Karl Marx is often quoted as saying religion is the opium of the masses. It’s often used to suggest religion is false, but he was saying something far more than that. The passage containing that phrase is my go-to one when people tell me ‘But religion makes people happy!‘
What follows, as a quick post, is my translation of it – this is one of the rare times when I’ll wave my Oxford German degree, because I’ve had to translate this text in academic settings.
There are certain differences from how it’s often rendered in English, because I don’t think the force of certain words is always captured. You can read the original German here.
The want of religion is at once an expression of real want and a protestation against real want. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the soul of a heartless world, as it is the spirit of spiritless situations. It is the opium of the people.
The overthrow of religion as the overthrow of the people’s delusional happiness is a demand for real happiness: the demand to give up delusions about their situation is the demand to give up a situation which required those delusions. Criticism of religion, then, is in embryo criticism of the vale of tears of which religion is an apparition.
This criticism has plucked apart the imaginary flowers upon our chains, not so that humanity might bear a disconsolate chain devoid of fantasy, but so that it might throw off its chains and pick flowers filled with life. Criticism of religion disillusions humanity, so that it might think, act and shape its reality like a disillusioned person come to their senses; so that it might revolve around itself and thereby around its own real sun. Religion is merely the delusional sun which revolves around humanity when we do not revolve around ourselves.