Human Beings bond on shared beliefs. Factionalist type beliefs, i.e. those that say we are the good guys, and the evil lies in the other, are particularly good at producing within group social cohesion. They are also likely to operate in such a way as to maintain within group hierarchies. Those who oppose the powerful within their own group are more liable to find themselves outed as traitors, than to overturn the status quo.
This remains true as long as the people in power, maintain their stance in denouncing the evil of the other. Any softening of their position towards, the teapotted group, those evil awful people over there, leaves them vulnerable to being overthrown by more staunch defenders of the faith.
So to be the prince in a world, where this is the dominant belief system, one must be an accuser.
The in-built paranoia of this hierarchical type of social organisation, is in the best interests of none, and it can result in horrific cruelty towards those on whom the evil is projected. Yet because it operates as a vicious circle, its clutches are difficult to escape.
The early Christian movement, as described by St Paul, can be understood as a direct attack not on the people operating it , but on the system itself.
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Those within the belief system, were to be joint co-heirs submitting to one another rather than attempting to dominate. And rather than demonising the outsider they were called to love them.
At the heart of this ancient belief system lay the truth of an innocent man brutally killed. The likely outcome of any social system driven by the notion that as the evil lies in the other, it can be overcome killing its carriers.
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:22-24
Quite quickly after Christianity originated its teachings became conformed to the wisdom of the world in which it found itself. As Tom Wright claims I think correctly in his 2012 book, ‘How God became King – Getting to the Heart of the Gospels,’ the four gospels, which were written after Paul’s letters, really are telling the story of how Jesus of Nazareth, was the long expected Jewish Messiah. And all the signs that the Jews expected from their Messiah were there.
Now Tom Wright’s position is that, the Gospels tell it this way, because this is what really happened. Other theologians, such as Dominic Crossan and John Spong, take the view that the Gospel authors understood what they were writing to be myth or parable, telling a truth beyond the literal. While New Atheists are inclined to the view that they just made it up.
Regardless of why the gospel writers recorded the story as they did, the Jesus of Nazareth story is tied to an Ancient Hebrew notion of theocracy.
Jesus ride into Jerusalem, recorded as occurring just the week before his death in all four gospels, ties with a Messianic prophesy, from the Book of Zechariah.
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
10 And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.
This Jewish image of theocracy has a king, who though he is triumphant and victorious, comes humbly to serve his people, not to laud it over them. A ruler who operates as a servant of the servants of God.
This is not the type of leader who emerges in the paranoid social systems that arise as a consequence of the desire of the presently powerful, to maintain their status.
In the rest of nature the hierarchies that exist are pecking orders. They are maintained through combat, or through the use of ‘symbols’ that denote actual fitness, for instance the antlers of a deer.
In human societies one of the traditional functions of the notion of an omnipotent god, has been to shore up the position of the presently powerful. It is the notion that whatever is, is the will of God, and therefore right. The view that might is right, is more appealing to those who are currently the beneficiaries of power, than those who are suffering from it.
The theology that Christendom inherited from Rome, had Christ embedded in it. It took a considerable degree of theological ingenuity to make Christ a willing servant of power. Something that St Anselm, achieved in ‘Cur Deus Homo.’ An account of the crucifixion, that explained that Christ’s death was not paid, as the majority view of the time was, to ransom us from Satan, but to satisfy God’s honour and dignity, which had been offended by our disobedience.
In his theology St Anselm recast God, as a prince of the ancient world. These princes had to maintain their place in the pecking order by ensuring that appropriate tribute was paid to them. Otherwise they left themselves vulnerable to hostile takeover.
Now princes did not operate alone they had lieutenants to do the work for them. People like Pontius Pilate, who needed to look as though they were maintaining order, and collecting rightful tributes. And where looking as though one is maintaining order outweighs actually doing it, then innocent victims of what is purported to be justice are a highly probable consequence.
Thus in St Anselm’s theology, the God of heaven, was demoted to an earthly king, the Prince of this World. Someone whose powerbase was so insecure that his honour and dignity needed to be defended.
Karen Armstrong in her 2009 book, ‘The Case for God,’ argued that modern religious fundamentalism is driven by fear. And she is partly right. Fear driven factionalism is a powerful bonding tool, for creating cohesive groups. Without an initial cause for fear it is unlikely that such groups would form. Once formed leaders within these groups can acquire a great deal of in, and sometimes even out of, group power, by whipping up hysteria against the other. This hysteria might reasonably be construed by the singled out group as a threat. And defensive moves by this perceived other will be understood as offensive, by the fundamentalist group, thus further ratchetting tensions.
These fear based systems are invasive. They enforce an us and them mentality within, and encourage a similar mentality in those groups that are targeted as the evil other. As Jonathan Swift noted in his ‘Argument Against the Abolishing of Christianity,’ the problem lies in factionalism.
Are party and faction rooted in men’s hearts no deeper than phrases borrowed from religion, or founded upon no firmer principles? And is our language so poor that we cannot find other terms to express them? Are _envy, pride, avarice_ and_ambition_ such ill nomenclators, that they cannot furnish appellations for their owners? Will not_heydukes_ and _mamalukes, mandarins_ and patshaws_, or any other words formed at pleasure, serve to distinguish those who are in the ministry from others who would be in it if they could? …………………. And therefore I think, there is little force in this objection against Christianity, or prospect of so great an advantage as is proposed in the abolishing of it.
Jonathan Swift An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity 1708
Jonathan Swift was a satirist, and the case that he was making , was that there was no point abolishing nominal Christianity*, because it wasn’t making the slightest bit of difference. All the world’s evils would exist even without it. The same being true for any belief system. Get rid of one and a vacancy is left. Any random difference can be used to justify a faction. The problem isn’t the belief, but the way of the world.
Christendom was not distinguished by its lack of barbarity. It too followed the Prince of this World. The desire and respect for power and status is a cancer . Use power to speak peace and you end up with more violence.
This is the way that makes Satan the King of the World.
*Jonathan Swift at the start of his essay made the claim that he wasn’t arguing against the abolition of real Christianity, which it was once claimed had the power to change human behaviour.