Graham Pemberton
10 min readApr 16, 2024

Communism, Religion, and Carl Jung


This is a response and counter-argument to a recent article by someone writing under the name of Religion and Politics at The Dinner Table, entitled ‘The Opiate of the Masses, Why have communist regimes traditionally been against religion?’

He begins with the well-known quote from Karl Marx: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

As far as I can tell, the writer seems to be in general agreement with Marx, who:

  • “saw the development of religion as a balm for people who were suffering in the physical world”
  • “saw it as a remnant of the past that had continued into the current age”
  • “saw the issue with religion as being how it can make people complacent and can hinder their desire to change their material circumstances”
  • thought “it gives a lot of power to religious leaders over people, which can go against the good of the people at large”.

He goes on to make some familiar arguments:

  • that religions historically have been responsible for many wars and massacres
  • that believers are often exploited by those in positions of authority, whether in the caste system in India, or by televangelists, all of which helps the elite to maintain their power
  • that religions “promise you all kinds of stuff after this life, so why would you bother to really strive to make this world any better?”

He says that “Marx accurately saw that this sort of belief, beliefs that people are willing to fight and die for, and even design policy around is incredibly detrimental for the actual real living people here on the planet Earth right now. It distracts all of us from doing things that actually help people and causes rifts among the working class and even wars over this nonsense”.

He ends by quoting Eugene Debs: “The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose — especially their lives”.

For the full details of his argument, please see his article.



My point of view is that, while the problems he lists with organised religions may well be real, it is vitally important that for the future, and the difficult times ahead, we have a credible and meaningful religion. Why do I think that?

The obvious point to make is that communist, Marxist states do not exactly have a great record in achieving their promises. Movements that promise to ‘liberate the proletariat’ can end up murdering their own citizens, for example Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. What kind of liberation is that? Opposition is not allowed, the countries becoming one-party states, and dissenters are persecuted and imprisoned, or sent to ‘re-education’ camps. We can reasonably ask whether the brainwashing of children in some of these countries is any different from that which is dished out by organised religions, as Marx might claim.

The strangely named ‘Democratic’ People’s Republic of Korea (aka North Korea) seems to have become a family dynasty in the manner of Western royal families, under the current leadership of Kim Jong Un, who succeeded his father. How is that Communism? In China, the removal of the two-term limit on the presidency has been approved, thus allowing Xi Jinping to remain in power for life, should he so choose. (China’s recent treatment of Hong Kong is not exactly a great example of freeing the people.)

We have the further example of Robert Mugabe, who began as a revolutionary freedom fighter but, as President of Zimbabwe, became a dictatorial tyrant, accumulating much wealth in the process. So, he was not much different from the regime he wanted to replace, and which he found so appalling.

It is not hard to understand why all this should be so with a basic understanding of psychology. Here is the point of view of Carl Jung:

“But all such attempts have proved singularly ineffective, and will do so as long as we try to convince ourselves and the world that it is only they (i.e. our opponents) who are wrong. It would be much more to the point for us to make a serious attempt to recognize our own shadow and its nefarious doings. If we could see our shadow (the dark side of our nature), we should be immune to any moral and mental infection and insinuation. As matters now stand, we lay ourselves open to every infection, because we are really doing practically the same thing as they. Only we have the additional disadvantage that we neither see nor want to understand what we ourselves are doing, under the cover of good manners”¹. (The two ‘theys’ are his italics.)

In this context it is not hard to understand the dynamics of Communism. All the ‘heroic’ revolutionary leaders are completely unaware of their own dark power complex, their shadow side as Jung would put it. They project it onto those currently in power, genuinely believing that things would be so much better if only they were in charge. The reality is unfortunately somewhat different. It was therefore no surprise that the former USSR condemned the work of Sigmund Freud. The last thing those leaders would want to do is to examine their own psyche, and uncover their unconscious dark motivations.

Jung continues: “The communist world, it may be noted, has one big myth (which we call an illusion, in the vain hope that our superior judgment will make it disappear). It is the time-hallowed archetypal dream of a Golden Age (or Paradise), where everything is provided in abundance for everyone, and a great, just, and wise chief rules over a human kindergarten. This powerful archetype in its infantile form has gripped them, but it will never disappear from the world at the mere sight of our superior points of view. We even support it by our own childishness, for our Western civilization is in the grip of the same mythology. Unconsciously, we cherish the same prejudices, hopes, and expectations. We too believe in the welfare state, in universal peace, in the equality of man, in his eternal human rights, in justice, truth, and (do not say it too loudly) in the Kingdom of God on Earth”.

I am not completely free from this ‘illusion’ myself, for I also believe in working for a better world. Jung’s point of view in this book is somewhat more pessimistic: “The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites — day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail against the other, that good will overcome evil, or joy defeat pain. Life is a battleground. It always has been, and always will be; and if it were not so, existence would come to an end”.

Elsewhere he is more optimistic. I have recently been re-reading The Undiscovered Self², which is short and an easy read, but profound nevertheless. Two particularly interesting chapter headings are ‘The Plight of the Individual in Modern Society’, and ‘Religion as the Counterbalance to Mass-Mindedness’.

