“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca.
The idea of a celestial and infinite force brings out a certain fear and respect out of humans, and this is translated into honouring the spirit and conceiving it as the virtuous. As mortal beings, we often feel helpless from the fates that we believe direct our paths, and during difficult situations, turn to an intangible and superior power. Applying the concept of religion for power distorts the spiritual connection as well as our grasp of the divine and good. When an aspect of religion is misrepresented by authorities, unwavering reverence can become a weakness and turn into ignorance. The theme of using faith as a source of control is found in history, literature, and more specifically, in John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.
Religion has been always been a part of our history as a foundation for both culture and security. It is engrained in our knowledge that a god portrays the good and this attitude makes religion a universal answer that in a way is untouchable. For example, in the Middle Ages when the feudal system was developed, God was the highest in the hierarchy and life was so because it was what He intended it to be. When the Black Plague appeared, it was religion that would save them from the baffling spread of the evil disease. In the community of Waknuk, where a massive disaster had destroyed all history and their surrounding world was brimming with the alien and questionable, fear caused the people to resort to faith as it was the sole substance within their grasp. In the book Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, the primitive civilization too, like Waknuk, had lost much past knowledge with the exception of a song and a robe. These were showcased in a spiritual gathering that explained the people’s role in the world. In these cases, religion builds a lost culture and provides a comforting reason for the mysterious and unexplainable. Such reliance magnifies change and control that can be achieved when officials manipulate a spiritual subject.
Religion when used to create an inflexible environment leads to isolation. In a society where it is imperative to follow a certain belief, such as Waknuk, the whole population thinks in one perspective. The uniformity in opinion in essence results in thought control and also expels the possibility of accepting difference and change.
In Richard Adams’ book, Watership Down, we meet a warren of rabbits that were routinely fed and trapped by a nearby farmer. Their fear caused them to avoid the obvious and retreat into a state of denial and worship. All rabbits born in this warren were raised with a philosophy of defeated reverence to accept their deaths, and any strayed thinkers were ignored or extinguished. The statement “Beware the mutant” was a variation of a passage in the Bible but was declared so forcefully that it persuaded the Waknukians to believe it was the good. In this situation, religion was used as an outlet to prove the credibility of the mutated statement by playing on the people’s trust and loyalty. Only one way of thinking creates a static society that rejects change and the unfamiliar. A community that believes in only one judgment is easier to manage and the Holy Word once again provides a reason for obedience.
Consequently, by controlling mindsets it is possible to control actions of a population and isolation causes insecurity towards anything that is not understood. Waknuk became a society that was absolutely intolerable towards the individual and unique; the culture revolved around beliefs such as “The Devil is the Father of Deviation” and this mentality transfers to actions such as the killing of the Dakers’ tailless cat. David’s ability to generate thought shapes was incomparable to the usual physical deformations that were easily spotted. A combination of both the undeniable understanding that “Blessed is the norm” and fear of the unordinary caused a panic that revealed the isolation of such a traditional and strict society.
In conclusion, religion protects the mind from the scary and bewildering, but in a cycle its manipulation indirectly causes more fear towards the unknown. Really it is mankind’s hunger for the good and power that allows religion to be used as a tool of control.
Throwback Thursday essay written on January 10, 2011.
Thanks for reading,