Vodka the Opiate

ApolloIn our troubled world, some disappointed souls seek solace in a bottle. There are also corrupt governments that steer their people toward such destructive distractions to draw their attention from their rulers’ crimes.

Such, sadly, is the current state of Russia.

I have long felt a compassion and affinity for Russia. Even when it was the Soviet Union, I knew that the Russian people did not want the world to end in a nuclear conflagration.

For many years I displayed the dual Soviet and American stamps issued to commemorate the docking of the Soyuz and Apollo spacecraft. I saw that event as a promise of the peace and cooperation that might someday exist between our nations. A peaceful, even warm, relationship that would be a blessing to the entire world.

I thought that day might have arrived with the end of the Soviet Union and the restoration of a Russian nation.

Unfortunately, democracy was not to prevail—at least at this moment—in that historic land. Russia ended up with the worst elements of capitalism. They got the West’s privileged (i.e. rich) classes who hoarded the nation’s wealth. And, the Russian version was even harsher. The masses have been left with dreams unfulfilled, and an oligarchy living in luxury.

As the people begin to awaken to the injustice, their leaders turn to a proven means of dulling human thought—alcohol. And, since we are talking about Russia, that means vodka. I found this analysis by David Satter quite interesting.

The Putin regime needs an end to sanctions—not because they are crippling in themselves but because, in combination with the growing crisis of the economy and the unpredictable trajectory of the war [in eastern Ukraine], they could help lead to the destabilization of Russia. . . . It is a measure of the government’s concern that it has cut the price of vodka. . . . This is a transparent attempt to use vodka to tranquilize the population.

SoyuzWhile I will continue to pray for the people of Russia, this description of Putin’s strategy reminded me of the oft-quoted Communist adage that “religion is the opiate of the masses.”

Marx or Lewis?

Karl Marx was right, in that manmade “religion” can be used to blind people to their surroundings.

Marx, however, did not understand Christianity. Because Jesus of Nazareth dispels all illusion and enables us to truly comprehend reality.

C.S. Lewis referred to Marx’s slander in his book, The Problem of Pain.

Those who reject Christianity will not be moved by Christ’s statement that poverty is blessed. But here a rather remarkable fact comes to my aid. Those who would most scornfully repudiate Christianity as a mere ‘opiate of the people’ have a contempt for the rich, that is, for all mankind except the poor.

They regard the poor as the only people worth preserving from ‘liquidation,’ and place in them the only hope for the human race. But this is not compatible with a belief that the effects of poverty on those who suffer it are wholly evil; it even implies that they are good.

The Marxist thus finds himself in real agreement with the Christian in those two beliefs which Christianity paradoxically demands–that poverty is blessed and yet ought to be removed.

Lewis aptly describes the hypocrisy of the elite who live with the comforts they supposedly disdain. In contrast, he affirms Christ’s own words about how the least are the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

Far from serving as a debilitating opiate, Christianity moves people to overcome the trials of this world. It motivates them to care for the less fortunate. It is active, not passive and resigned.

Unlike a mind-dulling spirit, Christianity calls us to forgive even our enemies and extend to them a hand of peace.

Who knows if lowering the price of vodka will distract the Russian people from the disastrous direction of their ruling regime. I hope not.

I pray that Russia will seize instead the promise bequeathed them in their Christian heritage. So that, following in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace, they might become an example of national righteousness for the rest of us, whose homelands have their own deep imperfections.


Satter’s editorial, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, is available here.

10 thoughts on “Vodka the Opiate

  1. The cleansing fire of the Reformation didn’t sweep through Russia as it did through Europe, more successfully in some places than others. The venality of the ruling class extended to the institutional church and the former seems to experience hardly an interruption. Neither was there a Great Awakening. So fatalism takes hold of the populace. Vodka becomes their opiate. (Ours seems to be the mindless entertainment of TV!) Praying for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the only hope for them and us.

    1. Television… yes, I confess I am guilty.

      As for Russian history, yes, it is far different than that of the West. The Orthodox churches are quite foreign to our Western ways of thinking as well. They possess deep reservoirs of faith, that I think we overlook because they are more placid than the frenetic spirituality to which we are accustomed.

      You’re right though that we all need the anointing and guidance of the Holy Spirit during our pilgrimage in this life.

  2. Vodka is, of course, actually a literal opiate, or at least an opioid agonist, as well as an antidepressant of the MAOI type and a source of excess glucose, a muscle relaxant/antihistamine and a solvent hepatotoxic agent. for such a simple molecule, ethanol has a complex life, and for such a simple mixture, vodka has a lot of history.

    1. Fascinating. Never took chemistry, so much of that realm is a mystery to me. However, I see the effects of it everywhere around me.

      I did, however, succumb to the 1970s propaganda of some companies like Monsanto when they advertised: “Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible.” True, but there are good chemicals and bad chemicals, right? And even good ones can be misused (e.g. as “opiates”) when we are not careful.

      1. Exactly. The chemical industry’s advertisers are good at telling us the products are “part of nature” and “necessary for life.” Sure, but there’s a time, place and proper dosage for everything. Without methane, the ecosystems would struggle, but you don’t like the smell of methane because your brain knows it’s not good to inhale too much of it.

  3. Pingback: C.S. Lewis & Alcohol « Mere Inkling

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