Society, culture and religion

Society and culture


Socialists reject religion, and we also attempt to explain its origins and function.

Here is the definition of religion proposed by Jared Diamond in his The World Until Yesterday:

‘a set of traits distinguishing a human social group sharing those traits from other groups not sharing those traits in identical form. Included among those shared traits is one or more, often all three, out of three traits: supernatural explanation, defusing anxiety about uncontrollable dangers through ritual, and offering comfort for life’s pains and the prospect of death. Religions other than early ones became co-opted to promote standardized organization, political obedience, tolerance of strangers belonging to one’s own religion, and justification of wars against groups holding other religions.’

Religion, then, involves belief in supernatural forces (gods, saints, and so on) but also serves functions such as providing consolation against the harshness of class society and justifying particular political views.

Our A to Z of Marxism has this to say about religion:

This is how Marx described religion:

‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless circumstances. 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. The demand to give up the illusions about their condition is a demand to give up a condition that requires illusion. The criticism of religion is therefore the germ of the criticism of the valley of tears whose halo is religion’

(Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1844.

It is to be noted however that this psychological critique of the social function of religion could have been put forward by an Enlightenment philosopher of the eighteenth century, and many modern anti-socialist atheists could concur. Marx never developed a specifically socialist (or indeed ‘Marxist’) analysis of religion.

Socialists share in the Enlightenment inheritance of respect for reason and evidence against its traditional foe, religion. But at the same time we recognise that the main source of irrationality and exploitation in the modern world is to be found in the capitalist system of society. For socialists, therefore, the struggle against religion cannot be separated from the struggle for socialism. We fight religious superstition wherever it is an obstacle to socialism, but we are opposed to religion only insofar as it is an obstacle to socialism.

The following resolution was passed at our 2003 Conference:

‘The Socialist Party takes a non-theistic, materialist approach to things, in particular to society and social change. Religious people believe in the existence of at least one supernatural entity that intervenes in nature and human affairs. Socialists hold that we live only once. Religious people believe in some afterlife. Clearly the two are incompatible.’

Here are some links to other pages on our website that deal with religion:


More on the Marxian socialist analysis of religion can be found at

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