December 13, 2010

Great Lie

"Religion is the opiate of the masses," quoth Karl Marx. Most Christians find this statement for all the wrong reasons. "Religion isn't an opiate," they retort, "It's true, and I believe it." Although this might be the case, it does not address Marx's statement in all of its insidiousness. Marx makes a statement about reality as lived by a human being, which mere belief cannot counter.

By calling religion an "opiate," Marx implies two basic premises - first, that the world we live in is so gray, mundane, tiresome, sorrowful, and awful that we need something to take our mind off of it, and, second, that religion fills that need. Of these two premises, the first is the one I wish to examine - within it lies one of the largest problems that plagues the modern age.

"Life sucks, and then you die." Who hasn't heard this truism before? And, honestly, who can argue with it? Our life is occupied, almost primarily, by suffering and the deaths of others, especially those close to us, until we ourselves succumb to the oppressive material universe and kick the bucket. Life is filled with rejection: although human beings are supposed to be the most rational and compassionate of animals, we find ourselves constantly attacked by our fellow man. Life is filled with suffering: aches, pains, illnesses, and calamities of the soul are our constant companions. Earthquakes and tsunamis destroy entire inhabited islands, tornadoes rip apart preschools, and volcanoes engulf entire cities in flames. No man can arrogate himself above this material plight. Sin is undeniable. The true, the good, and the beautiful are fleeting moments of reprieve that are not lasting. All good things come to an end, because suffering and death win in the end.

This is the basic assumption that Marx makes about human existence. Religion exists to pull the wool over the eyes of troubled sheep, tricking them into ignoring the calamities around them to shield them from the pain. Doctors, nurses, priests, and poor-boxes fight a losing battle against the tide of overwhelming suffering.

If we accept this view of the universe, Christianity does not exist. First, let's look at this scripturally: God created the earth, or all of our earthly existence, and "saw that it was good." God, as all good, can create nothing evil or painful. Pain only exists because we are fallen away from the good God intended for us. But this is not the end of Christianity. Our Christian beliefs do not end with Christ in the tomb, but with Christ risen. Through Christ's suffering and death, we are brought to new life, and the entirety of creation rejoices as a new earth. When Christ rolled away the stone, he changed the nature of everything. Suffering is no longer the end - suffering itself leads to eternal life and happiness. Love is so powerful that it does not just conquer death and leave it as a ghost, but changes even death into life. Death and suffering are no more what they were - they are the very means of our salvation. God can turn even evil into good.

Thus the Church stands diametrically opposed to the modern, gray view of existence. She stands before the towering waves and battering winds, firm on her foundation of rock, to proclaim that even to drink the cup of death is to imbibe joy. The Christian sees in the suffering gold purified by flame - a gold even more precious and more beautiful than before. Existence can squall and rage, but the Christian laughs in wonder at a God who can not only calm a storm, but bring calm about by means of a storm.

Because this world is, in fact, so good, the entirety of Christianity exists in order to give thanks. The extreme opposite of the "opiate of the masses," the Christian religion states that no opiate is necessary - our life is so good that no amount of praising can thank God enough. This spirit of thanksgiving is the crucial foundation of a Christian world view. To thank God is to be a Christian, and all Christianity flows from this thanksgiving. That is why the Eucharist (Greek, thanksgiving) is the "source and summit" of our faith. This spirit of thanksgiving is the air that we Christians breathe, this ethos of Eucharist is the only response worthy of so great a God, who does not bring about life in spite of death, but because of and through it.

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