Is Religion the Opium of the Masses? Responding to Freud and Marx
by Joel Settecase
We’ve all been there. High school history class. Your teacher is a religious skeptic, possibly with an ax to grind against Christianity, maybe he just wants to get the class thinking critically. You’re studying the foundations of Communism, and he describes the origins of Marxist thought. Specifically, he gets into why Marx believed that religion is the "opiate of the masses." It starts to make a lot of sense, and you question whether you should really be buying into such a falsely-calming, secretly-subjugating worldview–scheme? ruse?
Before you throw out your Bible, take a minute and relax. First, Karl Marx was not the first person to point out that religion can be used as a pretense for harmful or oppressive purposes. And he certainly won’t be the last. But even in his era, he was hardly the only one talking about religion in this way. Freud, Marx, Feuerbach, and others called theistic belief (that is, the belief in God) into question.
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Say you are a student, gearing up for the fall semester. How should you respond when your teacher starts to explain how Marx "proved" that religion was really nothing more than the "opiate of the masses?" I will show you the problems with what Thomas McCall calls "Freud-Marx Complaints" regarding religion (specifically Christianity) and how to deal with them. First, however, we need to start with what Freud and Marx actually said about religion…
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