“Religion Is The Opiate Of The Masses…”

by Lisa Wade, PhD, (2010)

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.

With these words Karl Marx condemned religion for making the class-disadvantaged masses complacent in the face of injustice. New data from the Pew Forum, sent in by Dmitriy T.M. and Allie B., suggests that this may be true for some religions more than others!

Visual at GOOD, shown here in three parts:

Allie was actually quite troubled by this figure, arguing that it affirmed stereotypes that Jews controlled all the money and encouraged people of different religions to see each other as competition.

Indeed, how we choose to present data is always a political decision.   Why correlate religion with income at all?  Maybe religion is somewhat spurious, compared to variables like geographic location, race, or immigration status.  That is, it may be that income correlates with geography, race, and immigration status and those variables correlate with religion.

It’s pretty tricky to figure these things out (and that’s why we force sociology graduate students to learn fancy statistical methods), but in the end we still can’t attribute causality, just correlation.  Figuring out why and how things correlate requires qualitative of research.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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