“The Opium of the People”

Amanda Zunner-Keating
3 min readNov 21, 2020

Revisiting a commonly misunderstood quote from Marx.

Photo by Tim Cooper on Unsplash

Marx once described religion as “the opium of the people” which is a commonly cited and commonly misunderstood quote. Many dictatorial regimes have, historically, misappropriated this Marxist argument to justify a violent crackdown on religion in their countries (Eagleton 128). At the time of Marx’s claim, opium was legal and was widely used to relieve pain. So, he was not arguing that religion was some kind of addictive drug that people behave in an unreasonable manner. Rather, he was arguing that religion was a comfort to people who were suffering (Stein and Stein 18).

Marx’s exact quote on the matter is,

“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. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusion.”

Marx was not seeking to punish or eliminate religion but, rather, did not consider religion to be as real as a person’s material necessities required to survive (Eagleton 128). Marx and…