Religion – Opium for the Masses?

India’s crux

There are more poverty-stricken people in India than in all Sub-Saharan countries combined. Almost half of the children below the age of five are malnourished on the subcontinent. The most illiterate people live here. An estimated half of households do not have sanitary facilities. The list goes ad infinitum.

However, the GDP has been growing for years. Increasingly more people suffer from obesity in cities, and corrupt politicians, as well as others, are stashing apparently trillions of dollars on foreign accounts. Simply put: India is (excuse my language) a literally bloody unequal country.

Why does it not take people to the streets in order to demand change and equality? Or only if an old man starves himself almost to death? Millions of people could make a change, history has proven.

German political atheism

The German philosophers Ludwig Feuerbach and Karl Marx would probably answer that one of the main reasons for political stupefaction is religion. According to Feuerbach, men has an instinct of self-preservation (Selbsterhaltungstrieb), which is intimately linked to an urge for beatitude (Glückseligkeitstrieb).

Since this urge for happiness is encumbered by nature and society, men tries to compensate the resulting feeling of dependence by creating a religion with the help of fantasy. Even though this gives a certain relief to the human, it distracts from problems which we encounter here and now, argues Feuerbach. Even worse: men becomes disunited with himself.

Rather than religion, we are supposed to focus our attention on interpersonal relationships. Homo homini deus est (men is supposed to become a god to men) is his mantra.

The early Marx, who was heavily influenced in his thinking by Feuerbach, famously said: „It [religion] is opium for the masses.“ For him, religion was an illusionary, heavenly panacea for earthly suffering. A distraction from political suppression and social degradation. Especially through the fictional promise of salvation in the netherworld, which takes the power of changing actual matters in this world.

After Marx religion is even an instrument of political ideology, an instrumentum regni. Maybe it is not all that wrong to become suspicious as soon as a political party turns religion to the core of their identity.

Looking at the Indian society, Feuerbach and Marx seem to have a point. It is not only the belief in an afterlife, but also the misconception of karma and continuing adherence to an antediluvian cast system that creates political paralysis.

Religion as political power

Although I see some truth in the argument of the German philosophers, I want to militate against it. An atheistic world, or rather a world without out any metaphysics, without being beyond matter and empirical data, will not create a better world.

Not only because the human has, as I believe, a metaphysical basic need. Even for much more pragmatic reasons, which I will not be able to elaborate now and partly have mentioned before. (By the way, this does not per se mean religion in its ancient, often parochial forms has to persist, but a way of living that is not ignorant of the complexity of being.)

Instead, I want to argue that we should use religion in order to make it more political, so exactly vice versa to Feuerbach’s and Marx’s conception – an instrumentum populi. Of course, this does not mean one should – and I am aware one is endangered to – misuse old, dusty scriptures and arguments to legitimate „holy wars”, abortions or suchlike, oblivious of counterarguments.

I am talking about taking religious stories, sagas, thoughts, and wisdom as an inspiration and impetus for debate and, in the long run, for action. For the struggles that people have undergone millennia ago are often merely different on their outer appearance. And what is religion but the memorials thereof?

For example, did Moses not lead his people from virtual slavery and repression to freedom? Did the Pandavas not fight against the Kauravas in order to regain what was rightfully theirs? The narrative well of religion is fathomless.

Have you ever encountered on these pages a protagonist, who slothfully sits on the sofa waiting for an afterlife to take care of his problems? Barely. Most of them speak, act and die for the putative better.

Hence, do not forget Moksha, Djanna, heaven, or whatever you may call it, but do not make it an excuse for your present idleness. Listen to the political and social messages you can find in between the divine letters, instigate debate, and take it, if necessary, to the streets.

Yet, (and I do know I reiterate myself) do not copy and paste sentences uncritically into your perception of the world, as there is a thin line between the fundamentalist and the righteous.


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