Is there any truth to Marx's view that religion is the opium of the people?

"Religion is the opium of the masses" is the argument often used by atheists to dismiss religion without addressing the substantial issues it addresses. Though many atheists have used this quote, its most well-known proponent is Karl Marx: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

What does this religion-opium argument imply? Atheists allege that just as opium intoxicates people with illusory feelings of well-being without offering any real relief, so does religion. Only when people stop taking opium will they shake off the opium-induced feelings of illusory well-being and strive towards real well-being. Atheists believe that the same applies to religion – only when people shed the false hopes offered by religion will they strive for actual well-being.

This argument has several unstated assumptions. Because these assumptions are not subjected to serious intellectual scrutiny, the religion-opium argument continues to hold a charm that stems largely from wordplay. Let's examine these assumptions in the form of three questions.

  1. Are the hopes offered by religion false?
  2. Can we have real well-being without religion?
  3. Does religion divert our energy from real well-being?

1. Are the hopes offered by religion false?

Religion usually centers on the existence of a benevolent God by whose grace we can attain a world of eternal happiness. It frequently tells us that our present world is a station, not a destination. It is a place we pass through during our journey towards eternal existence. By living in this world according to God's guidelines, we can live fruitfully and evolve towards spiritual perfection.

Are these religious beliefs false?

By material methods of observation and inference, we may not be able to conclusively prove the other-worldly truth-claims of religion. But we can definitely look at its this-worldly effects.

Unlike opium that harms our health, religion heals us in many ways – physically and mentally. In the Handbook of Religion and Health, published by Oxford University Press, Harold G. Koenig, MD; Michael E. McCullough, PhD; and the late David B. Larson, MD, carefully reviewed no fewer than two thousand published experiments that tested the relationship between religion and everything from blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and stroke to depression, suicide, psychotic disorders and marital problems. Some of their findings are:

  • People who attended a spiritual program at least once a week lived average seven years longer than those who don't attend at all.
  • Religious youth showed significantly lower levels of drug and alcohol abuse, premature sexual involvement, criminal delinquency and suicidal tendencies than their nonreligious counterparts
  • Elderly people with deep, personal religious faith have a stronger sense of well-being and life satisfaction than their less religious peers."

Koening's conclusion? "A high SQ (Spiritual Quotient) faithfulness to God appears to benefit people of all means, educational levels and ages."

These findings are so consistent and compelling that Dr Patrick Glynn in his book God – The Evidence poignantly states their implications: "If this [religious belief] is an illusion, it is, first of all, not a harmful one, as Freud and the moderns taught. On the contrary, it is mentally beneficial. It is also, more puzzlingly, physically beneficial. And strangest of all, by deliberately interacting with this Illusion in a sincere spirit, through meditative prayer, one can create improvements in symptoms of disease that otherwise cannot be medically explained." His last comment refers to the findings like those of Dr Herbert Benson in his book The Relaxation Response that the benefits of religious belief are greater when those beliefs are deeply cherished, not nominally held. What are we to infer from this? Is religion an illusion that somehow accidentally offers real benefits? And is it such a peculiar illusion that the greater our belief in it, the greater the benefits?

Can we be open-minded enough to consider a more natural and logical inference? Could it be that religion may not be an illusion at all? Might religious belief and practice be harmonizing us with some deeper reality, a harmonization that helps our mental and physical health?

Atheists often like to lay the blame for much of the violence on the feet of religion. However, statistics reveal that violence has been far more in atheistic parts of the world than elsewhere. R J Rummel in the book Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1917 documents that the victims of the Marxist governments amounted to 95,200,000. By com­parison, the battle-killed in all foreign and domestic wars in this century total 35,700,000.

In utter disregard to such serious analysis, the religion-opium argument swaggers with intellectual arrogance. It summarily dismisses religion by equating the beliefs of religion with the fantasies induced by opium. Isn't that what intolerance is all about – aggressively dismissing ideas that contradict one's own beliefs? The religion-opium argument reflects an arrogant intolerant faith, the faith known as atheistic fundamentalism. Of course, this atheistic faith conceals its intolerance under the garbs of science, secularism and social progress. But when we strip it of its misdirecting jargon, it stands exposed for what it is: a fanatical belief in disbelief.

