Table of Contents
The Descriptive Angle
The Aspirational Angle
The Foreign Perspective
The Domestic Perspective
A Further Conceptual Clarification
The Map for the Present Paper
2. Theoretical Review and Analysis
The Marxist Perspective
The Rebuttal from Castoriadis
Case Study: Gay Marriage
Case Study: ISIS
Liberty and the Evangelical Mentality
Description versus Aspiration, Revisited
3. Methodology and Results
Synopsis and Analysis
4. Findings and Discussion
Capitalism as Religion
The Current Moment
A "Progressive" Nation
The Decline of Western Religion?
The present paper investigates the effect of Western religion on governance, policies, and politics, within both the domestic and the global contexts. This question, however, leads into the need for deep ideological analysis. The paper thus defines the concept of Western religion, and then proceeds to show how Western religion is inseparable from Western civilization, including modern values which are often called secular but which, in fact, have ideological roots that can be traced to Western religion. Over the course of this analysis, an opposition emerges between Western religion on the one hand and secular progressivism on the other—the latter of which is both derived from and antagonistic toward Western religion. The contours of this ideological conflict and their implications are explored through the development of a comprehensive theoretical framework.
The independent research of the present paper consists of an interview with a selected congressman. The interview seeks to delve into the congressman's views regarding Western religion and its effects on governance, policies, and politics. This data is analyzed using a qualitative method.
Finally, the present paper analyzes and discusses the statements of the congressman in the interview in light of the previously developed theoretical framework. The main conclusion that is reached is that although the congressman is insightful in several respects, he seems to lack a general awareness of the nature of ideology, or the fact that secular progressivism is in ideological conflict with Western religion, even as the former cannot escape the influence of the latter. A key recommendation that emerges from this conclusion is that it is perhaps necessary for both politicians in particular and Americans in general to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of ideology, especially as this pertains to politics.
There is ongoing debate about whether the United States of America is a religious or a secular nation. On the one hand, it is true that the separation of church and state, along with the freedom of religious expression (including the right to not have a religion at all), are foundational elements of American governance. On the other hand, however, the fact stands that America was founded by Christian dissenters, and that almost all of the Founding Fathers were religious men in their own ways. Even when religious ideas are couched in more secular terms of morality, it would seem to be fairly clear that these ideas are almost always conceptually derived from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition.
This can be seen, for example, in George Washington's (1796) to his new nation, in which he affirms the following: "Of the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens" (para. 21). Washington is speaking of religion in general, here; but it would be fair to assume that Washington is probably not suggesting that all Americans should follow Buddhist precepts in order to ensure political prosperity. Rather, he is quite clearly referring to a kind of pragmatic Christianity, where the American people at the very least adhere to Christian ethics, if not to Christian metaphysics. The separation of church and state has thus never meant that America was not meant to be a religious nation. Much the opposite, the Founding Fathers seem to have always envisioned an America that is underpinned by religious-ethical principles, with variations of religious belief being at least somewhat bound by the general parameters of these principles.
In this context, it is worth asking the question of the ways in which Western religion affects politics, policy, and government, both within America itself and in America's relation to the broader world. There are two main avenues of inquiry when it comes to this question. The first is what could be called descriptive, whereas the second is what could be called aspirational. Descriptive refers to the state of affairs as they actually exist, whereas aspirational refers to the state of affairs as one believes they should exist. At the strictly descriptive level, the question is thus one of whether, and to what extent, Western religion does in fact affect politics. At the aspirational level, though, the question becomes of whether Western religion should rightly affect politics, or whether politics should run on much more secular terms.
Perhaps a conceptual definition of the term "Western religion" is in order here. The history of religions is very complex, with many important ideas of all religions cross-pollinating with each other, such that genealogically speaking, it would be difficult to identify religions strictly in terms of their geographical distribution. Nevertheless, the point stands that Christianity was a guiding force in the shaping of what has been called Western civilization, with America and the nations of Europe. Likewise, it is also clear that Hinduism is concentrated in India, that Buddhism is concentrated in the Eastern nations, and that Islam is concentrated in the region of the world known as the Middle East. Therefore, when the present paper speaks of Western religion, this term will refer primarily to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. There are of course other ways to parse this matter: for example, Islam could perhaps be identified as a Western religion, due to the fact that it traces itself back to the patriarch Abraham. For present purposes, though, and for the sake of achieving a maximum of clarity, the term Western religion will refer specifically to Christianity and Judaism, and the term will not encompass Islam within the context of the present discussion.
