I always liked Marx's verdict against religion; I liked its finality, its tone and the mention of the word "masses". Even when I had my super-religious period as a teenager (who hasn't?) I thought of the "opium for the masses" as something deeply paradoxical and disturbing, a sinful pronouncement that seemed to echo with a kind of truth.
Now I look at it differently: as a "slogan" that was only hip one day. I have now understood what "masses" refers to and what "opium" is really meant to do with them. Although I haven't truly understood yet if "opium" is bad or good?
"Religion as opium" for the masses might be a slogan or just plain absurd, but how about for the individual? Are religions supposed to be like opium for the individual? Is the notion of "the Divine" just a pacifying and pleasure-giving concept to believe in for me and you? Is there anything but hope, love, good and peace to be obtained from religion? I am asking this question because I have reached the conclusion that religion in general is incapacitated to rule in modern society, and I do not want to include religion as a pillar of modern society even in the "opium" format.
Most of us as individuals seem to need "opium," without which life seems too painful to bear. It can be our relationships; it can be our hobbies; it can be the art/science we produce; it can be our job; it can be anything that we can use to dress (or undress) the outside world and our significantly negligible role in it. Let's not get into some serious existential discussion here. Nonetheless the problem ("life sucks!") seems to be equally present in every individual with a certain degree of sophistication and responsibility.
The answer can also be religion. It has really good news about life (and death in most cases) for anyone who is ready to believe in it. From a psychological point of view, religion does offer a good answer and remedy for this sickness of/from life. It is not surprising to see that all of the (mainstream) religions (even more nihilistic Paths such as Buddhism) see life as a very valuable thing and all try to protect it. Even in Islam, which is to some extent a socialist religion, the life of each individual is valued at that of life of all members of her/his society*.
The failures of Religion as an opium are also shared by all other kinds of "opium": (1) You may be disconnected from your source of it, then the whole thing will collapse and you will be left in a void. (2) You might overdose on it: This could be even more fatal to you and maybe others.
Let me postpone a conclusion on this post for some time until I can produce a more detailed discussion of these ideas applied to Iran's religious history.
* Qur'an 5:32 "... if any one slew a person [...] it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people."