Opium of the Masses

“Religion is the opium of the masses.” If Karl Marx had been alive today, he’d be more specific. Religion is the Prozac of the masses, or better still, Extasy.

What prompted Marx to compare one of the foundations of the civilised world with a banned drug? At all times, there have been some people who are smarter than others- maybe because of a fortunate genetic combination, or practice, or habit, or circumstances, or maybe because of sheer mania. And in all times, these smarter people felt irritated by the stupidity and the chaos created by the less smart folks (viz. ‘the masses’). The smarter people of the world devised codes of conduct called religion to reign in the chaos created by normal people. All the religions in this world to the greatest extent are codes of conduct specifying how mortals should behave and how they shouldn’t. The primary objective of religions has always been to bring order to the civilised world – to give a direction. This direction depended largely upon the fertile imagination and fanciful thoughts of the guardian or high priest of the religion or the messiah or prophet, as one would call them a different matter. All prophets were benign souls having a sense of mission and thoughts of well-being for the world. It is later through the years when the religion spread that somebody finds out that this religion stuff could be a great power tool and started exploiting it to make people obey him and fulfill a very human craving of his- for Power. He then started being called the successor or the reincarnation or the heir of the prophet. (Bullshit!) It was but natural that politicians- the Entrepreneurs of Chaos- would find out about the potentiality of this immense earthmover called religion.

Why are the religions of this world so distant (mark it, I’m not saying different)? The distance between the major religions is literal. Geographical if I may say so. And the difference is merely artificial. It is my firm belief that if all human beings had stayed at one place since the inception of thought, then there would have been one and only one religion in this world (Exception – some smart jack-ass power maniac selling his own brand of religion – “cleans your sins cleanest, purest!”). Religions are not different. Never were. This is so because, the smart guys who first created them believed in the most basic humane values – kindness, love, sacrifice – and all that stuff (you know all that!!). The difference is only in the manner and type of the make-up that is applied. A different shade of lipstick, some mascara, a new hairdo, a little blush, a pair of coloured contact lenses – and lo and behold! You have a completely new object of affection, the ‘other religion’. The core is the same, the presentation is different.

Now, the presentation is very important. People just won’t swallow what you’re serving them unless it is coated with sugar candy or is accompanied by a cane stick. People will not know or do what is correct for them. This is the main idea behind creating religions. And dictatorships. Whoever said, “99% of people are fools and the rest of us are in great danger of getting infected” had the strains of a great leader in him (maybe a messiah, maybe a dictator). Whether it is prophets or military leaders, the presentation of ideas in a manner in which people will swallow it, nay, gulp it down hungrily, is paramount. Perhaps more important than even the idea itself. A good idea by itself does not make a good leader.

The greatest tool that religion has always used is God. I call it chance element; statisticians call it Probability. For some it is money, for some others it is Rock ‘n’ Roll. Mostly, people know God as Jesus’s father or Allah or the entity Moses talked to. But to be true to the thought, I must stress that God is a concept. And as a concept, it is an extremely potent psychological tool that has proved very very valuable since the beginning of mankind. The God concept was not created by any religious leader. I think God would’ve been created even if a single man lived on a lonely island since his birth. God is so basic. There are just so many things that man can still not control and so many other things that man can still not explain, that man has to give an excuse for all this. Man has to attribute these to somebody or something, somewhere. Man has to think of someone who can explain all this and who can control all this. That somebody is God. God is an escape. God is a portable shrink. God is your mother’s womb. God is the top shelf of your storeroom where you shove all the things you don’t have the energy to deal with right now. Neither do you have the wisdom. God is the personification of the uncertainties, fears, and comforting thoughts of all thinking beings.

Published by Anupam Choudhury

I'm a writer, editor, and blogger from New Delhi, India.

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