Philosophy of Religion

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Challenges to Religious Experiences from Freud and Marx

Sigmund Freud (1856-1936)

  • Freud’s criticism of religious experiences is not dissimilar to his criticism of Kant’s moral argument
  • For Freud religion is just wishful thinking
  • The mind creates an illusion as part of its attempt to deal with the ‘outside’ world
  • For Freud religion is a ‘universal obsessional neurosis’
  • Religion is merely a ‘neurotic illness’
  • Religion is a way to cope with a chaotic and frightening world
  • Religion is a consolation – i.e. a security blanket
  • Like Marx after him, Freud sees religion as a means to suppress people

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

  • Marx was a materialist philosopher – i.e. he believes only in the here and now!
  • All human activity is rooted in economics
  • Religion removes self determination
  • Religion serves capitalism
  • People have needs – society is organised to meet those needs
  • Society is organised to benefit the few
  • Religion simply serves to maintain this system at the expense of the people
Religion, according to Marx, gives expression to a mode of life which is really empty, unfulfilled, degraded and devoid of dignity. Religious illusions have a hold on us because they provide a false semblance of meaning and fulfilment for a mode of life which without this illusion would be seen for the unredeemed meaningless that it is. For Marx religious misery is both an expression of actual misery and an attempt to flee from it into a world of imagination.

    “Religion is the Opium of the People” "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes"

Karl Marx
Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, 1843

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