The Descriptive Angle
From the descriptive point of view, it would seem to be fairly clear that many American policies in fact are and have been driven by Western religion, but that this influence of Western religion would now seem to be on the decline. To an extent, this would seem to break down politically in accordance with traditional party lines. For example, Pew Research Center (2017) has found that 56 percent of Evangelical Protestants had Republican sympathies, whereas only 28 percent had Democratic sympathies. This corresponds to the sorts of policies that Republicans and Democrats tend to support—which in turn suggests that adherence to Western religion, or lack thereof, is an important variable to consider when evaluating the platforms of the political parties.
Policies that oppose things such as abortion, gay marriage, and euthanasia, for example, are often explicitly based on religious grounds. Opposition to abortion is often premised on a dogmatic belief regarding the nature of the origins of life; opposition to gay marriage is often premised on a dogmatic belief regarding the nature of gender; and opposition to euthanasia is often premised on a dogmatic belief regarding free will and/or autonomy. It would be absurd to argue that these positions are not often inspired by religious beliefs derived from Western religion. It is, of course, possible to make arguments for any one of these positions that do not necessarily involve religious presuppositions. But the fact still remains that to a large extent, the policy positions are at the very least often originally inspired by religious presuppositions. Again, this is not a judgment on whether or not this should be the case. From the strictly descriptive angle, the important point to consider is that this usually is the case, and that this is part of what explains the correlations that exist between religious affiliations on the one hand and political affiliations on the other.
In this context, it is worth noting that different suppositions are relative to each other, and that there is perhaps no legitimate reason to think that the secular view on things is more "objective" than the religious one. For example, the notion that life does not begin at conception would seem to be just as dogmatic, in its own way, as the notion that life does in fact begin at conception. In this context, it may be worthwhile to expand the concept of "religion" into the concept of ideology; this will be discussed further below. The main idea here, though, would be that at the purely descriptive levels, just about every policy position is informed by some ideology or other: that is, it is informed by a coherent picture of how the world looks, on the basis of one's own moral values. In this sense, views that are "religious" in the narrow sense could just be understood as views that are ideological in their own ways, just like every other possible view on just about anything.
The Aspirational Angle
The aspirational angle is different from the descriptive angle because it is primarily concerned with not how the world actually looks at this moment but how it should look in the future, on the basis of the realization of moral values. This distinction can be seen, for example, in the Lord's Prayer in the Bible, which asks for the Kingdom of Heaven to come down to this Earth. If the Kingdom can be understood to be a set of values or ideals, then it could be understood in terms of an aspirational ideology: the point is to live and make decisions in accordance with those values, such as reality will be more and more colored and driven by those values as time goes on. From the descriptive angle, the Earth is just the Earth; nothing more can be said about it. From the aspirational angle, however, the key question consists of not what the Earth is at the present time, but rather what it could become in the future as a result of loyalty to ideological values.
A similar tension can also be seen between the American Constitution on the one hand and the Declaration of Independence on the other. The Constitution, of course, originally allowed for slavery. There was no real value judgment present here; the Constitution merely describes a system of law that must be followed, and the appropriate practices for changing those laws if desired. On the other hand, the soaring, aspirational rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence clearly does contain at least an implicit judgment against slavery: if all men are created equal, then it follows that slavery cannot possible be a legitimate institution. There is a conflict, then, between the descriptive and aspirational angles: while Americans must live within the lawful parameters of the Constitution, there is also always an impulse to bring the system of laws itself into closer and closer alignment with the aspirations expressed by the Declaration. Ideology is always about not only what presently is, but also about what could in the future be.
In this sense, it is only logical that religion would have a strong effect on politics and policies. This is because every religious person would ultimately like to see his religion influence the world in a stronger and stronger way. There are questions of legitimate method that emerge, of course: for example, most Americans would agree that it is not legitimate to spread one's own religion through the use of terrorism. Nevertheless, the basic aspirational impulse will always be definition be legitimate. This is because people are aspirational creatures, and there is essentially nothing wrong with wanting to make one's own values real within the world. Indeed, the Constitution, with its Bill of Rights and protections of religious expression, would seem to be explicitly responding to the question of how one can have a society in which people can have all kinds of different aspirations but nevertheless manage to coexist in peace. This is why within America, while religious expression is highly protected, such expression must nevertheless fall within legal parameters of equal rights for all.
