Marx and Engels' View and Purpose of Religion

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Throughout history, religion has played a significant function in society as a medium through which people connect, via various rituals and symbols (Marsh et al. 2009). When the subject of Marx, Engels and religion is discussed, the famous quote ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses’ (Marx as cited in Raines 2002, p.5) is one that is for the most part, at the forefront of people’s minds. It is often a misconception that Marx and Engels viewed religion in a predominantly negative light and saw it as something that human beings had no use for. On the contrary, as this essay will endeavour to show, Marx and Engels not only saw religion as a force used by the elite to control the repressed and justify their actions, but it is also an ‘active moral agency’ (Raines 2002, p.5) for the proletariat and an outlet through which their suffering can be channelled. In order to achieve this, this essay will look at Marx’ and Engels ideology, false consciousness and what that means, base and superstructures according to Marx, the Hegelian philosophy and Marx’ interpretation of this, and alienation. In addition, this essay will look at whether Marx’s views on religion are still relevant in today’s society. Marx was predominantly influenced by G.W.F. Hegel, an esteemed philosopher of the time. Hegel used the system of dialectic to explain historical movements within society. The dialectic was made up of two points; ‘all things are contradictory in themselves’ (Hegel as cited in Callinicos 1995, p.59) and ‘contradiction is at the root of all movement and life, and it is only in so far as it contains a contradiction that anything moves and has impulse and activity’ (Hegel as cited in Callinicos 1995, p.59). Hegel used this dialectic to fur... ... middle of paper ... theory. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. Callinicos, A. 1995. The revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx. Sydney: Bookmarks Publications Ltd. Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. [online]. Available from Accessed on 29th October 2011. Forte, J.M. 2008. Religion and capitalism: Weber, Marx and the materialist controversy. Philosophy & Social Criticism. 34(4) pp.427 – 448. Available from: doi: 10.1177/0191453708088512 [Accessed 28th October 2011]. Law, A. 2011. Key concepts in classical social theory London: Sage. Marsh, I., et al. 2009. Sociology; Making sense of society. Essex: Pearson Education Limited. Meszaros, I. 1975. Marx’s theory of alienation London: Merlin Press. Raines, J. (ed) 2002. Marx on religion. Philadephia: Temple University Press. Suchting, W.A. 1983. Marx: An introduction. Sussex: Wheatsheaf Books.
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