WEEKLY REFLECTIONS | When religion becomes Opium

By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
www.nordis.net

“What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion in this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world” – James 1:27

Feast of the Black Nazarene

It was reported that at least 800 people had been treated or attended to by Red Cross volunteers for minor injuries, exhaustion and high blood pressure in the latest celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila.  The Feast falls every January 9.  And it is considered to be one of the most spectacular religious feasts in our country.  The Black Nazarene is a life-sized statue of Christ.  According to historical accounts, a priest bought the statue in Mexico, carved by an Aztec carpenter.  The statue was brought to Manila in 1606.   It was blackened by a shipboard fire on the journey from Acapulco to Manila.   And since then, it has been called the Black Nazarene.

For more than 200 years now the church has been placing the statue on a gilded carriage every January and pulling it through the streets of Quiapo. People who touch it are reported to sometimes be healed of diseases.  Roman Catholics come from all over the country on the chance that they will be able to get close enough to touch the image and perhaps receive a miracle. They also throw towels to the people who guard the statue and ask them to rub the towel on the statue in hopes of carrying some of that power away with them.

It was in one of those attempts of devotees to get closer to the statue last January 9 that some were hurt.  Devotees who were interviewed said that this is what they believed and they don’t care what others would say.  We really appreciate their earnest devotions.

Get High with God

It is interesting to note that in many places in Metro-Manila, we could read some advertisement slogans, saying: “Get high with God, not with drugs”.   Understandably, this is an anti-drug campaign slogan.  It seems to be saying that instead of turning to drugs, we should turn to God.  But the question is: What kind of God should we turn to?  What kind of religion should we turn to?  Is it the religion of the Black Nazarene that requires the sacrifice of the wounded almost every year?

Sometime in the 19th century, Karl Marx, who was a son of a Lutheran Pastor and grew up in the parsonage, did a penetrating analysis of Christian religion as practiced in Europe at that time.  He made a very controversial historical statement that religion is opium for the people, for he observed that those owners of mines who exploited their workers would go to the same church with their workers, worship the same God, and practice the same religion without being disturbed by the exploitative economic system they were following.  Religion had become opium that blinded people to the realities of life.  Being a Pastor’s kid, Karl Marx opted for a religion that is liberating, and believed in a God who makes people see the truth and sets them free from any form of exploitation.

True and Genuine Religion

In his Letter, James the brother of Jesus Christ our Lord says, “What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion in this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world” (James 1:27).   There are two things that describe a pure and genuine religion according to James: a). to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering; and b). to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.

The orphans and widows during James’ time were considered the poorest of the poor.  This was primarily due to the cultural practice that properties do not remain with the widow if her husband would die.  Rather they would be turned over to the parents of the husband.  This practice would consequently render the widow poor and helpless.

And so, for James the widows and the orphans – the poorest of the poor – were the criterion of a pure and genuine religion.  What we do to them would determine whether or not our religion is pure.  If we would make them blind and exploit them, surely our religion is fake and impure.  But if we would open their eyes to the truth and uplift them from their miserable situation, then for James our religion is genuinely pure.

Genuine Christianity is not a religion of getting something for ourselves, for our loved ones and relatives, even to the extent of trampling upon and hurting other people.  That is precisely the way of the world that corrupted believers or devotees.  Rather, true Christianity is a religion of sharing and caring for people, especially the poorest of the poor.

If only the millions of devotees of the Black Nazarene would turn their devotions into concrete acts of love and mercy for their fellow human beings rather than desperately getting something miraculously from the image of the Black Nazarene for themselves, then perhaps our society becomes a better place to live in and our Christianity will become more genuine.# nordis.net

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