The Foreign Perspective
Just about everyone knows that the present time is marked by strong ideological struggles. From the American standpoint, these struggles can be broken into two main perspectives: the foreign, and the domestic. At the foreign level, America and the rest of the West are engaged in struggles against terrorists who self-identify as Islamic and express hatred toward everything that Western civilization stands for. Yet, as a result of a naive understanding of the nature of ideology, many people seem to not take this threat with adequate seriousness, believing instead that the struggle is inspired by something other than ideology. The recent Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, for example, suggested that terrorism is primarily a result of the political economy of climate change, as opposed to anything that the terrorists themselves explicitly claim to believe in (Qiu, 2015). From the perspective of the present paper, this is naivety, rooted in a bad understanding of the nature of ideology and religious belief.
The present paper will instead follow Woods' (2017) perspective regarding phenomena such as the rise of ISIS. He has asserted the following: "The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religious preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam" (para. 22). In other words, the effects of Western religion on global politics must be understood within the context of the general influence of ideology on global politics. The West—whether religious or not—is animated by ideologies that are different from the ideologies that animate the Islamic nations of the Middle East. Efforts to dismiss the realities of such ideological conflicts will always fall short of achieving deep and meaningful explanations of current events.
In truth, ideological analysis may reveal that Huntington's (2011) "clash of civilizations" narrative is not as extreme as it may at first seem. This is because every civilization is fundamentally defined by its own unique ideology or combination of ideologies. The West, for example, has historically been defined by the Judeo-Christian tradition; and even if it may seem that that tradition is on the wane in recent times, emerging ideologies nevertheless have distinctive connections to that tradition and cannot forswear this history in its entirety. In contrast, the Middle East never had a Judeo-Christian religion; that civilization primarily shifted from various forms of animism and polytheism toward the monotheistic religion of Islam. In short, then, the civilization of the Middle East is not the same as the civilization of the West, insofar there are basic ideological differences between the history of the one and the history of the other. This does not necessarily imply that conflict is inevitable, but this is at the very least a precondition for conflict to emerge.
In any event, one of the key problems of modern Western civilization failing to take stock of its own ideologies is that the West tends to naively assume that its own ideologies are universal, or at the very least universalizable: in other words, the West assumes that no other ideologies but Western ideologies can really exist, and that it is backwards to take any other ideologies with full seriousness. When terrorists blow people up in the name of Islam, the dominant Western response seems to be to blame extraneous political dynamics, such as capitalism or colonialism, for the violence. What is not common is to take the terrorists at their word and assume that their religion matters as much to them as Western religion matters to Western believers. This last point, though, calls attention to ideological schisms that are occurring with the context of the West itself, and within America in particular, between Western religion on the one hand and secularism on the other.
The Domestic Perspective
In a way, secularism itself could be defined as a form of Western religion. In any event, secularism emerged in the West and has thrived in the West, whereas this absolutely cannot be said about the Islamic world. It seems plausible that there are elements of Western religion itself that enables a distinction to be drawn between secular matters and sacred matters, as with Jesus himself saying that it is appropriate to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. However, the important caveat would be that all ideology is always present, with even pure "pragmatism" being an ideology in and of itself. The Declaration of Independence begins with the proposition that all men are created equal. That itself is an ideological, even religious, claim that can in no way be reduced to mere pragmatism. Rather, pragmatism itself operates within a context of values: what is "pragmatic" is whatever is effective at preserving one's values and increasingly instantiating them within the context of the real world.
Modern liberalism and progressivism, for example, seem to have become a quasi-religious ideology all of their own. This can be seen every time a person affirms that he "believes" in science. As any actual scientist should know, science is a method and not a belief system, and to believe in science in an ideological would in fact be the antithesis of the scientific spirit itself (Popper, 1963). Likewise, progressive gender ideology would seem to have little to do with science itself—and in fact, it is telling that this gender ideology often neglects any reference to biology (an actual science) entirely. Progressivism would thus seem to be a new ideology that is cohering within the American context, filling a vacuum that has been left behind as traditional Western religion has lost its meaning and value for many people within the nation in particular and the West in general. This does not change the fact, however, that this ideology has emerged within a specifically Western context.
