Religion, Ideology and Globalization

There is often some confusion over the difference between religion and ideology. The outcome of a sturdy belief in either religious beliefs or a political ideology can result in the same actions, namely instilling a drive in a person to think and behave in a certain way, but when you pulled out a sander and polish off the surface similarities it becomes clear that the foundations below are significantly different. One primary, overriding difference exists between religion and ideology. A religion is defined by a moral code based on text most often referred to scripture that is usually collected within a single volume. The teaching of the scripture is the principal source behind the choices and behavior of followers. Ideology, on the other hand, does not refer back to a singular source. To take obviously misunderstood example, many critics argue that the writings of Karl Marx can never be pronounced untrue by a Marxist. Unfortunately for those who have tried their hardest to condemn Marxism, that is simply not the case. Even a cursory study of Marxist ideology will reveal striking differences in interpretation as well as outright rejection of much Marxian doctrine.

Religion also differs from ideology in considering the text, and in many cases the spokesmen for that text, to be infallible. Only the most hardened of Communist believers, for instance, would have considered Josef Stalin to be infallible, while on the other hand it is the strictest possible doctrine that any man who wears the big funny hat of a Pope is just as infallible as the word of God in the Bible the Pope consistently perverts for his own purposes. Infallibility of text or person, however, is not at all applicable to ideology. In the words of Louis Althusser, ideology is the inculcation of ideas through their reproduction by such apparatuses as the media, the educational system and even the religious infrastructure of the prevailing power.

Sometimes, of course, religion and ideology intermingle and that may be what has led to the confusion of the two. At the heart of this commingling of religion and ideology is the globalization of the economy. If Karl Marx was right—and with each passing year there seems less doubt that he was—then history is driven by class struggle. World history today is being ghostwritten in terms of religious extremism and political imperialism, but when the fevered emotions directed toward the outrageous actions of a few extremists are pared away, it becomes clear that without the globalization of the economy, those driven to commit violent acts would have little opportunity. The war in Iraq is often derided as being a war not for great political beliefs, but rather for Texas Tea. The true importance of oil in Pres. Bush’s global game of Risk is usually misinterpreted to tragic proportions, however. Were it not for a global economy that is quite literally fueled by oil the situation in the Middle East today would be limited to the same localized skirmishes it has been subject to for over a millennium. The driving force behind the increasing divide between Christians, Jews and Muslims has been the newfound economic power exerted by the Muslim countries. The problem isn’t really extreme fundamentalism per se, which has always existed, but rather that the explosion f economic power by virtue of vast oil reserves in this region has allowed them to move from the local to the international stage. The truly frightening aspect of this is that although many Americans—especially fundamentalist Christians—want to single out Islam as the only religion in the world that combines with ideology and economics to produce dangerous terrorists, that view simply could not be further from the truth.

Islam: Unquestionably the very model of religious terrorism in the world today, but what people who routinely refer to Muslims as towel-heads (no doubt intended in the most Christlike love-your-neighbor way possible) fail to understand is that Islam isn’t a monolithic homogenized religion, but has divisions within it just like Christianity. These factions commit violent acts against each other even more often than they commit violent acts against Christian nations or even Israel.

Christianity: The locus of terrorist actions within Christianity have been relegated for the most part to those followers of right-wing literalist ideological interpretation. Often associated with white supremacist movements or separatist movements, Christian terrorism typically focuses on what it views as either moral oversights such as legal abortion, or government intrusion on civil liberties such as gun control.

Sikh: The violent element of the Sikhs springs from a sense of disenfranchisement from the political process and a concerted effort a marginalization in India. Although associated with Hinduism, the Sikhs never accepted the ideological implications of that religious belief such as the caste system so important to Indian history.

Hinduism: Hindu extremism reached a low point with the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. Then, as now, the focus of Hindu extremism has been to create a pure Hindu theocracy. (When will people start paying attention to Thomas Paine’s lessons against theocratic governments?) In addition to efforts to instill a government based more profoundly on sacred texts, these terrorists have also gone so far as to destroy sites sacred to other religions.

Buddhism: Although Buddhism has a history of monks setting themselves on fire to protest certain social injustices, the Buddhist terrorism projected outward has generally been relegated to the Sinhalese in their efforts to fight back against Tamil nationalist movements in Sri Lanka.