Karl Marx’s theory of religion is an illustration of his theory of alienation. He argues that in primitive societies man resorted to magical cum religious explanations to deal with phenomena which were beyond his understanding. With the development of the institution of private property of the means of production, these explanations gradually took the shape of justifications and legitimations of the rights of the dominant groups of privileged property owners in a society. Religion as a way of thinking about the world was itself one of the alienative products of the social system.
It was alienative in that both God and the scriptures were the products of man’s own creative imagination. These products became divorced from man to become not only independent of his control but also to exert control over man himself. Thus man looked for solace and guidance from a source seen as external to him and in this way failed to realize that only he and he alone could shape his future and his society.
In Karl Marx’s view, religion served to siphon off potentially revolutionary thoughts and actions by focusing man’s attention on to the next world and by exhorting him to put up with the world for the sake of his immortal soul.Thus religious leaders promised a redress of this world’s ills in the next world with such doctrines as the last shall come first or it is easier for a rich man to get through the eye of a needle than to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. These promises for the next world reversed the social order in this world.In this way religion presented a mirror image of society.
For Karl Marx religion was the opiate of the people.It distracted man’s attention from the possibility of taking action to improve his social world by making false promises about a next world and by attempting to offer comfort and solace for the troubles in this world. He believed that scientific knowledge would dispel the mysteries of religion and expose it as the useful ideological tool of the dominant group or groups in society. Man had no need of religion and should realize he has only himself to rely upon.