Religion - A Marxist perspective

Revision notes on Marxism and religion

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Religion: A Marxist perspective
Introduction
According the Marxists, religion as a social institution is directed by a process of
mystification, people believe in forces greater than themselves and believe that if they pay
homage to these forces through prayer or observation of rites and rituals that they are able
to influence to everyday world that they encounter. However, for Marx, this is mistaken and
contributes to the problem of alienation as it makes people believe that the forces that have
the power to change society and it's ills are foreign and outside of them. This prevents the
working class from recognising their true nature both as the exploited/subject class and those
with the potential to liberate humanity from the ills of capitalism.
For Marx, like the other key social and political institutions of capitalist society religion
would cease to exist once the proletariat attained class consciousness, became a class for
itself and following revolutionary overthrow of capitalism ushered in a communist society. As
our species being (human nature) is more satisfied and fulfilled by working for each other
communally than it was under capitalism the social conditions that gave rise and strength to
religious feeling no longer exist and therefore like the state, religion will wither away.
Religion: the opium of the people
`Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature the sentiment of a heartless world and the
soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.' Religion recognises that many
people live in oppressive conditions however by promising salvation after death it diffuses
earthly anger against the ruling class of the time.
Furthermore, it legitimates any punishment that may be dealt out by the oppressors as either
justified due to the sins of the poor or preparing the poor for life in paradise ­ without
experiencing evil on earth people cannot come to appreciate eternity in Heaven. Poverty is a
trial and those who endure their lot are welcomed into the arms of God and Christ. `it is
easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle that in it is for a rich man to enter the
kingdom of heaven.'
Not only does religion excuse the evils of the oppressors it also gives the possibility of
supernatural intervention by god in the form of miracles and ultimate the Day of Judgement
and the Apocalypse.
Some people have used religion to justify the social strata and claim that it has been
ordained by god. Thus, certain regimes of Islam such as the Fatima Caliphate have kept
slaves, slaves transported across the Atlantic were met with religious justification of their
persecution for example in the Parable of the Faithful Servant which states `That servant
who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants
will be beaten with many blows' and the Victorian hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful
contains the verse `The rich man in his castle/the poor man at his gate/God made them high
and lowly/and ordered their estate' thus offering an argument to those at the bottom of the

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God and protecting those at the top from possible
lower class unrest and rebellion.
Religion and social control
To Marx religion not only offers spiritual justification for the inequalities of the world but
serves to prop up the unjust system forcefully. Christianity preaches `cowardice, self
contempt, submissiveness and humbleness' through its doctrines of pacifism and `turning the
other cheek'.…read more

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The new Christian Right, largely influential in the USA has become known for its support of
politicians (usually in the Republican Party) who are both more socially conservative when it
comes to issues such as stronger military, less welfare spending, LGBT rights and abortion
and more economically liberal with regards to deregulation and trust in market forces.
Presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W Bush are both wellknown for having been
able to draw support from the Christian Right.…read more

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Once they seized power in Russia the Bolsheviks embarked on a program of actively
discouraging religion, with the religious instruction of children being banned and certain
places of worship being forcibly closed. However it was found that shortly following the
collapse of the Soviet bloc in th e1980s and 90s there wa evidence that religious beliefs
were widespread, thus showing that the Marxist beliefs that religion would disappear
following the end of capitalism to be unfounded.…read more

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