Karl Marx, one of the most influential philosophers of his time, shaped and founded the concept of socialism. In his movement towards a classless society and equal liberty for all, he experienced a great deal of exposure for his critique on Religion. On various occasions he stated, “Religion is the Opium of the People”. Marx saw religion as a tool for the ruling class to keep the masses quietly in their places, for religion teaches discipline, urges one to accept ones place in the hierarchy of society as the will of God, and soothes the doubtful mind with the promise of salvation. Since Marx was trying to rid society of its hierarchy and inequalities, religion was an obstacle that needed to be overcome. Accordingly, he placed emphasis on bringing awareness to the questionable use of religion.
Today, some laugh at or take offense to Marx’s statement, implying how ridiculous or blasphemous they find his words, while others agree with him wholeheartedly. Even though class inequalities are fading throughout the western nations and religion has been separated from politics in many countries, it is still an influence used by some governments that should not be underestimated.
In the United States for instance, God is present in several official instances. The Pledge of Allegiance states,”…, one nation under God …” and on the Dollar we can read “In God we trust”. Whether it is the government’s intention to keep the people in place or not, the mentioning of God leads god-fearing people to obey the hierarchy. However, the growing multiculturalism in the US brought several belief systems to be widely accepted and in turn questioned the reliance on the Christian Doctrine. While religion is still an influence used by the US Government, it is experiencing a slow but constant decline in effectiveness.
A different picture is seen when we look at the Middle Eastern Countries, where religion is a major political asset to control and direct the population. While suicide bombers are a baffling phenomenon to the West, suicide bombers are considered heroic in the Middle East, because they are “witnesses of truth”. The Jihad, the only allowed warfare under Islamic law, is said to be a God given task and a path to salvation.
“Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly..”
Although Marx’s statement left a negative connotation on religion, his critique was not entirely aimed at religion itself. He also said, “Man makes religion, religion does not make man”. In this critique, he addressed those in power who use any tool, even religion, to their benefit and to the disadvantage of the less fortunate.
Since most contemporary societies have separated religion from politics and economy, Marx’s statement about religion as the opium for the people is rather outdated. However, his critique on man in power, capitalist in particular, still holds true. How often do we hear about political corruption on the news? And how often do we see the corrupt getting a slap on their wrist for their actions, while the “little man” would go to jail for less? In 2008, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich tried to sell President Obama’s vacated seat in the senate; he has now been indicted with several counts of fraud, extortion and racketeering. It is said that he spent the day of his indictment with his family at Disney World.