Sociology and Religion: A Collection of Readings

Sociology and Religion: A Collection of Readings

Sociology and Religion: A Collection of Readings

Sociology and Religion: A Collection of Readings


Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a dialectical materialist; he combined the Hegelian idea that reality emerges from an endless series of contradictions with Ludwig Feurbach's materialism, the belief that matter was the only and ultimate reality. Hegel was wrong, Marx argued, not about dialectics, but about making the dialectic spiritual. The ultimate reality is not spirit (or Spirit ) but matter. Political and social reality is shaped by struggles between social classes over control of the material modes of production.

Because there is no such thing as spirit, religion must be an illusion, part of the "superstructure" of reality generated by underlying reality of the material substructure. It is one of the techniques that the ruling class (whoever controls the modes of production) uses to keep the subject class under control. It is an opiate, a drug that immobilizes the subject class with the hope of a spiritual reward as a substitute for material possessions.

Marx was more than just a philosopher, however. He was also a messianic prophet who preached to the workers of the world the need to throw off the chains of oppression with which the bourgeoisie (the ruling class) had bound them. It was therefore not enough to reveal that religion was an illusion. Religion must be denounced as the enemy of the working class. To throw off its chains, the working class must dispose of religion. Hence the prophetic fervor of his attack on religion. Curiously enough, his own Marxist philosophy would eventually become a quasi-religion in its own right and Marx himself the Moses of the new faith. In a nice historical irony that that faith was used in Eastern Europe to control the people and to provide its own promise of an eventual materialist paradise. Marxism itself had become an opiate for the people, one that worked only when enforced at gunpoint.

Obviously, Marx had a point. Religion has often been a toot in the hands of rulers and a means for cowing people into submission.

Marx owed his popularity to the incisiveness of his historical analysis, the toughness of his materialism, and the enthusiasm of his vision. Precisely because he admitted only material reality, his doctrine was considered to be scientific; and precisely because of the seeming inevitability of the dialectic that he described, those who followed his faith believed that they would triumph, they would "bury" capitalism as once boasted by Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet party boss in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

After the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1990, the weaknesses of Marxism were revealed to everyone. But Marx's notion that religion was a means of social domination and control can stand alone and does not need the rest of his philo-

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