Religion as the Opiate of the People?

Recently, as if on cue, I have noticed liberal jabs at religion of a peculiar nature. It is as if, from the coldness of his tomb, Karl Marx (photo, below) was inciting these little jabs by his latter day disciples to prop up yet another aspect of his failing communist (socialist) philosophy, a philosophy that refuses to die. In his Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx wrote, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Lenin expounded, "Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression that everywhere weighs on the masses of the people, who are crushed by perpetual toil...Religion is the opium of the people. Religion is a kind of spiritual gin in which the slaves of capital drown their human shape and their claims to any decent human life."

In my local newspaper, The Telegraph (Macon, GA), one Viewpoints poster opined that the “revealed religions,” particularly the Christian church, were created to control the people. Another Viewpoints poster then replied, “Religion is by far the worse thing to ever happen to humanity. Religion is the reason for all the wars...”

It would seem that to answer such assertions would take a historic thesis, not to mention a full-length book, so such provocative statements often go unchallenged. Residing in the hollow, ivory towers of modern-day academia, shallow professors — now teaching at a 7th grade reading level but with still considerable hubris — instruct students with such clichés and without much substance. Furthermore, one gets the impression that making those assertions gives the speaker “an intellectual” aura above the idolatrous masses. Perhaps, a few historic points of fact on the Christian religion and its relationship to the state — and a little logic can help us elucidate and make some historic sense.

From the 1st century AD, when the first Christian churches were established, until AD 312, Christians practiced their religion underground. Christians were persecuted and martyrs were created in the gladiatorial Roman arenas or wherever the unrepentant faithful were found. Instead of extermination of the Christians, from the reigns of Nero (AD 34-68) to Diocletian (AD 284-305), the  persecutions helped to fortify the religion. The Romans, who admired stoicism, secretly came to admire the uncompromising Christians, who died rather than renounce their faith, and the Christian church continued to grow underground. In AD 312, Emperor Constantine (above) converted to Christianity, and established the Christian faith as a legal Roman state religion. Suddenly, a previously persecuted religion had become supreme, one of the greatest turning points in history!

During the 4th and 5th centuries in Rome and in Constantinople, the church and the state supported each other. The moral code and the laws were supported by the state and church cooperation. Nevertheless dissension among the Christians created significant disturbances within the empire, and the emperors must have questioned the wisdom and benefits of a state-sponsored religion, yet they persevered in their support of orthodox Christianity.

In 476, Rome fell and the Empire of the West collapsed. Germanic barbarians entered the gates. Romans and other Christians were protected by these Germanic barbarians, who were for the most part Arian Christians. St Augustine’s The City of God (right) is instructive in understanding these trying years before the final collapse of the Roman Empire of the West.

From the 5th century to the 10th century, during the Dark Ages in the West, a citizen of the fallen Roman Empire fortunate enough to reach the safety of a Christian monastery could receive sanctuary and food and shelter as well as physical and spiritual protection. Nowhere could one be safer than in the Christian monasteries during the Dark Ages and the early Medieval period, and find peace of body and soul from the barbarism and turbulence of the time.

From roughly the 11th to the 14th century in the Medieval period, the Christian church built hospitals and universities, and its teachings weakened and finally ended slavery in the West; feudalism, though, reigned, and cooperation between church and state was tenuous at best. Holy Roman Emperors and the Popes carried out a life and death struggle, in which, despite the charisma of Pope Innocent III (1160-1216), the labors of Gregory VII (1073-1085), and the penance of Henry IV going to Canossa in 1077 (below), ended with a victory for the emperors over the popes in particular and the state over the church in general.

From the 14th century to the 18th century came the Renaissance and humanism, not to mention the Protestant Reformation; the Century of Genius (17th century) brought religious wars, but also voyages of discovery, commercialism, and the creation of wealth led by Portugal, Spain, and then the Dutch Republic with more religious freedom, except in Spain and Austria; the rediscovery of the Classics of Greece and Rome; then the Age of Reason, rationalism, and the Enlightenment followed. Philip II (1556-1598) ruled with the consent of the church and enforced religious conformity in Spain, just as Louis XIV (1643-1715) did in France, for a time. But John Locke, Baron Montesquieu, Voltaire and the Philosophes had their say and soon the Divine Rights of Kings came tumbling down and the influence of religion further waned in government and in the populace.

The French Revolution (1789-1799) convulsed the world bringing untold suffering, violence, and death. The Church had reached a nadir in respect and power. In 1804, Napoleon took the crown from Pope Pius VII and put it on his own head and then crowned Josephine, his wife.

For centuries, the Christian religion and Judeo-Christian ethics had provided solace and comfort to the poor and downtrodden from the hardships, vicissitudes, as well as the barbarities of life during the Dark Ages and later feudalism. These pillars also provided support to the moral code, and yes, the church also frequently bolstered the laws of the realm. At the height of the Middle Ages, the clash between the Church and the State reached a crescendo with the conflict for supremacy between Pope and Holy Roman Emperor. The support of the populace swayed between the two, but as we have seen, the empire triumphed over the church.

