Religion and politics have always been intricately linked…
‘Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful’ ~ Seneca (5 BCE – 65 CE)
‘Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet’ ~ Napoleon (1769 – 1821)
Throughout history, monarchs, governments, and politicians of all stripes have used religion as a tool for controlling the masses. There is something about religion that makes it ideal as a tool of manipulation. Perhaps part of this ‘something’ lies in the religious texts themselves? Let’s see…
Christianity, for one, openly advocates for unquestioning obedience to those in authority.
Romans 13:1-2 says:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
But what happens if the person in who is the ‘governing authority’ is a brutal dictator, such as Adolf Hitler?
A Youtuber called ProfMTH has a wonderful video illustrating this conundrum:
So if Romans 13:1-2 is to be believed, it means all Christian believers must accept whatever rulers they get, no matter how cruel, ruthless, or corrupt they are… for they were put there by ‘God’, and to rebel against them is to rebel against what ‘God’ has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.
Then of course there’s that whole thing about giving to Caesar…
Many monarchies in Europe during the Middle Ages sustained their power by claiming that they were divinely chosen to rule over the rest.
The Qur’an instructs Muslims to obey those who have been ‘given authority’, in addition to ‘God’ and the ‘Apostle’. Qur’an 4:59 says:
‘O believers! Obey God and obey the Apostle and those who have been given authority [uulaa al-amr] among you’
As executor of the will of ‘God’:
In a previous post I said of religion…
…the most widely practiced forms of it (i.e. Judaism, Christianity & Islam) claim to derive inspiration from a divine being whose prescriptions for life are believed to be absolute. Further, acting in service of this being by preserving, propagating, and enforcing its absolute prescriptions for life, is seen by most who subscribe to these religions as the greatest possible act of virtue. There is therefore very little room for debate in resolving differences in opinion on these ‘absolute’ prescriptions for life, and it is easy to see how hostility or violence ensues when these differing opinions cross paths.
By portraying himself/herself as a leader acting to enforce ‘God’s absolute prescriptions for society, a leader (in a highly religious society) can usually expect to face minimal public resistance to otherwise questionable actions he or she may decide to undertake – and some cases, even receive overwhelming support for them.
Religion is an effective tool for control… one that fosters blind loyalty to authority – which is why throughout human history, it has tended to go hand in hand with politics.