Friday, June 15, 2007

All Religion is Politics

I think that the distinction between politics and religion is false. Those of us in democratic republics in the modern mold generally feel that it is possible to have this distinction between church and state. We go on all the time about it, at least here in America. But it occurred to me some time ago that this distinction is false. All religion is politics.

Religions are organizations that give orders to their congregations. They tell their congregations what to do, how to do it, they give orders on who to fuck, how to do it, with whom it is acceptable to fuck. Or marry. They dictate to their congregations how to behave in social situations. They give orders, often, on what is acceptable to eat, or wear. They enforce obedience to their orders through the most brutal of threats -- eternal torture or being born as a worm or what have you for most of them -- and often by ostracizing people who are sufficiently disobedient from their community (such in the case of a conservative Christian who refuses to "give up" homosexuality, or the formality of excommunication).

Think about all of that for a second. Religions exercise way more authority, or attempt to do so, than any modern democratic republic. If the government tried to order a person that they couldn't marry someone of the "wrong religion" they'd be accused (appropriately!) of tyranny. If the government tried to regulate a person's speech the way religions do, they'd be accused of tyranny. But religions routinely do these things. They routinely order these things.

And they do their dead level best to compel obedience. In modern democracies, they are wisely kept from physically enforcing their laws, but they would if they could, and they definitely do all they can to compel obedience. They invent the most cruel tortures for non-believers or heretics they can and threaten their congregations (and, indeed, the whole world) -- and for believers it is vital to keep in mind that these threats are real. They believe in the hells invented for non-believers and heretics. The threat, in the mind of the believer, is very real, as real as if I were to threaten you with pulling out your teeth with pliers. Worse. Eventually you'd run out of teeth, whereas religious threatens torment without end. If I was to physically threaten someone with torture, I'd be a criminal. Religions threaten their congregations with far worse threats but we sort of shrug and let them. We let them do this to children, to people who are literally mentally ill, we let them do these things! If I was raising a child and consistently threatening the child with, say, skinning the child alive and boiling the child in oil to compel obedience I'd be correctly accused of child abuse. Religions? Nope. It's okay for them to threaten people, to threaten them in ways that they accept as real, to compel obedience.

The government isn't allowed to do that! In modern democracies, cruel and unusual punishment is unacceptable, but religions aren't held to that standard.

What I'm saying here is that religions are political. They create laws, they enforce them, they collect taxes. They do everything that governments do. While they can't do some of the things that governments do, they also do things that governments can't.

The only defense of this is that it's voluntary. But is it? I don't think so. Religions threaten people who try to leave the church with eternal damnation. Because the religious people believe these threats, it is no different than me threatening someone with violence to remain in a relationship. It's no different than if I was to tell my wife I'd cut her arms and legs off if she dared to leave me -- it is duress. So even the voluntary argument doesn't really hold up to those who believe. To leave a religion is to be, in their own minds, condemned to a fate worse than death.

As such, I think that something should be done about this. No joke. I think that the same standards we apply to other groups need to be applied to religions. I think they should be forbidden to threaten people, just like any other organization in a modern democracy! Additionally, I think that people need to be aware that all religious activity is political with leaders, laws, taxes and enforcement, and that religions challenge the sovereignty of the government . . . and they should be treated appropriately, and forbidden to have the character of a government in the lives of the people of that religion (though, admittedly, stopping religions from threatening their congregations might be sufficient to do that -- without duress, people would be free to leave religions).

But those are my thoughts for today. That religions should be held to the same standards as every other organization and be absolutely forbidden from using tactics and fear and intimidation on people.

PS: I was thinking about what this means for my interaction with religion. What is it that really bothers me about religion. Sure, I think that people who believe in spirits and gods are wrong. But I generally don't have that much of a problem with people being merely wrong about something.

What bothers me about religion is their actions. And the more I think about it the more I'm seeing one of the key things that bothers me about religion is the overt intimidation involved in religion. So I went to see how common threats are in the big world religions. I consulted the power of Google and found some information about religions.