In the 19th century, Britain ruled the seas and much of the world. The sun never set in this empire, as it never set previously in that of Charles V, Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor (left). The church had considerable influence during the reign of Charles V, but not enough to prevent the sack of Rome or the humiliation of the Pope Clement VII (1523-34). There was even less ecclesiastical influence in the secular empire of the Empress of India, Queen Victoria (below), and her Prime Ministers Gladstone and Disraeli had little inclination to force religion on the people. The British people supported the Anglican Church enough to sustain the moral code, while engaging in freedom and trade, with little intrusion in the lives of Englishmen.

Critics may say that I am generalizing and giving short shrift to certain historic events. But, how can anyone not do so in such a short essay? My intention is just to give a response in the popular press to blanket statements, such as “the Church was created to control people.” If the critic really means that the church and Judeo-Christian ethics have supported the moral code, then there is, after all, no disagreement. We only disagree if the critic contends that the moral code need not be supported by religion. He can have his say and prove his point with his own thesis.

Did the church support oppression of the people? Sometimes, it did. And yes, the church did not support insurrections against rulers that had very little chance of success. Likewise, the church opposed unjust wars and the needless spilling of blood in wars or insurrections. What the Christian religion supported more frequently was peace and civility. And even more frequently, the church made life more tolerable for the belabored citizen, who for most of written history has led a precarious existence, bordering on subsistence, penury, famine, suffering, disease, violence and premature death.

The church brought holidays, festivals, charity, saint days (feast days), and sometimes sustenance, bodily and spiritually, as well as justice and peace.  Most people in the West will agree with me that a theocracy is not the ideal government. One only has to remember the iniquities of Geneva under John Calvin or Cromwell’s Parliament of Puritan Saints after the English Civil War. But it is ironic that the opposite state of affairs has not been discussed with equal unanimity. Because when the state rules absolutely and without benefit of clergy, the most malevolent tyrannies and barbarities become the rule. Witness the Soviet Union, 1917-1991; Nazi Germany, 1934-1945; China, 1949-to the present day; and various other collectivist, atheistic regimes. The Christian church had no dominion in most of these regimes. And what are the statistics? One hundred million people butchered by their own government in the preceding 20th century!

With totalitarianism and collectivism, whether in the form of Nazism or most commonly, socialism or communism, there was neither constraint upon the state by any religious scruples nor a secured moral code “propped up” by religion to protect the people. And in these totalitarian states, there was no control of the people by the church. Religious guidance of the moral code was not necessary in a police state swarming with informants, national identification cards, intensive surveillance, and non-functioning, persecuted churches — the Total State controlled it all!

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

This article was published exclusively for on September 7, 2011. The article can be cited as: Faria MA. Religion as the opiate of the people?, September 7, 2011. Available from:

Copyright © 2011 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

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Protestant vs Catholic literalism in the Bible

Protestant vs Catholic theology — literalism of the Bible

“The problem in reconciling faith and reason was not, as the rationalist philosophers liked to allege, Catholic theological obscurantism versus observable fact. The real problem was the Bible. It was the trap that well-meaning Protestants had laid for Christianity. Though philosophy had now declared its independence from religion and attempted to approach the world by reason alone, in the seventeenth century and through part of the eighteenth century, big minds still had to confront the Bible, in a way they did not have to — they could just dismiss it — in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But every non-clerical philosopher discovered what Father Richard Simon had. If the Bible was literally true, then God believed that the world was flat. Moses was writing books of the Pentateuch after he was dead. The sun revolved around the earth. God liked creation so much that he left two different stories of it in Genesis. Even the divinity of Jesus was problematic. The list of textual problems — at least for a literalist reading — was endless and in the end impossible to reconcile with reason. The Protestants, having wrenched religion from the Church and vested it solely in Scripture, had left Christianity defenseless against such inevitable textual criticism…

“Protestants undercut the Christian cause in another way. Catholics had never denied bloody history. They argued that it would have been far bloodier without Christianity, but they never saw the Church solely in terms of moral reform…

“But Catholics did not sink or swim on the raft of the Bible — literally or subjectively interpreted — as their sole support; and they did not rely on minimal theology as a means to achieve agreement. Catholics had the Bible, yes, but they also had doctrine, dogma, history, seventeen hundred years of religious practice, the inheritance of Rome and the classical world, and a deep philosophical heritage — in fact, from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance to the Reformation they were the philosophers of Europe.”

Text excerpted from Triumph — The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church. A 2,000-Year History by H.W. Crocker, III. Roseville, CA: Prima Publishing, 2001, p. 325-327.--- Dr. Miguel A. Faria

Opiate of the People!

