A young friend wrote on his facebook page, “Religion is still the opiate of the masses.” He got some interesting responses. One person agreed with him. Another wrote, “It can’t be. If it was, I would take it for recreational purposes.” Of course the statement originated with Karl Marx when he was developing the Communist Manifesto, the philosophical foundation that would eradicate religion in Russia for 75 years. When I visited Moscow and Lenin’s tomb 17 years ago, the hopeless despair left in atheism’s wake was palpable.
My first inclination, like many, is to jump to the defense of religion. But that might not be the most thoughtful response. After all, religion killed Jesus. The Roman government reluctantly carried out the crucifixion only after Pilate had repeatedly tried to release Jesus concluding, “I find no fault in him.” It was the religious leaders of Jerusalem who incited the crowds and demanded Jesus be crucified.
Mankind is incurably religious. Every culture on every continent has spawned religion. And, more often than not, the results have not been good. 9-11 and the Twin Towers serve as a monuments to the deadly effects of Islamic Jihad. ISIS has terrorized the world. The Hindu caste system of India consigns millions to poverty without hope.
The Christian religion can also become corrupt, self-serving and self-absorbed. Perhaps Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, found credibility with so many because they suspect that religion can become vicious if its survival is threatened. The mentally unstable often use religion to justify atrocities against the innocent. We cannot forget the 909 people, including women and children, who voluntarily drank cyanide out of religious devotion to Jim Jones in Guyana in 1978.
Sometimes religion is not just an opiate, it is a poison.
Jesus, on the other hand, makes people less selfish, more generous, fills them with hope and leads them to sacrificial efforts to help others. Jesus transformed a little Albanian girl named Agnes into Mother Teresa who spent her life living among the poor of Calcutta and caring for them. Faith in Jesus made William Wilberforce the leader of reform in England to abolish slavery in the British Empire. Faith in Jesus Christ changed a backwoods playboy from North Carolina into Billy Graham who preached grace and forgiveness to millions. Faith in Jesus Christ catapulted Martin Luther King Jr from the backstreets of Atlanta into the forefront of the Civil Rights movement.
The list goes on. Jesus Christ goes beyond religion. He transforms us into better people and the world into a better place.