Religion: Opiate or Liberator?

WHEN Karl Marx called religion ``the opium of the people,''1 he wasn't totally wrong. If one looks at mankind's history, one can see that religion has sometimes been little more than a means of the powerful to control and placate the weak and the poor. History also records the sad fact that there has been slaughter, torture, and repression in the name of religion. Yet, obviously, great good has also been done when religion has lived up to its highest ideals. All of mankind's great religions teach brotherly love, compassion, charity, and good deeds as proof of one's piety. These ideals have leavened human thought, restraining the selfish, murderous elements of mortality.

So, while it's relatively easy to point out the crimes committed in the name of religion, what might not be so obvious is how many millions of lives have been saved, how many untold acts of mercy have taken place, because of religion's benign influence on people. Still, one has to ask, why hasn't religion been more successful in uplifting mankind morally and spiritually?

This is a question that has long perplexed religious thinkers. It's one to which Mary Baker Eddy, herself the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, gave a great deal of thought. She comments: ``The improved theory and practice of religion and of medicine are mainly due to the people's improved views of the Supreme Being.''2

This quotation comes from a sermon she gave called The People's Idea of God, which explores at length the importance and power of right views of God. She saw that material conceptions of God tend to make God in the image of humanity rather than man in the image of God, and that such conceptions fetter religion. If mankind was to progress spiritually, she saw, its idea of God must become more spiritual.

In her own words: ``Proportionately as the people's belief of God, in every age, has been dematerialized and unfinited has their Deity become good; no longer a personal tyrant or a molten image, but the divine Life, Truth, and Love, -- Life without beginning or ending, Truth without a lapse or error, and Love universal, infinite, eternal. This more perfect idea, held constantly before the people's mind, must have a benign and elevating influence upon the character of nations as well as individuals, and will lift man ultimately to the understanding that our ideals form our characters, that as a man `thinketh in his heart, so is he.'''3

Wasn't Christ Jesus pointing the world to a more spiritual worship, to higher ideas of God, when he said, ``The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him''? In other words, to be effective, our worship of God had to become spiritual because God Himself is Spirit. As Jesus went on to say, ``God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.''4

Jesus' teachings had unprecedented power to elevate the character of nations and individuals precisely because his understanding of God was completely spiritual. His idea of God came from God, and he embodied this true idea in his life. He proved God to be infinite Spirit, our heavenly Father, whose love and goodness are unlimited and eternal. He showed us that we are, in fact, the children of this God and that our true life and destiny are spiritual, not material.

You might say that Jesus revealed the true nature of God by demonstrating the real nature of man. In other words, Jesus' goodness, love, compassion, justness, spiritual authority, and healing power were not self-generated. They were reflections of God's nature. Jesus was the supremely good man because his only ideal was a supremely good God.

You and I can be transformed by this same Christ-idea. Our view of God -- how we see Him and therefore how we see ourselves -- is the key to character transformation. Here, Christian Science is a great benefactor to mankind. It lifts our concept of God beyond material definitions, which make Him directly or indirectly responsible for evil and suffering, to the idea of God as the all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing infinite Spirit that He is.

This true idea of God helps us understand that God gives only good and never sends disease or suffering. When Jesus healed sickness and overcame sin, he was scientifically demonstrating that these evils are illegitimate and not the terrible realities they seem to be. In fact, the more we know of God, the more we are able to see and prove that evil of any sort is no part of His reality, but that the kingdom of God is truly ``at hand'' and wholly good and Godlike.

As these higher, more loving ideas of God leaven mankind's religious beliefs, we will see both nations and individuals increasingly liberated from fetters of every sort. Already this is happening in the world. All genuine freedom and liberty ultimately have their source in God, good. As Mrs. Eddy writes: ``Discerning the rights of man, we cannot fail to foresee the doom of all oppression. Slavery is not the legitimate state of man. God made man free.''5

Just how free God made man remains to be demonstrated, but Christ Jesus shows us the unlimited possibilities of freedom when our idea of God is spiritual.

1See Jon Elster, ed., Karl Marx: A Reader (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 301. 2The People's Idea of God, p. 2. 3Ibid., pp. 2-3. 4John 4:23, 24. 5Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 227.

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