Peter Thompson asks ‘is religion the opiate of the masses?’
July 1, 2009 by versouk
In today’s Guardian Comment is Free belief section, Peter Thompson suggests that it’s ‘Not the opium, the endorphins’, emphasizing that “Marx’s phrase makes sense only within its original context. Without the politics, the debate is sterile”.
Thompson takes a closer look at the location of the quotation in Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “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 […] the criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” Thompson continues:
“For Marx the criticism of religion was secondary to a criticism and overthrow of the structural injustice of prevailing social conditions. The opium was not something simply handed out to the masses, as de Sade had maintained, but something which was self-generated in order to deal with the pain of existing conditions. Had Marx known about them he probably would have called religion the endorphins of the masses. Plucking the imaginary flowers of religious belief was undertaken not for its own sterile sake but in order to unmask the underlying chains of oppression. And it is this absence of a political framework for discussing religion which explains the sterility of the debate today.”
Read the full article.
Peter Thompson introduces Ernst Bloch’s Atheism in Christianity, out next week from Verso.