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An analysis of the Marxist perspective on religion

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An analysis of the Marxist perspective on religion For most people the name Karl Marx has some significance or importance. Many people see him as a political motivator or revolutionary some as a great philosopher almost all would agree he was anti-religion. Marx, Karl Heinrich (1818-1883) was born in Trier, his family was Jewish, but later converted to Protestantism 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. Hegel's philosophy had a crucial influence upon Marx' own thinking and later theories. Hegel was a complicated philosopher, but it is possible to draw a rough outline for our purposes. Hegel was what is known as an ''idealist'' - according to him, mental things (ideas, concepts) are essential to the world, not matter. Material things are merely expressions of ideas - in particular, of an underlying 'Universal Spirit' or 'Absolute Idea'. In 1842, Marx became editor of the cologne newspaper rheinische zeitung criticizing contemporary political and social conditions involved him in controversy with the authorities, and in1843 Marx was compelled to resign his editorial post, and soon afterward 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. Feuerbach said 'God is to be understood as the essence of the human species, externalised and projected into an alien reality... ...read more.


According to Marx this is apparent in all epochs (error in history) of society. 'The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas' For example, in medieval Europe, the church taught that the unequal 'estates of the realm' were Gods creation. This meant that attempts to change the social order would have been not merely acts of treason against the monarch but also a blasphemous rejection of god's plan, punishable by eternal damnation. Marx is certain that in this world, religion will have a diminishing role in people's lives. Marx denies that the ruling class is truly religious they only practice the religion to keep the faith alive in the lower classes. He claimed the power of science would remove the power of religious practice. The most famous quote form the work of Karl Marx is his assertion that religion 'is the opium of the people' This to the point comment is certainly a good outline of Marx' straightforward assessment of religion, which he said 'eased pain even as it created fantasies' for those masses of oppressed workers suffering at the hands of a powerful few. Marx insisted that religion does not exist independently but only operates 'to satisfy other needs or conditions'. He was convinced that 'religion is so fully determined by economics that it is pointless to consider any of its doctrines or beliefs on their own merits'. For Marx, religion serves to psychologicaly comfort and conciliate the poor and desolate, it is a compensation for the misery of their alienation. Faith legitimises the economic and political order that keeps the working class in subjection, and offers compensation for their deprivations. In the monotheistic religions they are promised heavenly rewards. They are taught that you can achieve the best life by letting go of your physical body. By this they mean you must distribute your wealth among the poor, give up expensive clothes and food, and generally discard material wealth instead of celebrating it. ...read more.


It is the opium of the people, or in the case of communist Europe 'communism is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people'. Marx contention that the power of science would remove the power of religious practice is unable to have any merit in today's societies, where science has received high recognition for it's achievements which seem to disprove many of the basic beliefs in religions i.e. the big bang theory and Darwin's theory of evolution. As in all religion the believers trust that god created everything and they adapt that to these theories disclosing that god went through these processes to create the world. In the USA -a major scientific society- religious practice has not and is not declining. For Marx, countries with similar levels of scientific achievement should show the same level of religion and irreligion, but it is observed that there is a persistence of greater degree of religious practice in the USA than England, and in Holland than in Sweden. In spite of Marx' obvious dislike of and anger towards religion, He did not make religion the primary enemy of workers and communists. Had Marx regarded religion as a more serious enemy, he certainly would have devoted more time to it in his writings. It must be remembered that for Marx for all its problems, religion really doesn't matter very much - it is not the real problem. Religion is ideas, and ideas are just expressions of material realities. 'It is a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself'. Marxist theory of perfect classless society seems to be a myth, unable of becoming a reality. As seen in the 20th century communist movement, where to the Russian worker, the oppression they received under the tsar's was left unchanged. The only change was the master but the effect for many was the same. Saskia Dixon Page 1 4/28/2007 ...read more.

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