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Religion in Marxist Thought

Updated on March 3, 2012

BOOK

Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Paris:1844.

An analysis of religion through Marxist thought

Karl Marx’s theories have been very influential and helped play a significant role in the development of modern communism and socialism. Marx was one of the founding fathers of modern sociology and his analysis of religion is probably one of the most famous and most quoted by all people whether they believe in a religion or not. Marx examined religion from an objective, scientific viewpoint and spoke about religion in a way that made people question his theory in whether it makes sense or not. Most of the time it is not understood the way he wanted people to understand it. Religious people take his theories one way, while atheists take his theories another way, it all depends on how you percieve the idea of religion in your own mind . In writing this, Marx’ theories on religion will be tried to understood in the way he wanted us to understand it. The following quote is by Karl Marx referring to religion from the book: A Contribution to the critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. 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… The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness….The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo….Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and cull the living flower.”

Marx was right in my opinion about religion, although it is difficult to understand fully for me because of the many writings, quotes and different aspects he's taken, reguarding religion. But I do agree with Marx in that religion was made for man to benefit man but by man- he's talking about powerful, wealthy people. Religion was created to benefit the creators (rich powerful man) and it's purpose was to throw off the rest of society by having them focus on religion. The ones who created religion were merely using religion to get what they wanted, which was to stay in high class, to stay in power and wealth. Why is every single religion so bothered with what is not seen and cannot be proven? The world is completely opposite to reality, we live in an inverted world and Marx’s thinking was an inverted world consciousness, which is a beautiful thing because in a time when not many questioned ways of life, Marx did and that is why he is one of the founding fathers of modern sociology.

Religion means a set of rules, rules to follow in order to guarantee an afterlife. It’s used by the people in power to control the people who are not in power (the masses). It convinces people to accept and endure the suffering and injustices in their lives because heaven awaits them. It prevented the masses from questioning and ultimately changing the current ways so that they can ensure people in power can stay in power. People in power used religion to brainwash society into not questioning the people in power. Marx views religion as a means of control by the government to control society. It is set up that way so society will follow the rules and laws of that government/religion, and so religion is used to back up the laws or guidelines that exist for that society. Religion is an expression of material realities and economic injustices, therefore problems in religion are ultimately problems in society. Religion is not the sickness or disease, but just a symptom. Religion is used by the oppressors( the high class people/rulers/heads of society) to make the people of society who were low class to feel better about themselves and about the distress they experience due to being poor and exploited.

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature”, meaning physical sufferings as caused by economic exploitations, that exploitation leaves them in physically poor condition, as they have to lead a life that is most inhuman and they must struggle simply for mere existence. This suffering, this religious suffering, comes from God who made this suffering, so the oppressed are sighing because it is God oppressing them. The people oppressed in society because of this religious suffering now have no one to fall back on in this “heartless” world, the only thing they have is religion which leads them to believe that they will be saved in the end, or in the afterlife because of religion, even though it has never been proven that there is even an after life, or that they are guaranteed salvation because after all religion is man made, has never been seen or proven in any way except through writing and speaking about it, so whose to say it is real?

Rulers of society want people to believe in religion so the focus will be off of them and onto religion, the less religious you are the more you will ask questions and try to find out information, the more religious you are means you believe that things are the way that they are because God made it like that. So you see, rulers wanted you to be more religious because then they would not get questioned by anyone especially when they themselves brought God into the matter. Religion convinces people to accept and endure the suffering and injustices in this life because heaven awaits them.

