This is part three of an interview I did with Alex Doherty of New Left Project. He wanted to know if there could be a form of Christianity that led to healthy politics. I’m still groping for a title for the series.
3. You view the gospels as having a radical message – how is it then that the Church has so often sided with forces of oppression?
The church was radical for several centuries but was co-opted by the Roman Empire about the time of Constantine. The reason for this hostile takeover is pretty obvious. It is the same reason corporations buy protest songs and turn them into commercials. Religion deserves much of the blame it receives for historical monstrosities such as the crusades and inquisitions, but more often, religion falls captive to political bullies who use it for very secular purposes. The war in the Middle East isn’t really about religion at all. It is a fight over land hiding behind the cloak of religion. I doubt very seriously that the primary motive for the Crusades was rescuing the holy lands from Islam. I suspect the booty captured by “pious” European kings was much more to the point.
The role of religion in violence may be closer to the role alcohol plays in domestic abuse as a “dis-inhibitor”. If you blame abuse on the alcohol, you may be missing the real dynamics of bullying. I think Voltaire was right to say those who believe absurdities are much more likely to commit atrocities, but the real question for me, is can there be a religion that honors reason, science and universal human rights? If we use “religion” as a synonym for supernaturalism, the answer is, obviously, is no. But I think it is a conversation worth having.
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