Marxist Theories of Religion


Karl Marx (1844)

"[Religion is]...the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. It is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world, just as it is the spirit of the spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people."

  • Marx saw relegion as part of dominant ideology that reproduce and reinforce the false class conscioussnes of  the working class 
  • 'opium of the people' = cushions pain of oppression and exploitation
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Religion legitimises class inequality

  • Marx argues religion through its scripture, hymns and prayers creates a false class consciousness
  • Leads people in a false direction- hopes and solutions are illusury
  • Religion si part of ruling class ideology, distorts believers reality- legitimises class inequality by promising reward in afterlife for suffering
  • eg 'All things bright and beautiful' hymm
  • supported by Althusser- ISA = religion creates false class consciousness by passing R/C N and V - people see socioal class as inevitable and unchangeable - religion created by R/C
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Religion as form of social control

  • Legitimises power and privilige of the dominant class by making position seem divinely ordained eg 16th century divine right of kings
  • not the case in modern society- progressed the structure of society more complex
  • power granted elseswhere but is still evidence of socila control in House of lords with a proportion of them being Bishops and archpishops- lords spiritual eg abortion laws in ROI
  • clear connection between God and monarchy
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Religion helps us deal with alienation

  • Marx sees religion as product of Alienation
  • Religion acts as an opiate to dull the pain but much like opium it masks the underlying problem doesnt fix it
  • Religion = distorted view of the world so cant solve earthly misery
  • Promises afterlife create illusury happiness that distracts attention from trues source of suffering, capitalism
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The Hindu caste system is evidence of religion legitimisng class inequality as caste cannot be changed during lifetime, living life with good karma they will be moved up in next lif

Neo-Marxists argue that marxists ideas are outdated and that religion can be used as force for change in society by creating counter hegemony

+ It accounts for the negative aspects of religion, when religion has been and is use to legitimise class divide and war

Religion still exists in communist countries today, which means that they must serve other purposes than simply to legitimis class inequality

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