Google+ A Tangled Rope: Is Religion A Form Of Ideology, Or Is Ideology A Form Of Religion?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Is Religion A Form Of Ideology, Or Is Ideology A Form Of Religion?

The smugly religious often claim that a ‘godless’ society would never work, often pointing to those they like to claim were atheist societies: namely communism and fascism, and claiming the ‘godlessness’ of those societies was a major – if not the major - reason for their ultimate downfall. However, anything beyond a cursory glance at those societies, at any totalitarian society, shows just how much such ideologies have in common with religions. In fact, seeing them as forms of religion is often the only way that such ideologies and the societies they create can seem to make any sense.

Such societies seem to descend into a form of hero worship: Hitler, Mao, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim il-Sung et al, where these leaders acquire a semi-divine or even divine status. All these becoming like gods, or like such divine figures as Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and so on and so forth, all with a hagiography industry that makes the New Testament look amateurish in comparison.

Of course, they have their divine texts too, Das Kapital, Mein Kampf of course, but much more than that. Hitler also had a creation myth about the Aryan race, and, of course, they all promise the faithful they will one day enter paradise as long as they continue to believe.

Believe they must too, for - just like religions - ideologies can countenance no heresy. Thoughtcrime is ideological heresy, just as heresy is religious thoughtcrime. What, after all, is the difference between a show trial and an inquisition? Both are concerned with rooting out heresies before they can take hold of the popular consciousness.

Religions and ideologies both take arms against science, rationality and reason, and both for the same reason. They cannot co-exist with science, rationality and reason because of their use of the disinterred method of searching for the truth, which dismisses the revealed truths of both religion and ideology as fundamentally unsound.

Science, reason and rationality want to fit their truths to the shape of the universe. Ideologies and religions want to bend the universe to fit their preconceptions. This explains why fundamentalists of both religion and politics always seem to end up declaring wars on the modern world and want to turn back either to earlier more religious times (often just as much a myth as the rest of their religion) or to turn the clock back to some political Year Zero.

However, there are just some truths that are too obvious or too big for religions and ideologies to dismiss. Of course, this means that as religions and ideologies must distort themselves in order to get themselves around these awkward facts of the universe they cannot ignore or dismiss. This distortion turns them further and further away from the world and in on themselves, eventually losing touch with the world as they become lost and trapped within their distorting halls of mirrors.

One of the main problems with seeing the world through a religious/ideological worldview is that the world is distorted by the ideology or religion, as Dalrymple so eloquently puts it in this article about ideology:

The Persistence of Ideology - Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal.

Ideological thinking is not confined to the Islamists in our midst. The need for a simplifying lens that can screen out the intractabilities of life, and of our own lives in particular, springs eternal; and with the demise of Marxism in the West, at least in its most economistic form, a variety of substitute ideologies have arisen from which the disgruntled may choose.

Most started life as legitimate complaints, but as political reforms dealt with reasonable demands, the demands transformed themselves into ideologies, thus illustrating a fact of human psychology: rage is not always proportionate to its occasion but can be a powerful reward in itself. Feminists continued to see every human problem as a manifestation of patriarchy, civil rights activists as a manifestation of racism, homosexual-rights activists as a manifestation of homophobia, anti-globalists as a manifestation of globalization, and radical libertarians as a manifestation of state regulation.

Although, Dalrymple doesn’t mention religion in this article, it ought to be obvious that the word ‘ideology’ can be replaced by the word ‘religion’ in many places in such articles without sounding too absurd (the reverse also applies when swapping the words around the other way in a religious article).

It seems a good many of the problems facing humanity in the contemporary world (and throughout history) are caused (and have been caused) by belief, whether that belief is a religious belief or an ideological belief. This means that Tony Blair, here, is – as usual – completely and utterly wrong. Faith – belief – unquestioning and uncritical belief in anything ideological or religious, should be regarded as the problem, not the solution.

What does all this mean? Well, in my own case, I decided gods didn’t exist when I was 6 years old. I have never found anything to persuade me otherwise since then. In addition, I increasingly feel I now ought to describe myself as a political atheist, for I no longer believe any of the political ideologies from left, right or centre have the answers we need. By way of example, I believe that far from being ‘progressive’ the left is actually regressive. In consequence, am now starting to believe that not only is politics the wrong answer, it is not even the wrong answer to the right question.

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