as in much else, we have seen quite literally a decline in the general understanding of the human world in the past century.