Was the Christian “religion” designed to control the populace, to keep the masses manageable and compliant, and to deny everyone the natural pleasures of life?
(LOSCIL: “Ahull” from “Sea Island”)
A good friend of mine (and I hope he will forgive me for taking up this subject on my blog) suggested not only that belief in an afterlife is unsubstantiated, but that it serves to “subjugate the masses”.
I’ve heard this idea expressed in several different ways over the years. The general view is that to gain a “pie in the sky when you die”- a reward in the next life- you have to deny and punish yourself, and dutifully serve the ruling classes in this one. Perhaps the most famous (or infamous, depending on your view) declaration along these lines was made by Karl Marx, who, aiming his attack squarely at the Christian Church, said that “religion is the opiate of the people”. What he meant was that the Church and its teaching of (in his view) an imaginary future heaven for the righteous was perpetuated by the ruling classes, to keep the working masses in a compliant and obedient state.
It probably didn’t occur to Marx and many others of today that some of us actually want to follow Jesus Christ-because we love him, we love his ways and his words and his promises: it’s got nothing to do with being bullied, jostled, hypnotized or cajoled into being “religious” (more on that later). Marx was, in fact, insulting and belittling the “masses” that he claimed to represent by denying them the right to faith, and by suggesting that they couldn’t think for themselves.
Marx also made the following statement: “Communism begins at the outset with atheism” (for reference, see my series, “War, Religion and Atheism”). Marx’s teachings, fueled by atheism and evolutionism, were embraced by despots and revolutionaries in the 20th Century, leading to the slaughter and enslavement of well over a hundred million people. My guess is that most of them would have preferred to be doped than dead or in a work camp.
The most “Christian” nation of recent times (although it’s far from being “Christian” in many ways), the United States, was founded largely by Christians and deists. They included in the US Constitution the now famous “establishment clause”, which ensures that government cannot be run or ruled by a church body-guaranteeing freedom from the constraints of established religion; and the “free exercise clause”, which guarantees freedom of expression for those of faith also (although that’s the one which generally gets ignored or denied these days). There was no intention of bullying people into “being religious”.
A slightly different version of the accusation of subjugation which another, less eloquent acquaintance once expressed to me was that “religion is just an excuse for morality”. This is a common belief among those who are afraid that someone is going to try to tell them who they should not have sex with.
I must confess I had a similar attitude when I was at school as a teen and all the talk at the time was of the developing “permissive society”. I was afraid that someone was going to deny me the opportunity to enjoy that permissiveness before I was old enough. I even had one college tutor tell my class that the Bible, and particularly Paul’s writings, are opposed to sex. I challenged this claim in front of the class. The Bible says no such thing: God conceived, invented, and created sex organs and blessed physical union-before the fall, and he created Adam and Eve naked. He just set some parameters for the enjoyment of that union, for our good.
What that certain acquaintance didn’t realize was that we all live by morals. The only question is whose standards we are going to live by.
SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET: CHRISTIAN EMPIRES?
To be fair at this point a pertinent question to ask is whether or not Christianity has historically oppressed people groups, and unfortunately there’s no doubt that throughout history some “masses” have been dominated and downtrodden. However, they were oppressed, dominated or conquered by an organization or nation claiming to represent the Church or Christ on earth, but which was really just furthering its own ends.
Sometimes those they subjugated were Christians-people who wanted to be free to worship as Christ intended. Some were burned at the stake for possessing a New Testament. The church which borrowed the name of Christ intentionally ignored the fact that Christ himself said:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight… but now, my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36 NIV).
So then, Christianity has been used by some as an excuse-a cloak of respectability worn to subjugate others. It’s not Christian faith which oppresses while all others are fair and free: human nature looks for any tool or excuse to oppress. In ancient Egypt, for example, multitudes were enslaved to build pyramids; Communism in the 20th Century was atheistic at its core, as men like Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao slaughtered and subjugated millions of their own peoples. Rome conquered most of the known world and subjected it to its own laws for the glory of Caesar, and persecuted Christians and destroyed the Jewish homeland-the land of the Bible.
