Thor vs. Jesus: If you were the ruling class, which figure would you prefer the peasants emulate?
Though it is often noted that Christianity played a vital role in the subjugation of native people during the colonial era, the actual psychological mechanisms involved are rarely examined. I would like to undertake this task here, in a series of articles on the topic.
It may be noted that I am speaking generally about the real world effects of the core concepts of the Christian doctrine, not any specific sect. Traditionally, it was Catholic missionaries using these methods in conjunction with military forces; presently, these methods are employed mainly by Protestant missionaries in conjunction with consumer products. The effect and purpose of the behavior is the same: people are conquered and subjected to the agendas of the rich and powerful.
Briefly, let me make a few general statements about the introduction of the Christian doctrine among conquered peoples (more accurately, “people in the process of being conquered”, as without religion, it is impossible to ever fully conquer a people). It is true that certain ideals presented by Jesus in the New Testament are admirable traits for a human being to aspire to, but these are not things that the primitive cultures conquered by the Christian empires were having a problem with when the priests showed up. These were stable societies, which had been stable for thousands of years. As such the doctrine of Christianity was wholly unnecessary for the stability of their societies, its only purpose being to serve the interests of the conquering power by breaking down their humanity on a fundamental psychological level. It was very much the “battle for souls” that missionaries to this day love to refer to it as. A primitive society which holds its old traditions will never submit, and without the Christian doctrine, the conquering empire would be forced to kill them all, which would not be productive.
The technique through which Christianity is introduced by the missionaries is an extremely fascinating area of study. What happens is that the missionaries come in as if they are there to help the people, bringing them new tools or other technologies and usually playing the “good cop” to the invading army or colonizing population’s “bad cop”. Tribal people have no precedence for an enemy who comes as a friend, and so take the missionaries as they present themselves. The missionaries then begin to find certain concepts within the tribe’s traditional belief system that they can link to their own doctrine, after which they build churches and incorporate the symbols of the tribe into the presentation, creating a hybrid between the traditional belief system and the Christian system, and then begin indoctrinating the children with their propaganda. Over a period of generations, all of the old culture and traditions are exterminated and replaced with the Christian doctrine of submission.
This happened to all of us, once upon a time.
Your Heroes for Ghosts
It is of immense importance that in the old times, the entire structure of the social order was based on their myth, and when the myth was removed, their entire society was thrown into a state of flux.
In the traditional era, every tribe had a hero, which would fit into the pattern laid out in Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This was a warrior hero who fought for the tribe, defending them against an external threat, and saved them. This image of the hero serves as a psychological model for individuals within the tribe, and allows them to relate to both the environment and each other within the terms laid out in the hero’s tale. Having the psychological model of supernatural courage and strength puts them in a position to fearlessly oppose whatever threats come against them.
Now, enter Jesus. The Christians had existed as a “resistance” group within the Roman Empire for several hundred years, and it had been observed that even when persecuted, they made no attempt to form a physical opposition to their oppressors, and in fact would not even defend themselves when the military was sent against them. This was seen as a favorable characteristic for the peasant class to possess, especially at a point when Rome was intensely strained by the stresses of waging multiple wars, many of which were internal. Thus, the image of the warrior is replaced with the image of a man who ran from his enemies, was caught, tortured and murdered in the most brutal and humiliating way imaginable, leaving his followers (the tribe) to be hunted down and killed by their enemies. The struggle of the hero is replaced with the suffering of Christ. The fact that Jesus failed to protect his people is then spun into the realm of unintelligible metaphysics, where he actually did save people because they were born evil and needed blood sacrifice in order to alleviate them of this evil nature that god instilled in them for some reason (the introduction of the concept of “sin” is a major aspect of the psyche-war, which I will deal with in depth in the next installment).
As people never had this concept of “sin” anywhere in the world before the Semites invented it, the whole idea is unintelligible to an “uncivilized” people, and what they are left with is the very clear and simple image of a man – their new hero – who came to help the people, and failed. The psychological implications of this are immense. In the mission school of the tribe I stay with, the image of their traditional hero is still displayed in the hallway along side the image of Jesus. What you have is the old hero, on his horse and waving his sword in the air, looking like he is ready to go take care of business, next to the image of Christ, who is on a cross, crying. So, all things being equal, which point of internal symbolic reference is better for the well being of the individual and the collective? And which one would the forces of state and capital prefer that their subjects have their psyches imprinted with?
Although quelling violent resistance was the core reason that it was used by colonial forces against conquered people, this image does not simply apply to physical confrontation. We must look at myth in psychological terms in order to understand this; these are symbols, which we draw on to find a point of reference for our relationship to our environment. Replacing the image of the hero who fought and won with one who ran and was murdered changes the nature of the internal response to all confrontations with external threats from pride and resistance to submissiveness and retreat. As such, not simply the physical, but all forms of ideological opposition to the forces of empire are broken down and smothered by the removal of the heroic warrior.
It is only through bizarre pseudo-philosophical acrobatics that the image can even be sold at all. The failure of Christ is twisted into a victory through the concept of man as sinner needing redemption, something we will look at in the next installment of this series.