WHETHER THEY MAKE YOU FEEL SILLY or dreamy or bursting with cosmic energy, whether they induce euphoria or hallucinations, whether they give you a sense of being all-powerful and all-knowing or a sense of drifting through space like the dawn, all narcotics offer you a temporary reprieve from reality. Needless to say, that's what makes narcotics in particular and drugs in general so addictive. Everybody wants out from time to time, and they provide a way. They provide an adventure. Most of all, maybe, they provide a vacation from being yourself.

It was Karl Marx who called religion the opiate of the masses, and the metaphor was not intended to be complimentary. Religion is only a way of making the poor forget the bitter reality of their life on earth by giving them pipe dreams of pie in the sky by and by. That's what Marx meant by his comparison, and the history of the church has frequently confirmed his analysis. There are other ways of comparing them, however.

For instance, whereas people who do drugs get a temporary reprieve from a reality they often find too hard to live with, religious people claim to find a new kind of life grounded in a Reality they find increasingly hard to live without. They claim also that, although narcotics may provide you with an adventure, the life of faith is an adventure in itself, because once you start out on that path, there's no telling where it may take you next.

Finally, they would say that if by dulling or sharpening or altering your senses you can get a vacation from being yourself, by coming to your senses you can little by little—often quite painfully at first, but more and more gratefully as time goes by—become yourself. That much of the pie, anyway, can be yours this side of the sky.

-Originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words

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