Religion as a Tool of Repression

Freedom of 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 War I and World War II, it was dangerous for anyone to oppose war or to speak truth to power. When Eugene Victor 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 smallpox 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 Alvesta Wright, Jr. 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-Jazeera, 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 (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) 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.

 

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