Karl Marx in his deliberations on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right opines: “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes”, that is, “religion is the opium of the people”; one hundred and sixty-nine years later Marx’s position remains the “spiritual aroma” of the society. In many nations across the globe such as Afghanistan, Jamaica and the United States, religion plays a critical role in cultural design and expression as well as the administration and management of state affairs.
In an article written by Ian Boyne titled: “Is the Church Helping Us?” he quoted a study conducted by Gregory Paul who concluded that “in general, higher rates of belief in, and worship of a Creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early-mortality, STI rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in prosperous democracies”. Additionally, Boyne highlighted research conducted by Gary Jensen who posited that “religious passion [was] linked to high homicide rates”. Another interesting observation in Boyne’s article is the fact that secular societies such as Switzerland, Denmark and Japan are considered to be “more peaceful, harmonious and certainly boast a greater quality-of-life index in many indices than the most religious society in the developed world, namely the US”.
Religious societies are far more violent and have higher crime rates than secular societies. The problem, in my opinion is that religion has been used to ostracise some members of the society and in so doing denied the human rights of minority, powerless populations, including LGBT persons. Why is religion on the opposite side of human rights? Isn’t human rights about love and respect? About loving and treating our neighbours as ourselves? About peace and understanding? And aren’t those principles and maxims common to many religious groups (or so they say?)? But when we examine how Christianity, for example was used to provide “justification for slavery for a much longer time than it has preached against it” (according to Hilaire Sobers), perhaps we should not be surprised.
I am baffled by the way we have used religion and “Imaginary Friends” as tools of indoctrination and acculturation. In Jamaica, Christianity is being used to condemn, exclude, malign and ridicule LGBT persons. Even persons who do not wield the bible on a daily basis in respect of other ‘sins’ vehemently use it to justify violence and discrimination against this minority. This brings into perspective, Hilaire Sobers’ position that “Christianity has been less than stellar in its stewardship of human dignity. . . [and] secular humanism, which does have human dignity as a core value, has been as unremitting in protecting this value, as religion has been in devaluing it in people seen as ‘different’ or ‘not like us’ or ‘inferior’”.
In a conversation with one woman I was alarmed at the fact that she would poison her own child or “throw him inna de gully” if she discovered he was gay. She proclaimed that God would forgive her because he would’ve understood, and homosexuality was the Cardinal Sin. Now there’s a kind of hegemonic power of homophobia and religion that I am not able to rationalise. How is it that a mother who gave birth to, breastfed, loved, nurtured, cared for, defended against all odds, would turn her back on her son because of his non-heterosexual orientation, much like Dwayne Jones’ parents did? At best, it justifies Marx’s claims of the opiate quality of religion.
So if this opium is so powerful, so intoxicating, so omniscient, so omnipotent, I want it to be human rights. Let us make laws, policies and curricula that are pivoted on the pillars of dignity – human dignity. Let us approach development from a rights-based perspective. Let us create a rights-based democracy where all persons regardless of disabilities, HIV and AIDS status, sexual orientation, religious persuasions or gender identity etc. will have access to, and respect for their inalienable rights.
We need to build social capital and this cannot be achieved without community and respect for all. As a developing middle income small state, if we continue to abuse minority populations or those who do not subscribe to the popular culture, we will not grow, we will not develop, and life will continue to be “nasty, brutish and short”.
May we just try the rights-based approach? Let’s make human rights the new opium of society.