On the other hand, traditional Western religion also still exists within America, although it would seem to be getting increasingly marginalized over time. This perception of getting pushed to the margins is probably one of the key factors that drove Donald Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential election. According to Bailey (2016), an astonishing 80 percent of all White evangelicals voted for Trump in that election. The best explanation for this would be that these evangelicals saw Trump as their last chance to prevent the tide of secularism from drowning the traditional founders of Western religion within the nation. This is one of the only ways to explain why voters who are associated with respect for traditional values would cast their ballots for a man who has been married three times: it would seem that they simply decided that the ends justify the means.
This tension can be seen in a very clear way in current debates over gay marriage. From the perspective of believers in traditional Western religion, this Supreme Court decision could only be understood as an insult: marriage has a very long history of being defined as the union between a man and a woman. From the perspective of the ideology of progressivism, this is an outdated definition and value that offends against the human rights of homosexuals. From the perspective of traditional Western religion, however, the value cannot become outdated, and the new rules are affronts on the very foundations of Western society and civilization. This helps show the way in which ideological conflicts are becoming more extreme within the context of the West itself. The volatility of recent politics (as of mid-2017 within America) can only be understood in terms of ideological conflict. Considering Western religion in particular, a complex and tripartite conclusion must be drawn.
1. Western religion is on the decline within the West itself, in the face of the rising tides of secularism and progressivism.
2. Secularism and progressive themselves, however, are part of Western civilization, unique to Western civilization and not emerging in any other context; therefore, the enemies in the domestic context are in uneasy alliance in the global context.
3. Both Western religion and its heterodox offshoots are in actual conflict against the ideologies of the non-Western world.
A Further Conceptual Clarification
In this context, a relevant question that could be asked is: should secularism and/or progressivism themselves be classified as a form of Western religion? There would seem to be some logic in doing so. While they are not "religions" per se in the way that the term religion is commonly used, they have in fact become powerful ideologies that, for their adherents, fulfill a purpose similar to what traditional Western religion used to fulfill for its own believers. Therefore, to an extent, when this paper uses the term "Western religion" within the global context, it may sometimes include inferences to secularism and/or progressivism as well.
Within the domestic context, however, the term "Western religion" will refer almost exclusively to the Judeo-Christian tradition. This alteration is simply a matter of scope and scale. From the global perspective, it is quite clear that modern secularism is closely associated with both the West and the Judeo-Christian tradition; it did not emerge out of a vacuum, but rather from a very specific cultural and ideological context. From the domestic perspective, however, there are actual believers in traditional Western religion (i.e. the Judeo-Christian tradition), and there are others who have broken away from that tradition and are even actively hostile toward that tradition. In the global context, then, secularism will be included under the umbrella of Western religion, whereas within the domestic context it will not. Efforts will be made to clarify the specific usage in any given context where it may not be immediately clear.
The Map for the Present Paper
The present paper, then, will investigate the relationship between Western religion on the one hand and policy, politics, and governance on the other. A good bulk of this paper will consist of a theoretical review and analysis that delve into some of the main theoretical constructs and concepts that are important for understanding the subject under discussion here. This will involve further considerations of the nature of ideology along the lines of what has been introduced above, including the relationship between ideology on the one hand and politics on the other. From this analysis, it will become clear that even the basic principle of separation of church and state is itself part of one particular "church" (or ideology) and not something that it is universally shared across all cultures and ideologies.
The independent research portion of the present paper will consist of an interview with a selected U.S. congressman on the subject under consideration here. (The congressman requested anonymity as a condition for speaking openly about the subject, due to the volatile nature of the political climate in these times.) The actual responses of the congressman will be reported in verbatim in the present paper. After this has been done, the findings from the data will be analyzed in terms of the theoretical review and analysis previously developed in the paper. The main conclusion that will emerge here is that although traditional Western religion would seem to be on the decline, the West is still powerfully animated by ideologies that are unique to the West and not in fact universal to every culture on the planet. This produces a situation in which ideological conflict is almost inevitable, unless the particularity of all ideologies is accepted and a coherent framework developed for navigating ideological tensions. The present paper will thus seek to make a contribution in the area of political analysis of ideology, or the profound in which ideology will always shape our politics.
