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Philosopher Schopenhauer called religion the metaphysics of the masses. Schopenhauer did not believe in God. He did not set much store by science either. Art is a better way to understand truth, according to him.
Religion, science, art and philosophy are all ways to understand reality and communicate that understanding to others for their benefit. Science understands reality in a very rigid system which is of not much interest to the average man. It makes no difference to the ordinary man whether there are 8 electrons in an oxygen atom or how hydrogen and oxygen can combine to form water. The waters in the rivers of Babylon which set the psalmist crying nostalgically for their lost Zion continue to interest the ordinary man though centuries have passed since the Captivity which created the biblical poem.
Philosophy is the ideal way to understand life and reality. But how many people are capable of thinking philosophically. Very few. A few more will care to understand the thoughts of philosophers. What about the others, the vast majority? They also have a vital need to understand the reality around them, create order out of its terrible chaos, and make life bearable if not delightful. Religion does that job quite eminently for them. “Religion is the metaphysics of the masses; by all means let them keep it,” declared the atheist-philosopher magnanimously.
I am not a believer. But I stopped questioning the validity of religions long ago for the same reason as Schopenhauer suggested. Let people have their own consolations, or “opium of the masses” as Karl Marx called it, or “comforting delusions” as many psychologists viewed religion.
The problem is when religion ceases to be a way to understand reality and to navigate its “valleys of tears” [a phrase from a Christian prayer]. Very often religion has been misused to control people politically or organisationally. Religion becomes a monster when that happens. We may recall the burning of heretics and witch hunts, terrorist attacks and violence triggered by bigotry, blatant mendacity and exploitation of the gullible.