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An analysis of the Marxist Perspective on Religion

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An analysis of the Marxist Perspective on Religion Aaron Trebble Introduction Marx, Karl Heinrich (1818-1883) was born in Trier, his family was Jewish, but later converted to Protestantism (belonging to a church other than that of Roman Catholic denomination) in 1824 in order to avoid anti-Semitic laws and persecution. For this reason among others, Marx rejected religion early on in his youth and made it absolutely clear that he was an atheist. Marx studied philosophy at Bonn and then later Berlin, where he came under the sway of George Wilhelm Friedrich von Hegel. This is significant, as one of Marx's key works is a response to his ideas. In 1842, Marx became editor of the Cologne anti status - quo newspaper 'Rheinische Zeitung' criticizing contemporary political and social conditions. Journalism was to become a large part of Marx's life, and he used it to express many of his philosophies. It was working at this paper that Marx met Friedrich Engels, which is significant, as this is a man who had a large influence on him, and also provided financial support in order to distribute his ideas. It was with Engels that Marx laid down some of his main political ideas in the 'Manifesto of the Communist Party.' This is a significant publication, in which we gain a very good amount of background information on Marx's ideas for an equal economy. The ideas presented in the paper involved him in controversy with the authorities and in 1843, Marx was compelled to resign his editorial post, and soon afterwards, the 'Rheinische Zeitung' was forced to discontinue publication. Marx then went to Paris; there as a result of his further studies in philosophy, history and political science, he adopted communist beliefs. Marx was exposed to the writings by critiques of religion such as Feuerbach and Bauer. In their writings they characterized religion as a 'form of alienation' and their work did have a decisive impact on Marx in his development of thought. ...read more.


The first section of this statement shows how Marx believed that society was inevitably heading towards the point where rejection of religion would occur. The second point made, referring to religion as 'the premise of all criticism,' refers to religion's effect on the alienation which derived from man's material possessions. That is to say, given the position of religion in society, where it is sanctioning inequality with the promise of later solutions, it is necessary to look at a possible effect of man's continued alienation through inequality. John Macmurray, a Marxist, claimed that the our interpretation of what Marx meant by criticism is crucial here as well. He said that Marx did not mean 'the blank denial of religion...Marx meant that the understanding of religion was the key to the understanding of social history.' (5) This suggests that Marx meant that through identifying the need for religion, we can see how to eradicate it. It does seem that the interpretation of this statement is important. Calling religion the 'premise of all criticism' could imply that it is a critical model in the legitimating of society by the bourgeoisie, and by looking at the weaknesses of religion we could see the weaknesses of all society. However, Marx was not in favour of the active suppression of religion, so perhaps he was implying that religion can reveal the state of man, and then, the acceptance of this would result in the removal of inequality and alienation. Marx as an Atheist Atheism refers to : a) Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods. Or b) The doctrine that there is no God or gods. In discussing this concept, Marx said : 'Atheism, as a denial of this unreality, is no longer meaningful, for atheism is a negation of God and seeks to assert by this negation the existence of man. Socialism no longer requires such a roundabout method, it begins from the theoretical and practical sense perception of man and nature as essential beings, it is positive human self - consciousness, no longer a self-consciousness attained through the negation of religion.' ...read more.


(13) Marx believed that when communism defeated capitalist inequality, there would no longer be the need for religion. However, the people of many basic tribal colonies have strong faith in a religion, despite the fact that they have no capitalistic stresses to concern them. Whether this could be the case for the developed world with the advent of total communism, it still is a very interesting point. Conclusion In concluding, the ideas of Karl Heinrich Marx stated that religion is one of the various ideological apparatus used by the working class in order to reproduce and legitimate the inequalities of the class system. His ideas on religion were reductionist; He believed it serves to produce a fatalistic following, who do not intend to do anything about their situation, instead choosing to wait on divine intervention. Religion is not the key to the problem, just part of it. Marx's views were very critical of religion, although he sympathised with the proletariat and how they could be led to hold faith, because he himself was blighted by poverty. There are several flaws to Marx's theories, mainly in how it appears when put into practice, but also in the way that some of the ideas presented hold little or no relevance today. Also, it is greatly weakened by the fact that it can only be applied to western religions. As Marx wrote so little solely on religion, it would be very difficult to draw conclusions without reference to his overall theories of economics, which are weakened by the fact that, in the last decade, capitalism has regained almost complete domination of the world's political powers. Endnotes : (1) - Pals 1996 Pg, 141. (2) - Pals 1996 Pg. 140. (3) - Pals 1996 Pg. 141. (4) - Marx 1843 (introduction) (5) - Kessel 1984 Pg. 1 (6) - Kessel 1984 Pg. 2 (7) - Kessel 1984 Pg. 2 (8) - http://www.revision-notes.co.uk/revision/158.html (9) - Chapman 2000 Pg. 95 (10) - Cline Pg. 3 (11) - Pals 1996 Pg. 147 (12) - Chapman 2000 Pg. 96 (13) - Chapman 2000 Pg. ...read more.

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