Here are the top 22 religions, by numbers of adherents:

# Christianity: 2.1 billion
# Islam: 1.3 billion
# Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
# Hinduism: 900 million
# Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
# Buddhism: 376 million
# primal-indigenous: 300 million
# African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million
# Sikhism: 23 million
# Juche: 19 million
# Spiritism: 15 million
# Judaism: 14 million
# Baha'i: 7 million
# Jainism: 4.2 million
# Shinto: 4 million
# Cao Dai: 4 million
# Zoroastrianism: 2.6 million
# Tenrikyo: 2 million
# Neo-Paganism: 1 million
# Unitarian-Universalism: 800 thousand
# Rastafarianism: 600 thousand
# Scientology: 500 thousand

Christianity, Islam, Chinese traditional religions, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism all have at least one hell. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Cao Dai and Tenrikyo have beliefs where people who violate their religion are punished through being born again into a worst state. So, most religions and all the biggest ones include intimidation as a part of normal doctrine.

Juche, the state cult of North Korea, does not have a hell or offers punishment to anyone who "strays". However, it is part and parcel with Kimiljungism which is creepy in it's own right.

African traditional and diaspora religions . . . well, there are a whole bunch of them. I know that many of them have various concepts of "hell", but it might be a mixed bag considering how many religions they actually are. The same is true of "primal-indigenous" and, er, Judaism -- there is no unified view of a Jewish afterlife.

The religions that have no system of intimidation built into them are Baha'i, Shinto (tho' it is deeply entwined with Japanese Buddhism), Rastafarianism, neo-paganism and Unitarian Universalism -- with some African traditional and diaspora religions, some Jews and some primal indigenous religions. I feel that these, then, are the outside limits of the religions I would be willing to deal with. They're the religions that systematically make it policy not to intimidate people with threats of eternal punishment for non-belief or disobedience. I know that there are sects of the other religions that also do not coerce people, and I'd be willing to deal with them, as well. I think that lack of intimidation and coercion might be my standard for dealing with a given religion, politically or socially. Because without the threat behind it, religion is just a choice.


Neonirvana said...

I am a follower of Hinduism, and I think you have not got information about Hinduism and the concept of hell. The law of Karma - to put simply, cause and effect - of Hinduism just stated that you shall reap what you sow. This is not intimidation of any kind, but stating a fact. And the concept of hell is not of an eternal damnation, as all people will eventually achieve salvation, so there is no question of intimidation. I can understand tha there are many so called saints and religous leaders who try to resort to such methods, but what they preach is not Hinduism, but something else altogether.....
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Chris Bradley said...


That's what everyone who believes in their particular brand of religious intimidation says -- OUR vulgar threats of torment are TRUE. Christians believe hell with the same intensity that Hindus believe in karma, and Hinduism definitely uses threats of suffering to enforce it's religion. For the threats to be effect, furthermore, OBVIOUSLY they've got to say they're TRUE. Just like if I was trying to threaten someone into obedience with an empty gun I'd convince them it was loaded.

L>T said...

L>T here. chris, an awesome post.

A lot of ex-christians i know are pissed about the emotional torment they suffered because of the thumbscrew concepts of Hell. I'm sure that holds for other religions, too. I'm also sure modern politics borrows from this effective method of 'scare tactics'

concerned citizen said...

L>T here OH BTW, I just started to listen to "Twilight of the Idols or How to Philosophise with the Hammer" by Nietzsche, today.
I'm loving it. So much to think about!

Chris Bradley said...

LOL. I find it ironic that I'm helping to spread people reading Nietzsche more after I've largely rejected him than I ever did when I liked him! :)


Thank you! The more I've thought about religion I've come to the conclusion what I REALLY dislike about it is the coercion. The horrible threats and violence of most religions. I mean, if a person is a good person who does good things, does it matter if they take faith in a god, or if that god is "really real" or a psychological construct? Well, we can talk about that rationally, right? I think so. But when one person in the conversation believes that they're going to GO TO HELL if they listen to me, it makes talking to them pretty darn hard. I think they're just wrong. They think I'm a threat to them -- that my words will lead them into eternal suffering. The people who did this to them, who inserted this idea, are sick and evil. (Of course, I also hate it that they try to threaten ME with that shit -- saying that unless I change my ways I'm gonna go to hell. Ugh. It's vile and insulting.)

Which is my problem with religion, hehe. The threats. Without the threats . . . folks can actually talk.

L>T said...

I remember going to a Universalist Unitarian chuch a few times with a friend. This was right after I denounced my religion. It blew me away one Sunday when the discussion was about the existance of God. I could not imagine people in church pondering that! I was waiting for the lightning to come down & strike us!