To paraphrase 18th century German philosopher Karl Marx, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”
This now famous phrase essentially meant that organized religion helps ease the ailments of mankind. However, it also serves to dull the senses and distract from the harsh realities of the world. It’s a drug that has the capacity to both help and harm.
Marx allegedly first expressed that sentiment in back 1843. A few things have changed since then.
Addicted to Entertainment
That’s right—entertainment is the new opiate of the masses. Between smartphones, social media, video games and live streaming people are never without some form of entertainment.
We cling to our forms of entertainment because they reinforce the form of reality that we’re accustomed to. And just like the opioids in the metaphor, they’re highly addictive.
There are clear signs of addiction. Without entertainment, we go into withdrawal. With too much, we overdose. It has a negative impact on our health and relationships. Too much entertainment changes who we are and how we act.
One way or another, we are a society that is high on entertainment. We crave it deeply. And it’s given to us in abundance. Entertainment shapes our views and sets our values. It’s filling a hole meant for something else.
What This Means For Religion
Religion has been dethroned by Entertainment as the subject of mass attention. Where people once relied on God, they now depend on a solid wifi connection. So what impact does that have on organized religion? And on the church specifically?
For starters, it means the church isn’t competing with other churches for people’s attention. We aren’t even competing with other religions. We’re competing with Netflix and Facebook and Apple. And that can seem like a much more daunting task.
People are no longer fighting over religions—they’re largely ignoring them. To paraphrase another German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, God isn’t dead—just overlooked.
How Churches Can Matter Again
To overcome this, the church needs to remember that we shouldn’t have wanted to be the “opiate of the masses” in the first place. That quote was just a crutch rather than a solution.
Instead, the church should seek to be the nourishment of the masses—a resource that people actively seek, appreciate, understand and need for survival. We should provide people with valuable sustenance they desire, not an empty drug that they crave.
In fact, the more people become addicted to the opiate of Entertainment, the more they need the Church. Like any drug, entertainment leaves you feeling empty and wanting more. Only Christ can fill that emptiness. Only God can cure our internal ailments.
People are addicted. The Church has the cure. We just have to convince people it’s worth being cured. And this can only be accomplished through authentic relationships.
In a world where entertainment is cheap, real connections are invaluable. The sooner people start realizing that, the sooner the church will become a sustainable force in our culture.
Getting People’s Attention
In the meantime, how can the church reach people who are more interested in Angry Birds and Candy Crush? How can we reach a younger generation that has inherited such a low opinion of organized religion. Here’s some ideas on how to bridge that gap:
- Speak their language. Understand the technology they’re using. And then use it to communicate with them on their level.
- Know the struggle. Learn what challenges face our entertainment-obsessed culture. People have tons of issues; they may just not be willing to share them openly.
- Give value. Provide people with a solution to these problems. Create a safe space that they can heal from the wounds of an addiction to entertainment.
- Have fun. One of the church’s inherent problems is our seriousness bordering on somberness. Not that religion isn’t serious, but it can also be enjoyable.
- Be real. Don’t try to play the same game as entertainment. The only sake of entertainment is more attention. The sake of the church is to help people. Never forget that.
Christianity can be more than a distraction from life—it can make it more meaningful. Instead of the drug, the church can be the cure. All it takes is building authentic community and meaningful relationships with people.