Karl Max reportedly says that religion is the opiate of the masses. If you interpret this statement defensively, as somebody who subscribes to a faith, you will argue that the statement infers that you are being kept docile, obedient and in constant stupour. You would argue until you are black and blue from to state your disagreement with the statement.
Then, it got me thinking (as usual — even my officemate says that I have really wide activation nodes!).
Being sedated is really not bad at all, considering the alternatives and considering the mess that everybody is in at the moment. People tend to accept and tolerate their friends’ reliance on things like Prozac, Xanax, or different kinds of alcohol to numb the pain, stress, or weariness with life. After abolishing God from schools, now we have to deal with sedating children differently – chemically and through substances that they have to take, or keeping them occupied through things that may not be effective in the long run anyway. Belief in God and having a ‘religion’ is considered foolish and passé – especially in this age of science and enlightenment. I could also take a defensive route and defend my faith through logic and strong arguments – however, esteemed authors like C.S. Lewis and Francis Collins can do so much more beautifully.
If God is my opiate, I don’t mind being sedated at all. My belief in God keep me hopeful – that the pain, sufferings and hardship that I’m facing and yet to face would be nothing compared to the glory to come. This is not my home and that I am only passing by. However, even if that day never comes, and that my so called faith is in vain, at least I lead my life full of hope, rather than thinking that I am only occupying a spot on earth, exchanging carbons into carbons, and synthesising oxygene into carbon-dioxide. I am a creature who can have faith in something that is yet unseen, that will come to pass.
The reason why I think about such a strange topic is the reality of getting old – my Mum is 74, still young by Western standard. However, here in Indonesia, her age can be considered as quite an achievement in the land where life expectancy is about 71 years of age. She is staying with my third sister’s family now after the death of my Dad in 2011. She still wants to head home back to Bandung, although her old house is not really in a presentable state at the moment as it needs a major renovation. Mold, dampness and the normal wear-and-tear have made the house quite inhabitable. My eldest sister is also battling cancer that may have spread to various organs in her body. My second brother-in-law also has to endure daily radiations to get rid of a prostate cancer. What’s the point of all of these if you can’t even hold on to hope? If others say that the belief in God is just an opiate and is a foolishness? Believing in God doesn’t negate science at all – as we still do what we can to preserve our life and take good care of the body that we are entrusted to by following the latest scientific advancements.
Coming back to the so-called quote by Karl Marx (1844), I found out that he didn’t say it. It has been drastically paraphrased. What he says is (with emphasis added),
The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
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.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.
I don’t call myself a religious man and nor do I think that my faith in God through Jesus is my religion. I call it an intimate spiritual relationship. I know that this is one of the things that preachers often say as well, in explaining about Christianity. Some people may just disagree and say that this is just repackaging the same old stuff – a denial. Regardless. I’d rather consider myself not to be my own true Sun, that I have a focus far higher. A hope, a goal. A loving God who takes care of me and directs my path.
Many people suffer – we all do, in various degrees. The difference is that some choose to do it in hope, while others don’t. Call it being mentally and spiritually sedated whilst the others are being realistic. Call it an illusion. Tell me that I believe in a being that is a figment of my imagination. It doesn’t matter – I’m intellectually and mentally alive, and I know which one that I prefer. Much cheaper than paying psychologists, psychiatrists, and the daily dose of sedatives. I choose to be hopeful.
Besides, prayers are free.