From the Socialist Workers Party:

"When the administration of John F. Kennedy discussed a plan for government health care that would cover people of Social Security age, the American Medical Association (AMA) fought back, along with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, with a well-funded campaign — complete with a commercial featuring actor Ronald Reagan, who was determined to talk to America about an “imminent threat”:

" 'Now, back in 1927, an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism, the American people would adopt every fragment of the socialist program…'

" 'One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project…Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it.'

"… According to the Physicians for a National Health Program’s (PNHP) Karen Palmer, the AMA assessed its members an extra $25 each to resist national health insurance, and in 1945, it spent $1.5 million on lobbying efforts, which at the time was the most expensive lobbying effort in American history. An AMA pamphlet warned, 'Would socialized medicine lead to socialization of other phases of life? Lenin thought so. He declared socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state. ' ”

Moreover — Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals” – Ridicule and Demonize your opposition! — also applies and is reminiscent of Vladimir I. Lenin's Directive:

"'We can and must write in language which sows among the masses hate, revulsion, and scorn toward those who disagree with us.' Lenin. This directive was further elaborated in 1943 in the CP of the USSR in 1943: 'When certain obstructionists become too irritating, label them, after suitable build ups, as Fascist or Nazi or anti-Semitic.... In the public mind constantly associate those who oppose us with those whose name already have a bad smell. The association will, after enough repetition, become 'fact' in the public mind.'" ---Republished in People's Daily World, official newspaper of the Communist Party USA, February 25, 1961.

Worth Repeating: Sometimes actions speak louder than words; at other times catchy phrases are created in translation and sometimes subsequent actions justify unsaid but intended phraseology...

Communists still dealing in Stolen property!

The teaser byline of your cited article, Koba, is worth posting here as well:

"Czech state to pay churches for seized property"

"Churches were seized, priests jailed or executed, and those allowed to lead religious services did so under the watchful eye of the secret police. More than 22 years after the fall of communism, the Czech government agreed Wednesday [1/11/11] to pay billions of dollars in compensation for property seized by the former totalitarian regime." Well said I hope they carry it out!

The wheels of justice are turning slowly but at least in the Czech Republic they are turning; not so in Cuba and elsewhere in the former communist world.

What I wrote under the heading below ten years ago (posted in this website) still holds as far as confiscated property:

"U.S.-Cuba Policy: Betraying Friends for Fool's Gold"

"On July 16 [2001], to the chagrin of all citizens who yearn for Cuban freedom, [George W. Bush] suspended Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (Helms-Burton law).

"As Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe explained, 'After seizing power in 1960, Fidel Castro nationalized - that is, stole - foreign owned private property in Cuba. According to the Justice Department's Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, the property confiscated from American owners - houses, banks, mines, real estate - was valued at more than $1.8 billion in 1960.'

"Indeed, the Maximum Leader began to sell this property to Mexicans, Canadians, Spain and other European companies, amassing a personal fortune, which has been estimated by Forbes magazine to approximate $1.4 billion.

"Title III of Helms-Burton was intended by Congress to punish those dealing in stolen property, U.S. stolen property. If Title III had been enforced since its inception in 1996, it would have been more difficult for foreign firms to do business in Cuba. It would also have been very difficult for the Castro brothers to remain in power and amass their vast personal fortune, particularly after the collapse of the Evil Empire in 1991, which had been keeping him afloat. Title III would have given teeth to the law, but Clinton, and now Bush, have suspended this provision, so that the law has never been in effect."

In other words, in Cuba, not only the government has kept confiscated property but has sold much of it over the years to foreign investors when it needed cash. In my book, Cuba in Revolution I show pictures of our modest home and little farm, shortly after we left and years after. The dilapidation and abandonment of our very little holdings reflect the destruction of communism in Cuba at large, physically and morally.

Koba, thanks for bringing this momentous matter to my attention. MAF

Some really are more equal than others

I was astonished at the amount of $1.4 billion, but not at the results. The more I have examined communism, the more I have found it to be amoral in the sense of not caring about right and wrong. To steal from others and reward yourself and your cohorts, who live in extravagance when compared to the rest of the citizens, is situation normal for communism.

Although I have read a great deal about USSR, I am not very informed about Cuba. I think I may have to order your book on this subject in the near future. I have finished Comrade J and I am over halfway through Radical Son. While both are most interesting to me, the latter has filled a gap of knowledge of which is noticeably missing in America: Books about the atrocities performed by communists and revolutionaries during the 1960s and 1970s in particular.

Keep up the good work. There are many who seek to hide or deny the horror that was communism, whether by omission, claiming we were just as bad, or by throwing out the card of McCarthy.

Churches repaid by communists

Dr Faria,
I just read that the Czech is following up on a proposal to repay about 56% of the formal property stolen by communists and about $2.9 billion in financial compensation to some 17 churches, both protestant and catholic.

What a concept: Holding criminal governments accountable. Granted, it is to be paid back over 30 years, but I think it is good that there is finally some accountability, albeit a pittance to what is owed. Have you ever seen any recompense paid to other victims of communism?

I did not print the entire article since I did not know if this was proper, but I did list the link. It was under religion section in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.