2. Can we have real well-being without religion?

Atheism assumes that the material level of existence is the only reality; whatever well-being is to be had should be had at the material level alone. Atheists believed that if people stopped taking the opium of religion, then they would strive for and achieve real well-being at the material level.

Has that hope been realized by the propagation of atheism and the relegation of religion to the sidelines of intellectual and social life, as has happened in many parts of the world in recent times?

Not at all.

The material level of existence is characterized by misery and mortality. As Marx's religion-opium quote indicates ("religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature"), we are all oppressed creatures.

If we reject religion as an opium, can we free ourselves from the oppression of our inevitable mortality? No, because atheism rivets us to matter and material existence, which are temporary. Atheism implies that:

  • We are material beings who will end with death. And death comes arbitrarily on anyone at any time. It knocks us all out of existence fully and forever. Period.
  • Our life has no ultimate purpose or meaning. We are made of nothing but particles of matter that are moving about endlessly and meaninglessly.

How can such a dreary, draining and depressing worldview foster well-being? As atheist Steven Weinberg states, "The more comprehensible the universe becomes, the more it also seems pointless." With such gloomy vision of life, many naturally doubt whether living itself has any value. Albert Camus states this explicitly at the start of his essay The Myth of Sisyphus: "There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide."

A godless soul-less worldview makes life meaningless, purposeless – worthless. It drives millions to ennui and despair. Millions bury themselves in pointless distractions like video games, spectator sports and entertainment. As American thinker Madalyn Murray O'Hair has commented about contemporary society, "Marx was wrong–religion is not the opiate of the masses, baseball is." Our culture, by labeling religion as an opiate and making people turn away from it, forces them to seek refuge in such opiates.

3. Does religion divert our energy from real well-being?

Atheists argue that just as taking opium distracts people from working for real well-being, so does believing in religion. Is that true?

Religion does indeed direct our vision to another world, an eternal world – the kingdom of God. Does this other-worldly hope make us indolent or impotent to work in this world?


This is not to deny that some people may become negligent about their worldly responsibilities. But that's because they misunderstand or misapply the teachings of religion.

What is the nature of religion's actual contributions?

Throughout history,

  • Many of the greatest works of art, architecture and literature have been made by religious believers. Their belief didn't cause them to reject everything of this world for the sake of God, but inspired them to do wonderful things in this world to glorify God.
  • Millions of people have been motivated by their religious beliefs to acts of charity and compassion.

In addition to looking at religion's practical contributions to the world, we also need to assess religion's conceptual attitude towards the world so that we can gauge whether it has an opiate-like effect.

No doubt, religion promises us a better world beyond this world. At the same time, it instructs us that, to attain that world, we need to act morally and responsibly in the here-and-now. This injunction contributes to making things better in this world.

The Vedic worldview informs us that our spiritual development takes us through four progressive stages: dharma (religious practice), artha (holistic economic prosperity), kama (physical and emotional satisfaction) and moksha (liberation from material existence). Thus, it outlines a masterplan that integrates both this-worldly and other-worldly wellbeing.

Similarly, the Bhagavad-gita centers on a call for devotional activism in this world. Arjuna wanted to renounce the world, but Krishna instructed him to engage in the world and to engage the world in devotional service by establishing the rule of morality and spirituality in the world.

The Gita's teachings of bhakti offer a dynamic way that helps us to contribute to this world while also attaining the next world. The path of bhakti urges us to neither romanticize nor demonize the world, but instead to utilize it and thereby realize God.

Many people including most atheists romanticize the world, picturing it to be the arena where they will fulfill their fantasies. When the world dashes and smashes their dreams, they sometimes oscillate to the other extreme and demonize it; they paint it as an intrinsically evil place meant to be shunned at all costs.

The Bhagavad-gita (02.64) urges us to avoid attachment and aversion, thereby pointing to a balance between these two poles of romanticization and demonization. Further, the Gita (05.29) declares that the world belongs to God, Krishna and so should be utilized for his service. When we lovingly offer the resources of the world to the Lord of the world, this devotional contact with the all-pure Lord purifies us. This purification peels away the layers of ignorance and forgetfulness that have obscured our spiritual identity for eons.

