“Religion,” Karl Marx observed, “is the opiate of the masses."
In fact, religion opposes opiate for the masses.
Last week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent letters to local leaders advising church members in four states to oppose ballot measures that would legalize recreational marijuana and permit assisted suicide. Catholic Clergy, alongside other ecclesiastical leaders, similarly oppose these measures.
As secular society puts forward policies that appear to be designed to maximize adult indulgence — often at the expense of collective civic virtue — it is necessary for religious voices to take strong stances on issues that affect public morality. Rather than squeeze these moral voices from the public square, as some seek to do, secularists should welcome faith-based discourse as an influence that enhances dialogue and often guides the nation toward better decisions.
Last month, Pope Francis encouraged political participation among parishioners. “Politics,” he said, “is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good.” He rejected the notion that “a good Catholic” steers clear of politics. “A good Catholic meddles in politics,” he remarked, “offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.”
Despite America’s increasingly laical landscape, Francis’ words still resonate. Yes, the founders rejected state-sponsored religion, but the nation has historically leaned on religion’s moral influence in the public square and, more often than not, the country’s latent Judeo-Christian values have exalted and advanced it forward.
While Hitler armed Nazi Germany and Stalin purged dissidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared on American airwaves: “No greater thing could come to our land today than a revival of the spirit of religion — a revival that would sweep through the homes of the Nation and stir the hearts of men and women of all faiths to a reassertion of their belief in God and their dedication to His will for themselves and for their world.”
He continued: “I doubt if there is any problem — social, political or economic — that would not melt away before the fire of such a spiritual awakening.”
Those who aim to diminish the impact of public religious speech must acknowledge the fact that “Reverend” appeared before the name Martin Luther King Jr. They must also confront history books detailing Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of a national day of “fasting and prayer” amidst the throes of the Civil War, or George Washington’s supplications at Valley Forge during the American Revolution.
Rejecting the wisdom of religion in our public agoras requires rebuffing the robust correlations between heightened levels of religious activity and pro-social behaviors such as healthy living, charitable giving, volunteerism and civic engagement. For many, these behaviors represent the fruits of a collective wisdom retained within religious traditions and passed down through the generations.
Intentionally silencing or ignoring this wisdom is an opiate far more perilous to the masses than anything appearing on this year’s ballots.