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Marx's views on the social function of religion

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Week 1 Question 1 What does Marx think is the social function of religion? What function must a critique of religion ultimately serve? Anna Lewis Z3189819 Due: 2 April, 2009 Word Count: 1891 Marx never wrote from a theologian or religious theorist's point of view, he was a humanist with an ideology that explained the alienation of man. Marx evolved a philosophy, which fitted in with working class ideas and added to it a prophecy, which suited working class aspirations.1 Marx's philosophy on religion is neither complete nor comprehensive; however, this essay intends to provide a broad overview providing a synthesis of his key arguments and analysis of the strength and weaknesses of his viewpoint. This essay will firstly analyse the functions of religion as contemplated by Marx, specifically considering the proliferation and development of religion, the relief it offered, it use in maintaining the status quo, and ultimately with the development of communist society religion would 'wither away.' Further, the functions of a Marxist critique will be considered including feeing alienated man from the repression of religion, the fulfilment of Marx's prophecy, whether faith existed before alienation and finally the effect of restricting the philosophy to the Western European community. The Social Function of Religion Marx asserted that forms of faith such as religion were not inherent or intrinsic to the human species.2 Rather, he argued that religion developed as a direct consequence of man's alienation for the output of his labour. ...read more.


An excellent example of an individual releasing man from religions dominating grasp was Luther of whom Marx wrote, "freed man from outer religiosity because he made religiosity the inner man".19 Upon putting these two observations together, along with his theory of alienation, Marx likely believed that he had found a solution to the ills of society. Namely the fall of capitalism which causes alienation, resulting an atheist communist state. His critique of religion although not essential to complete his philosophical ideas regarding alienation, may be considered as a reaction to his own familial experiences relating to religion, or more likely a convenient theory regardless of whether he had completely thought it through. Interestingly, Marx's critique of religion creates its own, no less warped, self-fulfilling ideology. Through Marx's observations alienation and oppression are forced upon men as a result of the state adhering to capitalist policies. These separate the individual from the fruits of their labour. Marx's ideology provides hope, albeit an 'economic truth' that the capitalist system will fall and suffering due to alienation will cease. In Marx's communist state all humans will be equally treated, work for the advancement of production and society as a whole, and man will become his own highest being. This prophesised state, which is only millimeters short of 'utopia' (from which Marx intended to stay well away), demonstrates many features of a quasi-religious state a crucial flaw of which does not restrict the inherent power driven ego of man. ...read more.


Jan 2008. Ollman, B. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, 2nd ed., Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1976. Pals, D. Seven Theories of Religion. New York, Oxford University Press. 1996. Portus, G. Communism and Christianity: Four Lectures. Morpeth, The St John's College Press, 1931. 1 Portus, G. Communism and Christianity: Four Lectures, p.35. 2 Hamilton, M. "Religion and Ideology", p.94. 3 Pals, D. Seven Theories of Religion, p.143. 4 Marx, K. The Communism of the Paper Rheinisher Beobachter p.83-4 in Pals, D, p.142. 5 Hamilton, M, p.94. 6 Marx, K. Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right in Marx, K and Engels, F. On Religion, p.42. 7 Lobkowicz, N. "Karl Marx's Attitude Towards Religion", p.320. 8 Lobkowicz, N, p.352. 9 Pals, D, p.142. 10 Ollman, B. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, p.223. 11 Ollman, B, p.223. 12 Pals, D, p.141. 13 Marx, K, p.42. 14 Marx, K. Das Capital I p.79 in McKown, D. The Classical Marxist Critiques of Religion: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Kautsky, p.12; and Ollman, B. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, p.223 15 Marx, K, p.42. 16 McKown, D, p.11; and Ollman, B, p.223. 17 Ollman, B, p.225. 18 McKnight, A, p.67. 19 Marx, K, p.61. 20 Hamilton, M, p.96. 21 McKnight, A, p.67. 22 Pals, D, p.147. 23 McKnight, A, p.69. 24 McKown, D, p.10. 25 McKnight, A, p.72. 26 Marx, K. Das Capital. 27 Levine, N, p. 287. Anna Lewis z3189819 2 ...read more.

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