There are many who ask, why are socialists against religion? Why did Marx write:- "Religion is the opium of the people?"
Those who think religion is necessary to mankind and that it has a salutary influence, are usually very vague as to what constitutes religion.
Religion does not mean leading a good life; it is not sharing your possessions with the poor; it is not turning the other cheek when assaulted, or loving your neighbour. All these are problems of ethics and morality, so often confused with religion.. Christianity as well as other religions have their moral and ethical codes.
When Matthew Arnold defined religion as "morality touched with emotion", he added to this confusion.
Both Socialists and Christians may wish to help their fellows, and not harm anybody. They may try to be kind, courteous and considerate to the wishes of others - these are things which so many people think are religious principles. In fact socialists are doing their bit to better mankind in spreading the knowledge of socialism, and are often despised for it.
Religion portrays itself as a system of absurd anachronistic beliefs - usually accompanied by threats to non-believers and promises of rewards for the pious. In some cases it seems to be a pathological condition (what disease is to the body, religion is to the mind), where the person suppresses his reasoning power in certain directions. He accepts statements from the Bible as being beyond dispute, statements he would reject completely if he read them elsewhere. No wonder religion has been defined as a "psychological purgative for imaginary sins."
Religion is superstition running away from truth and afraid of being overtaken. This is because religion is based on belief. The many references to belief in the New Testament, makes it clear that "belief" is the basis of Christianity.
Religion is not a revelation, but the product of evolution as all forms of ideas and culture. No matter if fundamentalists reject evolution, their religion and all it contains has been the product of evolution. Even the idea of God evolved. See Grant Allen's "Evolution of the idea of God."
Originally, religion was a belief in the existence of supernatural beings, and the observance of rites and ceremonies in order to avert their anger or gain their good-will. "Corpse worship", as it has been tersely called, was the protoplasm of religion.
Religion is woven like a threat into the texture of human society from the early times to the present day. It is based upon man's ignorance of natural forces and has been propped up by rulers a s a means of keeping slaves in subjection.
Religion developed by primitive man to explain natural phenomenon such as storms, earthquakes, volcanoes etc. To the savage mind when the avalanche fell the rocks were angry; when the volcano belched forth destruction, the mountain was furious; when the ground rumbled and cracked then the earth was determined upon destruction.
Savage man saw everythingin his own image. When his mental development had advanced a stage further it was the mountain spirit and the river spirit and the earth spirit that was angry, and he commenced to devise means to propitiate angry spirits.
It was here the priesthood stepped in, the vague beginning of what was eventually to become the Church, that has harassed mankind across the ages, supported tyranny, and reaped much profit in the process. Priesthood became the imaginary bulwark of man against the forces of nature and society; and religion his refuge when life was too burdensome.
In the early civilisations of Babylon and Egypt the priesthood was wealthy and powerful; chattel slavery and poor freeman toiled for its benefit. How powerful it was has been clearly shown by the treasures and manuscripts found in the tombs of the rulers. By holding out the threat of eternal damnation on the unfaithful the Egyptian priesthood accumulated vast wealth and property and stood behind the whips of the slave driver.
Each new religion starting with the will of the oppressed has ended with the power of a new oppressor. Privileged classes learned early the value of religion and used it ruthlessly to support their domination.
All religion is based on faith and faith is an illogical belief in the occurrence of the impossible. It is belief without evidence in a preacher without knowledge about things without parallel. Christian faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason; it is believing in something which your common sense tells you must be wrong. All this is in direct opposition to socialism, and cannot possibly be reconciled with or incorporated into socialism.
Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. 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. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
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.
It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.