Maybe religion is not actually the opiate of the masses. Maybe rejecting belief in a timeless God is really the opiate of the masses. There are many people who answer, ‘yes,’ to the question of God’s existence, but he (not He) is drawn in their image. Whatever they believe in, whether homosexual marriage, redistribution of wealth or any other idea, they’re sure he supports it. That is a rather comforting view.
You might argue that religious people do the same thing. Since they believe in gender differences and in the life of a pre-born child, they posit that God surely agrees. However, I think there is a very real difference between the two groups. One test boils down to an issue that is given disproportionate importance today—evolution. I have never understood why, when science literacy is so low and when scientific knowledge of practical, applicable fields is so necessary, evolution is the ‘must-teach’ issue. Not only that, but disagreement is treated with the passion of an, admittedly non-violent, Torquemada. Heresy must be rooted out. Not only that, but statements that are clearly unprovable and hence, unscientific, such as firm conviction that there cannot be life after death are among the credos that must be upheld.
Why is this so important? My husband’s great-uncle and Torah teacher, Reb Elya Lopian, was a leading rabbi of the 1900’s. He used to say that for millennia Jews believed that after death they would appear before a Heavenly Court, where a replay of their life would show. At times God would activate the pause button, and to their immense shame and regret, He would ask the equivalent of, “What were you thinking?” Reb Elya continued, “The interesting thing is that once movies were created and people could see technology that allows us to view such a scene, the belief in this after-death movie lessened.”
Forget religion being comforting. I imagine many of us would yearn not to see God’s disappointment in our choices, not to hear a final judgment including angry words we spoke, hurtful accusations we made and foolish or wrong actions we took. The idea of a nothingness after death means that no matter what I do, I am able to move forward without worrying about facing the consequences of my actions in an eternal World to Come.
I understand the desire to cling to a theory of evolution that refutes a God of judgment. Without some spiritual existence after physical death, it is easier to calm consciences and live as we choose. The very folk who believe that often condescendingly tell religious people, “I wish I could have your simple faith.” Perhaps the opposite would be more accurate. Without faith, I can more confidently live life as I choose. Traditional belief is not an opiate; it is a wake-up call.
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