As we realize our spiritual identity, we understand that rendering devotional service to Krishna is our natural, eternal activity as his beloved children. This understanding inspires us to continue serving Krishna with conviction and devotion. Then, as we rise from self-realization to God-realization, we discover that all the peace and joy we were constantly searching for externally was present all along in our own hearts in the form of Krishna, the source of all peace and joy. Facilitating us to get that realization is the world's ultimate purpose,

Thus, Gita wisdom helps us steer clear of the extremes of romanticization and demonization in dealing with the world. By showing us the middle path of utilization, it leads us to life's ultimate perfection: realization of Krishna.

Srila Prabhupada demonstrates this devotional dynamism in our times. Did the religion of bhakti make him inactive when he could have been active? Far from it, it made him super-active at an age when most people were becoming inactive. Despite being at an advanced age of seventy, Srila Prabhupada traveled all over the world several times, wrote dozens of books, and established over a hundred temples. For him, religion far from being an opium was a vitalizer and animator.

That same rejuvenating potency of religion is available to us too. All we need to do is assimilate and apply the principles of bhakti, which the Bhagavad-gita (18.66) indicates is the summit of religion. Thus, the true contribution of religion, especially in its highest expression of bhakti, is far from that of an opiate. And its contribution is far higher than merely being a source of better physical and mental health, though these may come out. It provides a lasting and fulfilling direction for our innermost longing for love. By so doing, it makes our life meaningful, purposeful, joyful. Nothing enriches our life as does bhakti.

Atheism, on the other hand, devalues life into a meaningless accident, a procession of dead chemicals. It offers little if any reason for compassion and all reasons for utilitarianism – use anything and anyone for one's own pleasure, for this life is all that exists and life is meant for enjoyment and there's no God to oversee how we get that enjoyment. Such a worldview fosters immorality and corruption and degradation.

So, if evidence and reasoning were allowed to speak, perhaps the question would need to be turned around: might atheism be the opium of the masses? A deceptive and destructive opium that has been widely fed to people in the name of science, secularism and social progress while it actually erodes the foundations of our material and spiritual well being?

Source: http://www.thespiritualscientist...

In some minds, it works like a suppressant, while in others a stimulant.

When a suppressant, it provides what GB Shaw called the "treacle" of beatifying promises of heavenly reward. Don't worry that you're being stepped on by the big Man. The meek shall inherit the earth.

As a stimulant, you'll fight wars for God, you'll blow up yourself and perhaps abortion clinics, or you'll become a missionary. Go spread the Word in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

When dying, religions act more as stimulants than sedatives. If you challenge someone's beliefs and he or she gets angry, it means it was dying and you were succeeding. When they are healthy and at peace, safe in their sense of social power, they are sedating and soothing. So, if that same person doesn't get angry at all, and is firm in faith, their religious beliefs remained safe from your arguments.

Religions are roundly dying. But in the minds where religion has a neat undisturbed comfort zone, it may still be sedating.

Marx was not an expert on religions. He created a whole new model for history. His concern with religion was where it thwarted people from rising and uniting to overthrow power. People, he thought, should be unified as workers across borders rather than be divided by creed.

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Sankara Saranam

Multi-award winning author of God Without Religion:

The founder of Marxist communism and atheist philosopher, Karl Marx, once wrote that "religion is the opium of the people" and ever since, many atheists and anti-religionists have mindlessly repeated this phrase. In this answer, I investigate why this statement is nonsense.

First thing's first, what is opium? Opium is a drug and like all drugs, it's a mental intoxicant that stimulates the brain, the drug when consumed makes the user feel ecstasy and happiness for a temporary timespan and therefore Karl in writing that religion was like it, was implying that religion was a delusion that may have made people happy but it separated them from the real reality providing them with an escape.

