Sample Section A Essay
“Religion is the opium of the masses”
If religion were only the opium of the masses who would mind? Unfortunately, to extend Marx’s metaphor, it all too often also resembles the effects of amphetamines and of hallucinogenic, mind altering drugs as well!
Let’s begin with opium. Marx said this because he observed that the promises made by religion for happiness after death were used all too often by those who exploited the people to keep them in subjection and to make them put up with appalling conditions here on earth. As such he was surely justified in being this critical. Many evils have been perpetrated in the name of religion; this kind of psychological exploitation being one example. However, let’s remember that Marx wanted to replace religion with Communism, which became itself a kind of secular religion. Unfortunately it failed to deliver on its promises and created a form of tyranny at least as bad as the one it strove to replace, and certainly failed to provide heaven on earth. It also failed to provide the comforts of opium. Those who critique religion, radical atheists included, should pause before this fact.
Opium is a narcotic, and is the root substance from which we derive most of our analgesics like diamorphine. Those who follow careers in medicine have good reason to be grateful for the relief afforded by anaesthetics. Not for nothing, considering the history of pain, are doctors dedicated to the relief of physical suffering. And what is true physically is also true psychologically. Life is harsh. So much so that it is a safe bet that 90% of all species have gone extinct. There are, as Richard Dawkins says, a thousand more ways of being dead than there are of being alive. All of which perhaps should make us more sympathetic to the need of the survivors to find comfort somewhere. Taking religion away from “the masses” may not be doing them much of a favour. If you are going to take the people’s opium away, you had better have a better analgesic to put in its place.
Marx saw himself as a scientist, and it is science that has challenged religion more than any other force. This challenge has been mounted in the name of the truth, a higher value than comforts, like those provided by narcotics based on delusions. Science works. Unfortunately it is also traditionally allied to a dehumanised attitude and has been incapable of offering moral or spiritual guidance to people. I am personally an admirer of the scientific enterprise. I think it in some ways the greatest achievement of the human race. Nevertheless, considering its spiritual bankruptcy, I might, if it were not for the fact that religion, as well as providing psychological comfort, also incites psychotic hatred and intolerance, opt for the opium solution.