When Religion Becomes an Opiate

By Kiara Windrider
February 26, 2015

For as long as humanity has existed there have been spiritual traditions evolving to remind us of what was real and important. It would usually start off with a person who was ahead of their times, saw a little further than most, and who had learned to experience a certain amount of peace, harmony, and oneness in their lives.

All too often these living teachings became encapsulated with dogmas, rituals and rules as followers who had not experienced their own transformation passed on a second hand version of these living truths. Eventually, like seeds trying to sprout in barren soils or thorny brush, they kernels of truth got diluted, distorted and denied.

Every religion has gone through these phases, turning something that was once life-affirming into a mind-rotting, body-torturing and soul-numbing set of hoops to jump through. Whether it is about using scare tactics to control a populance or making promises that cannot be kept, sharing half-truths that keep us mystified or laws that make us enslaved, religions have often created gods in the image of man to reflect the worst aspects of our human experience.

Not only has this led to superficial excuses for control, division, war and genocide, we have created endless justifications for abusing our natural resources and destroying the delicate balance of life. We either learn from religion that man has dominion over nature and therefore has the right to do what we wish for our own selfish ends, or that the world is an illusion and therefore to be denied.

No wonder, given the sordid history of human civilization, that Karl Marx declared religion to be the opiate of the masses!

As I contemplate on what distinguishes an empowering spirituality from an opiate, the following qualities come to mind. Genuine spiritual teachings:

  • do not use fear, threat or punishment as a means for control
  • will not make afterlife promises or manipulate the masses with promises that cannot be kept
  • are inclusive, tolerant, compassionate and forgiving
  • refuse to justify aggression, greed and oppression for any reason whatsoever
  • empower people, men as well as women, to be the highest expression of divinity they can possibly be
  • will not create a hierarchical priesthood but provide inspiration and tools for each person to discover their own unique channel to divinity.
  • foster an open-hearted open-minded sense of wonder for all of creation
  • preach responsibility and protection for those who don’t have a voice of their own
  • hold an attitude of humble stewardship and guardianship rather than arrogant domination of the earth and her resources
  • will offer a means to engage more directly rather than escape from social, political and ecological responsibility

Of course, we are all at different stages of this journey into maturity, holding different memes of expression, different capacities and different karmic paths. There is a wisdom born of tolerance and compassion which acknowledges each person’s individual path while at the same time condemns any attempts to manipulate, oppress or destroy another.

The more we evolve as spiritual beings the more subtle our challenges become. We may not actively exploit or oppress others or create policies to rape and pillage the earth, but we may still stop short of actively protecting or honouring those who live differently or think differently than ourselves. We may say we love god and at the same time deny the god which is present in life, and held within the intricate balance of nature. We may seek freedom or transcendence from the wheel of life while denouncing the material world and human relationships as illusion and therefore unimportant.

Ultimately any perceived truth or falsehood is but a reflection of our own state of development. As we continue in our journey of truth, we may find that our perceptions of reality are more fluid. We give ourselves breathing space and no longer seek to imprison ourselves or anybody else with rules, roles, guilt and endless belief systems.  We stop having to compare or judge ourselves or anybody else. We delete the need to understand everything through the rationality of the mind, and seek to experience life spontaneously and open-heartedly.

We no longer need to control our lives but allow life to flow through us, creating ripples of blessing wherever we go. We no longer need to call ourselves anything or define ourselves through any belief system. We recognize that who we are is a single interconnected organism much vaster than the puny little skinbags we have identified with. And we allow the universe to flow through our hearts minds and bodies as surrendered vehicles for life to experience itself freshly in each moment.