We are all familiar with phrase by Karl Marx that “Religion is the opium of the people.” Adding a bit more context. Here is what Marx said (italics added):
“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. 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” (Marx, Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).
Marx, as I read him, fails to understand that for the masses hope is everything and that hope comes in many forms, including religion, trying to get rich, and lottery tickets. It is fair to say that as long as religion offers plenty of hope, people will forever remain religious to some degree. Marx’s conclusion that religion is the opium of the people is made more ridiculous by phrasing it, “hope is the opium of the people.” Well, from a biological point of view, our species could not have survived without hope. Hope allows us to override discouraging thoughts that might eventually paralyze prudent action. Hope allowed our ancestors to override the fear of getting devoured by huge hungry predators. Today, hope permits us to get through a variety of minor and major catastrophes.
The Communist revolution didn’t end despair. The Communists tried to provide hope but in the end, they couldn’t provide enough. Nor does capitalism fare any better in some respects. We’ve all read about the Great Depression during the 1930s and seen its devastation on the History Channel. It was certainly a time of great despair for many Americans and Europeans. At the same time, there was no shortage of hope-givers some of whom preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a tent or on the radio. People also found hope in a bottle of cheap liquor.
Presently, the spirit of modernity doesn’t have a high regard for religion. This can only mean that relying on religion, as a means of hope, is a tad uncool. In fighting despair or the same, depression, modern science offers us more hope than religion, or so it is currently believed. Science has a powerful arsenal of drugs. Just pop one pill, depression disappears. To be sure, religion as a means for alleviating depression cannot compare with modern science!
Our world is not unlike Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931) which gave its inhabitants hope through the drug, soma and unlimited sexual access. Huxley’s world was the creation of science as is our own emerging brave new world, yet despair, that is nihilism, is always present. We have become (or are becoming) blissed-out workers of nothingness living in the here and now. A twist to this, Huxley wrote his novel as a parody of utopianism and especially, American optimism.
As I see it, the failure to understand the importance of hope for people in despair will be one of the significant booboos of the modern age. This is witnessed by modernity’s unwarranted attack on religion (and I am thinking at the moment ‘tradition’). Such an attack, which comes from scientism is, in effect, sending a signal to those who are religious that they cannot have hope. This reminds me of neuroscientist and religious critic, Sam Harris, who tells Buddhists to get rid of Buddhism. I assume because it offers less hope than a handful of pills.
Hope that has been scientifically realized which Huxley’s Brave New World explores and which, to a certain extent, we see unfolding in modern society, is really false hope. Moreover, it is a false world supported by false philosophy (i.e., ideology) and false values and norms. What is missing is a spiritual content so we are left to believe that man is only the sum of his biological parts.
Authentic hope can only come to man when he acknowledges a spiritual content within himself that he can directly apprehend which is truly eternal and beyond despair. This does not mean, of course, that all religions are not false and give the masses true hope. Indeed, there are false religions just as there are false utopias.