Armodoxy for Today: Opium
The words of Karl Marx are often quoted by people trying to discredit religion. “Religion is the opium of the masses (or people),” wrote Marx.
The first time I read this statement, I was a student in college, and, honestly, I was not offended. I was somewhat sympathetic to what Marx was saying because so many people lean upon religion to deal with their pain and suffering. But I also saw the power of a turn-to-God in the life of people. The opium is not in religion, as much as the false security that is granted by religion.
We each have different tolerance levels for pain. For some that pain can be alleviated by a couple of aspirin, Tylenol or Motrin, as their preference may be. These are temporary fixes, as the instruction label tells you on the pill bottles that if the pain persists beyond a time limit of (usually) two weeks, then consult with a physician. Of course, greater pain levels require more potent solutions and under the care of a physician, we have laws and rules as a society that allow for those drugs. Again, these are temporary fixes. Opium adds another dimension to pain relief in that it is habit-forming. Drug dependency no longer recognizes the drug for its medicinal value.
I believe this is why I was not upset or offended by Marx’s statement. In context, his entire statement reads, “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.” There are people who become religion-dependent and the religion is no long recognized for its redeeming value.
Our journey through Armodoxy these few last weeks has taken us through a maze of mystery and supernatural phenomena, to making and understanding that within us, the supernatural can become natural and normal. Religion should not discount personal responsibility. Just the opposite, by demanding personal accountability for actions, it empowers the individual to take control of his/her life. The original gospel, that is the good news, was heralded at the Nativity and Revelation of Jesus Christ: Peace on Earth, Goodwill among all people. Pure and simple. Everything beyond this earthly life is in the domain of the Divine. The goal of religion, and most especially Christianity, is to make this life – the one we have been graced and gifted with – a better place, by teaching us to love, respect and forgive one another. This is why we pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray that God give us the strength, patience and tools in this world. When religion loses its focus and pushes us to be consumed with end times, and qualifications for entering the afterlife, then it has lost its main direction, just as a drug which loses its function and becomes the substance of addiction.
The second time I came across Marx’s statement about religion was when I was a student in the seminary at Holy Etchmiadzin. The country of Armenia was occupied by communists and Marx, Engels, and Lenin were quoted on billboards and posterboards throughout the country. The communists tried to dissuade the Armenians from their religion. To the degree they succeeded, it was not on philosophical grounds, rather it was because of the number of churches they closed, their anti-church propaganda and the destruction of the priesthood.
Today, the words of Marx seem to be echoed beyond communists in various fields and environments. We spoke earlier about the prejudice, the pre-judgement of people toward Christianity. And so it is important to study and learn the early understanding of Christ’s message. This is Armenian Orthodoxy connected to today, or what we call Armodoxy. The more we learn about the ancient traditions as expressed through the Armenian Church, the easier we can debunk myths and understand Christianity not as an opium, but as salvific, a means of surviving and living in the world God has given us.
Let us pray, Psalm 27, The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.
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