John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

Religion as Rebellion

October 3rd, 2009

I’m not a big fan of organized religion, and that’s probably in large part because it is so organized.  I can understand the need for a sense of community or even the need to share spiritual insight & experience, but it just doesn’t work for me.

But here’s a political take on religion, a mural depicting religion as rebellion:


In the foreground, people have gathered for some sort of religious event.  I can guess by the guy’s robes and the neighborhood this mural was found in that we’re witnessing a recreation of a covert Catholic mass.  As the priest consecrates the eucharist, scouts warn of approaching English soldiers in reddish/orange coats.

Just as it was illegal for the Irish to study and learn, so was it illegal for anyone to practice Catholic religious rituals.  Loyalty and obedience to the English state meant spiritual loyalty and obedience to the Anglican, or English, Church.

What’s interesting for me, is the way the sense of community fostered by a shared religious identity can become an act of outright rebellion.  Usually I think of religion as the social order, not a tool of subversion against political authority.  I guess that’s from living in the south, and particularly in a city whose political power base is much the same as the First Baptist Church’s membership.

Left free to choose, people will continue family traditions, or shift around to denominations that fit their personalities.  But when forced to adhere, a group with contrary religious convictions can become even more attached to their forbidden beliefs.  In many ways, all of Christianity began as a forbidden cult, a heresy against the official beliefs of the Roman state.  Preaching peace and love, these dissidents were considered a fundamental threat to the social order of war and slavery that had brought Rome to wealth and power.

Even small populations can rally around their cultural and religious heritage in order to resist the power of an imperial army.  The Roman Empire is now notes in a history book and ruins in the modern state of Italy, but Christianity has become the world’s most powerful religion.  Instead of hiding in fear of prosecution, Christian nations often find themselves at war with Muslim states.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for our foreign policy experts…


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