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.
Karl Marx (via stay-human)
I reblogged this before but then removed it because it needed a commentary that I didn’t have time to provide.
The point of the quote is that religion exists in a situation of dialectic. Religion in this context is the organisational structure more than the specifics of a particular faith, and the interpretations of religious texts very much depends on the material and social conditions of those who read and express it.
At different times it has served different purposes; the Catholic church exists as an entrenched power structure used to oppress. This is especially clear when you look at how it functioned during the feudal period where it reinforced existing power structures and was used to impress values upon and take money from peasants. As material conditions transitioned from one epoch to the next, from feudalism to basic capitalism, we see protestantism placing a different interpretation and focus on the way the texts are read in such a way as to reinforce values that created and propagated values suitable for a capitalist society.
The point is that you cannot extract someone’s understanding of religion and the way they interpret their texts without considering the time they live in and the social position they hold. Religion can be both a liberating power and oppressing power. People turn to religion to explain the world in which they live, to explain their position within societies power structures yet at the same time the institutionalisation of religion can be a way to reinforce them as much as a call for change.