Socialist Worker

More than just people's opium

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1814

A CLASSIC Marxist account of religion, The Meek and the Militant by Paul N Siegel, has been reprinted in a special deal for London's socialist bookshop, Bookmarks. It takes as its starting point Marx's famous description of religion as 'the sigh of the oppressed, the heart in the heartless world, the opium of the people'.

This has often been misinterpreted as meaning that religion is like a drug, administered by rulers to confuse those they oppress. But Siegel, following Marx, shows that while religion does play that role it also provides a range of ideas people have appealed to throughout history as they resist oppression.

So different gospels in the New Testament reflect changing attitudes to the rich and the poor. He shows how the major world religions themselves have been shaped by real social and political forces. Siegel explains how religious schisms and disputes - such as between Catholicism and Protestantism, or different interpretations of Islam - are a product of social conflict.

The book is far stronger at examining the rise of religions than it is at explaining how religious ideas fit in with political struggles today. But it is a must for anyone who wants to take on the rubbish we hear today about religion. There are only a couple of hundred copies in print, so get in quick.

To order your copy phone Bookmarks on 020 7638 1848, or go to

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Article information

Sat 24 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1814
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