A recent news article reported a spike in opioid overdose deaths since the COVID-19 isolation orders began. The article said depression resulting from loneliness, and anxiety prompted by unemployment were the spike’s two major contributing factors. Sharp rises in opioid-related deaths were reported in two-thirds of the states and researchers calculated an 18 percent rise in total opioid associated deaths throughout the country. Other countries have reported an increase in opioid-related deaths during the isolation timeframe as well.
Drugabuse.gov describes prescription opioids as “a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from the plant directly, and others are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structure.” The article continues, “Opioids can also make people feel very relaxed and ‘high’ – which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons. This can be very dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common.” As addictive and euphoria-inducing as these drugs are, however, the real opium of the people is not opium or its derivatives.
A Decline in Religious Belief and Practice
As drug-related deaths are rising, multiple states have closed churches or have implemented strict attendance limits. These actions are taking place during a period when fewer people are reporting a solid belief in God, church attendance is down and relativism is on the rise. A 2019 Gallup study states that Protestant church membership in America has fallen from 73 percent to 67 percent over the last two decades, while Catholic Church membership has dropped from 76 percent to 63 percent over the same period.
Not only has church membership dropped, but a 2015 Pew Research Center study also reported a sharp decline in Americans who believe in God. According to the study, Americans whose belief in God was “absolutely certain” fell from 71 percent to 63 percent during the period from 2007 to 2014. Additionally, the religiously unaffiliated rose from 16 percent to 23 percent during the same period and have reportedly become “less religious over time.”
When measuring moral relativism, the data does not look any better. According to a study conducted by the Barna Group, a research firm that focuses on cultural and religious trends, 64 percent of American adults reject moral absolutes and say “[moral] truth is always relative to the person and their situation.” I wonder if these folks understand they have created a moral imperative that rejects moral imperatives, which makes their belief self-refuting and, thus, a lie? When asked about their moral decision-making process, the most common approach was “doing whatever feels right.”
“Doing whatever feels right.” Is it any wonder that we are seeing spikes in opioid-related deaths? Belief in God is down, while moral relativism is on the rise. Rather than turning upward to God, we turn inward to ourselves and do whatever “feels right.” Rather than turning to absolute truth and conforming our lives to it, we mold our lives by feelings; feelings, by the way, that change with the wind. When we follow our feelings at the expense of truth, we become wanderers on a meandering path that leads to despair, addiction, anger, depression, abuse, and all other sorts of bad behaviors.
Karl Marx, St. Paul, and the Real Opium
In 1843, Karl Marx famously stated, “Religion…is the opium of the people.” The context of this remark implies that religion creates a pleasant illusion that dulls our suffering. Based on the above statistics and what I have been witnessing in our culture, however, moral relativism is the opium of the people; pride, anger, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, greed, ignorance, and the “whatever” mantra are the opium of the people. In the post-Christian age, people love anything that makes them feel good at the moment. Ultimately, many love themselves more than they love God and others, and they will chase whatever vice pacifies their wants and dulls their suffering.
St. Paul observed similar problems in his time. He said,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.”
“Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!”
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them” (Romans 1:18-32).
St. Paul’s words continue to resonate, and we are seeing them, though not intended to be a prophecy, fulfilled by our modern culture. People pacify themselves by rejecting truth because truth forces one to decide – Will I conform to the truth or not? Thankfully, many look at the truth and decide to conform themselves to it. Unfortunately, many others look at the truth and rationalize their sinful behavior while uttering the modern opiatic phrase “whatever,” as they disengage from the truth and, therefore, from battling sin. Regrettably, I can empathize with this group, as I used to make the “whatever” mantra my own. Nevertheless, rejection of moral truth leads to misguided love, a love that is self-absorbed, thinking that is futile and minds that are senseless.
Fortunately and providentially, Christ, knowing relativism would destroy us, founded one Church guided by the Holy Spirit and designed specifically to be the pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Timothy 3:15) in this world; a Church that would carry his authoritative teachings down through the ages; a city set on a hill unceasingly calling mankind to the Truth (God). This Church is the Catholic Church. All others exist in a state of relativism. If you are a fallen-away Catholic, please return to Mass and cling to God. He is the only sure path of enlightenment, happiness, and eternal life. If you are not a Catholic, you are cordially invited to enter Christ’s Church and leave behind relativism, the real opium of the people.