The specific research question of the present paper is: What is the governmental impact of Western religion on world affairs? In order to answer this question, however, it will become clear that what is needed is a broader analysis of the nature and impact of ideology in both domestic affairs and global affairs. Otherwise, the conclusions produced would be too narrow, appearing to address only one small set of effects that may, at the historical level, well already be on their way out. The question here is not simply that of the political effects of Judeo-Christian religion on global politics, but rather the general influence of ideology on global politics, Judeo-Christian religion being a subset of such ideology. In other words, Western religion can be understood as a small circle within the bigger circle of ideology. Not everything that is true of Western religion may be true of ideology in general; however, everything that is true of ideology in general will in fact be true of Western religion as well. This is the general method that will be used in order to approach and address the research question at hand.
In this context, the specific qualitative case study involving the selected congressman will be used as a sort of prism through which the broader, more theoretical considerations regarding ideology can be refracted. More specific information regarding methodology will be provided in the appropriate section of the present paper below. For present purposes, however, the key point is that the paper will develop an in-depth theoretical perspective regarding the nature of ideology in general, and this perspective will then be used in order to analyze the specific qualitative data regarding Western religion in particular. This approach should be able to not only shed light on the political effects of Western religion, but also on the more general dynamics of how ideology affects world affairs. This will also ameliorate the significance of the question of whether Western religion should affect global politics, since it will be clearly seen that ideology will always affect global politics.
2. Theoretical Review and Analysis
The Marxist Perspective
Most dismissals of the importance of ideology in world affairs tend to be influenced by the political theory of Karl Marx, whether they are consciously aware of that or not. A key idea of the Marxist perspective is that ideology is always a kind of projection, or bad faith, that conceals the realities that are actually going on at the level of the material ground (Marx & Engels, 1932). For example, a person who feels like a "loser" in this world may begin to imagine another world, or a Kingdom of Heaven, in which he will no longer feel that way. The implication would be that if that person became a "winner," then he would no longer have a need for such projections, since his actual material needs and desires would be satisfied. In this sense, ideology would always be understood as the symptom of some sort of psychological disorder. People begin to worship Nature, in order to conceal the fact that they are terrified of Nature; people begin to believe in Heaven, because their own lives in this world are awful; and so on. Achieving true and autonomous self-consciousness, then, would involve withdrawing the projections of ideology, such that one is then able to confront the world as it actually stands and fulfill one's needs and desires in real terms.
This perspective would seem to have a certain face-value plausibility. After all, most people probably know at least someone or another who does in fact behave very much in the way described above: a person who develops fantasies, out of an inability to deal with realities. This is undoubtedly a real dynamic of human psychology, which makes it difficult to dismiss this analysis out of hand entirely. The argument that will be made here, however, is that this is not a general description of ideology per se, but rather only a description of the pathological perversion of ideology.
In principle, adopting the Marxist perspective would prevent one from ever taking anyone else's convictions in good faith; it would force one to always dismiss those convictions as the result of nothing other than false consciousness. This is exactly the sort of thing that can be seen, for example, in Sanders' claim that Islamic terrorism is primarily caused by climate change (Qiu, 2015). This position assumes, as a matter of course, that the Islamic terrorists cannot possibly mean what they are saying—namely that they are positively inspired by their Islamic faith, and not driven from behind their backs by motives that they do not understood. The Marxist perspective requires one to assume that one has the intellectual and even metaphysical high ground, and that everyone else in the world is simply deluded about themselves and their own motives for doing just about anything in their lives.
This, for example, is also what is meant by the famous phrase that religion is the "opiate of the masses." The idea is that as a result of believing in religions, people get their attention diverted away from the real problems confronting them in the real world and instead invest all of their energy in an imaginary world—which would, of course, suit the powers that be of this world just fine, since they would be able to comfortably hold onto their power, as opposed to every getting challenged by those who are oppressed by them. This perspective, however, renders it impossible to imagine anyone ever having a genuine religious faith that is a positive value in and of itself and not just a reflex of resentment against the way that the real world is within the context of history. In other words, the logical structure of Marxism precludes the possibility of ever taking ideology in all seriousness. Rather, ideology is tautologically defined as delusion, with the project of consciousness thus implying the dispelling of all ideologies, so that people can actually face the real world on its own terms, without being lost in their own fantasies and imaginations.
