If Religion is the Opiate of the Masses, I Just Got High


Yesterday I darted out of work to attend the funeral of a 17-year-old girl. She died Sunday morning of liver cancer, which had pretty much taken over her young body and killed her within 6 months of being diagnosed. They buried her just down the road from my house. I'm not absolutely sure her family can afford a stone for her.

It's been sort of a bad week. For Brit, it was a bad six months. For her family, including her 14-year-old sister (my daughter's best friend) the bad continues.

The preacher at the funeral spoke about the importance of God and prayer in getting through this. As he spoke, I couldn't help noticing the comforting effect of the preacher's words. They didn't need to be historically accurate or scientifically "proven" to work their magic.

I doubt that a single person in that chapel doubted for even an instant that every word that preacher said was literal fact. That Jesus himself had personally welcomed Brit into heaven and shown her to a private room in God's house, an actual house somewhere in the heavens ... Except me. I believe in prayer and God, but I was having a little trouble accepting all of this at face value. This wasn't the first person I'd seen laid to rest, just the youngest. I'm not quite sure about reuniting in Heaven and all that.

But I really needed to hear those words. Otherwise, what was the point?

Two of my grandparents died of cancer. They'd been around a long time. One drank Coke and probably smoked cigarettes at one time or another. The other drank whiskey and smoked cigars, not that it matters; seems that eventually drinking water will give us all cancer if we live long enough. But how do you contract Stage IV Liver Cancer by age 17?

How do you explain a doctor not looking a little more closely at that spot on her liver when they first saw it? That's a question for lawyers and other doctors, I suppose. Even when they come up with an answer or excuse or explanation, the bigger question, "Why?" will still remain.

That would be a hard question for many people to answer in any meaningful way. I looked around that funeral chapel and I saw maybe 200 people. Just everyday, ordinary people. None of them labored under any illusions about their significance in this world or under any inflated opinion of their own understanding. These were people who knew who they were and what they believed. Starting about six months ago they really needed something to believe in, and they had it. Who would take that away from them?

Brit certainly had no illusions about who she was. The preacher read a poem Brit had written about herself. She clearly knew exactly who she was and where she stood and what she believed. Somehow, knowing that she believed was even more important than believing it myself. What I believe is that she's no longer in pain. If there is an actual Heaven, I believe her soul is there ... but knowing that she believed makes it easier to accept that she's gone.

Karl Marx actually wrote that "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." Whatever evils may be committed in the name of "religion," yesterday I needed a big uncut dose of it. The preacher man delivered.