It was Karl Marx who pronounced that religion was the opium of the masses - by which I suppose he meant something that kept them docile.
A rat given the ability to self-administer an opiate like heroin will do so repeatedly and permanently, will spent much time in a state of dreamy passivity - but it will not die: it will break-off from self-stimulating to drink, eat and sleep.
Well, since Marx's time, the Mass Media has replaced religion as the primary social evaluation system - and the mass of the Western population is now addicted.
And Mass Media addiction is more like cocaine than heroin - the Mass Media hijacks the primary (dopaminergic) motivational system.
Thus the cocaine self-administering rate will dose himself again and again, and will not drink, eat or sleep adequately to survive - he will get horribly emaciated and be dead in a few weeks.
Religious societies may survive very long periods - the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) survived for 800-1000 years - despite the dream-like euphoria of its religious life.
But a society which is addicted to the Mass Media will be wholly focused on self-stimulation, will mistake self-stimulation for reality; and fail to do the essentials necessary for its own survival.
If we must be addicted - and perhaps we must - better opium than cocaine.
I believe what Marx meant by that remark is that religion, like opium, is a palliative medicine, "heart of a heartless world"; and he fancies that man --- or rather, the dialectic of material progress --- will cure the disease, to wit, "the heartless world", whereupon the "opium", or "the heart", that treated the painful symptoms will no longer be required.
"the dialectic of material progress --- will cure the disease"
Well I think we can say with 100% certainty that Karl Marx was wrong! Not just by a little bit, but the polar opposite has occurred.
The evidence is that material progress has absolutely exacerbated the illness - loneliness, isolation, abyss. The Mass Media is taken like cocaine - but it also seems to induce also induce a historical amnesia and act as a spiritual sedative!
Marx wanted to cast suspicion away from his own activity. The real opiate of the masses is the thought that we can do what we want as individuals, independent of consequences both physical and metaphysical. That is the essence of egalitarianism and his theory, which is basically worker equality so that no rules prevail that constrain the individual toward what is sensible. You refer to this as "license" I believe and that seems accurate to me.
Religion is the anti-opiate in that it demands something from us. Opiates simply make us feel as if we've already done what is needed, and we have no need for anything else. A type of fatalism.
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