As a pastor, one of the things that irritates me the most about faith is platitudes. When someone is experiencing a difficult time, we throw out something like, “Everything happens for a reason.” Or “God has a plan.”
It’s not that they’re wrong. I mean, God does have a plan. And technically, everything does happen for a reason. We live in a universe of causality. So that’s like saying, “Water is wet.” Yes, true. Thank you for your contribution.
No, I hate these platitudes because they’re designed to offer the appearance of comfort without the presence of comfort. If I’m saying a platitude, it’s usually because don’t want to be bothered by your pain, but I also don’t want to appear uncaring. So I say something that looks like I’m engaged with you.
But deep down, I know I’m not. I’m just trying to get out of this uncomfortable conversation. And you know I’m really not.
Religious platitudes is a micro-example of what Karl Marx was talking about when he famously observed that religion is the ‘opiate of the masses’.
Marx was critiquing how religion – particularly Christianity – in Europe had become a tool of oppression.
Despite massive gaps between the wealthy and the poor, and the fact that there were exponentially poorer, they didn’t rebel. The poor remained passive, allowing themselves to be exploited for the gain of the super-wealthy.
Why? Because the Christianity they were being taught promised them a platitude: be faithful (which meant ‘keep your head down, don’t complain or cause problems’) and you’ll get to go to heaven when you die. Suffer now for reward later.
Of course, that didn’t apply to the bosses, politicians and CEOs. Which was Marx’ point. They used religion to drug the regular folks into passivity. Rather than liberating good news, Christianity became a tool of oppression.
It’s the same tactic American slavers used to keep enslaved people passive. They edited Bibles to leave out the Exodus story – about God freeing God’s people from enslavement, and only let enslaved preachers preach verses about slaves obeying masters. No wonder enslaved Americans wrote songs about God’s chariot swinging low, or that day by and by when they could fly away.
I hope that, like me, even thinking about the Bible being weaponized like that is infuriating and heartbreaking.
And while telling an enslaved person that God wants them to obey their slaver is much worse than telling a grieving friend that God has a plan, they’re the same kind of move: the person speaking is using faith to distance themselves from the person suffering.
This sort of theologically fueled detachment from suffering is Antichrist. Literally – it’s the opposite of what Jesus does.