So yesterday I went to an interesting discussion, where the quote “religion is the opiate of the masses” came up. Cool cool, we all know it, it’s used more often than not to shake off religion as something weak or stupid.
Here’s a bit of context around the quote:
"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." (A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1844)
Marx saw religion as something people clung to to not lose all hope in their corrupt society. We see the quote today as meaning religion was a drug which kept people from seeing clearly, but in fact Marx was of the opinion that it was a drug which helped people dull the pain of a reality they were very well aware of. He wrote before the invention of penicillin (1897), at which point opium would have been widely used as a medical painkiller. So religion didn’t make people bumbling idiots who would follow every order; it was used by people to protest their deplorable socio-political situations.