Karl Marx's Views on Religion

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Karl Marx has greatly influenced the creation of the modern world and was one of the first revolutionary communist. Through his literary works and philosophies he helped to inspire many 20th century communist regimes including the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and North Korea. Marx’s ideas did not end at communism; his religious ideology also helped shape and mold the 20th century world.

Karl Marx was born in 1818 in Trier, Germany and died in 1883. He was a philosopher who turned to economics and politics in his mid 20’s. His family was Jewish but they converted to Christianity so that Marx’s father might pursue his career as a lawyer. Marx studied law in Berlin and then wrote a thesis for his doctorate in philosophy. Marx had originally hoped to have an academic job but he had involved himself with a group of too radical thinkers and received no job prospects. Marx turned to journalism which led him to consider communist theory. Marx wrote many pieces of literary works, some are the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Introduction, On the Jewish Question, the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Theses on Feuerbach, the German Ideology, and the Communist Manifesto.

The Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Introduction discusses the criticism of religion. Marx states that the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism. According to Karl Marx, religion is like other social institutions in that it is dependent upon the material and economic realities in a given society. It has no independent history; instead it is the creature of productive forces. As Marx wrote, “The religious world is but the reflex of the real world.” (Marx)

Marx believed that man makes religion and religion does not make man. Religion is man’s self-consciousness and self-awareness so long as he has not found himself or has already lost himself again. State and society produce religion. Religion is the general theory of this world. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly the struggle against the world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Marx states that “religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions (Marx).” In the above quotation, Marx is saying that religion’s purpose is to create illusory fantasies for the poor. Economic realities prevent them from finding true happiness in this life, so religion tells them that this is alright because they will find true happiness in the next life. Although this is a criticism of religion, Marx is not without sympathy: people are in distress and religion provides solace According to Marx, religion can only be understood in relation to other social systems and the economic structures of society. In fact, religion is only dependent upon economics, nothing else — so much so that the actual religious doctrines are almost irrelevant. This is a functionalist interpretation of religion: understanding religion is dependent upon what social purpose religion itself serves, not the content of its beliefs. Marx’s opinion is that religion is an illusion that provides reasons and an excuse to keep society functioning just as it is. Much as capitalism takes our productive labor and alienates us from its value, religion takes our highest ideals and aspirations and alienates us from them, projecting them onto an alien and unknowable being called a god.Marx has three reasons for disliking religion. First, it is irrational — religion is a delusion and a worship of appearances that avoids...
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