In 1843, Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” This quote is often misunderstood, but rarely misused. When we read the actual quote, it sounds a bit different. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
When reading the proceeding sentence, we see that Karl Marx is describing what religion does, rather what it is. In that particular quote, Marx does not say religion is a narcotic, doping people into stupid submission. Rather, he says religion does something; it makes the world a more bearable place to live for oppressed, heartless, soulless world and people.
Marx believed that society was bad, people were bad, and people at the top used religion to fool people into thinking that their world was okay. Make no mistake – Marx thought that religion was a powerful manipulation used to dupe people into remaining poor and ignorant while the powerful maintained their power. If history has taught us anything, when one is in a position of power, religion is useful.
Today, religion is still used to convince poor, suffering people that they will be rewarded in an afterlife. We still see Christian, Jewish, and Islamic charlatans telling poor people that they will be compensated in the afterlife. Problem is – the afterlife does not exist for anyone, rich or poor.
Marx believed that religion is used to make people feel good about themselves. I have a theory that this is one of the reasons theists get so angry when atheists say ‘there is no god.’ I never felt angry when a theist say, ‘god is real.’ I suppose, the difference is that atheism is not something I need to feel good about myself, whilst theists need religion to feel good about themselves. When we say ‘there is no god’, we are attacking the very source of their self-esteem.
When we think about the quote, “Religion is the opium of the Masses,” we should understand that Marx was not describing what religion is, but instead he was describing what it does.