Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim offered differing perspectives on the role of religion. Choose the theorist whose insights you prefer and outline how they perceived religion operating socially. Discuss why you chose your preferred theorists views over the others.
Marx, Durkheim and Weber each had different sociological views of the role and function of Religion. My preferred theorists view’s on Religion is Karl Marx’s as I feel his ideas are more relevant to what Religion actually is. And I have chosen Marx’s theory on Religion as I feel that it is the most similar to my own views on the subject. His views are more interesting to me as I don’t practise any Religion and his views expand on some of my own thoughts that I have had about Religion. It also has more relevance in society today as people are now struggling due to the economic down turn which is completely testing people’s faith.
There is a bigger decline in this century as most of the population of the world have more resources and freedom of speech, to decide how they really feel about Religion and aren’t blind-sighted by the church anymore. Even if people are not aware of Marx’s ideas about Religion I feel that the majority of people would have similar views based on these ideas as times have gotten harder thus making people question their own beliefs. I will also briefly outline each of the theorist’s workings on Religion and then discuss why I chose Karl Marx’s theories. Karl Marx’s outlook on Religion was that it was a deception of sorts, as it was to give people false hope of something better waiting for them as they were being exploited and oppressed by these religious ideals.
Marx thought it was a result of a class society because not only was its aim to ease the pain of oppression it also acted as a tool of that oppression. (McDonald, 2009) Emile Durkheim thought that Religion brought communities together and strengthened them. That all religions acted as a ‘socialising agent’ and that they shared a ‘coherent system of beliefs and practices serving universal human needs and purposes.’ He also conducted a study on the Australian Aborigines and concluded that ‘Religion was the source of all harmonious social life.’ (McDonald, 2009) He felt that religion varies between different societies and can influence people’s day to day lives. In 1912 he wrote the ‘Elementary forms of the religious life’ which showed that all religions have certain features in common.
Max Weber had a view that wasn’t too far off of Marx’s theory on Religion as he felt that it just was used to strengthened people’s work ethic and that success through hard work would lead to people’s salvation. He felt that the various religious policies didn’t fit with the development of Capitalism. Religion is defined as ‘The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or Gods.’ But when reading Karl Marx’s thoughts on the subject it becomes clearer that not only do you need a strong belief to endure what God’s plan is for you but that it can take away your sense of individuality and force people into a socially regulated group by practicing the church’s ‘norms’.
One of his famous analyses of Religion was that it ‘Is the opium of the people.’(Goldstein, / McKinnon 2009) It’s amusing that Marx used opium in comparison with religion seeing as it was used to help people for a while in the 1800’s but with more medicines becoming available, that the use of opium eventually became frowned upon. Ironic then, that this is how many people would perceive the church in Ireland today. In Marx, Critical Theory and Religion Marx, McKinnon writes that ‘For most twenty-first century readers, opium means something quite simple and obvious, and the comparison between the two terms seems perfectly literal. Opium is a drug that kills the pain, distorts reality, and an artificial source of solace to which some poor souls can become addicted; so also religion.’ This metaphor for me shows that of the three theorists Marx was the most realistic and could see through the organised industry that Religion was and is ever more so today.
Durkheim’s theories make sense and are for me a nice and fluffy way of looking at Religion, but I have a feeling that if he were to see the route Religion has gone down in modern society would he still feel the same about the majority of Religions, for example the scandal’s in the Catholic church over the past forty years that are only really surfacing now. And Weber’s thoughts were more rational as that what was expected of people was to keep their heads down and they would eventually be rewarded with Heaven. Even if in today’s society more numbers are in decline of practicing religion, Marx’s views on the subject are definitely the most valid.
There expectations of people may not be as extreme as they were back in the 1800’s of their followers as they are now, but of the three, Marx’s views are the most realistic of what Religion truly is. His ability to see what religion was actually doing to people’s lives back then is remarkable and for his words to still have such relevance now in modern society shows that he was extremely perceptive of society. Marxism also assumes that Religion will eventually disappear and for someone to envisage that from over one hundred years ago is clearly someone who knew what they were talking about. And that is why I chose Marx.