I’m currently reading Culture and the Death of God. I’ve enjoyed Terry Eagleton in the past, especially in Reason, Faith and Revolution where he gives I think one of the best apologies for the Christian faith that I had ever read. Lately I’ve been thinking about the connection between religion and power, and specifically about how power uses religion to maintain its power. This was becoming clear to me in one of my last posts when I asked why Christianity cannot support violent rebellions of the oppressed. What drove a question like that was the numerous examples of people in power using the promotion of nonviolence as a tactic to religiously bind the oppressed to act and be a certain way (a way that would almost certainly not bring any change to the oppressive structure).
So Eagleton is talking about the Enlightenment and how many of the philosophers came from upper classes of society. Many believed that the masses had to believe in God and have a religion. That it was the only thing holding society together. So while the philosophers and leaders were coming to grips with Reason and putting religion through the fires of reason, they were holding onto religion as a specific way of staying in power and ordering society around how they deemed necessary and right. At the very least most allowed religion to have its place because they were trying to avoid anarchy. That if everyone knew ‘the truth’ then there would be mass hysteria and no order. So religion was rarely challenged in front of or to the masses because it was used instead to keep them being the masses – in the dark and doing what they always done and keeping those in power safe.
Frederick Nietzsche,‘is that we cannot believe the dogmas of religion and metaphysics,’ yet continue to ‘need the highest means of salvation and consolation.’ ‘Keep your reasons secret!’ he appeals to the so-called ‘higher men’ in The Joyful Wisdom. There is no point in striving to bring Reason to bear on the masses, who hold their beliefs without reason and whose views are thus immune to being refuted by it.
So back then, the philosophers aren’t pushing a religion on the masses to control them – they are knowingly holding back information because they don’t think that the masses can handle it, and if they could – their place of power would be lost.
It’s not so much that I would argue on behalf of violence. But what is becoming more noticeable as TA-NEHISI COATES points out in this article on the Baltimore Riots and nonviolence, is that nonviolence is being used against the masses to maintain the status quo in society. By preaching (or demanding) nonviolence, and calmness we are essentially allowing the powers to stifle a movement of rebellion that absolutely needs to happen.
I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American black man’s problem just to avoid violence.
– Malcolm X
Those that attempt to not allow the message of nonviolence to dissuade real change are generally labeled as being violent themselves (look at Malcolm X, most people thought he was violent and still do). But I think their point is valid. They see that those in power use any means necessary to maintain their power, and the systemic violence will even use nonviolence as a tool to move on and continue to oppress.