What is the real reality? That there is no god? The negative claim that God doesn't exist is an absolute claim too, this position of gnostic atheism requires empirical evidence and it must be verifiable by scientific method where it can be tested and/or observed to prove the claim. No evidence of any type exists to prove that there is no god so this cannot be claimed as the real reality. To know there is no god, one would have to be omniscient or at least one would need to explore every single inch of the fabric of creation from different dimensions to the hypothetical multiverse, some speculate that our universe might be part of, neither of which are possible.

Even if we could explore every inch of our own constantly expanding universe in one life-time (which would require technology that is not feasible, even at the speed of light it would be impossible to chart every single inch of the universe which is constantly expanding faster than the speed of light), any technology that could go beyond our own universe and into different dimensions exists solely in the realms of science fiction and if the multiverse hypothesis proves to be true, then any other universes or dimensions that may exist would simply be one of an infinite amount. In this grand picture of things how can anyone claim with certainty that there is no god unless by possessing a mind that is all-knowing of everything there is? In which case you would have to be God.

What then is the real reality of the world? That we are animals who are here to survive? That life is tough? In what way does religion detract from that? Many religions including Christianity contain many lessons, stories and teachings relating to the hardships of life. In The Bible we read of different people like Job who experience everything we do today from mental struggle to bereavement, people who have to work to live, people who even question life as we do now. Religion does not provide an escape from these things.

Does religion lie then? Atheists see religions as lies, lies that lead to their practitioners living in blissful ignorance and delusion. Jesus did promise the resurrection of the dead and an eternal peaceful existence with God for those that would follow his word, Buddhism teaches of Nirvana, a higher plane of spiritual existence free from suffering, Sikhism teaches that we will become one with God in Heaven. Can we know for certain if following religion will lead to these promises? The better question to ask is how does that affect a person's life?

A religious person still enjoys the activities that a non-religious person might. Religious people can play video games, watch movies, engage in sport activities, travel the world, enjoy sexual intercourse, have a family and live fulfilling lives just like any other. The only difference is, most believe that death is not the end but this doesn't stop them from living a fulfilling life. In fact many studies report that religious people on average are happier than atheists and have longer life expectancies, the studies report that this is down to the religious activities.

Religious People Are Happier Than Atheists, Official Statistics Show

Are Religious People Happier Than Non-religious People?

What's the key to sustained happiness? New study reveals the answer

Religion 'linked to happy life'

Churchgoers Live Longer

Religion Improves Health

Atheists meanwhile have higher statistics of depression, abuse of drug substances and higher suicide rates.

Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt

So are the religious wasting their time by saying a prayer a day (if they do at all) and going to Church on a Sunday if they do at all? If life is for living and enjoying, then doing whatever makes you happy is not time wasted. Atheists might scoff and growl with their typical rhetoric and mumble about how going to Church or praying is useless to progressing in life but what about video gamers? Movie watchers? Football fans and all the other hobby groups who might spend hours engaging in a meaningless yet enjoyable activity? There are people who spend hours debating what superhero is stronger on different forums, people who spend hours, years even, playing the same video game and people who spend their entire lifetime collecting coins, stamps or other collectables. These too are all distractions from the real world of work and life so are they opium too? If the atheist holds that religion is opium then so is everything else that distracts from real world issues like politics, terrorism, poverty, starving children in Africa or working to pay the bills.

If we go by the claim that happiness is the ultimate goal in life and that life has no meaning other than for you to enjoy it and make what you can of it then religious people are winning by a long shot. As we saw in the prior statistics and sources above, atheists have the higher rate of depression and unhappiness, further more, many go onto abuse drugs. Can't we say that they are then escaping from reality by doing such? Indeed if we go by the ancient Greek hedonist philosophy, atheists seem to be the biggest losers in history and the statistics support this.

The claim that religion is opium implies it offers some escape from reality and that those who practice it, don't experience life, however as argued here, that is simply untrue. Also since we cannot know with certainty the truth of existence, the atheist cannot claim knowledge in what reality is. However if we truly are soulless creature in an amoral universe then life is whatever you decide it to be and depends on a person's perceptive. Generally though, if you have a place to live and you're happy doing whatever it is you do on a daily basis, then you're not wasting your life. If there's no afterlife has a religious person wasted their life following their religion if they still enjoyed their life? No, otherwise everything else is a waste of time and we should all be mindless drones collectively working as a hivemind only performing practical tasks for society.