Some denominations and pseudo-Christian cults impose rules and regulations on their followers which the Christian gospel came to free people from. If you attend a church which makes you feel stifled by rules, you’re in the wrong church. Evangelicals speak of the “age of Grace”, because in Christ there is freedom (though not freedom to willfully sin). Jesus and the apostles compelled no-one: you have the freedom to seek and the freedom to reject.
Women’s rights advocates often accuse Christianity of historically oppressing and denigrating women. Of course, other religions, known to encourage the subjugation of women, get a free pass with no open criticism. Many women have indeed received the raw end of the deal in marriage and in society as a whole-in Christian and non-Christian societies- but this doesn’t mean that marriage-a divine institution-was created as an excuse to abuse women. The Biblical counsel is to treat women with love and respect. Even Paul, hated by most feminists, said this:
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25).
My Dad, a genuine Christian man, was never abusive or rough with my Mum-he was patient and forgiving. If anything, it was she who dominated him and made life difficult at home, and I’m sure she was not the only wife to belie the stereotype. Dad was faithful to her for their sixty-three years of marriage, till death they did part.
The only Biblically sanctioned “suppression” of women is that they are not to be in spiritual authority over men.
Christians are these days often accused of keeping one another in intellectual darkness. If you’re a believer-goes the logic- you have “blind faith”, and you’re denying reason and science: you have to “check your brains” at the door of the church. This is poppycock. I’ve written several posts in answer to this fallacy. For example, see my post, “Is Faith the Enemy of Science?”
HAS THE EARTH BEEN SUBJUGATED?
Another accusation flung at the Church is that it has historically condoned and encouraged the rape and pillage of the earth for financial gain, with the “blessing” of the Bible itself. In Genesis we read that God told Adam-and Eve-to:
“Be fruitful and increase in number” (which by the way involves sex), and to “fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). God repeated the command to Noah (9:1-2).
The opinion of the environmentalist and atheist alike is that in this “dominion mandate” we see the Biblical God okaying the use and abuse of the earth in order to “subjugate the masses” and make plenty of money. This claim is a cynical extrapolation at best: a weapon with which to beat the “ignorant” believer into a state of shame. What the critics totally ignore-by choice-are relevant passages elsewhere in the Bible, such as this one:
“The time has come for judging the dead…and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18).
Anyone who wished to reason with the Scriptures rather than snip little pieces out of context to use as bludgeons, would see that God created the earth, and the beauty of the earth, and the animals, and the people, and then:
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
So if God made it all, and was pleased with it all, why would he then tell his creation to destroy itself? The answer is that he didn’t. Where the earth has been abused-and it has been in many places-it has most definitely not been done with the blessing of the Biblical God. And so what if man does “fill the earth”? This is the will of God-and it is that will which is vehemently opposed by the hyper-environmentalist and many others, who want us all to think that man is a “virus” on the earth, or at best “just another animal”, with no more value than a worm, a monkey, or a dolphin.
I AM NOT SUBJUGATED
Bringing the subject into the twenty-first century (and the twentieth, since most of us were born in that one), I think it’s true to say that no-one has been or is “subjugated” in Christ, except perhaps by some organization borrowing the name as a tool or weapon. I can confidently state that I am not subjugated by anyone. Call me a liar if you like, but I’m not the kind to be led by or obligated to anyone: I would know if I was being “subjugated” by the faith I profess.
I came to faith in Jesus Christ not because I had to, or because I was forced to, or obliged to, or tricked, or brainwashed, or paid to: I came to Jesus Christ because He drew me in love, and I responded willingly. I don’t have to work harder as a Christian than I did as a non-Christian, I don’t have to bow to any man, I don’t have to part with my money (Jesus said to give to the poor-not to some wealthy organization or individual). I don’t even belong to any church in particular, although I have nothing against that. I am free in Christ. I am free to overcome my weaknesses and my fears and my failures and my sins. I am free to think independently, and I’m free to search for truth. I’m free to worship my Creator without having to believe the nonsense that I evolved from a rock which came from nothing. I am a son of freedom, because:
“…where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom…” (2 Corinthians 3:17);
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).
(“Broad Chain Close-up” picture-top- by Toni Lozano, who has not endorsed this post).