The notable quote, “Religion is the opium of the people,” is credited to German thinker Karl Marx. But that is actually a paraphrase of Marx’s fuller thoughts about religion. This is the actual quote from Marx:
“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.”
– Karl Marx
Enough has been said about this quote over the years, but it is enough to understand the euphoric, then numbing nature of opium consumed as a drug to grasp what Marx was saying – though this does, admittedly, leave the issue with a thousand threads of nuance unreconciled.
This came to mind as I considered the current state of my own American culture. It doesn’t seem that religion holds this title of “social opiate” anymore in our country. It is now the news, current events and their subsequent media coverage, that reigns as our supreme cultural narcotic. We wait with quickening hearts and baited breath on another tragedy or sensationalized happening to rush into our veins, bypassing our head altogether in search of our tongues by way of our emotions. We immediately form our opinions and load our weapons, carelessly packing too much powder into the shell with little to no lead. And after having fired at anyone with as much as a slightly different opinion we stumble backwards, groping around for a place to rest, now numbed to anything that even resembles thoughtfulness or reason.
As a Christian I worry more about how people in the church react than those outside of our community of faith. I worry more because I know how important it is. And yet I find so many succumbing to the temptation to grab the same syringes everyone else has been using, loading it with the same unvetted, half-absorbed information and ramming it into eagerly awaiting veins.
One of the most beautiful distinctions that I find in the Jesus of the Gospels is His unwillingness to embrace the supposed sense of urgency that glamorized sinfulness seems to demand. In John 8, a woman is brought in front of the Lord who has been “caught in the act of adultery” (John 8.4). This isn’t yesterday’s news, this isn’t a maybe, this is a sure thing. This is camera crews shooting a traffic report in the same place where a freeway brawl has just broken out. How fortuitous! It’s perfect! Everyone can simply react emotionally! What great ratings.
But Jesus refuses to get caught up in that kind of hype. He will not plunge the needle into His arm. Instead of calling her a whore or the questioners hypocrites, “He bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground” (John 8.6). Jesus will not give in to the moment. He deliberately slows things down. And this is not an isolated event. We will see Him do the same thing when Lazarus, His good friend, is sick and eventually dead (John 11), as well as in the chapter before the story of the adulteress, when his brothers attempt to goad Him into going to a festival before He feels like it’s time (John 7).
Perhaps this is all just about timing. Maybe Jesus is waiting because there’s a “right time” to carry out the will of God. But could we, for a moment, consider that there might be a better way to approach emotionally charged situations? Perhaps the best time to speak or react is not when the temptation to give in to the rush of adrenalized euphoria is coursing through our souls. Perhaps the best thing to do in moments that are electrified by their shocking nature is to kneel (John 8), to wait a moment (John 7), or to embrace each other (John 11) before we ever “weigh in” on our proposed solutions.
If the King of the Universe decided that a “swift response” wasn’t the wisest answer to fiery situations, shouldn’t we at least consider if that is the best option? Leaving space leaves room for love, while crowding situations with our knee-jerk reactions seems to leave room for nothing other than hostility. Jesus seemed to get that, we probably should too.