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...
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