Religion as the opium of the masses. Like the Hebrew prophets of old, Marx knew that to speak of social justice, we must become socially self-critical, and that means becoming critical of the ruling powers whether they may be kings or priests or investment bankers. Power and privilege in society always disguise their own arbitrariness behind the facade of fair play, which may be called providence or karma or standardized test scores.
Whatever basis is used to claim an objective and unbiased perspective such claims need critical analysis and challenge. About 90% of the world belongs to some sort of religion. Marx understood that purpose and that is why he made the statement, “religion is the opium of the masses” which means that religion is what keeps the masses motivated, like a medicine that blinds them to all the hardships of life.
Religion has blinded the people to enjoy their sufferings hoping for something like a ‘purgatory’ or a ‘heaven’ that they would enjoy after their toiling on earth. It has come to control the people with its guiding principles although most of its guiding principles aren’t adhered to by its top leaders for example: on the news there are various stories of pastors molesting children or their congregations, popes, monks and nuns breaking their vows; yet their followers are faithful due to the promise of a peaceful after life.
For Marx, all ideas are relative to the social location and interests of their production. And like the prophets before him, the most revealing perspective is not from the top down or from the center outward, but the view of the “widow and the orphan” – the point of view of the exploited and the marginalized. Suffering can see through and unveil official explanation; it can cry out and protest against the arrogance of power.
This brings us back to how Marx viewed religion as the “opium of the masses”. That is we tend to think Marx had a monolithically negative view of religion but that is not the case immediately preceding this language “the opium” the following is found Religion is at one and at the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest. Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions.
Here Marx recognizes in religion an active moral agency especially for the deprived and the despised. Religion is not simply the ideological expression of the powerful, legitimacy the social hierarchy as in the case, for example, of singing hymns with the hidden message that there’s a “King in Heaven” so there shall and should be kings on earth. No, for Marx in the hands and voices of the poor and exploited, religion is “protest”.
It is a crying out against “real suffering” not illusory sufferings such as fear of punishment from the gods or suffering caused by some impurity inherited from a previous incarnation. For Marx, the essence of religion is its voicing of “suffering” its crying out against the realtors of exploitation and degradation. The essence of being human is a passionate suffering, a struggle to take back into our hands a world we have made but which is then taken away from us.
Religion has found a way in which it governs our or lives or society in general. It is normal for the major religious group in a society to automatically control the ruling party. The major religious group affects the behavior of the people in power and somewhat controls their decisions due to their effect on the people. A major religious group can influence the choosing of who stays in power or who comes into power just by saying ‘God’ has chosen a particular person to lead us and make our country or state stronger.
The people have no choice but to follow the doctrine that’s why Marx made the statement, “religion is the opium of the masses” was made. Religion has somewhat found a way to control every aspect of the lives of individuals in the society. It has become the new trend of the day; everyone belongs to a religion because of the returns that they intend to receive. Religion has turned into the medicine for all types of sorrows this in turn controls the people who come to it for help.
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