Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is Religion the Opium of the People?

Within atheist circles, you often hear Karl Marx's remark that "Religion is the opiate of the masses". I hate it when people leave it at that, not because I disagree with Marx's point but because I feel they are missing the point of his quote. Marx goes on to state that "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions". Marx is not saying that religious people are using it for the drug-induced high. Instead he is explaining that it is a reflection of the conditions of the people.

If you went to the doctor with a broken leg and he proscribed a pain-killer and nothing else, I'm guessing you would take issue with that. Without treatment the problem is not addressed, only momentarily calmed using a drug. In that day, opium was often used as a pain-killer and a seditive. Marx goes on to explain that he feels that religion is being used as a safe haven for the poor lower class who may be disadvantaged in this life but have hope for a better future because of the idea of heaven. It was used as a sedative to keep them from revolting against the upper class, attempting to convince them that their station in life was fine because regardless of their pain, death would bring peace.

In general I feel that the LDS church does a good job of not just holding hope for a better tomorrow but actually making it happen. We have LDS schools in areas where there were no schools, BYU and the continuing education fund, and the bishops' storehouse. We send out humanitarian aid kits and respond to natural disasters, often before the government is able to.

When I hear people use our faith as an excuse to do nothing when they hear of others in pain, I think back to Marx's quote. Things like
break my heart. I don't have the answers either. But ignoring major social problems (both domestic and abroad) because we assume that God will make it work out in the end is fundamentally against our beliefs. The LDS church is a firm supporter of the idea that we ought to be instruments for good without being prompted ("he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness" D&C 58:26-27). Faith that it will work out is not enough when it comes to actual people being harmed.

Is religion an opiate? I think it can be a pain-killer that dulls our senses so we do not feel the injustice of the world if we allow it to. It can be a sedative so we're too blind to see the pain of those around us. This was explained in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 28:21 when it says "And others will he [the devil] pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well". Human nature gravitates toward protecting ourselves and our kin at the exclusion of others. In “The Discreet Charm of Nihilism”
Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz said that “A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death—the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders, we are not going to be judged”.

FMH got this song stuck in my head. But I think the message is good--we should stand up for those things that are right.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Rest in Peace Chieko Okazaki...

I was first introduced to the literary work of Chieko Okazaki when I was 14. She was "the first non-Caucasian woman to serve in an LDS general presidency" . A quote that particularly touched me came from pages 174-175 in her book Lighten Up!
How we pour guilt over ourselves!
This isn't the gospel! We know that on some level Jesus experiences the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It's our faith that He experienced everything — absolutely everything. Sometimes we don't think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don't experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means Jesus knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer — how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked, and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism . . .
There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands about pregnancy and giving birth. He know about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion.
His last recorded words to his disciples were, "And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20). What does that mean? It means he understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down's syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children who ever come are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He's been there. He's been lower than all that.
He's been lower than all of that. Period. No matter what is going on... This is a quote I've gone back to numerous times over the years and each time it hits me with the power it did the first time. You're not alone.

Another part of the book states:
Be spiritually independent enough that your relationship with the Savior doesn’t depend on your circumstances of what other people say and do. Have the spiritual independence to be a Mormon–the best Mormon you can–in your own way. Not the bishop’s way. Not the Relief Society president’s way. Your way
She amazed me. She wasn't fake and didn't live in denial of the problems of the world. Her influence within the church has been felt. Not a loud or sudden shift but a careful push in the right direction. She passed away Monday at age 84. Rest in Peace Chieko Okazaki.