Karl Marx and His View of Religion
Karl Marx was a revolutionary, economist, and German philosopher whose works form the basis of his concepts referred to as Marxism. He was born on May 5, 1818, and died in 1883 (Omonijo et al. 3). With the assistance of Fredrich Engels, Marx generated much of the theory of communism and modern socialism. Heinrich, his father, was a Jewish legal representative, who changed his family to Christianity partially to safeguard his career in the Prussian. Marx was later baptized in an Evangelical church (Omonijo et al. 3). He moved to Berlin University, intending to continue with his studies in law. Nevertheless, he was inevitably attracted to the general study of philosophy and specifically Hegelian philosophical structure. As a University of Berlin student, the young Marx was powerfully impacted by George Hegel’s and Young Hegelians’ philosophy that tried to use Hegelian concepts to a movement protesting the Prussian dictatorship and organized religion (Horii 171). Marx graduated with a doctorate in philosophy in 1841, and he had written many of master works. Marx’s religious theory has impacted religion towards reforming from what Marx viewed as its misuse to positive impact.
Unlike other great thinkers like Durkheim, Nietzsche, and Freud, Marks Critique of religion is more radical. According to Marx, religion is an untainted illusion. He sees an active moral agency in it and a tool used to pacify suffering rather than a protection against distress. He argues that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world” (Omonijo et al. 3). Since his youthful age, Marx was against religion, when he stated he is an atheist. His religion theory (Marx and Engels 1975:38) has to be seen as an aspect of his overall theory of society. Unlike other philosophers of his time, Marx does not try to criticize religious logic as a set of briefs. Instead, he argues that religion is a reflection of society, and thus any criticism of it has to be ipso facto to be a criticism of the society (Omonijo et al. 3). For Marx, religion is a product of humans. Man makes religion and not religion that makes him. Religion is defined as the self-worth and self-consciousness of humans who are yet to find themselves or have lost themselves already. He thus asserts that religion does not reflect the true consciousness of man but self-consciousness. It is a product of men in power, who control the process of production. Marx holds that religion is used to divert people’s attention from their sufferings, which are caused by exploitation.
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Religious distress is perceived as the expression of actual stress, and the objection against actual suffering. Religion is the symbol of the exploited being, a world’s heart without a heart, and strength of weak circumstances. It is referred to as “the opium” of the community (Horii 173). To stop religion from being the illusionary happiness of humans is to claim their real happiness. The demand to renounce illusions about the current state of affairs is to demand the renouncing of the state of affairs that require illusion. In origin, religion criticism is thus the criticism of the valley of tears, the radiance of which is religion. Marx thus saw religion as being not a development of the capitalists but a result of the historical exploitation of the system’s conditions. Since religion was there long before capitalism, it is evident from Marx’s view that it is not a product of capitalism. Rather, it is a result of distress, which entails both ressentiment and trans-valuation.
Impact of Marxism on religion
Most of what Marx says in his theory of religion has highly impacted the poly-methodic study of religion. His theory has significantly contributed to the understanding of human and religious life. It looks at historical facts that assist in demonstrating the significant roles of social conditions in the expression of religion (Horii 176). Since religious experiences cannot be expressed in a vacuum, but in a particular social-cultural context, for example, is being accorded due importance in the modern study of religion, which is the core of Marx’s argument. It is observed by Milton J. Yinger that religion is impacted by its social background in numerous ways and shaped by the social-cultural environment (Horii 176). Today, there cannot be a scientific study of religion without due consideration of the part played by social factors.
Marx’s perspective of religion as being “the opium of the people” cannot only be negatively viewed. Whatever his intention may be, it shows a positive aspect of the role of religion in the life of humans, which authenticates and vindicates the practice and study of religion. Marx, in his argument, affirms that religion plays a critical psycho-therapeutic role. It provides such calmness, assurance, and serenity of mind that enables humans not to give up in the face of predicaments, distressing situations, and vicissitudes of social life (Horii 178). It can thus be derived, even from the expression of Marx that religion is required in so far as it provides people solace in an unfair and oppressive world and makes life bearable for the oppressed. Religion as an “opium,” even if it may not cure the “illness” inflicted on man by the social conditions, as Marx contends, can at least ease it. Consequently, Marx positively provides a reason why people should persistently study and practice religion.
Although Marx’s views on religion seem to be a forward attack on religion, and particularly Christianity, it refines people’s understanding of faith. What Marx protests against is not the God, but the idol created by the distorted, corrupt, and adulterated religion (Rehmann 147). Marx correctly highlights a lot of the degenerate aspects of the Church and Christendom at a historical point, highlighting the basic shortcomings and failures for which people should be grateful to him. His theory is a critique of the extreme individualism of Protestantism, which is the main root of capitalism. It is counteractive of the equivocatory exploitation and application of scriptures to sustain a capitalist mentality (Rehmann 147). Marx’s position can thus be read and used as a worthy challenge for people and religion to get back to its roots and to return from misuse as a perpetrator and justification of the unjust status quo.
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Marx’s religion theory is critical to the study of religion. Marx moves from the analysis and identification of the function of religion in the capitalist society. He views religion as a creation of social conditions and man, making it illusionary. His religion theory has contributed to the understanding of human and religious life. It provides a reason why people should study and practice religion and refines their understanding of religion.
Horii, Mitsutoshi. “Contextualizing “religion” of Young Karl Marx: a Preliminary Analysis.” Critical Research on Religion. 5.2 (2017): 170-187.
Omonijo, Dare, Onyekwere Uche, Obiajulu Nnedum, and Bernard Chine. “Religion As the Opium of the Masses: a Study of the Contemporary Relevance of Karl Marx.” Asian Research Journal of Arts & Social Sciences. 1.3 (2016): 1-7.
Rehmann, J. “Can Marx’s Critique of Religion Be Freed from Its Fetters?” Rethinking Marxism. 23.1 (2011): 144-153.