Saturday, May 6, 2006

Religion vs politics: a comparison

The issues of ownership and exploitation are fundamental in political theory, but for very different reasons.

Ownership is a vital concept because we cannot escape it, and it is the main determinant of how a system works. In standard democratic statism, private individuals nominally own their property, but under the control of the state and its monopolistic laws and regulations. Marxist theory gives ownership of all property to the state. Market anarchy gives ownership of all property to private individuals. And so on and so forth.

Exploitation, on the other hand, is a more philosophically negative concept, as it tells us what we should seek to eliminate. In general, the statist notion of exploitation (and I do realize this is a big generalization) revolves around the concentration of power in any domain. Whoever has the most power, is the exploiter, regardless of what they do. For market anarchists, on the other hand, it is the act of force that creates exploitation. In this view, the state is inherently exploitative because its monopoly is maintained by force.

Does religion have anything to say about all this ? While monotheistic religions have very little to say about political theory per se, I think that their attitude towards man and freedom is a strong stance against human governance of any kind. Their attitude is : you're not worth shit, because you are a human being. A common attraction of these religion is that they make you believe that man is inherently degraded and immoral (through Original Sin or otherwise) and then provide their particular brand of insane solutions. It's like one of those ads for spray detergent where everyone is shouting, except all the actors are wearing black robes and are clinically retarded.

They believe that you don't own yourself, God does. And if they don't say it explicitly, that is still the net result of their beliefs. After all, if possession if nine-tenths of ownership, we can equally say that control is nine-tenths of possession (he who controls the good benefits the most, regardless of deeds or contracts). If I am not habilitated as an individual to have my own moral freedom, and if it is perfectly moral for God to kill as many human beings as it wants, then in no way am I in control of my own life. At best, I am like a citizen in a democracy, owning my own body but not free enough to control it like I desire. It is a hollow concept.

This is in direct opposition to all other modes of social organization, which are based on ownership by a small concentrated ruling class (monarchy), a large and all-pervasive ruling class (democracy), or by the individual (market anarchy). All of these presume that at least some human beings, by virtue of their class, race or guile, are worthy of owning themselves and owning others.

The question then arises : if religion is opposite to politics, how have they developed such a close symbiosis ? Well, on the one hand, extreme forms of religion or politics do try to wipe out their opposite (such as modern Islam, Nazism, Communism). But on the other hand, their collectivist nature makes them mutually supportive to a large extent. Religion subjugates the mind, while politics subjugates the body.

The traditional form of symbiosis has religion provide the legitimacy for the ruler (i.e. the King rules by the grace of God, or is even a demi-god), and that ruler in turn provides the tool for religious supremacy (i.e. support of churches, state religion, war against heretics, etc). With the invention of democracy, legitimacy is a lesser problem for the ruling class, and therefore religion loses much of its influence. This is why democracy tends to chase away religion, and religion tends to chase away democracy (now there's a lose-lose situation).

In general, this is resolved by putting God, the state, the churches, and the general population in a certain hierarchical order, usually in that order (with women being inferior to men, of course). The fact that "God's laws" and "the state's laws" contradict most of the time is blithely ignored. What's a few commandments between friends ?

The religious theory of exploitation is also wildly different. Basically, everyone who disagrees with you is an exploiter. Once again, the use of force is not considered relevant here. Islam protestors may kill innocent people, but to religious commentators (and also statist ones, not coincidentally) they are the victims of "hate speech" (i.e. a few lame cartoons). The cartoonists are the exploiters. To the American Christian, the atheist whose rights he is spitting on is an exploiter. He is the victim of the atheist's demand for his rights, and every single Ten Commandments monument (which ironically break the second commandment) is another victory against anti-Christian exploitation.

This is partly so because monotheistic religions are based on a victim complex. Without hardships, there is no reason to be religious. Happy and fulfilled people don't need religion. When no hardship exists, it must be manufactured. Every single act of rebellion, even if done by other Christians, is an attack against them. If they do not exist, then they must be manufactured (war against Christmas anyone ?).

Another part of this is the inter-subjectivity of religion. As it is founded and sustained by agreement (which brings legitimacy), any inter-subjective system naturally sees credible disagreement as its worst enemy. So naturally such a system would not point to its own power structure as exploitative, since that would defeat the whole agreement mechanism (although New Age and other "liberal" religions sidestep this issue altogether), but rather must point to sources of disagreement. To be a critical thinker, therefore, is to do violence to oneself, and to express doubt is to do violence to others, within that perspective.


Mark said...

Good analysis.

I think, however, that I can live with people believing that God owns everything as long as they also believe that it is up to God to enforce his own laws.

generic viagra said...

Religion and politics have intertwined on several occasions in the history of the world, from the Crucifixion to the present day .... This is done so by a matter of power ..