Marxist Theories of Religion

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  • Marxist Theories
    • Religion as an Ideology
      • For Marx, ideology is a belief system that distorts people's perception of reality in ways that serve the interests of the ruling class. He argues that the class that controls economic  production also controls the production and distribution of ideas.
      • Religion operates as an ideological weapon used by the ruling class to justify the suffering of the poor as something inevitable and God-given. Religion misleads the poor into thinking their suffering is virtuous and that they will be rewarded in the afterlife. These ideas create a false consciousness.
      • Lenin describes religion as a 'spiritual gin' - an intoxicant doled out to the masses by the ruling class to confuse them and keep them in their place. Religion creates a mystical fog that prevents the masses from acting to change their situation.
      • Religion also legitimates the power and privilege of the dominant class by making their position seem to be divinely ordained. The 16th century idea that the King was God's representative on Earth meant the King was owed total obedience.
    • Religion and Alienation
      • Marx also sees religion as being the product of alienation. Alienation involves becoming separate from something one has produced. Alienation exists in all class societies, but is more extreme under capitalism.
      • Workers are alienated because they do not own what they produce and have no control over the production process, and thus no freedom to express themselves as creative beings. In these dehumanising conditions, individuals turn to religion as a form of consolation
      • Marx argues religion acts as an opiate to dull the pain of exploitation; it just masks the pain of exploitation rather than treating its cause. Due to the fact religion is a distorted view of the world, it can offer no solution to earthly misery so instead makes promises of illusory happiness in the afterlife.
    • Evaluation
      • Marx shows how religion may be a tool of oppression that masks exploitation and creates false consciousness. However, he ignores the positive functions of religion, such as psychological adjustment to misfortune.
      • Althusser (1971) rejects the concept of alienation claiming it is unscientific and based on a romantic idea that human beings have a true self. This makes an inadequate basis for a theory of religion.
      • Religion does not necessarily function an ideology to control the nation. Abercrombie and Turner argues that in pre-capitalist society, Christianity had a limited impact on the peasantry.


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