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Karl Marx on Religion: How Religion Affects Social Inequality

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  • 0:05 Religion and the Masses
  • 0:57 Religion: A False Truth
  • 1:55 Religion: An Opiate…
  • 2:54 Religion and Social Control
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bethany Johnson
This lesson will discuss Karl Marx's view of how religion is an 'opiate for the people' and perpetuates social inequality. It will discuss how Karl Marx believed that religion was a way for the poor to accept their poverty and for the wealthy to control the poor.

Religion and the Masses

Religion gives a reason for the poor to accept their plight in life.
Religion Makes Poor Accept Plight

Thus far, we have learned about Karl Marx's views on social class, social inequality and the plight of the working-class people. According to Marx, society was seen as two classes: the rich and the poor. It was his belief that the social class structure of the time was set up to allow the wealthy to control all elements of production and to become wealthier off the labor of the working class. One theory believed by Karl Marx was that the capitalist system created a feeling of alienation for the workers (a feeling of powerlessness) and thus religion would be a means for workers to accept their plight in life. Religion would also be used by the wealthy to unconsciously control the masses or the ordinary people.

Religion: A False Truth

Marx understood that religion served a purpose or a function in society but did not agree as to the basis of that function. For most, religion is seen through faith or teachings that are held to be true. Religion teaches morality, values, and beliefs that a society will hold its evaluation of behavior against. Marx had a hard time believing in unseen truths. The basis of his argument is that humans should be led by reason and that religion was masking the truth and misguiding followers. He believed that when one views society and life through the lens of religion, they are blinded to the realities of their life. Religion, then, was a false hope and comfort to the poor. He saw that poor used their religion as a means to find comfort in their circumstances, thus aiding in the process of alienation.

Religion gives people comfort in their circumstances.
Religion Gives Comfort

Religion: An Opiate for the Masses

Again, Marx did not believe in following a teaching that was based on faith. He actually felt that this amounted to simply believing in a superstition. 'If people are to know and understand the real world, they must give up superstitious beliefs because they have a narcotic effect on the mind,' said Marx. Marx believed that religion, like an opiate, gave a sense of security and salvation of something yet to come. However, he claimed this was all an illusion. He felt that religion taught individuals to focus on otherworldly concerns and not on the immediate poverty they were suffering. To quote Marx: 'Religion is... a protest against real suffering. Religion 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.'

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