Faith/Ideology/Religion/Belief: Part I

Jon over at Jon’s Post Church Rant commented on my blog one morning:

If you get the urge, I’d love you to post your thoughts sometime on the difference between ‘religion’/belief/faith (call it what you will) and ‘ideology’.

This is a pretty tall order, but I’m going to try. What exactly does one mean when one talks about ideology? Wikipedia defines ideology as,

…an organized collection of ideas. …as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things … or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society. The main purpose behind an ideology is to offer change in society through a normative thought process (what the world ought to be). Ideologies tend to be abstract thoughts applied to reality and, thus, make this concept unique to politics. Ideologies are very common in the world of politics.

I like the definition: “a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society.” However, I would argue with the word “proposed” simply because I believe ideologies are ASSUMED most of the time and not proposed. Ideologies can be proposed as we shall see later, but the dominant group hands down most ideologies in history without the assent of the oppressed minority. While some ideologies are visions of “what the world ought to be,” most ideologies have evolved from the actions of the powerful. In other words, those in power determine their society’s ideology and enforce it by brute force and the creation of mythology as handed down by the gods.

Take patriarchy for example. Patriarchy, or male rule, is the result of the mixing of myth, religion, and politics as envisioned and reinforced by men. Long ago, men created myths that reinforced their own power structures within a society (See the Iliad, Odyssey, Bible, and Ovid). Patriarchy was an ideology fueled by power and control. It thrives today because some men still “buy into” the myths about women being perpetrated by patriarchal modes of thought such as the media and politics. It may not be a conscious choice made by some men today, but that’s the point. Those in power are the privileged class who never stop to think about how the underprivileged are living in this constructed society. They BELIEVE that since this is the way things have always appeared to them, that this is the norm and the way things should stay. You could say that men have faith that the ideology of patriarchy is true although there is much evidence to the contrary (see Sjoo and Mor’s excellent book The Great Cosmic Mother and Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy and The Creation of Feminist Consciousness for further information).

Another example of an ideology is the ideology offered by fundamentalist Christians, or more specifically in Christian-speak, a biblical worldview . For the fundamentalist Christian, who believes in an inerrant bible that lays down a systematic theology for humankind, a worldview is the most important aspect of their faith and explains everything the Christian needs to know about life and how to live it. Their worldview fuels their politics, their thought processes, and all other relationships in their lives. This is an ideology fueled by blind faith in the bible’s truth and is not fueled by reasoning from natural events or history. Progressive Christians do not take the bible as literally as fundamentalist Christians, but they also envision a world according to what they perceive as Jesus’ pacifist teachings and ethical standards. Either way, religious ideology, like patriarchy, is fueled by faith alone when it ignores facts from evidence and puts its faith in the literal meaning of mythologies such as those found in the bible. Religion and patriarchy have been most complementary throughout history. Usually if you find one, you will find the other. Fortunately, progressive Christianity is tempering such absolutist faith with reason in the fight to create a more just world.

(Tomorrow: Part II to Faith/Ideology/Religion/Belief)


2 thoughts on “Faith/Ideology/Religion/Belief: Part I

  1. MOI,
    I love the fact that you are prepared to take questions head on and wrestle them to the ground. I’ll wait for part II before commenting, although with what you have said so far I cannot see any difference at all between an “ideology” and a “religion”.

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