Examine Karl Marx' Sociological Critique of Religion

Topics: Karl Marx, Sociology, Max Weber Pages: 5 (1693 words) Published: February 22, 2013
Examine Karl Marx' sociological critique of religion. (18)
Karl Marx was born on the 5th of May 1818 and died on the 14th of March 1883. He was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist and revolutionary socialist. Throughout time, his ideas played a significant role in the development and understanding of social science and the socialist movement, however I will focus on Karl Marx’s views on religion; particularly his critique of religion. According to Karl Marx, religion is like a social institution as it is dependent upon the material and economic realities in a given society. It is apparently the ‘creature of productive forces,’ as Marx wrote, ‘The religious world is but the reflex of the real world.’ Marx believed that all religious, moral and political life that exists is rooted in economics. He stated that people have needs and desires (material and social etc) and society structures itself to meet those needs and desires. Due to this belief, this has given rise to a capitalist society, where the workers produce goods and services and rich industrialists and landowners profit from their labours. Marx believed that religion can be understood in relation to other social systems and the economic structures of society. He believed that religion is dependent upon economics and nothing else – in fact, the idea and uses of religious doctrines are even somewhat irrelevant. So, in simpler terms, this is actually a functionalist interpretation of religion: understanding religion is dependent upon what social purpose religion itself serves, not the actual content of its beliefs. Karl Marx’s opinion on religion is that it is an illusion that basically provides a reason to keep society running just as it is – and religion takes our highest dreams, hopes and aspirations and alienates us from them, enclosing them onto a higher and unknowable being that religious people call God. Marx stated three reasons for disliking religion; firstly he stated that religion is irrational. He argued that religion is delusional and the fact people worship ‘being’s that are not known is ignoring reality and the real matters of life, which shouldn’t be the case. Secondly, Marx argued that religion is hypocritical. Even though it may have some valuable principles such as bring people together at church, it sides with the oppressors. Jesus advocated helping the poor, but the Christian church merged with the oppressive Roman state, taking part in the enslavement of people for centuries. Lastly, religion somewhat denies all that is dignified in a human being by making them more prone to accepting the status quo. Marx adopted as his motto the words of the Greek hero Prometheus which supports the last point. “I hate all Gods,” with addition that they “do not recognize man’s self-consciousness as the highest divinity.” Despite Karl Marx having many notable quotes, Marx’s most famous statement about religion comes from a critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law: “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.” Relating the next few points to the above passages, Marx is saying that religion is created to make illusions for people, especially the poor. Economic status and limits prevent them from finding true happiness in life however religion tells them that their unhappiness is worth it because in the next life, they will be happy – they will find true happiness.

To what extent is Karl Marx' critique valid? (12)
Marx’ suggested that ‘man makes religion.’ This could a valid suggestion to...
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