On the other hand, the problem of misinterpretation is in being subjective. While a phrase might be accurate word-to-word and letter-to-letter, the implied meaning would differ depending on the context, culture, and time it is being used. There are thousands of phrases which are being misinterpreted and have now become just another cliche. “Religion is the opium of the people” by Karl Marx is one of those phrases which is often quoted and often misinterpreted.
Nowadays the quote is being used to mean that religion makes people lunatic or delusional. It is not surprising since opium is being used for producing a drug-induced delusion for the person using it nowadays. The misinterpretation can also be attributed to the use of similar phrases like “religion is poison” by Chairman Mao during Chinese Revolution. The phrase appears in an introduction of a book – Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right – where Marx critiques Hegel’s Philosophy of Right paragraph by paragraph. Marx writes:
“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”
In the above quotation, Marx not only says that religion is the opium of the people, but also sigh of oppressed, heart of heartless, and soul of soulless. It is very important to take into account that opium is used as medicine – painkiller – during his time. Therefore he clearly states that religion provides a false solace – it does not make people delusional in any ways. He says that the purpose of religion is to create an illusory fantasy. Even if the living conditions and the economic situation prevents the poor people from finding happiness in this life, religion instructs them to take it positively since they will be rewarded in the next life. Therefore, religion provides solace for now and gives at best a questionable hope for future. Therefore Marx considers religion as an illusory happiness. He calls for the abolition of the illusory happiness since that is the ONLY way to demand the real happiness. Anyone would prefer the real happiness to illusory one, wouldn’t you?
In the recent incident of the murder of a woman by few Christian-converts, I have seen few people using Marx’s phrase to mean people become delusional or crazy because of religion. This certainly isn’t how Marx saw the world’s religion.
By the way, if you would like to read the text by Hegel and Marx, the links are provided below: