Religion as a Tool of Repression

Free speech and dissent are always curtailed in times of war. Whenever soldiers occupy foreign nations, rational thinking is proscribed in favor of nationalistic hubris. Minority opinions, although grounded in ethics and reason, are repressed, often brutally. The majority becomes intolerant of dissenting views. Thoughtful dialog is suspended and irrational ideology gains ascendancy. Civil discourse breaks down, and the social order disintegrates into anti-intellectual emotionalism and chaos.

During World Wars I and II, it was dangerous for anyone to oppose war or to speak truth to power. When Eugene Debs delivered his Canton anti-war speech in 1918, he went to prison. In An Enemy of the People, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen demonstrated that the majority of the people are easily deceived, their emotions manipulated by profiteers and special interests. It requires serious conviction to take a principled stand in the midst of nationalistic fervor in which men and women so easily turn upon one another. During war, nationalism and repression are conducted with the fervor of a religious crusade.

In this era of permanent war we see bumper stickers that attempt to meld religion with nationalism. They carry jingoistic slogans like “God bless America” or “God bless our troops.” Significantly, God even appears on our currency. But why would a just God, if God exists at all, bless a nation that kills with impunity? Why would God bless a nation with a history of repression and genocide?  Why would God bless a nation that institutionalized chattel slavery and the repression of its working class?

The Anglo Saxons who came to America, most of them calling themselves Christians, virtually destroyed the Indigenous population. They decimated native cultures and pillaged the land. They outlawed the Ghost Dance and other spiritual ceremonies. The Anglos forced Christianity upon the Indigenous people.  They gave them blankets infected with small pox so they would sicken and die. They stole their land and they slaughtered the buffalo. They murdered unarmed, half-starved elders, and women and children at Wounded Knee, and at a thousand other sites. Wouldn’t a just God, as the reverend Jeremiah Wright intimated, be more likely to damn than to bless America?

Through the interlocking policies of capitalism, manifest destiny, and American exceptionalism, we have exported our murderous paradigms to every nation on earth. Writing for Al-Jazeerah, Paul J. Balles, a professor at American University, notes that the U.S. has established more than 1,000 permanent military bases outside of its national borders. These bases are found in more than 135 nations, ostensibly for the purpose of bringing democracy to the world.

But democracy is not democracy in the sense that most people think. Among capitalists, “democracy” is a code word for free market fundamentalism— deregulated corporate power. This, not Christianity or Islam, is America’s real religion.

Our every social institution, including the church, is corrupted by the theocracy of capitalism. Particularly during times of conflict, the church is needed as a moral counterweight to war and aggression, to greed and unregulated corporate power. But the church is impotent and irrelevant as a moral force. Not only does it fail to challenge the unethical basis of the dominant social and economic paradigm; it promotes them by adopting the corporate structure and by relegating women, homosexuals, and other minorities, to second and third class citizenship.

Beyond a few notable exceptions, Christianity has failed to take a principled stance against capitalism and its free market idolatry. It has failed to intervene on behalf of the exploited in the war waged by the rich against the working class and the poor. Moreover, it attempts to legitimize the domination of the working class by providing the façade of moral authority to the oppressor.

War, as a prominent feature of capitalism, should be denounced from every pulpit in the land. But it is aggrandized and glorified; it is eulogized as righteous and necessary: the triumph of good over evil. War sacrifices the lives of working class people for the benefit of a ruling plutocracy. Workers are admonished to bear their burden in this life without complaint: heavenly reward awaits them in the next. The ruling class is having its reward now.

Even the teachings of Christ, which advocated giving alms to the poor and living simply, were appropriated by the theocracy of free market fundamentalism. To identify Christ with America’s agenda of war and occupation, to equate him with the genocide of indigenous populations, to associate him with senseless consumerism and repression of the working class, is to turn him into his polar opposite, the anti-Christ. This is the implicit meaning behind the nationalistic jingles of “God Bless America” or “God Bless our Troops.”

It was the U.S., not the Soviet Union, or the North Koreans that deployed atomic weapons on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in its quest for global dominance. In the endless pursuit of exploitable markets, cheap labor and hegemony, it is the U.S. that has contaminated the landscapes of Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq with radioactive depleted uranium. How many will suffer deformities or die as a result?

We behold the ethnic cleansing not only in present day Gaza, but also the broader usurpation of historic Palestine by radical Zionists financed by our tax dollars, using munitions bearing the insignia “made in the USA.” AIPAC is among the most powerful lobbying forces influencing the U.S. government.

Replacing the anointed one with the anti-Christ transmuted the Socialist who bathed the feet of the poor into a covetous sociopath who aligned himself with the rich and powerful of the ruling class. It turned the prince of peace into an imperial warrior who preached the use of violence to bring the gospel of greed to the world. It is the anti-Christ created by industrialists and perception managers, not the historical socialist Christ, who is revered today.

The socialist Christ, with his insistence upon the equal distribution of wealth and power, the man who advocated for the poor and the outcast, has been dead for more than two thousand years. It was the usurers, the early precursors to capitalists, who nailed him to the cross, just as their descendants crucified labor troubadour Joe Hill, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King in the 20th century.

In the 1950s, the anti-Christ was resuscitated as Milton Friedman, a champion of free market capitalism, and Ronald Reagan’s chief economic advisor, preaching the gospel of greed and prosperity for the privileged, while waving the flag and uttering nationalistic catchphrases, including “God bless America.”

By contrast, the actions of the historical Christ bespeak a radical leftist philosophy of social agitation and intervention that smacks of Marxism. Modern Christians confuse the actual Christ with the deity created by money worship and trotted out in the modern church as the genuine article. Money spoils all that it touches.

While the anti-Christ gained primacy as the bogus moral force behind class conflict and imperial warfare, the socialist Christ has languished in obscurity. His admonitions are remembered but they are rarely acted upon. His uncompromised advocacy for the peasantry, his moral revulsion at the corruption of the ruling elite, is forgotten. What passes for Christianity today may be economically and politically expedient, but it is utterly useless as a moral revolutionary force for justice.

As a non-subscriber to any organized religion, it mystifies me how so many followers could substitute the anti-Christ for the socialist Christ without ever realizing their error. This underscores the danger of organized religion and its many contradictions. Anyone who can be led can also be misled. Lacking the capacity for critical thinking and being deficient in moral autonomy, people too easily fall prey to alluring leaders who are motivated by a selfish lust for power and privilege. Charismatic preachers and religious orators appeal to herd mentalities. This is the danger of choosing faith over reason. People too often place their trust in corruptible leaders and charlatans.

By indoctrinating their congregations with sermonizing that discourages challenging the unquestioned primacy of capitalism, the doctrine of American exceptionalism, and the existence of a privileged class, Christian ministers teach their flock to reject the leftist ideology of Christ by exchanging radicalism for obedience and principled action for passivity. And thus the anti-Christ gains supremacy and inequality flourishes.

There is need for faith in everyone’s life. But when faith does not provide methods for challenging the power of an unjust social and economic system, or impedes them, it loses its way and becomes a tool of mass repression rather than spiritually liberating. We must recognize that Christ was philosophically and pragmatically closer to Karl Marx than to Adam Smith.

Were he among us today, no doubt Christ, the historical Christ, would have serious reservations about the adulation of capitalism. Capitalism teaches that money is God. It holds that man and nature are commodities to be exploited by capital and those who own it. It is a soul-sucking philosophy that divides and stratifies. It is an aggressive cancer unleashed upon the earth.

Certainly Christ would be appalled by the selfish political conservatism of today that claims him for its own. He would be as much a leftist revolutionary today as he was some two thousand years ago.  And no doubt, cheered by a mob of reputable corporatists, the money changers would crucify him again.

Charles Sullivan is a Master Naturalist, community activist, and free-lance writer residing in the Ridge and Valley Province of geopolitical West Virginia. . Read other articles by Charles.

22 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. variantmule said on November 29th, 2010 at 7:42am #

    Well said!
    People of faith everywhere need to give their heads a shake and remember that their religion is not something to be invoked to advance the interests of capitalists and warmongers.

  2. jay08701 said on November 29th, 2010 at 8:30am #

    I suppose Charles would have us adopt the beautiful, tolerant, and peace loving atheistic government that was the Soviet Union……..

  3. MichaelKenny said on November 29th, 2010 at 9:20am #

    The problem with this is that it falls into the end of history delusion. That is to say, the idea that the world has always been as it is now and past events merely “replicate” themselves over and over. Thus, the author seems to believe that a play written in 1882 by a playright born in 1828 in a country that didn’t even exist until 1905 proves that, in 2010, “the majority of the people are easily deceived, their emotions manipulated by profiteers and special interests”. That’s hardly the case today and the proof of the pudding is that Mr Sullivan himself manifestly has not been deceived or manipulated! Equally, Mr Sullivan attributes the decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan to a “quest for global dominance”. That quest came after the war, not during it, and was the reaction of the American elite to a perceived quest for global dominance on the part of the Soviet Union. None of that was clear in August 1945. Similarly, whatever may have been the reasons for fiascos in ex-Yugoslavia Iraq and Afghanistan, “the endless pursuit of exploitable markets, cheap labor and hegemony” don’t seem to have been among them. I don’ see how the US could have got any of those three things from any of those places and in practice, they didn’ get them. What Mr Sullivan has done, essentially, is the classic pre-1960 logical error of first edifying an intellectual construct, with its conclusion pre-determined, and then straightjacketing empirical reality into it. You could say that, he sees Jesus as having been killed by the Palestine Capitalist Party because he was about to run for President of Palestine on the Palestine Socialist Party ticket!

  4. khsarosd said on November 29th, 2010 at 9:31am #

    @jay: I think he’s suggesting that Christians “adopt the beautiful, tolerant, and peace loving” actual teachings of Christ.

  5. bozh said on November 29th, 2010 at 9:33am #

    sacerdotal class [mafia] had always sided with ‘nobles’ [mafia]. i deem neonobles and oldnobles and clergy as one big happy mafioso family.

    as for jesus, he either spoke with both corners of his mouth or smbuddy [mafioso] ensured that he spoke with forked tongue.
    priests ensured that all bases were secured. contradictions in what they said was kept away from paesanos, kmeti, slaves, serfs by simply using aramaic, hebrew, greek, or latin.

    sacerdotal lowlife, whether in muslim, christian, hindi, or torahic regions had all the answers for all the ills, warfare, slavery, etc., a human mind cld invent.

    that had not changed. recall that, according to judean priests, later known as christians, jesus hadn’t had a woman among his disciples!

    in this piece i do not see any blame for the victims. had lawrence read our complaints about his previous piece?
    i am satisfied with this piece! tnx

  6. Don Hawkins said on November 29th, 2010 at 9:41am #

    I suppose Charles would have us adopt the beautiful, tolerant, and peace loving atheistic government that was the Soviet Union…….. Jay

    Oh Jay probably need to think outside the box a new way of thinking as just on the off chance survival comes to mind. A pay freeze on Federal employees will that do the trick no holding on to old myth’s will that do the trick no believing in a self fulfilling prophecy no.

  7. bozh said on November 29th, 2010 at 12:48pm #

    there is no proof that sullivan or even i in early life had not been manipulated and led astray.
    in my case, yes! everything i evaluated as true what priestly and ‘noble’ classes were teaching us and not just by words but also by deeds, i now fully reject.
    i cldn’t have done it all by self only; i had, what i deem, teachers to help me see.
    including the teacher who said: look, bozhidar, just look and shut ur mind and mouth! remember u’l never have no other intelligence–oops, god, before me!
    if one wants to first believe and then look, i can’t prevent it! tnx

  8. diane said on November 29th, 2010 at 4:26pm #

    When Eugene Debs delivered his Canton anti-war speech in 1918, he went to prison.
    When i was a young girl my mother was a member of the new left book club (australia) and by the time I was twenty I had read most of the great left american writers and sometimes, I feel i know more about american history than most americans, which is a shame really.
    R? Stone (I think was the author) wrote a biography on Debs titled Adversary in the House, and 50 years later I remember this book clearly. One of the things I learned about american society, was how diverse and non homogenetic it was despite its public demonstrations of uniformity.
    Debs had a difficult marriage, his wife was of german extraction and strongly supported the german side in the 1st world war, as did many americans, something that modern ,there is no point to history, types seem to want to forget
    Tom Hayden’s Irish on the Inside, also explores these themes.
    Institutional religion has been the handmaiden of the State for a eons now, and Charles is quite right when he points out that faith exists despite institutional religion not because of it.

  9. jay08701 said on November 29th, 2010 at 4:53pm #

    @khsarosd, I understand the suggestion. The point is that the article ignores the fact that man’s oppression of man has no real connection to religion. The only difference between Religious-oriented oppression and Irreligious-oriented oppression is the excuse presented.

  10. jay08701 said on November 29th, 2010 at 4:56pm #

    The article ends with an extremely distrubing comment: “And no doubt, cheered by a mob of reputable corporatists, the money changers would crucify him again.”
    The clear implication is that money changers crucified Jesus the first time. Who were these money changers?

  11. kalidas said on November 29th, 2010 at 5:18pm #

    “Religion without philosophy is sentiment, or sometimes fanaticism, while philosophy without religion is mental speculation.”
    -A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

  12. catguy00 said on November 29th, 2010 at 7:58pm #

    “I suppose Charles would have us adopt the beautiful, tolerant, and peace loving atheistic government that was the Soviet Union…….”

    No. Probably a peaceful secular society like in North Europe. The Soviet Union was not secular. They adopted state enforced atheism.

  13. Angie Tibbs said on November 29th, 2010 at 9:09pm #

    Michael Kenny writes: “Similarly, whatever may have been the reasons for fiascos in ex-Yugoslavia Iraq and Afghanistan” …

    “Fiascos”, Mr. Kenny?

  14. ajohnstone said on November 30th, 2010 at 3:28am #

    “I have no country to fight for; my country is the Earth, and I am a citizen of the World.” – Eugene V. Debs

  15. Rehmat said on November 30th, 2010 at 9:44am #

    However, it is the pro-Israeli Judeo-Christian ‘intellectuals’ and ‘holymen’ who blame Islam and Muslims for world terrorism (read resistance to One World Government under Jewish rule).

    Is Islam ‘religion of peace’?
    http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/is-islam-religion-of-peace/

  16. David Silver said on November 30th, 2010 at 11:39am #

    In response to two entries. Yes the Soviet Union atheistic yeas and peaeful while many workers and peasants believed in god and practiced
    their faith.
    No Sullivan was not saying believe in Christ he was describing great
    Holocausts thast organizeed religion produced mental and pysical

  17. hayate said on November 30th, 2010 at 11:19pm #

    “The profession of preacher has many advantages. It offers high status with a safe livelihood free of work in the dreary, sweaty sense. In most societies it offers legal privileges and immunities not granted to other people. But it is difficult to see how someone who has been given a mandate from on “High” to spread tidings of joy to all humankind can be seriously interested in taking up a collection to pay their salary; it causes one to think that the preacher is on the same level as any other con man. But it is lovely work if one can stomach it.”

    That’s from heinlein, basically your typical ami corpporate bumplug…er, libertarian, but his views on religion had some merit. ;D

  18. hayate said on November 30th, 2010 at 11:28pm #

    From the article:

    “We behold the ethnic cleansing not only in present day Gaza, but also the broader usurpation of historic Palestine by radical Zionists financed by our tax dollars, using munitions bearing the insignia “made in the USA.”

    “Radical” zionists? How about typical, ordinary,every day zionists. The genocidal freaks are mainstream, look at you own media, for bloody sake.

    “AIPAC is among the most powerful lobbying forces influencing the U.S. government”

    “Among”? That’s like saying hitler was among Germany’s fascists. This lot realises that to maintain their credibility now, they need to criticise the ziofascists, but the way they limit their criticism is a dead ringer of what they are actually up to.

  19. jay08701 said on December 1st, 2010 at 1:46pm #

    “No. Probably a peaceful secular society like in North Europe. The Soviet Union was not secular. They adopted state enforced atheism.”

    1) So you agree with my point. Oppression is not married to religion.

    2) You imply a fallacious difference between “secularism” and “atheism”.

  20. Luis-Cayetano said on December 7th, 2010 at 11:03am #

    ”I suppose Charles would have us adopt the beautiful, tolerant, and peace loving atheistic government that was the Soviet Union…….. ”

    That sounds uncannily like a baseless slander. Charles said absolutely nothing that could even be construed as supporting that. Perhaps you’d like to point it out though. Or perhaps you believe that rejection of religion and a call for reason is equivalent to support for the Soviet government, in which case your rationality is perhaps to be questioned.

    ”2) You imply a fallacious difference between “secularism” and “atheism”.”

    Explanation in place of mere assertion is appreciated.

    Thanks.

  21. Don Hawkins said on December 7th, 2010 at 11:12am #

    On our present path here in the States what form of government do we have now and where are we going and the reason is? A clue freedom work’s a play on words.

  22. Liberte said on December 7th, 2010 at 11:36am #

    I love these marxist christ interpretations via of statist advocates. I have strong doubts that, were christ here today, he would crave for rome, the roman empire, or any replacement state, to manage that redistribution.

    This is the conundrum of the socialist ideology. You cannot have it without the state, and you cannot have it with.

    Of course this is the conundrum of the capitalist ideology as well. For without the state wielded gun behind each FRN we would all have fled to cleaner money by now.

    But to offer socialism as the cure to capitalism is to offer coke to a child who drank too much pepsi. What they need is some clean water.