Every professed atheist knows the philosophical adage by heart, “religion is the opium of the masses.”
It was opined by German philosopher Karl Marx, author of “The Communist Manifesto,” whose hostility toward religion has been the subject of debate for more than a century. But it is clear from his writings that he believed it had historically been utilized for economic control of the poor — perhaps most “successfully” by the Catholic Church. What I find striking, though, is that in our country, where pluralism is touted as the law of the land and religious disaffiliation is at all-time high, religion is no longer the drug of choice.
One of the consequences of the growing absence of God from society today has been mass boredom and depression, as people struggle to find meaning in the temporal life, since the eternal is questioned. Coupled with unprecedented levels of physical isolation — often mandated — due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are witnessing in our country the exasperation of a literal opioid crisis and all time high rates of suicide.
Although many will likely disagree, I find that another consequence of the growing absence of God in American culture is the resorting to senseless violence and rhetoric toward our elected officials in many of the protests and rallies of the past year (whether Black Lives Matter or the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6). It is as if these rioters subconsciously believe that if God is dead and not the bestower of our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then they will take up their grievances with the “gods” at hand.
It is indisputable that there have been “religious” leaders and persons who have spoken in favor of or promoted these movements, but none are fundamentally rooted in religion. Why? Because both have been obsessed with whom Caesar and his cabinet would or would not be for the next four years, rather than who God was, is, and ever shall be for all eternity.
My hope in this new year is that we will begin to see an authentic resurgence to true religion, which for St. Thomas Aquinas was the highest of all virtues. We need greater concern and trust that God is not sadistic, as atheists would have us believe, but the Redeemer who can save us from self-destruction and the Master who regularly brings good from ill.
Father David Nerbun has a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He is the diocesan vicar for Family Life, chaplain to Coastal Carolina University, is forming the new Catholic Community in Carolina Forest, and is in residence at St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach.