Once upon time there was a Philosopher named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He was born in Germany in 1770 and one day he wrote a book called “Elements of the Philosophy of Right”. By all accounts he was a bright boy and like all bright little boys he grew up to be a thinker. Philosophy touches on all areas of life and so it was with Hegel. Years later another German Philosopher was born. Just a couple of years before Hegel’s Philosophy of Right was published. Most of us are familiar with his name. Karl Heinrich Marx. Some 25 years later Karl wrote “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”. Bet you can’t guess what that was about. Anyways, in the introduction Marx wrote a big long passage about religion and people and society and happiness. It has been misquoted and translated in many ways. But one small sentence has made its way into every popular culture. Although it is taken out of context he says “Religion is the Opiate of the People”. At least that is how I learned in my Social Studies class. Marx’s writings have influenced people for many many years. As for these famous guys, it is important to remember that they were products of their times in history and whether we agree with their writings or not, we do learn from them.
So what does it mean. Opiate of the people. Well my take away as a young teenage girl was that religion, in his eyes was just another form of manipulation and control. It was a drug and we were idiots to believe. I think it truly goes much deeper than that. Whether people use it as a way to bring meaning to their life, or perhaps to try and explain away their existence. There is often a fear in the unknown, and lets face it. Even with all we have learned about our world and the universe in which we reside, it is a fraction of what we don’t know. So religion gives us comfort. It is and has been a big part of society and yet Marx saw it as a stumbling block to creating a truly meaningful and equal society. In a way the poor are manipulated by religion and yet they embrace it because it is the only hope they have. Quite the catch-22.
Now I am a Christian and I love the arguments and debates I get into with people regarding religion. It’s fun and informative but it also makes me take a closer look at my own views. I do not believe in living my life in a stagnant holding pattern. I love to learn and to read and to constantly question my own thoughts. Because that’s all it is. Thoughts. Whether it is of my own making, which lets face it, isn’t the norm. Or the thoughts of those who came before me or that I meet every day. Everything we think or “know” is usually just regurgitated information. What changes this for us as people is the introduction of critical thinking, which I must say is sorely lacking in this day and age. Critical thinking is the action we take when presented with a new idea. We take in all available information and then analyze it in order to see whether this new idea makes sense. The biggest drawback is that we need to be able to remove our own preconceived views and biases while we look at the facts as they may present themselves. Try to see the ideas through the eyes of others. We tend to see the world through our own experiences as if it is real and true. Frankly we are deceiving ourselves. Critical thinking is lacking today because it necessitates taking ourselves outside of our comfort zones.
Which finally brings me to my point. Which is the title. A play on the words of Mr. Marx. Social Media as become a religion of sorts to people. We devote more time to social media than any other part of our lives. Our children suffer. Our minds suffer. Our relationships suffer. And our ability to think suffers most of all. It is a drug. The drug of a world looking for answers. To help us soothe the pain we feel in our lives. The social alienation. The lack of deep relationships. But perhaps the most damaging is the attention we give to people who try and manipulate us with their words. They appeal to our fear of the unknown. They use us and control us to gain power or wealth while we blindly follow. There are those who say that at least ideas and views should not be controlled or censored. Information should be free. Social media should have no rules. To remove some accounts is censorship and we as free people should be allowed to access any information we chose. But then there is another word we need to take a look at. Algorithm. That is powerful. We have basically gone from an era of aiming TV ads at children to manipulate and control their parents, to an era of allowing ourselves to be manipulated. We wanted the kids to be left alone and so we created rules. Aren’t we all just a bumch of kids? Really? Most people aren’t as smart as they think they are. We all consider ourselves average. But if you understand the word, half the people have to be below the curve as well as above. There are many forms of intelligence and thank goodness they are randomly disbursed so we have a nice cross section.
I can tell when I am speaking with someone if they have taken their attitudes from a general social media view. When questioned in any way their opinion falls apart. They did nothing to obtain the opinion. The just glommed onto the idea of another person and spouted it off as their own. We all do it to an extent because as I said earlier, all thoughts come from somewhere. We are certainly not unique. Sometimes I just dismiss the people who regurgitate info. It is really not worth my time. Other times I try to educate. That’s always pointless. People don’t want to be educated. The more you argue with someone the deeper their convictions become. They can never admit they are wrong They lose face. Usually I spend a little time dissecting their argument and throw a ton of big words at them. Or maybe I will find respected publications which may not convince them but will perhaps encourage them to think for themselves. I never wish to be cruel but I am reactive. If someone is mean or dismissive I do pull out the big guns. It’s sad, but its kind of a game. I do know that I have often had people quote my own words back to me. So my job is somewhat complete when I get others to at least try and see another point of view. My objective is always to make people think. That’s it. Stop going through life with blinders on. Stop allowing others to control your mind.
A few days ago there was a post by a Christian basically summarizing Pascal’s wager when it comes to believing. I commented on that fact. Someone then replied That Pascal was wrong. What if God exists but not the Christian God. What if that other God is also a jealous God and will contend with those who believe in the Christian God. My answer was… “God is God is God. What makes us Christians is our belief that Jesus is the son of God.” My point was that many people believe in God. Many more do not believe Jesus was his son. Those who believe it are called Christians. So the commenter then told me “I read in a few dictionaries that a Christian is one who follows the teachings of Christ. Christ never said he was the son of God.”
Okay. So here is where I want to slam this guy. First off people who trash on Christianity usually know nothing about it. Second. Blaise Pascal was not talking about Jesus. He was talking about God. You can believe in God without being a Christian. The whole wager is based on arguments and outcomes. And maybe Jesus didn’t come out and say he was the son of God but there are inferences. In the old testament God says I am. In the book of John Jesus also says I am. Take it for what you will. Jesus also talks about his Father and he didn’t mean Joseph. Again take it for what you will. Here is the thing. I am a Christian. I am not going to argue with someone who wants to tell me what a Christian is based on Webster’s dictionary My belief is something that goes back farther and deeper. Did I respond to this guy? No. His whole agenda was to try and make me look stupid. Which I am not. I do question his book learning background as his grammar, spelling, sentence structure and lack of punctuation and capitalization send me a certain message. Yeah I know. Judging is wrong.
I use this as an example of someone whose sole purpose is to be mocking or argumentative. Its harmless albeit annoying but in the end it does make me want to research the crap put of other religions and their Gods. So I learn I think. It is a far cry from letting unknown entities plant ideas in my head which are then used to manipulate me. The algorithms are used to send information to us based on what preferences we show. They are used to reinforce our beliefs and ideas and if they don’t align with what content creators put out, the messages are changed and modified to make their message more palatable or in line with existing thoughts. Then some of the more unscrupulous can try and influence our voting. Or spending. Or health. Our thoughts, It really can be insidious. And in the end we crave the dopamine rush so much that we become like little rats in a maze. Go for lunch with three friends. See who, leaves their phone on the table. Every buzz or beep has them shifting their eyes from you to their phone. The message? I am not important. The pleasure we receive when we look at that screen is no different that the comfort we receive from our religious beliefs or even a drug. Like opium. Karl Marx would have had a field day in this time period. As for me, time is rushing by at lightening speed. I can watch life happen to others, let it happen to me, or go out and make it happen on my terms. Which do you think will be best?.