Religion as the opiate of the masses – the effect of the Bible and Qur’an Essay
It is important to distinguish the difference between religions and the texts upon which they are based. Karl Marx wrote that religion is the opiate of the people. It is interesting to examine what he means in terms of the Bible and the Qur’an, as well as Christianity and Islam. As an opiate, Karl Marx is implying that religion reduces peoples’ ability and desire to think. It creates a good feeling within which people can relax into comfort and forget about the real world. Picturing an opium den in China with people sitting around smoking pipes, not wanting to move or take initiative really draws a clear picture. Important also to remember is that opiates are used to alleviate pain. Karl Marx is also saying that religion is used to take away the pain of life. How true is his statement?
The biggest fear all human beings have is “What happens after I die?” As far as we know, there are no human beings who have died and then come back to tell us what it was like. Therefore, in our great desire to know and to understand, something as dark and mysterious as death is incredibly frightening for people. Therefore, since the beginnings of human civilization there has been some type of religious practice. After the Agricultural Revolution, people became less linked to the land and more dependant upon technology. Under these circumstances, they lost their natural understanding and relationship to death. The fear began to creep in. Death was the one thing people could not control or master. Therefore, religions have been structured mainly around the fear of death. The Bible addresses this basic fear very clearly. It asserts that Heaven is the destination for those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and call on him for Salvation. The Qur’an says that when people die their souls will be asked three questions:
“Who is your Lord”, “What is your religion”, and “What did you say about this person?” The proper Muslim will answer these questions correctly and proceed to paradise. For the person who believes in either tradition, paradise awaits the true believer. Hell and suffering await the unbeliever. Therefore, people who read these books and follow these religions can assuage their fear of death. They now know through a simple formula if they will attain heaven or hell. They now know what awaits them after death.
However, the appeal of knowledge of life after death has a greater psychological appeal. People also have the desire to be right. In the minds of people we tend to think in opposites. It is black or white, right or wrong, light or dark. We tend to think in these binary forms. In fact, people project this in many ways – especially in terms of the self and other. Therefore, each person wants to justify their own existence and their own “rightness”. People do not like to feel wrong or evil. In following either Christianity or Islam, people can rest in the fact that they are “right”. They belong to a community of believers who are sure that they have found the only true way. They can all believe this together and project themselves as being in the right and the other as being wrong. On a psychological level, this is a tremendous opiate as it allows a person to cease to question their morals and ethics. Their religion tells them they are right. In both the Bible and the Qur’an these ideas are espoused. However, it is also true that the Bible and the Qur’an espouse the opposite views. Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself. This is not subject to “if your neighbor is also a Christian”. In the Qur’an, In Surat Al-`Ankabut (29:46), Allah says that the God of Christians, Jews, and Muslims is one and the same. However, since the Christians and Jews do not believe in Muhammad, they are considered infidels or non-believers. Both books find themselves in conflict when they assert their supreme authority and rightness with tolerance and love for others.
The real motivation for Marx’ statement is to look at political use of religion. He is looking at how people are manipulated and controlled based on “faith” for the gains of those in power. This issue is incredibly relevant today. Since people have such a strong desire to believe – to alleviate the fear of death and to feel they are in the right – people can be manipulated under the guise of religion to achieve political ends. The people can be both pacified and led. In the world today, militant Islam is on the rise. There is plenty of text within the Qur’an to support the war against those who do not believe in Islam. Therefore, those who believe in Allah and the precepts of the Qur’an can be led by their faith and belief into war. Additionally, Christianity declares that it is the only true path to salvation. This can be used by Christians to justify prostelyzation and defense of their beliefs. The Crusades highlight the military exertion of Christianity. When people are called to fight for their religion, it is like they do not need to think about the fact that they are actually killing people. They are acting in the name of god. Therefore, it alleviates the pain. People under control via religion act as if they are under the control of opiates. Marx was very insightful and made timely observations on the effects of religion.