Labeling Christianity (and/or other religions) the “opium for the people” or the “opiate of the masses” is a fairly common tactic used by those dismissive of religion. Using phrases like this is a way to blow off religion without trying to counter or discuss it. Karl Marx was not the first to use this phrase, but he is the one most people are thinking of when they use this attack. Marx’s contention was that religion gives people artificial, illusory happiness—like opium does to a drug addict—and freeing people from that unrealistic illusion was part of building a better society.
Beginning primarily with Marx, the “opium for the masses” accusation is often used by atheists. Because they reject the existence of God, they have to somehow explain the continuing existence of religion. They see no need for religion, so they do not understand others’ need for it. Marx was not specifying Christianity in his rejection of religion. Rather, he was denouncing religion in general by using “people” in a demeaning sense to mean the poor, ignorant, and easily deceived. The essential argument of the “opium for the masses” saying is that religion is for weak-minded and emotionally disturbed people who need a crutch to get through life. Atheists today make similar claims, such as the idea that “God is an imaginary friend for adults.”
So, is religion nothing but “opium for the masses”? Does religion accomplish nothing but provide an emotional crutch for weak-minded people? A few simple facts will answer the question with a resounding “no.” (1) There are strong logical, scientific, and philosophical arguments for the existence of God. (2) The fact that humanity is damaged and in need of redemption/salvation (the core message of religion) is clearly seen throughout the world. (3) In the history of humanity, the vast majority of the most intellectually brilliant writers and thinkers have been theists. Do some use religion as a crutch? Yes. Does that mean the claims of religion are invalid? No. Religion is the natural response to the evidence for the existence of God and the recognition that we are damaged and in need of repair.
At the same time, we must differentiate between false religion which gives false security—just as opium gives a false sense of well-being—and Christianity, which is the only true religion and the only true hope for mankind. False religion is based on the idea that man, through some kind of effort on his part (works) can make himself acceptable to God. Only Christianity recognizes that man is “dead in trespasses and sins” and is incapable of doing anything worthy of eternity in heaven. Only Christianity offers a solution to the total inability of man—the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross.