The Opiate of the People

Never in history has a group of people been united and manipulated so congruently and effectively as Hitler’s Nazi Germany. As I briefly outlined in a previous post, Hitler used a national grudge and a vulnerable political state in order to enliven his people with a fierce sense of German superiority. At the center of his message was the elimination of social class within Germany – the idea that Germany was to have one body, one soul, and was to act as one nation under their mighty Fuhrer. All Germans were to surrender their selves for the greater whole of Germany, even if that sacrifice meant death; if one committed himself to such a sentiment, he would be eternally exulted as a German hero and live forever in the German spirit. By passionately promoting the purity of his people, Hitler united them under an appealing umbrella of equality, socialism, and a return to German relevance in Europe. He blinded his people into accepting corrupt ideology by giving them a sense of unity, comfort, and purpose. In the process, he nearly revolutionized and ruined western civilization. 

Purpose. Comfort. Linked to a cause far greater than oneself. All people united under the guidance of one powerful ruler. No wonder Hitler was so successful. The discourse used by Hitler and his supporters to reel in the obedience of the German people eerily correlates with the terminology one might use when describing the role of religion in the world. Karl Marx said, “religion is the opiate of the people.” Was Nazi dogma not the opiate of Hitler’s people? Were they not convinced to believe in something greater than themselves? So convinced they were, in fact, that they committed their lives to their country, determined to defend the body which rendered their existences purposeful and worthwhile, in hopes that their lives would transcend their years on earth. Similarly convinced were Christian crusaders who fought blindly and ruthlessly to protect the sanctity of their religion, motivated by the promise of eternal paradise if they fought in God’s name. Similarly convinced were the Islamic extremest suicide bombers when they flew their planes into the Twin Towers, fooled into believing that 72 virgins were awaiting them in the next life. And similarly convinced, though not to the detrimental extent of the previous examples, are the American people who openly accept religion as a means of reasoning for public policy.

Hitler used the tactics of religious faith in order to unite and take control of his people. His purification of race can be corresponded to the Christian idea of eliminating pollution from the Church in medieval times, justifying the murder of Muslims by claiming it was God’s will. Clearly, history has demonstrated that people are willing to commit heinous crimes under the justification of God’s will. Similarly, Hitler justified his extermination of Jews, homosexuals, etc. by using the racist ideology of Nazism which claimed that the ideal Aryan race was being polluted by Jews and other minorities. 

We know that Hitler’s holocaust was morally wrong in the same way that we know the Crusades were morally wrong. Common sense. Reason. Clearly, these events were not conducive to the preservation and happiness of human life. But we cannot assert their wrongness through religious means. After all, the Old Testament reveals a God who commanded the stoning of homosexuals – that god must have thought Hitler was right on the mark. Hitler’s manipulation of the German population represents something characteristic of humanity – our tendency to not think; our tendency to seek an umbrella by which we can all unite, and abandon common sense in favor of the ideas of that umbrella. It is reason, and only reason, that has caused social progress relating to human rights. Religion has stood in the way of such progress by allowing people to revert to the application of ancient doctrine to our own lives, thousands of years later. It creates a blatant obstacle to social progression, in that people are free to oppose certain essential liberties and equalities through the justification of religion. Though human rights has improved vastly over time, religion has stayed the same. People have not merely discovered a deeper truth to religion that they didn’t see before; rather, they have adapted their religions to the advancements that force humanity to alter its ways of thinking. Reason is how we have progressed and it is reason we can use in order to debauch the reign of Hitler. And what does religion give us? Nothing, but another reason to unite blindly under a manmade entity and to stunt the growth of humanity by providing reasons to do things that clearly contradict our common sense.

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