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August 11, 2003

Religion: Who wants some dope now?
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

red-pill.jpg 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."

Kian at August 11, 2003 12:48 PM [permalink]:

I agree with you that religion is incapaciated to rule in modern society, however - our reasons for it's incapacity may be different. My reason for it being an unacceptable method for ruling society is because not all members of society are believers. Though you could also say, that not all members of society are believers in the law - however it is easier to make someone understand and believe the necessity and instrinsic value of law than to get them to accept religion.

The question of Religion as Opium of the masses is a difficult one, because yet again - what is the definition of Opium? For some it may be a quick fix that desensitizes you from the pains of reality, for others it's a method for separating reality and what truly "is" from what "is not"..

Too tired - to think any further about this issue,

btw, I'm going to link this at the Chronicles - could be a good discussion..

Saeed Saremi at August 11, 2003 01:42 PM [permalink]:

Well done kaveh! I enjoyed reading your comments and I completely agree with your "general" point. I just want to add that sometimes you might not overdose this opium but still face dangerous consequences. Imbalance is maybe more dangerous than overdosing. I think another major problem of religion (esp. Islam as a social religion) is, understanding it NOT as a whole package and I think advocates of religion in Iran have prescribed the recipe that is not imbalance and made it a very dangerous opium.

Hossein at August 11, 2003 01:53 PM [permalink]:

Most of non-believers who get back to any religion, accept it in a spiritual way rather than a social way. The emptiness of life (and the question of death), somehow, makes people to believe in some sort of spiritual power(s), who rule(s) the universe. And once they accept it, life gets much easier and they can live more happily (perhaps even ever after!).

Yashar at August 11, 2003 03:09 PM [permalink]:

It's funny how nihilism (say as epitomized in the declaration of the death of God) somehow stands a hair's breadth from the sublime forms of mysticism (buddhism, sufism, ...)

Yashar at August 11, 2003 03:13 PM [permalink]:

or vice versa

Kaveh at August 11, 2003 05:18 PM [permalink]:

The analogy and similarities between ideologies is very interesting. It looks as if, all of these CAN function as opium, based on the addictiveness and pacifying nature of their core beliefs.

Yashar at August 11, 2003 05:58 PM [permalink]:

i don't think nihilism is really pacifying, it's kinda painful. and i think some mystics also claim their way is also kinda painful sometimes. cuz it's like, many of them also, almost dont believe in anything concrete it seems.
whatever... looks like we're just a bunch of proteins and DNA's mixed together in a marvelous mechanism that has come this far thru evolution, and which thinks is so much more magnificent than a humble anopheles mosquito.

Saeed Saremi at August 11, 2003 06:02 PM [permalink]:

I think some philosophies are more “consistent” than the others. At some point one should see "what" the opium is, does it make sense? For example I think "by definition" god can't have a son! Still if you beleive he has, it has opium consequences!

You can see physics just as a model (a game or whatever) or think that there are laws out there and a physicist can try to find it. You can never "prove" either of these opinions. But for example the current structure of quantum mechanics suggests that the first opinion (physics just a model) makes MORE SENSE.
The same is true for different philosophies: some of them make more sense, regardless of their effects.

Mona at August 11, 2003 06:22 PM [permalink]:

Ideologies, by their very core, provide people with an organized system of beliefs, values and ways of thinking. Obviously such systems make life much easier. When you believe in an ideology you know how to view the world and how to understand it. You KNOW, so you don’t need to think anymore! You don’t need to struggle with the most difficult questions of the life, because they are already answered. This is the main point. It does not really matter what the answer is. Does god exist? Yes or No is not important. It seems that it’s just crucial to believe in AN answer!
In a way I can see them all as opium…

Kaveh at August 11, 2003 06:38 PM [permalink]:

Saeed, consistency just like math, sense, science and other urban myths of objectivity is in fact subjective. Even in mathematics "consistency" and ideas like that, are challenged by Godel's theorem. Most of belief systems are either created with holes ore just acquire them as they are challenged by more and more "alternative" opinions. Even the whole package could be a big hole for some people!

Kaveh at August 11, 2003 06:42 PM [permalink]:

Yashar, I think the pain in Nihilism is somehow cured by the freedom that one finds after realizing the nothingness. (this is only my opinion, you might want to ask the autor of "Gay Science" for a first-hand account!)

