My titles were too long and hard to distinguish in the “Recent Comments” section, so I have switched the order around. The next theory in this series is that of Marx, just in time for the lifting of the ban on socialism! Like the others, Marx’s theory is reductionist. As a former Marxist myself, I find this particular kind of reductionism unpersuasive. However, this theory of religion became more than just a theory. For a good part of the 20th century a huge portion of the earth’s population subscribed to this theory. For this reason alone it derserves to be seriously considered.
Marx’s ideology is more extreme than the other thinkers featured. Ultimately, he does not offer a comprehensive critique of all religion, but rather the Christianity and Judaism of his day. He argues that religion is a tool for the oppressors to keep the oppressed content. Religion is fully determined by class interests. It is designed to make sure that society stays the same, that the interests of the elite are preserved. The belief in the afterlife teaches that in another world justice will be served, which allows injustice to be overlooked in this world. Also, the belief in God gives people a sense of comfort in the face of their difficulties which appeases them preventing them from demanding any changes. Thus, the famous quote: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Religion is escapism from the problems and injustices around us, which just happens to be quite convenient for those in power.
How does Marx’s analysis play out for Mormonism? Certainly his explanation is insufficient as an explanation of LDS belief, but does it offer any insight? Is early-Mormonism a proto-Marxist movement which aimed to eliminate economic hierarchies? What happened to that? In current Mormonism, do the conservative political bent, other-worldly focus, and anti-civil disobedience minded leadership serve to placate the masses and prop up the social and economic elites? In EQ, we recently had our annual lesson on managing finances and debt, and I couldn’t help but feel that there was a conspicuous lack of discussion about the abuses of corporations and the government which encourage bad financial choices by the lower classes. Can Marx and religion be successfully united, as in movements like liberation theology? Should Mormonism reflect these ideas in its array of theological options?