Open University puts the (animated) spotlight on two sociologists who were critical of organised religion. This first one is on Karl Marx and his enduring dictum: “Religion is the opium of the people.” Marx used this phrase to argue that religion is a mechanism to entice poor and disadvantaged people to accept suffering and inequality as part of life (through the enticement of higher rewards in the afterlife). The original quote is drawn from the Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.
In context, Marx’s original quote reads:
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. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.
The “father of sociology,” Auguste Comte, features in the second animated video in the 60 Second Adventures in Religion series by Open University. Comte developed a theory positivism to argue that social phenomena could be studied through data collection and experiments fashioned on the practices of the natural sciences. His premise was that the philosophical development of science followed three stages:
- Theological – nature has a will of it’s own. This stage is broken down into three stages of its own, including animism, polytheism, and monotheism.
- Metaphysical state – though substituting ideas for a personal will.
- Positive – a search for absolute knowledge.