Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Opiate Of The People?

One of the charges brought against religion is that it is a plot by those in power to keep the public under control. Now, I do not know that I can respond to the charge in terms of "religion" (a vague word that lacks substantive meaning in most cases), but I can as it applies to traditional Christianity.

Our Founder was a carpenter, and his followers were fishermen, political radicals, former prostitutes, and reformed corrupt minor government officials. He was opposed by those in the position of authority to the extent they put Him to death with a method reserved for the worst criminals. Later, His followers became known as a religion of women and slaves because they appealed to the lower classes. The only one of the early leaders who was really respectable (a man by the name of Paul) ceased to be when he followed Christ. He because a wandering preacher who could not come into a town without causing a riot. Ultimately, Christians ended up being persecuted by the Roman establishment because it was against their conscience to participate in a religious ceremony that was commonly regarded as a mere formality.

Later on, Christianity became respectable. There were among its representatives the occasional individual who became an agent to support those in power. There were those leaders who stood for upholding the status quo. We all tend to uphold the status quo when we are the status quo. But, on the whole, Christians have tended to maintain their reputations as obstinate and unbending people who hold to their principles even when it costs them their lives.

But the ultimate test was arranged by one of the chief advocates of the conspiracy theory, a man named Karl Marx. He claimed that Christianity was a conspiracy to keep down the working people and they should rebel, overthrow the government and abolish it. If this were true, you would expect that once Christianity was no longer in power, without its reason for continuing, it would vanish away. It did not happen this way. When the Communists took over China, even the Christian missionaries felt the infant church there had little chance of withstanding the onrush of Communism. But, when China opened up again, they returned to find the Chinese Christians millions strong. In Eastern Europe, not only did Christianity continue, but it is claimed it was a key factor producing the fall of Communism there (see, for instance, Chuck Colson's book, The Body).

There are very few philosophical theories which have been tested in the crucible of history. This is one of them. Marx said religion was the opiate of the people. One of our early teachers, a man named Tertullian, said the blood of the martyrs (those who died for the faith) was seed, resulting in the growth of the church. The evidence of history is that Tertullian, rather than Marx, was right.

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