In today’s society rulers and governments cannot really do that because we are all more intellectually advanced, and not as gullible, but in history “God” was used for a lot of reasoning, and people would not question it and that helped build the ruling high class. Religion could act as a sedative for the people it makes you feel better, it calms you down, it essentially dumbs you down so that you stop asking questions and just accept whatever they feed you. Religion can be seen as just a means of social organization. Basically the following quote by Seneca goes hand in hand with these ideas “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”

Religion, it is made by man, made for man, but does not make man. A struggle against religion is therefore a struggle against the world; it is a fight against people whose aroma is religion. Religion can be seen as made for man, therefore made for society. Religion can be seen as something that’s not real but is made up to look real for society and government purpose to control society. This is good for the rulers/ government/ or people of higher class, because the people who made religion have made it for themselves, for the higher class people to protect them and help them keep their power, while the lower class people will be so caught up in following the laws and religions of that society they won’t be able to move up the ladder to a higher class. Religion is man made; God has nothing to do with religion being made because man made it, therefore the conflict comes in as to whether or not it is real since it is man made.

“Religion, is the opium of the people” or opiate of the masses, this can mean that religion in the general sense keeps the people listless and sedated as an opiate of opium leaves people. Religion gives people artificial, illusory happiness like opium does to a drug addict, and freeing people from this unrealistic illusion could be part of building a better society. Marx may have been implying that people should dedicate themselves to anarchy and to fighting authoritarian injustice. Perhaps atheism could make people freer? Marx argument was not necessarily on the atheist side, but what he was trying to say was that people, meaning poor, ignorant, and easily deceived people, the people of society in history who did not have an education, who were weak-minded- used religion as a way to get through life.

Marx is saying religion is like a drug in the sense that it is something that people turn to in order to make them feel better in the face of hardship and illusions of an other worldly paradise for those who are good and conform. He is presenting religion as a form of social control and has been a tool of ruling powers to keep people in their place. Religion is the opium of the people in the sense that is that which consoles and gives comfort to those facing impossible circumstances. Religion in a way is like an opiate because it helps you forget the pain and suffering because people believe that their religion will protect them. Religion gives the people false security, false because it cannot be said that it’s true since religion and salvation have never been proven. Through class struggle, religion is wholly dependent upon and is birthed by material and economic realities which society faces. To Marx religion is the manifestation of a societal defense mechanism, not only the expression of societies’ suffering but of its protest against it and this suffering is caused by material and economic injustices, and political injustices. Religious suffering can be caused if you believe in religion because it is caused by the religion, in which the religion was made by man, so it is a man made suffering caused by the higher end of society to control and keep power. This world and its people in it have always been revolved around money, power and control, and religion was used as a way for people in control to keep their control. This was done more so in our history, but it is still done today in many governments, which use religion to keep their people in their society in check. Religion is not reality; it is fantasy, all in our imagination to trick our minds. We are living in an inverted world consciousness, an anti-reality where the world is completely opposite to reality. Therefore a struggle against religion would be a struggle against the world since our whole world seems to be unreal considering religion has been the belief of the world for so long. Freeing yourself from this belief, from living an inverted world consciousness may allow you to overcome these material and economic injustices. Freeing yourself may cause you to focus on yourself and question life which may possibly help you gain more out of life, rather than listening to what everyone else tells you to listen to.

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    • Randy M. profile image

      Randy McLaughlin 4 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica

      Religion can be an ill-fitting suit, but to the naked (those who suffer), it is a suit nonetheless. Clothing our suffering and finding community to share can be a bridge to a more enlightened life, albeit it may not be as enlightening a path if it doesn't lead to inner discovery. The adoption of religious beliefs is a crude, but sometimes effective, means of providing comfort and community. But it can be only a suit, provide an external and not an internal means of growth, maturation and enlightenment.

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      Dan 4 years ago

      I understand where marx is coming from. However if you study many religions in their true form they are not about controlling people but setting them free.

      However many people who do not understand their own religion or their own government are duped into believing that democracy can be spread by a gun and that christianity or x religion can be spread by a gun.

      These manipulations are made to facilitate conquest so the wealthy can get more resources to get more wealth.

      Democracy cannot be forced on a people by violence and religion at least christianity IS NOT SUPPOSED to be spread by violence.

      The underlying problem here is people. In theory communism should work... and capitalism as well. the problem is that like in ideals and religion mans twisted nature perverts it for their on selfish gain.