He says: “In order to free the fiction of the sovereign State — in other words, the whims of those who manipulate it — from every wholesome restriction, all socio-political movements tending in this direction invariably try to cut the ground from under the religions. For, in order to turn the individual into a function of the State, his dependence on anything beside the State must be taken from him. But religion means dependence on and submission to the irrational facts of experience”. Marx believes that communist governments should reject religion for the reasons listed above. Here Jung explains why they want this, and why such attempts should be resisted at all costs.

At the time of writing, he was referring primarily to the totalitarian Communist regimes, of which he is highly critical: “The Communist revolution has debased man far lower than democratic collective psychology has done, because it robs him of his freedom not only in the social but in the moral and spiritual sense”. Seventy years later we see similar authoritarian threats arising in our own Western societies, or that is at least what various so-called ‘conspiracy theorists’ believe. As Jung said, we see alongside this the attempt to cut the ground from under religion — materialist science, atheism, Humanism, and the trend towards secularism are obvious examples. George Orwell’s 1984 offered a serious warning about the direction of humanity. Most educated people have read it, and think it’s a great book, but many remain oblivious when it’s happening right under their noses.

Perhaps controversially, Jung believes that a new Reformation of Christianity might offer a solution to this problem. He says: “Our Christian outlook on life has proved powerless to prevent the recrudescence of an archaic social order like communism. This is not to say that Christianity is finished. I am, on the contrary, convinced that it is not Christianity, but our conception and interpretation of it, that has become antiquated in face of the present world situation. The Christian symbol is a living thing that carries in itself the seeds of further development. It can go on developing; it depends only on us, whether we can make up our minds to meditate again, and more thoroughly, on the Christian premises”.

The religions claim to give an external point of reference. They “teach another authority opposed to that of the ‘world’. The doctrine of the individual’s dependence on God makes just as high a claim upon him as the world does”. “It may even happen that the absoluteness of this claim estranges him from the world in the same way he is estranged from himself when he succumbs to the collective mentality”.

The creeds “are full of impressive mythological symbolism which, if taken literally, come into insufferable conflict with knowledge. But if, for instance, the statement that Christ rose from the dead is to be understood not literally but symbolically, then it is capable of various interpretations that do not collide with knowledge and do not impair the meaning of the statement. The objection that understanding it symbolically puts an end to the Christian’s hope of immortality is invalid, because long before the coming of Christianity mankind believed in a life after death and therefore had no need of the Easter event as a guarantee of immortality. The danger that a mythology understood too literally, and as taught by the Church, will suddenly be repudiated lock, stock and barrel is today greater than ever. Is it not time that the Christian mythology, instead of being wiped out, was understood symbolically for once?

Jung’s ‘religion’ is of course very different from traditional Christianity, based as it is on creeds, moral injunctions, and arguably meaningless rituals. He calls it the individuation process which, like all true religions/spirituality, is about the transformation of consciousness. (He understood the alchemical process of transforming lead into gold as an allegory of the necessary psychological transformation.)

The focus in Christianity is on the afterlife, thus a form of escape from this world. While obviously not the same as in Buddhism and Hinduism, there is a similarity in that the goal in those religions is to escape the need to reincarnate; their focus is therefore also the afterlife. In contrast, Jung believes that we are called to do certain work in the material world, serving the ‘divine’. As the Sufi mystical poet Rumi said: “Human beings come to this world to do particular work. That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person”.

Medium writer and committed Christian Gerald R. Baron, in a recent article says: “One of the most profound questions I was asked in the process of this writing was by an atheistic friend who, after a conversation of why I believe, said, ‘OK, let’s say I agree with you that God exists, so what? What difference does it make?’

He says: “I’ve thought about that question a lot. I believe it makes a world of difference, and yet, I am very aware that I live my life in ways very much like my friend and most others I know who do not necessarily share my beliefs in God and in the Incarnate Son. It raises the question of how personal beliefs or worldviews affect our understanding of the world, the lives we live, the conflicts and struggles we encounter, our thoughts about death, our political views and votes, and the happiness or unhappiness we experience in this life. The basic question asked here is whether our beliefs make one whit of difference in who we are and how we live our lives”.

Jung would wholeheartedly affirm that it does make a big difference. I suggest that, even if an atheist outsider cannot see this difference, the lives of those connected to the divine in the Jungian sense will definitely be different from those who have nothing more than their belief in organised religions. This is because their life will be based upon their personal experiences, and a genuine felt connection with the divine and the work they are called to do, rather than mere beliefs.

In opposition to Karl Marx, we might say rather: “Atheism is the opium of the Marxists”.

Carl Jung

I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, and politics. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.



  1. Man and His Symbols, Picador, 1978, p73
  2. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974

Religion and Politics at The Dinner Table


Geoff Ward

Prudence Louise

John Ege

Marcus aka Gregory Maidman

Rip Parker

Gerald R. Baron

Jack Preston King

Graham Pemberton

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships.