Is Religion the Opium of the Masses?

I study Sociology at A Level and one day I came across the following quote by Karl Marx: ‘religion is the opium of the masses’. Does religion pacify the working class people? The answer is complicated.

In part, it does.  For example during the time of the British Empire, religion was used to enforce the idea that monarchs have the divine right to govern. It was the believe that power was given to them directly by God. To question the monarch would be seen as a sin – even if he is engaged in tyrannical acts. People were not allowed to question religious beliefs, the ‘masses’ were taught not to question the inequality and oppression that they faced. For example, Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547) changed the denomination of a country so he could have a son. I am not defending any faith, religion, sect or denomination, but it’s notable that the future of a country and the state religion was changed, so that the succession of the throne could be passed onto his progeny.

However, let’s look at recent history. History that completely shatters Karl Marx’s quote. 1979 is the year and it’s the Islamic revolution in Iran. I would like to note that I am not trying to defend Iran. The only thing I am trying to do is present to you (the reader) that the intention of the revolution was purely religious; supported by the masses, supported by the working class people against a system of oppression.

The following quote sums up the religious belief of the Iranian people in 1979, ‘Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves’-Imam Hussain (the grandson of Prophet Mohammad). They based their faith on this quote.

The King of Iran (Reza Shah Pahlavi) privatised the oil industry, he allowed the CIA to run the Iranian media from within the US Embassy and started applying capitalist economics in his country.

But the leader of the 1979 revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, argued that religion can’t survive in a capitalist state. Whereas, Karl Marx had argued that capitalism can’t survive without religion.

The result of the revolution: monarchy was abolished, the incorporation of capitalism into the Iranian economy was reduced to a minimum and the oil industry was renationalised. All of the things which Karl Mark would have wanted.

Karl Marx was neither wrong nor right: his research into religion is just incomplete. His research and studies were very ethnocentric, they were predominantly focused on the Western culture. Lastly, his research into history wasn’t sufficient, adequate nor wide ranging because there are a handful examples where religion was the only reason that motived the proletariat to rise up against oppression.  

By: Muhammed Hussain, Politics, Philosophy and Sociology student at Coombe Sixth Form.

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Is Religion the Opium of the Masses? Is Religion the Opium of the Masses? Reviewed by Admin on 10:03 Rating: 5


  1. In post-revolution Iran, to this day, people are persecuted for many thing. Homosexuality, for example, is illegal and severely punished. Women and girls are still forced into marriage - something seen as archaic and deeply wrong in the western capitalist world. In Iran free speech is effectively non-existent, you could not speak out against Islam or the government. Other freedoms are limited - alcohol is illegal as are foods that aren't halal. You present Iran as a place where religion doesn't persecute. This is absolutely wrong. In the capitalist West we have freedom of speech and human rights. We have the freedom to choose our religion and not be bound by it. In Iran you cannot chose your religion - you are forced to accept and abide by what you have been told by your superiors. Sound familiar? (Paragraph 2).

    1. I think you clearly misunderstood the article. The article refers to the faith and belief of the working class people rather than what Iran is doing today. I completely disagree with Iran on their human rights abuses. You mentioned alcohol being illegal as restricted freedom: it may be according to you as it is a social construct and not a absolute principle i.e. Alcohol banned in the USA in late 1900 or early 20th century. Any other points you may want to raise, feel free to do so.


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