Natural, necessary and perpetual: Christianity and the ideology of power

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in | Posted on 2:47 PM


While I am not a Marxist in specialty, some of his ideas are fairly useful to describe how power is used and perpetuated. In this case, I'm going to apply his discussion of how the ruling class in any given society presents the ideas which keep them in power to how Christianity presents itself within the societies in which it is embedded.

To start, a definition of ruling class: the class (group) able to exercise the material and intellectual forces which shapes the society in which the ruling class exists. Shaping a society means that the ideas, whatever they happen to be, are reproduced more frequently than other systems, and provides a structure which orders the way events around Christianity are seen. In this instance, US politics. Christianity is a force which shapes US society; witness the often discussed relationship between Christianity and presidential elections, as well as the religious boilerplate in the US Declaration of Independence. Christianity has been considered for some time as a necessary part of the identity of persons in office, and Christian ministers have been allowed unprecedented access to political figures because of it.

Why do Christian ministers have access to the president? From the first link, the text of "The German Ideology," Marx says a few things (only a few hundred) about the way power imbalances are maintained between classes in a society: the ideas of the ruling class, in this case the need for Christian influence and authority, are an "eternal law" to which the assent of the non-ruling classes is taken as the natural state of affairs. He goes on to state that these ideas take the shape, in popular thought, of being universal. It's not just that Christianity, in popular thought, is natural (the way things are meant to be, because god), but Christianity is also seen to be universal. It has always been just the way it is, with little to no changes, because Christianity represents goodness in the human 'soul.' Christians, whose ideology exercises great power in US society, will look backwards into history and explain all moments of subjective goodness with the influence of god. They will also, as Marx suggests, look forward into the future and argue that Christianity is perpetual: it will always be.

This means that Christian ministers and the ideology of Christianity have access to political power in the US because of the way Christianity is presented: it has always been, it is the way things really are/should be and it will always be, therefore using Christianity to manipulate political events is not so much manipulation as just affirming the nature of goodness and power, eg that Christianity is the only possible framework for the legitimate use of power.

For the obvious reasons, this is dangerous. Marx points out the effect of the ideology of power on classes which are not ruling (in this case, non-Christians) is exploitative, by definition. It causes the labor and intellectual efforts of non-Christians to be devalued and/or is the focus of a refusal to allow non-Christians credit for morality or allow non-Christians to accumulate political power. In application, it causes events like this, or the recent gelato shop fiasco.

Since the dialogue about power is that Christianity is the only moral framework for exercising it, and that Christianity is the only natural, universal and perpetual framework for living, non-Christians are constantly presented with the base assumption that they and their ideas are deviant, dangerous and/or unnatural. This is how Christian influence is maintained over politics, along with the assertion that any challenge to these ideas is religious persecution.

Because the overarching appeal to Christianity is avoiding punishment in the afterlife, as well as the idea that Christianity is the 'real' state of affairs, any challenge is not just damning in the world which we exist in, but also for all eternity, making Christianity (as a religion) a special case of power.

These factors make the maintenance of that power more dangerous for non-Christians.

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