Understood in these terms, it becomes clear that Marxism itself is a quasi-religious ideology, just like anything else that it purports to critique. Every Christian, of course, believes that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, and that anyone who denies Christ has not spiritually understood the truth of life. In the same way, Marxism alleges that anyone who does believe in Christ is wrapped in false consciousness, and that a thoroughly materialistic and disenchanted view of reality is the true one, which only believes in the "one true religion" know. These claims are structurally and epistemologically identical, once one gets past the duplicity of Marxism in calling it a science. From the perspective of a believer in any one ideology, all the other ideologies seem false as a matter of course. In this sense, Marxism is much like Christianity; but unlike Christianity, it does not have the good faith to identify itself as a religion or ideology, thinking of itself instead as an empirical science.
Indeed, the Communist utopia of the future posited by Marxism could easily be read as little more than a materialistic transposition of the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven from Christianity. Moreover, it is worth noting that Communism has the same prophetic element as the Kingdom: it is essentially an unfalsifiable claim, believed in through faith. This also reveals that the vision of Communism cannot be scientific in nature, given that a key hallmark of any scientific claim consists of nothing other than the fact that it is framed in falsifiable terms (Popper, 1963). A theory that can account for all of reality and integrate disparity elements into itself without getting hurt in the process is not a scientific hypothesis, but rather a religious ideology. This would seem to be the character of Marxism, just as it is the character of Christian faith. From a Christian perspective, of course, Marxism seems like a false religion; but by the same token, from the Marxist perspective, all other ideologies, including Christianity, seem delusional. In short, the sentiment is mutual.
There is ample historical evidence that Marxism, understood as a scientific theory, is a bad one. Among other things, the stages of history did not proceed in anything like the way that Marx expected. Communism was only supposed to take root in highly developed capitalist societies: when Marx talked about Communism, he saw it happening in England, not Russia or China. The fact that Russia and China shifted to a kind of Communism, straight from an almost feudal stage of development and without going through the stage of capitalist development, completely flies in the face of Marx's hypothesis. Likewise, the developed, capitalist nations of the world ended up not becoming Communist but rather forming a united global front against Communism. It would difficult to imagine any fuller of a repudiation of the theory of history presented by Marx.
However, insofar as Marxism is understood as an ideology, any number of exegetical moves could be performed in order to preserve the core of his prophecy. It could be suggested, for example, that China wasn't "really" Communist in the sense that Marx meant the word, and that the modern capitalist world is in fact still on its way to true Communism. In a similar way, for believing Christians, there is pretty much nothing that could happen in this world that could get in the way of their faith in the Kingdom of Heaven: the early Christians tended to take the prophecy literally, but they soon revised their expectations, as they came to realize that Jesus probably was not going to return within their own lifetimes. It is worth noting here that there is nothing wrong with this kind of epistemology or this kind of faith. The only point here is that Marxism claims to debunk all ideologies in the name of a scientific view of reality, whereas in truth, Marxism has the exact same structure as any powerful ideology. This suggests that ideology is in fact a very powerful force in human affairs and politics, and that there is really no getting rid of it.
The Marxist perspective is an inversion of the dialectical view of history developed by the philosopher Hegel; and the ethos of this perspective can still be seen in the belief among progressives to this day that they live on the "right side" of History. To even consider making such a claim implies the ideological belief that History is a conscious and intentional agent that is progressing towards some end goal, and that it is possible for human beings to discern what that goal is, and thus to position themselves either in line with History or against it. Phrased in this way, it becomes clear that this is an extravagantly ideological and religious belief, with no basis whatsoever in empirical science. For believers in the proposition, though, the idea begins to seem self-evidently true—for this is the nature of the relationship between any ideology and the people who believe in it.
It is also worth noting that Marxism, and the progressivism descended from it, transpose religious concerns into the political realm, which actually results in politics becoming more and not less ideologically driven that ever before. From the perspective of Marxism, politics consists of the mechanisms that can be used in order to hasten the arrival of its own version of the Kingdom of Heaven. This means that political disagreements have the tendency to take on an increasingly passionate and intolerant cadence, due to the fact that from the perspective of Marxism and its progressive descendant, anyone who disagrees with the ideology is in fact standing in the way of the realization of full human perfection. What is at stake is not just good governance, but rather something akin to eternal life. This also means that a person who disagrees with Marxism or progressivism stands at risk of being cast more or less as a heretic or blasphemer. And the great irony is that all this happens without the Marxists or progressives even coming to a compression of how ideological they are behaving; they tend to think that they are just being "objective."
