Opium of the people

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"Religion is the opium of the people" is one of the most frequently quoted statements of German economist Karl Marx. It was translated from the German original, "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes."


  • It is most absurd, therefore, to maintain, as some do, that religion was devised by the cunning and craft of a few individuals, as a means of keeping the body of the people in due subjection, while there was nothing which those very individuals, while teaching others to worship God, less believed than the of a God. I readily acknowledge, that designing men have introduced a vast number of fictions into religion, with the view of inspiring the populace with reverence or striking them with terror, and thereby rendering them more obsequious; but they never could have succeeded in this, had the minds of men not been previously imbued with that uniform belief in God, from which, as from its seed, the religious propensity springs.
  • The colonialist bourgeoisie is aided and abetted in the pacification of the colonized by the inescapable powers of religion. All the saints who turned the other cheek, who forgave those who trespassed against them, who, without flinching, were spat upon and insulted, are championed and shown as an example.
  • Optimism is the opium of the people.
  • Alas! that ever
    Praise should have been what praise has been to me
    The opiate of the mind !
    • Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Ethel Churchill (or The Two Brides) (1838), Vol II, Chapter 21, adapted from her own:-
      'Alas! that ever
      Praise should have been what it has been to me !
      The opiate of my heart, which has annulled
      The happiness that sought but for itself.'
      in 'Poetical Fragment, Fifth Series' in The London Literary Gazette, 17th December 1825.
  • Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weighs down heavily upon the masses of the people, over burdened by their perpetual work for others, by want and isolation. Impotence of the exploited classes in their struggle against the exploiters just as inevitably gives rise to the belief in a better life after death as impotence of the savage in his battle with nature gives rise to belief in gods, devils, miracles, and the like. Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward. But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven. Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze, in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man.
  • Gramsci's remarks are rich and stimulating, but in the last analysis they follow the classical Marxist pattern of analysing religion. Ernst Bloch was the first Marxist author who radically changed the theoretical framework—without abandoning the Marxist and revolutionary perspective. In a similar way to Engels, he distinguished two socially opposed currents: on one side the theocratic religion of the official churches, opium of the people, a mystifying apparatus at the service of the powerful; on the other the underground, subversive and heretical religion of the Albigensians, the Hussites, Joachim di Fiori, Thomas Münzer, Franz von Baader, Wilhelm Weitling and Leo Tolstoy.
    • Michael Löwy, The War of Gods: Religion and Politics in Latin America (1996), p. 15
  • Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. ... Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. 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 abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun.
  • One cannot grasp freedom in faith without hearing simultaneously the categorical imperative: One must serve through bodily, social and political obedience the liberation of the suffering creation out of real affliction. ... Consequently, the missionary proclamation of the cross of the Resurrected One is not an opium of the people which intoxicates and incapacitates, but the ferment of new freedom. It leads to the awaking of that revolt which, in the "power of the resurrection" ... follows the categorical imperative to overthrow all conditions in which man is a being who labors and is heavily laden,
    • Jürgen Moltmann, "Toward a Political Hermeneutics of the Gospel," Union Seminary Quarterly Review, vol. 23, no. 4 (Summer 1968), pp. 313-314, as quoted in Black Theology and Black Power (1969), p. 37
  • As we see it, a perhaps faulty presentation of the Christian message may have given the impression that religion is indeed the opiate of the people. And we would be guilty of betraying the cause of Peru's development, if we did not stress the fact that the doctrinal riches of the Gospel contain a revolutionary thrust.
    • Peruvian Bishop's Commission for Social Action, Between Honesty and Hope (1970), p. 74, as cited in A Theology of Liberation (1971), p. 116
  • It is not religion but revolution which is the opium of the people.
  • I am not a supporter of Marxism, but I fully agree with this formulation. Another thing is that opium can sometimes be useful, and its use justified. For example, I envy believers. Indeed, I am 86 years old, I understand that death is close. And it can turn out to be painful, and no less painful are thoughts about the fate of loved ones. How good it would be to believe in the existence of, say, an afterlife, etc. But the mind is given to man in order to control his emotions and not engage in self-deception, belief in miracles.

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