“It is the opium of the people.”
Marx was referring to religion and why it was necessary. Opium is a powerful narcotic and painkiller. According to him – and I agree with his analysis – religion to the vast majority of the people is a comforting illusion made a necessity by their real miseries. He wrote:
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.
The more miserable the material conditions of the people, the more intensely religion gets a stranglehold on them. And in a vicious cycle of dependency, religion pulls them down further into the abyss. Monotheistic religions have done so in the past and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future—intensify the misery that gave birth to them.
Spirituality, on the other hand, arises within people only when they are freed from a miserable existence and have the luxury to search for truth and meaning in attempt to fully comprehend their own selves.
I clearly recall the shock that I experienced when I first learnt of the Opium Wars. Over the years, as I have learnt more about the ways of the world, the Opium Wars have become a powerful symbol—a metaphor—which I employ to explain to myself some of the features of the world. Continue reading