Religion can be defined as a set of beliefs and practices that explain the relations between people and their God. Every religion is characterized by beliefs and religious practices that all its followers observe. Each religion has its own distinct practices that distinguish it from others (Brenkert 56). The majority of religious convictions trace their origin from a spiritualist or an intelligent being who came up with certain ideals of life. Religious convictions, taboos, creeds, and myths are some of the symbols that convey the nature of these sanctified religious concepts, which many philosophers have embarked on examining and developing. Marx and Nietzsche are the two scholars who have influenced the beliefs of various religions. The two ancient philosophers have contributed greatly to the development of religious beliefs, with each of the two scholars having varied views regarding religion and the politics in it. This paper explores the similarities and differences between Marx and Nietzsche’s views on religion and politics. Specifically, the paper argues that although the majority of people view religion as the source of their peaceful coexistence and the hope of a future life, Marx and Nietzsche regard it as a well-calculated strategy deployed by strong people at the expense of the underprivileged class.
Comparison between Marx and Nietzsche’s account of Religion
Marx and Nietzsche had many things in common regarding their views on religion. One of the clearest similarities between their religious views is that both philosophers refuted and criticized religion arguing that it was used as a tool to oppress the weak (Brenkert 76). On one hand, Marx describes religion as a “tool used to soothe the misery of the masses” (Clark 34), implying that the strong people in the society use religion to subjugate the underprivileged. On the other hand, Nietzsche describes religion as a mechanism deployed by the feeble to stage-manage the upper class. Therefore, the two philosophers dispute the existence of religion by alleging that people need to avoid the existing religions and come up with their convictions based on their beliefs. In other words, not one of the prevailing religions is right and that people need to shun them and develop their faith based on personal views.
However, as much as the two philosophers collectively dispute the existence of religion, they differ on the aspect of virtues. Based on Marx’s account, virtues refer to the ability of an individual to act morally with the objective of achieving happiness and prosperous life. The philosopher classifies virtues into two main groups, namely, the intellectual and the moral intrinsic worth (Clark 94). Intellectual virtues are acquired by a person throughout his or her life as he or she develops into a grown-up adult. On the other hand, moral virtues are inborn. They heavily depend on the willingness of the individual to do whatever is right. The philosopher argues that a virtuous person is ever happy and prosperous in life. According to the philosopher, morals are good deeds as judged by the doer of the action. Knowledge of what is good or evil, according to Marx, is what constitutes ethics. In other words, “Acquiring virtues requires first that we “know thyself” (Brenkert 87). One cannot do what is wrong knowingly and hence the importance of wisdom. Just like Marx, Nietzsche asserts that the virtues are the goods based on the perception of the right behavior by the person in question. The school of thought believes that individuals can be modeled to exercise the right behavior. In this regard, human beings are essentially superior, able to learn, and/or can progress through special and collective accomplishments, for instance, self-cultivation.
However, although the duo schools of thought share some concepts about virtues, they also differ in some aspects. Firstly, Marx believes that the exercise of virtues is meant to cause happiness to the person in question. In this regard, people tend to select the deed that enhances the joy of the recipients in the backdrop of conflicting choices. However, Nietzsche believes that the aim of observing virtues is to achieve peaceful coexistence in society and to extirpate violence (Brenkert 67). Secondly, Marx believes that only the philosophers are virtuous due to their exceptional knowledge regarding the intrinsic worth (Marx et al. 12). On the other hand, Nietzsche believes that every person may be virtuous as long as he or she is aware of the line between the right and the wrong.
