Beliefs in Society - Marxism and Religion

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Karl Marx believed religious belief systems were socially constructed by powerful social groups as a means of socially controlling those groups they saw as a potential threat ie, the working class and the poor.

  • Marx believed that religions were extremely powerful tools used by the ruling class to preserve existing patterns of inequality in wealth and power.
  • Religion is a conservative force in society - this is not essentially benevolent and beneficial to society.
  • Religion is part of the superstructure of capitalist society and is an ideological apparatus which functions to hide, disguise and distract the class inequalities in income and wealth produced by the infrastructure.
  • Religious ideas and practices exist to serve the interests of the rich and poweful, ie. the ruling capitalist class.

Marx saw religion as ideological in two broad ways:

  • (1) The existing socio-economic heirarchy is natural and god-given and therefore unchangeable.
  • EXAMPLE = God had created both rich and poor as reflected in the hymn 'All Things Bright and Beautiful'
  • "The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate"
  • M aterial success was viewed as a sign of God's favour whilst poverty was viewed as an outcome of sin.
  • (2) Religion functions to cushion the effects of oppressions - by creating 'false class consciousness', ie. the extent to which they were exploited or alienated was made invisible by religion.
  • "Religion is the opium of people" to describe the effects of religious ideas.
  • Religion worked to bring about 'false class consciousness in three ways:
  • (1) Some religious denominations and sects attract the poor by explaining their inequality in supernatural terms, eg. religious theologies might explain that:
  • (a) they are sinners (justifying being poor)
  • (b) they are the special 'chosen ones' in a world of sinners
  • (c) they are being testes - their experiences of poverty are intended to test their commitment to God.
  • (2) Suffering as a virtue - some…


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