Religion – Opiate or Stimulant

“It is the ‘Gotterdammerung’, the Twilight of the Gods!”

The first half of the title to Rabbi Olan’s March 17, 1968 radio sermon is a direct reference to Karl Marx’s famous words, “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.”* On the opposite end of the spectrum, the second half of the title suggests that religion is a proactive force for inciting good. Of these two labels, which did Rabbi Olan use to describe American religious life in the 1960s- the pessimistic one or the optimistic one? Neither. Instead, he spoke of religion as being necessary but largely irrelevant to modern America, and growing more irrelevant every day.

The sermon begins with an unusual (for Olan) nostalgic lament for the days of old when religious leaders and institutions had power and influence. In his day the church and synagogue no longer called the shots. Instead, he noted, “We are now in the secular age.” And yet, religion is not going away entirely. Humans still have spiritual needs that science and reason cannot fulfill.

Science and reason are not the enemy. Irrelevance is. And much of that irrelevance is well-deserved! What can the synagogue and church do to change course? Rabbi Olan poses some answers that are worthy of consideration. I invite you to read or listen to his message using the links that follows.

Follow this link to read the sermon text.
Follow this link to listen to the audio recording.
Follow this link to watch the scrolling-text video.

*Written by Tim Binkley*

*Quotation from “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” 1843.