Karl Marx once said that religion is the ‘opium of the people’, something designed to keep the general population happy with things like, “it doesn’t matter what you’re suffering now, because it’ll all be fine in heaven”. It’s a sentiment that still does the rounds in various forms today. Even without the Marxist bent to it, religion is called ‘wish fulfilment’ or ‘too good to be true’. It’s seen as the coping mechanism of people struggling with the fear of death, or a consolation for the sick. In short, there’s a view of religion that makes it out to be nothing more than a comforting idea that doesn’t actually have any bearing on the real world.
So how does that fit with my experience of Christianity being the thing that motivates me more than anything else to do some good in the world? To put it bluntly, without my faith I would be forced to say that everything is meaningless, and if that’s the case then what I do is equally meaningless. We’re just dust in a cosmic breeze. The reality for me is very different. I believe that we are a race of beings with worth and a purpose. Our worth was proved once and for all by God wanting a relationship with us enough to die at our hands, and our purpose is demonstrated by the Bible’s countless calls to worship.
Both worth and worship are factors in my desire to actually do something worth doing for people, and I believe they’re both at the heart of the real message of Christianity, as opposed to the message commonly spouted by its opponents.
It goes something like this: God saved me, therefore I’m worth saving. But He didn’t just die for me, He died for everyone, therefore God thinks everyone is worth saving. In the life I have now, I’m called to reflect God’s character as best I can as an act of worship, therefore I need to start to see the value that God sees in everyone.
What this means practically is that although I don’t have the need or the capacity to die for people’s sins (Jesus covered that) I can meet people’s needs in other ways. In some ways it’s irrelevant whether or not there’s a heaven after we die (though I believe there is), because the key thing for being alive now is that we reflect God’s heart for people on Earth. That compassion is the root of the cross and there is no reason why that should be withheld from those around us.
This compassion is unlikely to lead to a communist revolution (sorry Karl), but it should be able to make a real difference. I’m not politically active myself but I know Christians who are and who really want to change things because of their faith; they believe that they can meet people’s needs through politics, which is fantastic. I think the thing to remember is that even if you’re not revolutionising countries, you can help make a revolutionary difference in the life of one person, and because of what that person means to God, that difference is genuinely important.
Because of all this, I cannot accept those views that I put forward in the opening paragraph. If religion is the ‘opium of the people’ then I have badly misunderstood the effects of opium (and trust me, I study English, I know some of the weird poetry that’s come from opium trances). The simple fact is that religion more than anything else, and I believe this about Christianity in particular, gives us a reason to make a difference on all the levels from global to individual. It is not simply wishful thinking, it’s world changing action.