"the opiate of the masses"?

Marx's critique about religion being the opiate of the masses never concerned me much, at least not since I recognized that Jesus himself was far from being any opiate. He was much more a revolutionary or prophetic firebrand ("I came to cast fire upon the earth!") than any stupefying pie-in-the-sky parson.

But Marx's phrase came to mind again lately, and seems worth reconsidering, because he was talking about religion, not Jesus. And perhaps much of what happens in churches does actually act in society like the opiate that Marx described, lulling people and providing a form of "comfort" that doesn't actually change their situation or get at the real source of their problems. Reframing difficult situations with religious language can make them seem noble and worth enduring, when what's really called for (even called for by God himself) is change. And I mean change in ourselves first of all. Our religious consoling of each other, often using Jesus' own words, can easily get in the way of Jesus' actual challenge to us.

I also wonder how much just sitting there in the pew lends our passive support to this "blowing of the smoke," so to speak. Our tacit acceptance of the religious lulling adds one more person to the social weight of what's going on, making it seem more real, more true (since everyone seems to agree). Beyond the issue of whether I can sit there and bear to listen to it, I wonder if I also owe it to the others to stop sitting there and listening to it.