Politicizing the Gospel – Part #3 by Greg Albrecht
In this third and last installment, PART # 3 OF “POLITICIZING THE GOSPEL” we are will examine five stages in which religious violence can grow, while comparing it with the parallels to political violence.
In the wake of recent internal extremism within North America, Canadians and Americans are reflecting about the root causes of violence, particularly the hatred, violence and bloodshed that so often results in the guise of politics and government and within religion (in the “name of God”)? Here are five steps or stages leading to political and religious violence:
Within governments and politics, the first stage of a deadly slope that will eventually end in violence, is the acceptance of nationalism and hyper patriotism, justifying force against those who differ.
This first stage that begins a descending and perilous path, a veritable toboggan slide toward bloodshed, is the worship of a God who justifies and allows war, and, concurrently, an acceptance of religious beliefs that rules, regulations and rituals are capable of earning a beneficial relationship with God while failure to measure up to religious standards will result in God’s wrath, his own unchecked anger.
This is the first stage – the initial breeding ground – which eventually ends in violence. Performance-based religion itself is the first stage – the initial breeding ground – which can lead to violence and bloodshed. Violence grows in his name when God is believed to be capable of the annihilation of people groups – when God is believed to be angry with those who fail him,
After accepting the premise that force is justifiable against those who are in opposition, a political follower can morph into a more devoted follower of a political party and platform. This stage of immersion may be accentuated by an ongoing sense that everyone else is wrong, and that real truth and freedom can only be realized within a particular governmental structure or belief system. In polarizing political climates (see 2020 for example) a clash of values leads to the growth and acceptance of political extremism.
A similar toxic growth takes place within performance-based religion, as “members” immerse themselves in a religious organization/charismatic teacher whereby they believe their religious progress can be monitored and directed. Within this religious cocoon and holy-huddle they can be guided by professional religionists and co-religionists who preach and preside over a philosophy of self-salvation by works.
This stage begins to blur the distinction between God and human political and religious authorities – one might say that “immersion” in violence as an acceptable behavior continues in direct proportion to an earnest and deadly effort to create God in a human image.
Those who descend to Stage Three, headed for the hell of violence, become true believers.
Without reservation those who are enslaved to a political brand buy into the party platform and without critical thinking follow a party leader, lock, stock and barrel. Brains and critical thinking are surrendered at the ballot box (and in some cases, at the door of a church building).
This third stage of religious and political extremism is similar in that devotees and followers so wholly embrace rules of measurement they condemn not only themselves, but everyone else—within their own religious institution and without. All who fail to see “truth” as they do, whether that reality be political or religious, are dismissed as ultra-left wing or ultra-right wing… some combination, depending on the views of the “enemy” as, dangerous, immoral, illiterate, un-educated or out of touch.
Followers of religion who function at Stage Three are fully indoctrinated, becoming religious addicts. Those unfortunates who are imprisoned in this stage begin to accept their religious organization and its religious authorities as “the word of God” and “his only true, anointed prophets/leaders” on earth.
Slaves to political ideology find themselves brainwashed into accepting “facts” only as and when those “facts” cohere with their already accepted political affiliation. Theories and conspiracies begin to abound, particularly when logic and cognitive reasoning dare to question the political ideology. In this context we speak of left-wing and right-wing terrorism, which while not speaking for or representing a particular political party or nation, is orchestrated and operated by a small minority of terrorists.
In what some psychologists have called significance-quest motivation, stress, distress and alienation bring about a sense of meaningless and insignificance and leads to believing and following extreme ideologies. Loss of significance, identity and belonging, combined with fears of uncertainty, can lead to whole-hearted acceptance of extreme beliefs and conspiracy theories.
Religious slaves who experience Stage Four find themselves in some of the deepest cesspools and most foul swamps religion has to offer. Extremism begins to characterize those who are hopelessly in bondage to their particular religious chain gang. In some cases, individuals at this stage blow up abortion clinics while others blow up civilian targets of the “Great Satan.”
Their beliefs have so degenerated that they believe in and practice violence in support of a faith-based system. Without excluding others examples of this dynamic can be seen in fringe elements of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Christianity (among others).
Those in Stage Four have so totally bought into religion that they have, knowingly or unknowingly, sold their soul to the devil. Once individuals believe they are acting on behalf of God, physical violence often follows.
This violence in the name of God can be turned inward, as in self-inflicted wounds, self-flagellation, self-starvation, and the like. It can be aimed at fellow religious organizational members as punishment for infractions in the form of beatings, isolation, exposure, and even torture.
When the violence is directed toward one’s own peers, then it is thought to be “for their own good.” Of course, the violence also targets perceived enemies of God on the outside using vandalism, muggings, torture and the severing of body parts. A believe in an after-life of eternal conscious torment, meted out by God, is a common belief among such “true believers.” While the devil may be seen as the evil one ruling hell, eternal conscious torment is said to be allowed by God, and in the mind of “true believers” some are thought to be dispatched to such a place directly by God.
The mindset goes like this: Rules must be obeyed to please God. Punishing rule-breakers pleases God. Stage Four stops short of “justifiable” homicide and murder, which leads us to Stage Five.
However intelligent a political slave might otherwise be, when all critical thinking is suspended, then fanaticism in service to the cause of the government or party is the grave and pathetic result. Such individuals can become a clear and present danger to themselves, not to mention their country and their neighbors.
The most toxic and dangerous religious slaves are somewhat like robots, so brainwashed that they will take human life in the name of God. Enemies on religious hit lists may be inside or outside of the organization. Honor killings, assassinations, public beheadings and suicide bombings are all too familiar examples of religiously-motivated killings.
Religious fanatics who experience Stage Five become judges and executioners, and if “martyred” they become a hero to their fellow-extremists. In Stage Five, pain is projected outward, and the enemy is identified, hated, attacked and annihilated. All inner ugliness is projected onto “sinners”—all hate (especially self-loathing) is projected onto “heretics,” all of whom must die.
The common denominator, the common ingredient present in all five stages of political and religious violence is the rejection of God’s love and grace. The common denominator is that God is rejected in favor of a political or religious idol constructed by human beings.
Each stage of political and religious violence progressively diminishes critical freedom and thought, and becomes more legalistically demanding than the one before. It all begins with the delusion to which humans so easily fall for—the glorification of human abilities and the worship of the state, and in terms of religion, the worship of a religion or denomination rather than God.
When we examine and consider problems and issues, it is always wise to consider the other person’s viewpoints – try to walk in their shoes.
Instead of blindly assuming our own myopic views, given and taught to us and through which we have been indoctrinated, strive to get the complete picture, however difficult and painful that picture might be.
Instead of presuming all truth to be captured within one’s own political and religious belief system, and demonizing all who disagree, may we seek the mind of Christ, so that “selfish ambition and vain conceit” (Philippians 2:3) does not polarize us and thus have its way with us, and instead, in humility, look to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).