Religion: No Longer The Dope

by , under Blogs | Social Networks | New Media, Culture, Current Affairs, Economics, Politics, Technology, Theology

There was a ‘spending review’ here in the UK yesterday at which the Chancellor Jeffrey George Osborne announced even more financial austerity over the next few years. At the same time, it was announced that SnapChat was valued at $800m.

On a day when economic forecasts were more gloomy than ever and those on benefits and those working in important front-line services are going to have pay frozen… to be told that an app that sends messages that self-delete after 10s can sustain $800m investment because of ad revenues… well, it’s like some kind of cosmic joke.

It made me think: Marx is no longer correct. Religion is not the opiate of the masses. Digital media is. Apps, Farmville, new OS’s, phone upgrades… all entertainments paid for through constant advertising, all sending us constant messages that life is simply to be enjoyed and laughed off, that digital media now is the centre of your life… so you had better keep up and upgrade constantly.

Consider Marx’s original statement, with that simple substitution made:

Digital media is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. […]

Digital media 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.

The abolition of digital media as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.

Forget that the rich are getting obscenely richer. Forget the troubles in Syria. Forget that infrastructure is crying out for investment. Forget that the arts are struggling. Forget that so many people are lonely. Forget that your community is being strangled by multinational economics. Forget that you work stupidly hard and will have to continue working for longer that people have ever had to do.

Forget all this. Just try to forget it. Just forget that capitalism owns you SO completely that it can suck you dry. Forget that, because you can ‘sext’ someone and the message will disappear after 10 seconds.

People, it’s time to get off the dope. It’s time for rehab. And that’s the distilled message of After Magic: religion, capitalism, techno-entertainmentism… they are all ways of drugging us up. As Marx continues, they are ‘imaginary flowers on our chains,’ put there so that we might think the chains pretty.

In the language of After Magic, they are demands that we have submitted to, and done so for the easy life. And yet, as I try to argue in that book, this is where the radical kernel of an post-theist reading of Christianity comes into play. Because the message that has been lost in the opium haze is this:

Christianity becomes not a personal salvation by an infinite God, but a salvation from all infinite and large demands – whether religious, political, social or economic. It transcends a narrow religious pattern to become a way of stepping out from the madness that super-nature brings and the violence that its demand perpetuates. (After Magic, p. 86)

A truly radical Christianity is not one where God saves us, but where we are saved from God. And not only from God, but from all opiates: from the bullshit of SnapChat’s phantoms (and it’s perhaps no surprise that their logo is a ghost – these temporary messages are sent to spook us, are fleeting spirits to leave us haunted) to the infinite demand for over-work.

Anyway, rant over. This post will self-destruct in 10 seconds…


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  1. Bruce Grindlay

    Great piece Kester. I’m going to re-read “After Magic” again this afternoon (Adelaide, South Australia).

  2. Alex

    Ha ha, like the angle.
    I just got my copy of After Magic back from lending it to an 80ish year old lady who said she couldn’t put it down and she loved it.
    Going to try to get my copy of mutiny to her too (when I get that back!).

  3. james

    Spot on Kester.

    Perhaps ‘Anxiety is the opiate of the people’ – the fear of missing out,keeping up, the uncertainity of the future, speed and the constant pressure to ‘renew’ our gadgets, profile,platform and skill base.

    Anxiety is a feeling that needs to be felt and trusted instead of being treated as a ‘medical disorder’. The pressure of the missing out inhibits most of us from trusting the truth of our feelings and therefore adjusting our lives. Instead we bury anxiety and it becomes out of control. But fear not, society has an answer for that in the form of medication which should help suppress those unhelpful, distrustful and anti capitilistic feelings!