"Religion...is the Opium of the People" - What did Marx Mean?

by cofty 82 Replies latest social current

  • cofty

    When read in context Karl Marx was not directly attacking religion when he wrote those famous words.

      Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. Karl Marx - Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

    To Marx, religion was not the problem but rather a human response to the more fundamental problem of an oppressive economic system. Just as opium dulls the pain of a sick person so too religion soothes emotional pain and reassures the suffering with illusionary promises of a better place to come.

    These words of Marx are a critique of a heartless world that makes religion appealing. When he called for the abolition of religion it was a call to take away the analgesic effects of its false hope and to change the conditions that make it desirable.

    I am not writing this in defence of Marxism but I thought it interesting to consider the true intent of this famous quote, and to reflect that religion does indeed provide the ultimate motive for society to remain apathetic in the face of injustice in this life.

    As hymn writer William Henry Monk put it in my least favourite hymn, "All Things Bright and Beautiful"

    3. The rich man in his castle,
    The poor man at his gate,
    God made them high and lowly,
    And ordered their estate.
    All things bright and beautiful,
    All creatures great and small,
    All things wise and wonderful,
    The Lord God made them all.
  • dgp

    Yes, it is indeed the opium of the people, in the sense that it brings relief to more than one soul. The comparison is extremely good because, just as opium, religion changes nothing. It only puts you to sleep.

  • Spade

    Karl Marx was explaining what he experienced when exposed to Christendom’s Churches.

  • dgp


    Laughing my Marx Out Loud!

  • dgp

    Laughing My Lenin Out Loud:

  • dgp

    My Stalin:

  • dgp

    Laughing MAO Loud:

  • doofdaddy


    This got me thinking about hope. When life is going well, there is a tendency to not look too far into the future but when times get hard and there appears to be no way out, humans tend to turn to divine intervention for a better future. Clever people have manipulated this to get others to accept their place in the social order via religion, so people are opiated into accepting their lot in life.

    In other words, social manipulators need unrest and oppression to continue, so individuals don't see their inherent rights and power.

  • d

    Religion is used a means to enslave the masses.

  • ProdigalSon

    Marx had an idea about human potential and recognized the anesthetizing effect of orthodox religion.

    According to Albert Pike in his letter to Mazzini, Communism was planned decades in advance and Marx just happened to be a major tool that was used toward that end.

    It's very interesting that after being raised a Christian from the age of six, after attending the Universities of Bonn and Berlin, Marx wrote that he wanted to avenge himself "against the One who rules above". Isn't that interesting.... purely a gnostic viewpoint, that the God of this world is not so benevolent. I've reached the same conclusion. Unfortunately for Marx, he responded by turning to Satanism.

    I guess someone has to play the extreme negative role in the process of our evolution.

    The good news is, I think Communism has now been eliminated as an option for the future.

    "We're not gonna take it." ~Roger Daltrey.

  • DagothUr

    All religions are based on a fabricated feeling of guilt. Guilt for being imperfect, for betraying an imaginary God or gods, for following an imaginary Satan's ways, for being an unbeliever, a heathen, for being someone who needs redemption. I think religion was the greatest invention of the ruling classes: the temporal and the clerical. They induced this guilt in the minds and hearts of the many and expected obedience and payment. The perfect barter! You give nothing, your receive everything. Jesus and the illusion of his sacrifice is a drug that keeps the sheep under the staff of the sheperds; and it is also a tool of opression. That is the opium. The passage from Marx is a call to social revolution against the shackles of religion and against the ruling classes, which were perceived by the commies as the burgeoisie and the nobility. And the fact that communism was not a viable option...religion will soon die by the same cause. I say we will be all atheists in less than 1 century.

  • cofty

    I think that's the biggest problem with religion, it anaethetises people and makes it more likely they will put up with injustice in this life in the hope of rewards in the next.

    Spade - I'm guessing you didn't bother to read the opening post? But since JWs know everything why would you?

  • Curtains

    thanks for posting this cofty.

    I can understand people turning to religion when they are anguished and oppressed but when a person is not in this state surely then it is time to take a break - to get out of one's comfort zone, to explore the dark side. One can always come back to religious sentiments if one needs to in order to transport oneself to a place of peace.

  • slimboyfat

    cofty do you follow the rest of Marx's programme or just the abolition of religion bit? To me it reads as though the abandonment of religion is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the emancipation of the oppressed masses.

  • trevor

    Religion has brought hope and comfort to many people. At the same time it has been used to control and blackmail the 'oppressed masses.'

    Marx may well be correct in thinking that religion disguises the impoverished sate that many live in. He is suggesting that liberation from poverty and political oppression is what is required for true happiness.

    The difficulty is that one of the main benefits of religion is it promises that despite death of the body, the ego will survive. This takes away the pain of contemplating our demise. This is why the bible says, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” All religions offer a similar promise.

    A political utopia coupled with prosperity cannot offer our mortal selves the hope that religion does.

  • DagothUr

    For some antisocial individuals, religion can be a good thing, since it keeps them cool and fearful. Others just go robbing, killing, raping right after they finish their morning prayer. Like any drug, it does not have the same effect on all people.

  • PSacramento

    Religion, like communisim, fills a void, a need for some.

    Scratch that, organized religion does that.

    Personal religion, religion that is a personal expression of hope and faith between an individual and their deity, goes FAR beyond that, FAR BEYOND.

    Marx may not have understood this.

    Organized religion is NOT a good thing, not because IT in of ITSELF is "bad", liek any insititution it is only as good or bad as the people that runit and the people that allow it to be run a certain way.

    Organized religion is NOT a good thing because it takes the focus of Hope and faith and love from the correct individual focus to the group focus that is LEAD and MANIPULTED by an individual or group, muck like communisim.

  • Murray Smith
    Murray Smith

    Great thread people . . . it's added a great deal to a previously poorly understood quote on my part I have to admit. Also, some great points made which have a multitude of implications in JW world.

    EG. How often have we heard words like "wait on Jehovah" when a glaring injustice is being fobbed. Rather than treat the source of the pain it's "take another puff on the pipe son . . . you'll feel better"

    OR. "everything hidden will one day be revealed" . . . actually that's gotta be mainlining the stuff . . . feel the rush at the thought of that!

    No doubt there's plenty more to choose from . . . Political ideology aside, Marx makes a very valid point

  • dgp

    Well, let's not generalize about the relief that religion is supposed to bring to the people. I think we can ask the question of WHO gets relief. Here, the members of the Ahmadis in Indonesia found everything but relief:


  • cofty

    Interesting comments, I am just in from work and need to get straight back out to a meeting in Newcastle - no not that kind of meeting (football). Will look forward to replying later

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