Religion must be subject to the same scrutiny as any other belief and cannot hide behind the idea that they are personal. Religion is a social, not a personal matter and the Socialist Party holds that religion is incompatible with socialist understanding. For socialists, the struggle against religion cannot be separated from the struggle for socialism. Our criticism of religion is part of a struggle against the ideas that hinder the socialist movement. We need to remember that. But nor should we forget that in serving the interests of the ruling class, it is only but one ideological form at their disposal. While religion is no doubt a useful means of dampening social discontent, it would be mistaken to exaggerate how effective it is today. It seems safe to say that the key ideology propagated by capitalists is not religion, but nationalism, which is more effective in blinding workers to their class interests and chaining them to a system that turns their blood and sweat into profits. Where social and economic development has not provided a practical impetus to challenge the teachings and presumptions of religion, it has remained strong. Such as in India where traditional religious castes still retain a strong sway. Religion also gains influence as a means of giving a sense of identity and community to ways of life that are under threat as in parts of the Muslim world where they are reacting to western economic domination and cultural intrusion, as well as military invasion. Also, there are some people politically marginalised as in the Bible-Belt of rural United States who are holding to religious fundamentalism in the face of lack of control over their own and their communities’ lives.
It isn't simply a question of religion being false, or brutal or divisive; it I and has been a weapon of the ruling class used against the emancipation of the working class. Thus, the socialist sees religion as an integral part of the class struggle while the secularist sees it simply as a harmful, false premise on which to base a system of moral rectitude. For humanists, criticism of religion is a process towards the eventual "triumph of reason". But they ignore the material circumstances which give rise to superstition attributing miraculous powers to the figments of men's brains. Socialists oppose religion placing humanity outside the natural world – with anthropomorphic deities shaping the world.
The socialist analysis of religion derives from our basic materialism (not in the acquisitive sense, but how we view the production of wealth in society and the sort of ideas it gives rise to). Historical materialism traces how religions have evolved, from their beginnings in ancestor worship and private property in primitive societies, to established social institutions. Rationalists, humanists, secularists, atheists, see themselves as defenders of reason yet in seeing nothing wrong about capitalism they do science no great service presenting religion as the primary obstacle to the free development of science and in letting capitalism off the hook. To abolish religion is not to end exploitation. Religion keeps the gaze of worshippers fixed upon the sky, where they cannot see how they are robbed and oppressed. Socialists no longer look to heavens for a supernatural savior, or to the class above it for a Moses to lead it out of the house of bondage, but have become conscious the strength that resides within ourselves as a class. To end the political and economic exploitation, the first lesson to learn is to question the thoughts we inherit from well-intentioned parents and teachers; to challenge the strictures of the priests, parsons, rabbis and mullahs and to question why in a world of potential abundance a parasitic class are rich beyond measure, and the working class who produces all the wealth endure want and poverty. Preachers often promise that the rich will face judgement and be punished but the court date is always in the hereafter, never in the here-and-now.
Argument alone will not suffice to eliminate religion and religious strife from the world. It will take the material interest of a common cause and a common struggle to build a democratic society where people stand in real relation to each other. For the socialist alternative to our lives being controlled by impersonal forces, we must bring about a society in which humans consciously control the forces of production. It is on this basis that we can say, rather than being abolished, religion can be expected to (as Engels put it in another context) "wither away".