The Opiate of the Masses

For many years I’ve wondered why people cling onto religious beliefs. Despite scientific discoveries that debunk the claims of theological scriptures, the majority of the planet still harbor a sense that the world was created by divine beings and is continuously overseen as well as governed by these omnipotent, omnipresent deities. The identities of these all-powerful individuals vary, alongside the methods by which their adherents treat and worship them. Nevertheless, a cornucopia of religions have blossomed from the human mind, and it seems to be a nearly futile endeavor to even attempt to replace these thoughts based on unprovable mythologies, with the verifiable counterparts presented by science.

Atheists like myself advocate the idea that a world governed by scientific theories and not mythologies would improve humanity in one way or another—from how we treat ourselves and others, constructing and developing our societies, furthering our understanding of the vague notion that is morality, so on and so forth. Personally I do not support the eradication of religions as a method of progress, but I digress. Yet if one were interested in accomplishing such a daunting task, then perhaps it would be beneficial for them to firstly seek the roots of humanity’s penchant for trusting in the spurious proclamations of ancient words.

Of course, many explanations have been offered in the quest for comprehending spiritual piety, all of them with their specific strengths and weaknesses. Yet it would practically be impossible for a sole writer to list and describe them all in a singular article. Hence, this body of text will focus primarily on the interpretation conjured up from the endlessly fascinating mind of Karl Marx.

Marx was first and foremost a social scientist, who devoted his years on understanding the conflict that occurs between the various socio-economic classes and its implications on humanity as a whole. However, while his work centered primarily on economics he still had the time to say a few things about religion.

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.

To Marx, religion is something which stemmed from a human being’s desire to reassure itself that there is a force of compassion in this apathetic world of ours. It is birthed by the thirsts for justice, love, kindness in societies that lack, or in the worst of cases, do not have most of these traits. Thus a person would comfort himself by faithfully bearing and sustaining in his mind, the concept of deities that would one day alleviate his sufferings, be it in his lifetime or in a realm that exists for the dearly departed.

Here we must ask ourselves, “How well does Marx’s claim stand the test of time? Is it credible in any shape or form?” I would say that it does, to a certain extent. Take a gander at the many nations of the globe and the peoples that inhabit them. These places and populations vary in terms of their wealths, cultures, and other equally significant elements. But an interesting deviation exists between them, in terms of how devout the citizens of these countries are.

Being a citizen of the developing nation that is Indonesia, I can assure you dear reader, that religion permeates through basically every aspect of an Indonesian’s life. Declare yourself to be a Christian and you’ll find yourself at odds with the Muslim majority, proclaiming to be an Atheist or an Agnostic is a very effective lure for verbal or physical abuse, being a Muslim meanwhile would grant you access to doors unaccessible by minority religious or non-religious groups. Religion directly influences everything from an Indonesian’s career path, social standing, and even love life. But why is this so? Why are the psyches of Indonesians saturated and highly affected by which deity one chooses to believe in? The answer may lie in the economic aspect of Indonesia.

As I had mentioned in the paragraph above, Indonesia is still a developing country. Its population is plagued by poverty, joblessness, income inequality and all the rest of the plagues that haunt any nation that was left behind in the eras of colonization and industrialization. Predictably enough, these societal illnesses create a general awareness of how difficult life can be for the financially average or impoverished Indonesia. He or she would have to struggle to survive, gather enough funds to purchase a meal, tightly save little by little to afford a one-room apartment or structures barely worthy of being called a “house,” and predictably enough dread at the prospects of the inability to bear the tremendous expenses of healthcare and education.

It would come as no surprise to Marx that nearly all Indonesians believe in gods. After all, to him “religion is the sigh of the oppressed people.” Individuals who find themselves in perilous situations—in this context, financially—are more prone to fall into the worship of deities. The divines provide comfort and security whilst living in an existence where such things are rarities; “…opium of the people” indeed. Thus, a plausible explanation for why religion is almost all-encompassing in Indonesia.

To reinforce Marx’s claim, simply compare the religiosity of Indonesians to those of the peoples of developed nations. The United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, France, etc. all of which are far more economically superior countries to Indonesia, have at least fifty percent of their populations claiming to be either not religious or are implicitly Atheists. These are territories with populaces that face significantly less severe financial troubles to Indonesians. In other words, they do not need to worry about the amounts of cash in their bank accounts as much as Indonesians do. Hence providing them the luxury of feeling relatively safe and comfortable without the need of believing that there is an invisible overseer devoted to protecting them.

What does Marx’s claim and its verification mean then? Its implication is rather simple, really. For a society to diminish the influence of religion it must firstly enhance the quality of life of its denizens. At the very least in the sector of economics.

If Atheists wish to effectively minimize the role of religion in people’s lives, they need to fully understand why said people chose to be religious in the first place. If indeed economics play a significant role in engendering such beliefs, then it is paramount to firstly solve the predicament that is financial crises. Shouting evidences regarding the absence of gods, miracles, spirits, and all suchlike things is an ineffective method for convincing those who are forced to endure poverty—who starve, sleep under the cold night sky without the comfort of beds or roofs, who see their loved ones fall prey to sickness and wither away all the while incapable of alleviating their agony as the medication is out of the reach of their wallets. To them, the existence of gods is an absolute truth; a need for the sake of sanity amidst lunacy and chaos. For who, or what else could justify and make amends for all the pain they have been subjected to? Certainly not their fellow men who have callously let them suffer, never offering a helping hand.

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