The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

2 February 2005

In lieu of actual opiates

JunkYardBlog's Bryan Preston spotted this on a bumper sticker:

RELIGION:
It's what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.

The quote is attributed generally to Napoleon Bonaparte; this sticker is sold by Northern Sun, a long-standing vendor of left-wing posters, buttons and tchotchkes. I get their catalog occasionally, probably by dint of having an actual Mother Jones subscription.

I'm at a loss, though, to figure out what Napoleon meant by this. It seems fairly obvious what Northern Sun means by it: Wall Street and evangelical Christians are supposed to be locked into an unholy alliance to smite the poor and downtrodden. This doesn't jibe with my experience, but then I am not especially poor, nor have I been trodden upon on a regular basis. (The question of whether I'm smitten can wait for another time.) It is certainly useful, though, to have all your designated demons on the same side.

The JYB analysis:

It has a very Marxist flavor, a sort of "opium for the masses" drive, doesn't it? Which tells me that the couple inside the van were in all likelihood rabid lefties.

And idiots. I don't suppose it ever occurred to them that even if religion's sole purpose was to keep the underclass from murdering the rich, that that would be a good thing. I don't suppose it ever occurred to them to think that if the restraint of religion were removed, and the poor did indeed murder the rich, that all that would do would spark yet another round of bloodletting once some of the former poor had managed to amass enough of the riches left behind by the dead.

Same as the old boss, as Pete Townshend might have said. A cursory glance at some of our mean streets, though, would suggest that if the poor are inclined to murder anyone, it's each other.

Posted at 7:33 AM to Immaterial Witness


I'm reminded of the old Robin Hood sketch.

Poor Guy: Who are you?
Robin Hood: I'm Robin Hood. I steal from the rich & give to the poor. Here is a bag of gold that I took from the king.
Poor Guy(jumping up & down): I'M RICH! I'M RICH!
Robin Hood: Stick 'em up.

Posted by: Dwayne "the canoe guy" at 8:52 AM on 2 February 2005

Just out of curiosity, I did a brief web search to try to find the original of this comment. I was able to discover on a couple of French websites the following quotation claimed to come from Napoleon (though without a specific reference or context):

Il n'y a que la religion qui puisse faire supporter aux hommes les inégalités de rang, parce qu'elle console de tout.

An English translation would be the following:
Only religion could allow the inequalities of status among men to be maintained, because it provides consolation for everything.

This is similar to the English quotation attributed to Napoleon, but not quite the same. The French quotation deals with status (aristocrats v. commoners), while the English quotation deals with wealth (rich v. poor). Napoleon's own relationship to religion was complex. He certainly did not accept the notion that religious hierarchies should have any authority over secular government, but he was not ideologically opposed to religion per se. Without a context for this quotation, however, it's hard to know exactly what Napoleon (whose views often changed) meant.

Posted by: Michael Meckler at 11:10 AM on 2 February 2005

And, I suspect, often had his views changed for him.

Still, as you said, there's no reason to think Napoleon was particularly hostile to religion; the folks with the bumper sticker probably are. Beyond that, deponent saith not.

Posted by: CGHill at 11:44 AM on 2 February 2005

... of course my old favorite bumpersticker ... "Why Religion Ruled the World They Called it the Dark Ages" ... that's definitely a traffic conversation starter ...

Posted by: Ron at 12:07 PM on 4 February 2005