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Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Opiate

Karl Marx once said “Religion is the opiate of the masses”. He believed that religion was invented by wealthy men to control the poor. If the lower classes were pacified with the promise of treasure in the afterlife, they would not rebel against their wealthy oppressors. In this way the rich could continue to hoard their wealth, while the poor laboured on under the delusion that they would receive their rewards in the next life.

It is true that some of the world’s religions and religious leaders have done this very thing — some even claiming to be Christians. While they urged their followers to work harder and make greater sacrifices, they themselves accumulated wealth to excess. This bad testimony alone has caused many people to agree with Karl Marx and to dismiss Christianity altogether.

The Bible, however, is completely against such unjust behaviour. James makes this clear:
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” (James 5:1-4)
This and many other passages in both the Old and New Testaments speak strongly against those who hoard wealth and oppress the poor.

It is true that the Bible does not urge the poor to rise up against the rich: judgment belongs to God alone. But it does instruct wealthy believers that they are not to be unfair or greedy, but are rather to be generous and kind to all. There is no excuse in Scripture for any Christian to behave in the way that Marx abhorred. 

If the Bible had been written to control the poor, all its authors would have been wealthy men. However, this is not by any means the case. There are wealthy characters like Abraham and Joseph, but they were not writers of Scripture. The vast majority of Biblical authors were shepherds, fishermen, and other working-class people. Some, like the prophets, depended entirely on God for their support. Even King David was a lowly shepherd from an insignificant family before he was raised to the throne.

Those who argue that Scripture favors the rich and encourages oppression of the poor are, therefore, greatly mistaken. The Bible has a great deal to say about the responsibility of the wealthy and those in authority to show compassion and be generous to those who are less fortunate, and warns of judgment upon those who ignore God’s principles in order to accumulate riches for themselves.
  
It may be true that some of the world’s religious systems originated with a few rich men who wished to control their middle and lower class followers. Christianity, as taught in the Bible, is not one of them.

RJA

Republished by permission of the author

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