Mehrad at August 11, 2003 06:51 PM [permalink]:

Jash! I DO think nihilism is quite pacifying and the pain you note is maybe a result of this pacifying nature.

Saeed Saremi at August 11, 2003 07:36 PM [permalink]:

Kaveh, I meant "consistency" in the subjective sense! Do you think Copernicus picture of the solar system is "MORE" consistent or the current models? I agree that there is never an answer because of inherent subjectivity. But this doesn't mean that Newton's picture has the same value as Schrödinger’s picture. I think the corridor of subjectivity is infinite and makes everything zero. This doesn't mean that you can't compare "different zeros". Maybe some of them are much larger than the others.

Kaveh at August 11, 2003 09:22 PM [permalink]:

That's exactly my point: "consistency" (as a good thing, a holy thing if you want) cannot be put in a subjective format. This is exactly why we can look at different pictures of the same problem in physics (or all science) and they are all some how instructive! Any conclusion would be (1) case independent and (2) person independent. Obviously my point of view and the way I would treat quantum mechanics is different than others and there is different value assigned to it by different judges. There is no way you could show "good" or "bad" when you are arguing with an "absolute relativist"!

Saeed Saremi at August 11, 2003 09:48 PM [permalink]:

I think "absolute" subjectivity eats itself!
Can a person who beleives in absolute subjectivity "understands" his own "absolute subjectivity"? ( I hope you understand that I am not just playing with words) So finally can you say that Schrodinger picture of physics was more complete than Newton's?

Yashar at August 12, 2003 12:25 AM [permalink]:

Mona, I somehow think the belief in the non-existence of God is not equal to th belief in its existence, unless the belief that he does not exist is accompanied by another positive belief like a belief in the power(or wisdom) of human or in law or in science or in something that does exist and provides a meaning for one's actions. I'm not saying that many people do consciously think about these things, i've actually known people (that i admire) who at least seem to be totally removed from such worries as to find a meaning for life or ... but i think those who do look for such things, are seeking a positive answer or when they realise there might be none they succumb to nihilism maybe.

Yashar at August 12, 2003 01:00 AM [permalink]:

Kaveh, i agree that, that freedom is kinda soothing, making up for the despair a bit. but i think this is exactly what we are talking about here, i think it's maybe what Erich Fromm calls 'escape from freedom'. I think for most people, that freedom (if they sense it at all) is very agonizing. the freedom to choose. when you realise it's only you who can (has to?) decide what you wanna do with your life. nobody's really gonna tell you what to do. nobody's gonna show you 'the way'. of course we're not talking about political freedoms here or the sorts that can be limited by governments or authorities(like religion) i'm talking about the freedom from the chains of belief - or rather the suspense in the void. I think few people have truly embraced this freedom with their entire being - I even doubt whether the great author of 'the gay science' had done so himself. but it seems to me that some mystics are also truly free yet they are not nihilists - but they are really close. maybe they are the ubermensch. hmmmm i don't think so.

Yashar at August 12, 2003 01:06 AM [permalink]:

it's not even a pain, it's like almost kinda folly, it's like... whatever, it's like nothing.
i'm not actually a true pessimist about life. i find it really interesting, amasing, funny. but i can't find a meaning for it. but it's ok, i don't complain. hahah.

Yashar at August 12, 2003 01:18 AM [permalink]:

and finally Kaveh and Saeed, I think like most things subjectivity and objectivity are not absolute. there is a spectrum. but i firmly believe that the predictions you make with quantum mechanics are much more objective than feeling fallen in love for example, and are easier to relate to other people who know the language. ok..deep down it boils down to democracy or rather elitocracy even in math. but i wont buy the claim that conclusions from quantum mechanics are as person dependent as concluding which figure skater danced better.

Mehrad at August 12, 2003 11:59 AM [permalink]:

Yashar! U wanna know what life means to me? that last "hahah" in your comment.

Len at December 23, 2003 03:29 PM [permalink]:

"Even when I had my super-religious period as a teenager".
You still are (a teenager)...
Just wait untill you grow up ant you might understand that the "Maxizm/Leninizm/Stalinizm/Maoizm/Hitlerizm/etc.) is a religion, idealistic and not a good one.