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Monday, August 22, 2005

Ideology Vs Theology

I think this is one of Sigmund Carl and Alfred's best posts ever. It's even better because it explicates and reinforces an extremely good post of Dr. Sanity's.

SC&A discusses the difference between ideology and theology. Dr. Sanity discusses the relationships between conceptions of self and the culture's claim on the self. You really have to read both of these posts together to understand the strength of what they are saying.

Theology is about man's conception of God and man's understanding of God's claims on man. In the Christian/rabbinical Judaism cultures, theology is first about God's claims on you and then about God's rules that dictate your behavior and duties to others. Buddhism has a similar formulation.

Ideology is about man's formulation of rules and goals for himself. Ideologies can be religious or nonreligious but are necessarily collective. Another way to put this is that theologies can be public and collective as well - in fact, the structure of Roman, Greek and Babylonian theologies was fundamentally public and collective.

The huge historical and ethical innovation of Judaism was to place the God/Single Man interaction at the center of the conceptual universe. Socially speaking, this evolved into a basic equality before the law and in an idea of individual righteousness (although these were inherent in Moses' law right from the start). Psychologically speaking, this resulted in a strong self that could only sustain itself by strong commitments to the welfare of others - but the rules for that were objective and external, not subjective. In other words, the individual did not have to justify himself by conforming to society's expectations of the moment, but rather by meeting a well-explicated and objective set of ethical guidelines.

To personalize it, my self-concept need not depend upon your reaction to me.

A strong and independent self concept is necessary for innovation in societies, so Judaism became an incredibly powerful cultural force throughout the ancient world. There was a similar cultural development and conflict in the East when Buddhism collided with Confucianist precepts. Buddhism was inherently revolutionary, while Confucianism was aimed at maintaining societal stability. Now, if you want the Bill Gates to be allowed to arise in society, you have to have that strong and independent self. But if you allow a society of strong selves, those selves must also be bound by genuine internal ethical rules. Otherwise such a society degenerates into a pack of wild dogs scrabbling over the carcasses of the weak.

During the medieval period, Catholicism became both a faith and a public ideology, and rapidly became corrupt. It was reformed from within and transmuted itself back into a vehicle of theology, and now is a very powerful ethical voice and a thriving religion. Rabbinical Judaism evolved the most powerful set of ethical constraints on the self that the world has ever seen, and became an awesome force of innovation in every society.

Right from the start, Islam was both a faith and an ideology, and the public ideology/theology became corrupted by its success during the medieval period when faith was overwhelmed by the ideology of victory. Eventually the Ottoman empire fell because it was riven with corruption, not because it was Islamic. In other words, the powerful constraints on the self dictated by Islam were overwhelmed by a public ideology that exalted success and power as part of the central precept that fidelity to Allah and Islam would confer victory. That external status became more important than the slow painful struggle with the self, and people stopped behaving ethically and justly with each other. This weakened their entire society and eventually it collapsed.

Islam as a personal faith is thriving. Islam as a public ideology is becoming quite literally suicidal. The Shia branch of Islam has been a perennial loser in Iraq, and is almost certainly now a different societal force. If any real representative government can be established in Iraq I suspect the Kurds (many of who are Islamic) and the Shiites in Iraq may suddenly turn into an innovative and reformative power within the larger world of Islam. I think Iran (a lot of corruption there) fears that and will do anything it can to destabilize any nascent democracy in Iraq.


Comments:
This is really, really good. You clearly define the public/private tensions of ideology and faith.

"A strong and independent self concept is necessary for innovation in societies, so Judaism became an incredibly powerful cultural force throughout the ancient world. There was a similar cultural development and conflict in the East when Buddhism collided with Confucianist precepts."

This is a superb reduction of a basic truth- and necessary to comprehend, as these truths have come to define our society- and our definition of freedom.
 
Yes. The concept of the individual and the individual's conscience is essential to the workings of our society and our economy.
 
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