Evaluate Marxist and Neo-Marxist beliefs about society

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Marxism and Neo- Marxism both consider capitalist society to be divided by class; however Marxists claim that the bourgeoisie supress the poor by using religion as a tool, but Neo-Marxists instead believe it can be a force for social change. Evidence supporting the Marxist view comes from the fact that throughout history and in current time, religions have promoted the fatalistic beliefs in poverty such as the Hindu caste system, and have used religion to suppress rebellion – such as slavery. This supports Marx’s theory of the ‘opium of the masses’.  However, Marxist views can be criticised as outdated, so Neo-Marxism may be more relevant to the functions of religion in society today. Other theories such as Feminists and Functionalists criticise the perspective as it ignores many functions of religion, such as the oppression of women and the unifying quality of religion.

Firstly the ‘role and function’ of religion must be defined as the part that religion plays in society, and the effects it has on people according to Marxist theories. Marxism is a conflict, structuralist theory with the belief that capitalist society is divided between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, with the ruling class exploiting the working class, allowing them to control the super structure of society, (a super structure of society being the non-economic parts.) They believe religion is an ideology which the bourgeoisie endorse to oppress the poor. According to Marx religion is the ‘opium of the masses’. This means religion is a tool to oppress society by acting like a drug that distorts reality and gives us ‘false consciousness’, and also being a coping mechanism for the pain and stress the poor feel from the capitalist society. Religion does this by promising eternal life in heaven if the believers abide by the rules of the religion throughout their life time; this encourages them to not rebel and work hard therefore supporting the cultural capital power that the bourgeoisie have. This makes a virtue of suffering and oppression as they will be rewarded in the afterlife, so there is no need to fight oppression now. As the bible says ‘it is easier to for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’, this supports the Marxist theory because this glorifies poverty, as the camel who will be rewarded for suffering in heaven.

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It also offers people the hope of God intervening for their suffering. As religion promotes these ideologies it helps people cope with their quality of life, keeping people passive. For example, in the Bible Eve eats from the ‘tree of knowledge’, committing original sin and hence being banned from the Garden of Eden. This highlights the bible’s message of keeping oneself blind to oppression or knowledge to please God. Marxists would therefore say this is a sign of religion controlling people, feminists would say that this particular parable sheds light on the gender inequality of Christianity. There is evidence for ...

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