An Addict is an Addict, No Matter What the Drug
Drugs do a lot of things. They kill people, they destroy relationships, they warp people's sense of reality, and they help in easing the perceived pain that comes with existence in this world. People lean on drugs and use them as a crutch, in the same way people with obsessive religious beliefs lean on what they have been told and use those beliefs to justify the meaning of their lives and the lives of people around them. Religion is like a drug; it is addictive and brainwashing. Karl Marx said it best when he remarked, "religion... is the opiate of the people."
Drug addicts typically develop an addiction to mask or compensate for a weakness in their own lives, just as people who are extremely religious use their beliefs to make themselves feel better about their own insecurities. Religion comforts people and tells them what they'd like to hear. It provides an explanation for the unknown; a meaning for our otherwise seemingly meaningless lives. It justifies everything in this world that is unfair by granting it some higher purpose. Drugs (opiates in particular) do the same for their users. Opiates are drugs used to decrease pain. The effects of an opiate such as heroin: "The user reports feeling a surge of euphoria... following this initial euphoria, the user goes 'on the nod,' an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Mental functioning becomes clouded due to the depression of the central nervous system. Long-term effects of heroin appear after repeated use for some period of time."1
Marx's allegory regarding religion as an opiate for the masses insinuates that religion keeps people in line and placated, with the eager belief that if they lead "good" lives on earth, they will be rewarded with eternal happiness in the afterlife. To Marx, religion ensured that for the most part, people did not revolt against, or become heavily involved in, political affairs. He viewed religion as a method of social control enforced by political ruling elites.
Like a drug, religion becomes increasingly intoxicating. As time goes on, the dosage needs to be increased to battle contradiction and exposure to other's doubts. Religious fanatics and fundamentalists, just like heavy drug users, develop intense psychological dependencies that need continuous fueling. This can most likely account for the fact that the majority of wars in history have been 'holy' wars. These wars have been responsible for unthinkable amounts of death and destruction for thousands and thousands of years.
The following excerpt is from an article titled "Religion: The Perfect Drug."2
"Religion seems harmless enough, but perhaps it is the most dangerous of all drugs. A few O.D.'s and some broken families is about all one ever hears with standard drugs. With religion many more lives have been lost. Holy wars are a very common aspect of human nature. Holy wars seem to be the equivalent of turf wars. Some priests selling a religion that interferes on another. Wars have even been fought under the same God. Addicts do some crazy things."
The reason religion becomes so compelling to so many is the idea of being surrounded by others with the same beliefs, just as drug addicts focus on surrounding themselves with people of the same addictions. Sharing similar beliefs with other humans is comforting. This explains the popularity of religious establishments such as churches, synagogues, and mosques. Gatherings at these locations serve as a type of group therapy, where problems and concerns can be expressed and medicated through the workings of each religion's respective higher power.
Personal experiences have revealed to me the power and danger behind organized religion. I attended a private, all-girls Catholic high school where many of the teachers and faculty members were extremely religious. In the religion courses offered at the school, it was always taught that Catholicism was the "correct" religion, and that all other religions and belief systems were in no way legitimate. During class once a teacher asked me what religion I was, and after responding that I was baptized Protestant, she informed me I was "on the fringe of the religious community." What gives a person the right to belittle someone else's beliefs like that, especially in a student-teacher scenario? I am extremely grateful these experiences happened to me at a young age. Many of the beliefs I hold today are due to this fact.
So, in the constant struggle to escape reality and mask fear, religious fanatics keep themselves drugged up on their beliefs, dismissing those who do not agree and forcing their ideals on anyone who may listen. I'm not an atheist, I don't have a problem with people who believe in God and go to church, but when people become so consumed by their beliefs that they begin to hurt others, and become so numb in the mind that they replace reason with illusion, I begin to believe that religion, like heavy drug use, becomes detrimental to the well-being of our society and our world.
1. Opiate Information- Effects of Opiates - Use of Opiates. Home Drug Testing. http://www.homedrugtestingkit.com/opiates.html
2. Johnson, Abe. "Religion: The Perfect Drug." http://www.socyberty.com/religion/religion-the-perfect-drug.468907