Let’s continue our list of reasons why Christian hope is not a good thing (part 1 here).
Christian hope can be beneficial, but it’s beneficial like a pain killer, not like medicine that can cure you. This was Karl Marx’s point when he said that religion is the opium of the people. Marx agreed that religion helped but only in the same way that opium does, by reducing pain. Opium (and religious hope) do nothing to solve the problem. They produce complacency, an acceptance of the status quo.
Religious complacency encourages believers to leave things alone and make do rather than become impatient with the status quo and improve it. And the religion meme likes it that way.
Religion thrives in poor social conditions. Improve the conditions, and the need for religion fades. Religion is the opposite of the canary in the mine, and thriving religion is our warning that social conditions are poor.
George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Society doesn’t benefit when its citizens use opium (or religion) to dull the pain of social problems to quiet the desire for progress.
4. Magical thinking makes you easier to take advantage of
You want hope? There are televangelists happy to sell you hope. They simply ask in return for you to remain dependent on their message. (And they’d also like “your most generous love offering,” weekly if at all possible.)
As a specific example of televangelists making ridiculous claims, consider John Hagee’s hysterical declaration, “God is literally screaming at the world, ‘I’m coming soon.’ ”
The slow-motion fireworks—four “blood moons” (lunar eclipses), six months apart—came and went three years ago. Where’s my apocalypse? We got no evidence of God, just evidence that Hagee is an opportunistic fraud. (More on Hagee’s greedy stunt here, here, here, here, and here.)
Another example is the annual War on Christmas®. Ah, what I wouldn’t give for some brave politician to take the tough stand and make it legal to say “Merry Christmas” again . . .Politicians are another group eager to take advantage of Christians. It’s easy for them to tune a conservative message to an eager audience—they just handwave about imminent social disaster and declare that they are the only hope. Just give your vote to the candidate and lots of money to their campaign. For example, in the 2004 Bush/Kerry presidential campaign, voters said that of seven areas of concern, the biggest concern was “moral values” like same-sex marriage and abortion. Economy and jobs came in second place.
Abortion makes baby Jesus cry, so apparently Christian voters must step into the breach since Jesus is just a baby and can’t do anything about it. But notice the irony: the last thing conservative politicians want is a society with no abortion because they thrive on anxiety about abortion. If they couldn’t claim that the sky is falling, these Chicken Littles wouldn’t know how to rally their base.
While this political strategy might seem fairly new, it’s actually a well-worn path. Social critic H. L. Mencken said a century ago, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed—and hence clamorous to be led to safety—by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Here’s another way of seeing the enemy that politicians push against. Christian and conservative political leaders play up the imagined threat of gays, liberals, women, foreigners, Muslims, science, and so on to keep their group focused inward. They need someone to push against, lest they fall over. We must circle the wagons, people! Michael Shermer illustrated this with the rhetorical question, Who needs Satanic cults? Answer: “Talk-show hosts, book publishers, anti-cult groups, fundamentalists, and certain religious groups” .
Being a sheep can be comforting, but remember that sheep can be led to slaughter. There are costs when you let someone else do your thinking for you.
If the world will end in your lifetime, why bother about long-term issues like the environment, third world health issues, or infrastructure projects? Contrast that with the attitude of the Greek proverb that says, in a great society old men plant trees under which they know they will never sit.
Continue with reason 5: anxiety.
It’s the same reason a comic book character
can’t defeat his nemesis—
then there’s no story.
If God gets rid of the devil, there’s no fear.
No reason to come to church.
— Bill Maher
 Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things (Freeman, 2002), page 106.
Image via rizuan.j, CC license