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date: 21 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article discusses the relationship between Marx, Marxism, and atheism, outlining the ways in which the phrase ‘opium of the people’ is often misunderstood as an atheist statement. In fact, Marx rejected the term atheism as inadequate to the task as it did not address the socio-economic basis of religious belief. While some forms of Marxism often adopted a mechanistic and dogmatic materialist approach to religion, Marx saw it as the means by which people made sense of social oppression, and therefore worthy of study in its own right. From Marx’s letter to Ruge in 1842 speaking of communism fulfilling the religious dreams of mankind, via Walter Benjamin’s revolutionary messianism, Ernst Bloch’s contention that ‘only an atheist can be a good Christian and only a Christian can be a good atheist’, through to Slavoj Žižek’s work on religion, Marxism has a more complex relationship to atheism than is often thought.

Keywords: Marx, Marxism, opium of the people, Benjamin, revolutionary messianism, Bloch, Žižek, mechanistic materialism

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