      If you understand your religion i will focus on christianity.. you will know that politicians and the rich are not christian based on their actions. most people who claim to be christian are not christian either.

      if you abolish religion you would still have people falling prey to the wealthy by not understanding some other ideal or belief.

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      IntegrityYes 5 years ago

      You are very welcome,Euro Ninila! Rock on,strong lady!

    • EuroNinila profile image
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      Fotinoula Gypsyy 5 years ago from NYC BABY

      Thank you very much for passing by this hub Integrity! I really appreciate it!

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      IntegrityYes 5 years ago

      You did another wonderful job. Many need to read it often.

    • EuroNinila profile image
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      Fotinoula Gypsyy 5 years ago from NYC BABY

      Thanks snoblet, I like that analogy, religion as a business. It really is! Thank you for reading and leaving your informative comment, it is much appreciated :)

    • snoblet profile image

      Dave Rogers 5 years ago from New York

      Very nice article and very true in my opinion, religion is a business as I see it, just there to get rich. Its hard to accept a religion as you grow wiser. But as you mention its like a drug that keeps on pulling, problem is, it keeps pulling those who are desperate and its wrong. But great article and very informative

    • EuroNinila profile image
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      Fotinoula Gypsyy 5 years ago from NYC BABY

      Thank you NateB11 for the encouraging comment, most of us are raised to believe a certain religion through our parents eyes which is why I found Marx's theory so interesting as I got older. Religion is a solution to many individual's problems, but if it works for them you can't knock 'em down for it!

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 5 years ago from California, United States of America

      This is a very good break down of Marx's examination of religion's effect on society. It is true religion is a concoction of people's minds to keep us from looking at what is really going on and to escape our suffering. Religion is designed to create followers, people who fall in line and don't question authority or the status quo. Very good hub!

    • EuroNinila profile image
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      Fotinoula Gypsyy 5 years ago from NYC BABY

      wba108,Thank you for reading !(sorry I responded so late I don't know how I missed it) and thank you for the informative comment.

      Thomas, Agreed! You are absolutely right in my opinion, and thank you for your comment. Christianity's audience is greatly from the poor and powerless and I always wondered why and I had a great professor in college go into depth with this topic and I liked it so much, it really stuck!

      Always a pleasure to see fellow hubbers appreciating Marxist thought!

    • Thomas Swan profile image

      Thomas Swan 5 years ago from New Zealand

      What a great article. I have had these thoughts about religion too euroninila. When I analyse new converts to Christianity, I see that more than just the poor, Christianity attracts the vulnerable, unintelligent and fearful. Converts comes from schools, hospitals, prisons, help groups for addiction and illness, and of course poor people in 3rd world countries. I see the common theme as anxiety, with a resulting optimism bias chanelling people into the ready-made solution of religion. Religion has all the hallmarks of an addiction, so while Marx may be talking metaphorically, I see it as a literal analogy.

    • wba108@yahoo.com profile image

      wba108@yahoo.com 5 years ago from upstate, NY

      Another explanation of marx's views on traditional religion is that it competed with the religion he was creating which was a religion of the state- marxism. Specifically, Christianity, with its absolute truths had to be unacceptable to Marx because to him, the evolution of society that was central to his theories involved a constantly evolving truth. Marx was a moral relativist, therefore any system that held to absolutes had to be destroyed.

    • EuroNinila profile image
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      Fotinoula Gypsyy 5 years ago from NYC BABY

      Thankyou:)

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Welcome to HubPages. Very good article from a writer's standpoint

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      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Through the centuries, religion has been used to control people. Even today, it is used both to create peace and strt violence. How people interpret their faiths is another matter, but the reality remains that many hardships and violence point to the interpretation (or misinterpretation) of their faith. Karl Marx observes what is happening and puts his ideas into words. unfortunately, many do not understand. In many instances, many erroneously interpret his words to fit their own ideas.