Role of Religion in Politics
Marx and Nietzsche offer contrasting views on the same issue. One of the controversies between Marx and Nietzsche’s schools of thought manifests in their individual views regarding the connection between politics and religion. According to Marx, religion is an integral part of politics since it is used by the top politicians to oppress their subordinates without being held accountable (Clark 56). The view is informed by the fact that most religions in the world advocate for hierarchy since a supreme being prevails in a manner that the followers of a certain religion have to respect and praise him or her. Such hierarchy is reflected in politics since leaders deserve respect from their subordinates. They can make any decision without being questioned, a situation that heightens the level of oppression. Nietzsche also views religion as a political tool used by leaders to advance their selfish interests in the backdrop of the emergence of self-centered headship. Nietzsche specifically criticizes Christianity for advocating virtues that are likely to influence the response of followers. For example, Christianity advocates for humility and love for the enemies, irrespective of their misdeeds (Brenkert 106). Such requirements predispose citizens to the risk of oppression. Other than Christianity, the two philosophers also criticize other religions that are likely to advance the oppression of the vulnerable in society. Confucianism is one of the religions, which are heavily criticized for their teachings regarding leadership. The mentioned religion advocates for the respect of elders, irrespective of whether they value the young or not. This provision is extended to leadership where subordinates are expected to respect and follow orders from their leaders unquestionably.
However, as much as the two philosophers seem to emphasize the negativities of religion on politics, they seem to suggest that faith will eventually lead to democracy. On one hand, Nietzsche proclaims the death of God while Marx predicts the demise of capitalism (Clark 97). Marx argues that leaders may use religion to advance capitalism, an economic system, which emphasizes oppression (Marx et al. 12). According to him, socialism is the right economic system since it promotes equality for all, irrespective of their position in society. Equality is one of the most important aspects of democracy, which underscores the need to embrace it. A society in which resources are equally distributed tends to be peaceful. Religion may favor this type of system since its principles are grounded on the concept of equality. However, not many religions in modern society emphasize the principle of egalitarianism. The death of God, as claimed by Nietzsche, will eventually result in the extinction of religion and the rise of democracy since leaders will not have a basis to substantiate their hierarchy-based ideologies.
Marx and Nietzsche’s Views on Religion in General
As stated previously in this paper, the two philosophers have similar approaches to religion. The duo scholars do discredit religion based on the argument that it is applied as a tool to create hierarchical governance, which predisposes some members of the society to oppression (Clark 128). In other words, religion paves the way for inequality in society, hence leading to the emergence of vulnerable groups. The vulnerable people are oppressed by the stronger people who substantiate their actions using religious beliefs. Therefore, although religion is present in almost every society, it causes more harm than good to the followers. Faith may be linked to inequality and hence oppression present in most societies. For societies to achieve equality for all their members, religions must not be used to shape virtues. Leaders need to shun religions to advance equity in society. However, although the two scholars discredit religion on the discussed grounds, they tend to suggest that people will eventually become enlightened about its negativities, a situation that will make them tend to avoid being associated with faith-based matters. This state of affairs will be signified by the demise of God and the fall of autocratic leadership in favor of democratic governance.
Distinctions among Certain Religions
Generally, Marx and Nietzsche discredit religion to its entirety by regarding it as a mechanism that is only meant to advance oppression (Clark 56). However, as much as the two philosophers adopt a similar approach to discrediting religion, they adopt diverse strategies to different religions. For Christianity, the existence of a supreme being who must be respected by all people, irrespective of the underlying provisions regarding morality, forms the basis for criticism. Other ethical theories such as utilitarianism, other grounds are used to discredit the schools of thought. For example, the philosophers argue that the insistence of the results of an action by the utilitarianism theory is vague since the result may not reflect the interest of all people (Brenkert 64). Additionally, the two theorists dispute the deontological and virtue ethics theories since they have predetermined provisions of what morality should entail. According to the scholars, morality needs to be grounded on personal views of the right, as opposed to predetermined values.
Marx and Nietzsche are the two ancient Greek philosophers who are credited for being the shapers of modern ethics. The two philosophers have different accounts of religion and the role of spiritual convictions in politics. Their views concerning religion have many things in common. However, as revealed in the paper, their perspectives also have huge differences. One of the similarities of the two philosophers regarding religion is that they refute and criticize it, especially Christianity. The duo scholars argue that faith is a tool used by humankind to oppress the poor. In other words, it is used to advance inequality. This paper has explored in detail the accounts of both scholars regarding religion and its role in politics.
Brenkert, George. Marx’s Ethics of Freedom. Routledge, 2013.
Clark, Maudemarie. Nietzsche on Ethics and Politics. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Marx, Karl, et al. The Marx–Engels Reader. Norton, 1978.