Religion as a Drug
Republic of T posts some ideas on how religion can act as a drug. And he has a good case, even though it's different than Marx's take. Religion can tell us that who we are, what we do and what we value is of cosmic importance.
Reinhold Niebuhr writes about this in his book Does Civilization Need Religion? In a world which threatens dissolution of our sense of selfhood, folks rush off to any ideas or institutions, that will protect us from this. But theism is not required for this move.
Theism could have a divine "babysitter" who blesses us and all that we do and value, but it's as easy to place this into the universe or some cosmic pattern. One popular guru, Gangaji tells folks, for a price, that they are essentially good, beautiful, the divine light is in them.
For instance, a woman goes to a country club to hear Gangaji talk, where she discovers that she is essentially innocent, like a child. Having subbed for middle school, I'm not sure I can vouch for children's innocence, but it's something that someone with some means desperately wants to hear.
One pernicious element not found in Republic of T's post is the way that religion can be used to cover for our own sins, our own culpabilities perhaps our participation in an unjust system that denies personality to others, while trying to protect one's own sense of it.
Niebuhr suggests as much. Then there is the fear of death and just plain fear. Maybe fear of the other, who can be in a place to challenge us and our sense of the world and self. "We are the way it should be" is the key phrase a Bush supporter yells at opponents in a rally.
There is a common link here. Everything is directed to us, to what we value, to who we are, to our sense of the world. "We are the way it should be" places ourselves as the measure of all things. Monotheism should focus us towards God and others, not ourselves.
Our sense of us and what we value has become an idol, unable to be challenged, changed, or let go of to some wider reality, whether that is living in a world with other persons or to God. Religion, at it's best, pulls us away from ourselves to the world, to something more.
As Republic of T's post notes, this often does not happen. The reverse is more common. But this is not a shock, my tradition suggests that religion, including Christianity, is as much a product of sin as any other idea or institution. But I don't think the answer is to dump religion since the problem has deeper roots.
Without religion we'd still be faced with the same problem and but we'd use other institutions and ideas to justify it and cover it up. I'd go as far as to suggest that it's the original sin, a focus on self and ignoring our relations and obligations to a wider world.
Because this problem has governed much of human life and history, our respective traditions, such as Buddhism and Christianity, have a lot to say and resources to bear in seeking to address this problem. I'd say let's explore them, work with them. It's better than ignoring them, as if that's what would make the problem go away.