Beliefs in society: Marxism


Marxism and religion

From a Marxist perspective, religion is one of the institutions which helps to maintain capitalist rule. It is an instrument of domination and oppression as it keeps the proletariat in their place. It also acts as a means of social control whereby the proletariat simply accept their position in society. Finally, it helps to make their poverty and exploitation bearable by giving them hope and promising them a better life in the after world (heaven).  Therefore, for Marxists religion cushions the effects of oppression and it also acts as a mechanism for social control, keeping people in their place.

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The social control function

1. The social Control function

Marx argued that religion was an instrument of the ruling class to maintain control of the working class, allowing them to exploit and oppress them. He felt that if people ignored religion and concentrated on righting the wrongs of their exploitation then all of the evils of society could be eliminated.

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The compensation function

2. The compensation function

The workers needed religion because they were alienated and powerless and religion was their only escape. Religion also offered a heaven for those who’d suffered and a God who would be just. They were alienated (disconnected) from their work because they had little job satisfaction. They were alienated from each other because there was little time for social contact and from society because they had no say in how things were run.

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The opium function

3. The opium function 

Opium is a painkiller and that’s what Marx thought people used religion as. Marx felt that people only turn to religion if they are experiencing alienation, oppression and exploitation. Religion makes them feel less stressed about their condition. In a communist (classless) society, this would not be the case so religion would disappear.

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The ideological function

4. The ideological function

Marx argued that religion was a form of brainwashing. It taught a set of values which people could not argue with for fear of an eternal life in hell. Many point to the Hindu caste system as such an example. Hindus believe that if you are bad in this life then you will be reincarnated as a lower caste person. Doing something bad includes any attempt to better yourself so remaining in your caste is absolutely necessary; this is a very effective form of brainwashing from a Marxist perspective.

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Limitations of Marxism

  • Some evidence suggests that religion does not always legitimate power and that it can sometimes provide an impetus for change.  For example, Liberation Theology.  This was a radical movement that grew up in South America and said the church should act to bring about social change, and should ally itself with the working class to do so.
  • Marxists maintain that religion is purely a crutch for its believers. However, functionalists such as Parsons say that religion can give meaning to life and make sense of difficult situations. Many people have deeply held religious beliefs and numerous religious experiences.

  • Marx believed that when communism became established, the need for religion would die but evidence suggests that does not happen. Religion in communist Russia, for example, flourished, despite being actively discouraged.

  • Functionalists argue that religion promotes shared values…………….

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Evidence to support Marxism

Evidence to support Marxism

  • There are many examples from history where ruling groups have used religion to justify their dominance. For example, the Caste system in traditional India and kings and queens ruling by “divine right”.
  • Bruce notes that in the USA conservative Protestants (the New Right) consistently support right-wing political candidates. They have tended to defend the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of other groups in society.
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Liberation Theology

Liberation Theology- developed in the 1950’s and 60’s and justified the liberation ofoppressed people. It maintained that the poor should be given the materials and theeducation to take control of their own situation.  However, the Pope at the time did not agree with this movement, thus supporting Marxist claims that the Catholic Church do not want to see the poor helped.

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Archbishop Romero

Archbishop Romero - he supported reforms to help improve the social and economic situationof the poor. In 1980 he was shot dead in his cathedral by members of a right wing deathsquad.  “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eatfor a lifetime.”

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