The atheist's final recourse here would probably be to say that religion is opium because some religious people believe in fantastical things, things that have no evidence (like reincarnation in Buddhism or the historicity of miracles alleged to have been performed by people like Jesus) and they hold true to these beliefs despite there being no evidence. The same is true of the whole world. Many atheists philosophers hold a belief in the "infinite monkey theorem" being an explanation behind the fine tuning of the universe despite it being something that cannot be tested and many atheists believe that the universe was "uncaused" despite this lacking any evidence (and further more, it's something that science will never be able to prove). Moving away from the religious and atheists and we have people who believe that aliens visit us regularly, people who believe the Earth is hollow, people who believe dinosaurs still roam the Earth, people who believe in the existence of all manner of legendary creatures and study them (cryptozoology) and many other people who believe in weird, wacky things and conspiracy theories. If religion is opium then so is everything else and the whole human race is living under it.

There will be things that we hold to be true now that science perhaps in a century will debunk. This is continuous with science always improving upon theories or even replacing old ones as we improve our technology and discover more and more of our universe. This means we would have held false beliefs and many of us will die with such beliefs, so if the atheist argues religion is opium because of beliefs then so is everything else and we all are deluded people living under opium and wasting our lives.

In conclusion we find that religion isn't the opium of the people at all. Perhaps atheists who preach this claim should examine themselves and their own behaviour. Many believe this life is the only one we have and yet spend their entire life, fruitlessly hating against religion and arguing with the religious. Today we have internet atheists who spend long hours being evangelists for atheism, condemning religion and declaring it to be the root of all of humanity's problems (something that is far from the truth). In other words they are engaging in a meaningless war of words whilst preaching a delusional worldview contrary to the facts. By their own definition they are living under opium.

Skepticism, scientism, materialism, and naturalism are all opiates of the masses.

Also, the Civil Rights Movement disproved this. Other periods of Christianity giving rise to political activism.

Christianity gave rise to America and the Constitution, which ultimately gave rise to Google, Facebook, and Quora.

Nathan Ketsdever's answer to How can Christians effectively reply to the assertion that religion is the opiate of the masses?

Here is a critique of scientism: Three reasons why scientism should be rejected

Is there any truth to Marx's view that religion is the opium of the people?

If anyone thinks "religion" has caused harm to the world, this harm pales in comparison to the disastrous atrocities anti-religion has caused. And most of those atrocities were committed by dictators attempting to head a Marx-style communism.

Even if you take issue with the above statements, the attempts to suppress religion in the name of communism have unquestionably been enough to fully discredit Marx's "opiate of the masses" statement.

Only a simpleton, ignorant of history would still give any legitimacy to this statement.

This is a remark of Karl Marx. It implies that religion dulls people's sensitivity to pain and suffering and leaves them drugged and drowsy even in the face of severe deprivation.

There is something in it: religion can make material suffering less difficult to bear and, possibly, reduce people's anger towards those who can be seen to be the cause of the deprivation. But, while this part-truth gives it currency, it is basically just an insult thrown towards a competitor by a man peddling a dangerous intellectual cocktail himself.

How possible is it that we are the first intelligent life to exist?

How possible is it that we are the first intelligent life to exist?Anything is possible in a practically infinite universe. But your proposition is massively unlikely.There have been a variety of methods used to extrapolate from data on the planetary systems that have been discovered and the likely size of the universe. One estimate is that

Will light travel through a glass slab with the same velocity as it travels in air?

Light travels at approximately 300,000 kilometers per second in a vacuum, which has a refractive index of 1.0, but it appears to slow down to 225,000 kilometers per second in water (refractive index = 1.3) and 200,000 kilometers per second in glass (refractive index of 1.5).Speed of light is measured to be the lowest

What is the least expensive way to get Wifi in my apartment?

Probably using your cellphone as a hotspot. A third party hardware of some kind may be required but not a monthly fee. Search google for low income ISP services in your area. Maybe your income or circumstance meets the guideline. You can search for someone nearby who does not have their router password protected. Not likely but possible. Lastly