Many people turn to religion because they have no other recourse to relieve their suffering, even though the evidence that prayer works is highly selective and unclear, as events prove the failure of prayer far more often than not. In this it is genuinely an opiate for the mind, supplying a need for some hope to hold on to in the face of disaster death and fear of the unknown, but still a dulling opiate. Religions aim at explanations designed to give a sense of safety and protection when there is actually little or none. One can explain to almost anybody in a relatively short time what the main tenets of any religion are – even young children. One needs only to believe. However, to develop and apply critical thinking and scientific investigation takes many years of mental development and study.
Karl Marx famously wrote: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” (from ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’)
Major religions have ever aimed to make the world a better place, encouraging good acts known to all. However it also easily became as a means to social control, seeking power at the highest political levels. States always try to control their populations, some less rigorously but many also in almost draconian ways. Religion is still a powerful factor in this and is abhorrent when used cynically by priests and their allies who want to get control over you, such as in preaching what you should or should not do, and failing to respect you as an individual or a person with your own intelligence and conscience. This is the opposite of serious philosophy, which aims to gain proper insight and demands a lot of effort. One may try to simplify a moral philosophy, but this must be at the expense of the many-sidedness of the information and diverse viewpoints and the comprehensivity of reasoning involved. To ignore this complexity is to become dogmatic.
Dogmatic sects of all major religions often lead to people having extreme opinions and to be too certain that they have the truth. Very different to the scientific or the healthy sceptical mindset which is willing to live with a degree of uncertaintly and not think one has all the answers. These can easily end up as cults willing to coerce others and even kill others. Many of the most religious countries of the world rank high among the oppressors of others – be they minorities, the poor, neighbouring nations ot those of other faiths. Judging by the fanaticism, hate and wars caused between faiths – now as ever – one may rather say religion is stronger than an opiate, more like something much stronger, say amphetamines, crack or worse dependencies.
See also What mainly characterises religion?
The final test of a religious faith
Can religion and ideologies lead to cognitive disorder?
DNA beats God hollow: genetics vs. religion
Sam Harris, Religion, the open mind and traps for the unwary
Religious ’doublethink’ – basis of denial of reality
Perception And Reality, Fiction and Fact in religion
‘Everything is relative’ – the bane of religions
Spirituality redefined without religion or mysticism
On the roots of political, religious and other fanaticism
The Origins and Persistence of Religious Belief and Faith in God
The ultimate brand name: God
Is religion necessary to humanity?