This analysis also reveals one of the ways in which modern secularism is in fact influenced by and even derived from Christianity. The notions that History has a telos and God has a plan for humankind are quintessentially Western ones that do not really appear in the vast majority of cultures that have ever existed in the world. The idea that God had a plan to save mankind through Christ and that History will culminate in the Second Coming: this is analogous to secular prophecies regarding the "end of History," whether through Communism or the inevitability of capitalism or whatever else (Fukayama, 2006). This kind of thinking is quite unique to the West. Other cultures, for example, have tended to imagine history in a circular fashion, and as having no "plan" of progressive in particular. Much of modern secularism can thus be read as a transposition of spiritual/mental realities into the domain of the physical and the political.
This is why in a certain sense, Marxism and progressivism are in fact Western religions in their own rights, and must be understood as such within the global context of ideologies. Within the domestic context, it is worth marking the distinction between the Judeo-Christian tradition on the one hand and modern secularism on the other. From a broader context, however, it becomes clear that both of these traditions have emerged from within a Western context and draw on similar ideological presuppositions. From the domestic perspective, they seem to be mortally at odds with each other; within America, for example, the "culture wars" are a very real thing. But from the global perspective, this must be understood as more or less a family feud. The Judeo-Christian tradition has more in common with modern secularism than either has with (for example) Buddhism. The implications drawn from the ideological premises may be very different, but those premises themselves—such as the meaningfulness and directionality of History—often prove to be quite similar.
For present purposes, then, it will be accepted as a postulate that the Marxist conception of ideology is fundamentally deficient. As has been discussed above, this deficiency stems primarily from the fact that Marxism itself refuses to consider itself an ideology, insisting instead that it is pure empirical science. This causes Marxism to almost criminally neglect the fundamental importance of ideology, since it keeps its own driving force as an ideology concealed. The simple fact is that an ideology doesn't seem like an ideology to someone who is actually immersed in that ideology: for a Christian, the Christian tradition is not an ideology but rather simply reality itself. But critical awareness requires one to realize and acknowledge the fact that everyone feels this way about whatever his/her own ideology may be. One can argue about whether some ideologies are truer than others, but the basic fact remains that all ideologies inherently have the same general structure.
The position that will be adopted here, then, is that ideologies can have sincere and not just bad-faith effects on global politics. This means that Western religion, as a specific form of ideology, can also have such effects on global politics. In other words, ideology is not just an overlay of false consciousness on top of what is "really" going on; rather, ideology itself is what is really going on. People will take actions in the defense of their values for the simple reason that they care about their values in a direct way, and not simply because those values are projections of somehow deeper material needs. In short, when people affirm that they are doing something in the name of an ideology, the baseline assumption here will be that such affirmations are in good faith, unless there is compelling reason to believe otherwise. The assumption will not be that such people must by definition be delusional liars. This in itself would be a biased and dishonest interpretation of reality that would get in the way of producing genuine insights.
Indeed, the history of Marxism itself clearly demonstrates that people are moved by powerful ideas over all else. The Communist transformations of China and Mao and Russia under Lenin would not seem to have fundamentally improved the material conditions of living for most of the people within those nations. Even Marx himself predicted that such experiments would end badly, given that from his perspective, highly developed capitalism is an essential prerequisite for the emergence of Communism. However, these ideas were clearly inspirational to the people of China and Russia, and they proceeded with carrying out their revolutions under their respective leaders.
The one caveat that could be included here is that ideology can always be used as a mask for power grabs, and that this can often be the case in an unconscious way. For example, modern progressives deeply insist on the value of social justice—and there is perhaps no reason to believe that they are being insincere per se. However, analysis tends to reveal that progressives are leveraging the concept of social justice in order to enhance their own political and cultural power within society (Goldberg, 2009). What is being suggested here is thus not that there is no such thing as hypocrisy, or that people may perhaps have ulterior motives for their ideologies that are invisible even to themselves. The point, however, would be that even if progressives were lying to themselves, then their true ideology would be not one of social justice, but rather one of using claims of social justice for the sake of achieving power. Either way, the point would still stand that there is in fact an ideology at the bottom of it all—because human beings are ideological creatures, to the point that a human being without at least an implicit ideology would be almost inconceivable. People have values, those values drive their actions, and those values answer not just to material reality but to the more holistic needs of being human. The Marxist perspective on ideology is thus grossly immature.