Here at Blue Revolution, we argue that all ideas including religious ones are shaped by economic reality rather than being plucked from the air by prophets or soothsayers. Look at any society at any time in history and there will be patterns and rituals linked to the ‘economic circumstances’ of that society be it a tribal, feudal or a capitalist society. These economic circumstances are formed either by levels of scientific ignorance or scientific discovery and how this influences the way economic value or wealth is created as well as who gets to control that wealth. Essentially all this forms a prevailing ‘ideology’ a belief system if you like, with numerous ideological ‘pretenders’ to challenge it, some more or less credible than others. Socialism has been a challenger to capitalism just as Christianity tried to challenge the world of the first century in the Middle East.
Much is made by Christians of the role of Christianity in creating capitalism. This seems at odds with our ‘economic determinism’ as Christianity should be a product of economic circumstances not the originator of them. The Christian message was certainly unusual in the first century but it was utopian and in no sense capable of replacing either the barbarism of the warring tribes from Abraham in the Old Testament to Muhammad and jihad in the seventh century nor the feudalism stirring into life during the same period. Christianity, however, could not have happened had there not been an increase in available wealth to be distributed fairly as described by Christ, or unfairly as happened under feudalism. Christianity was a post-tribal ideology like feudalism but one so passive as to be overwhelmed by barbarism when barbarism resurfaced with Muhammad and jihad in the seventh century.
The problem for Christianity was that wealth and the desire to gain control of it created an aggressive patriarchal feudal system. The parable of the loaves and fishes and Christ’s invocation to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesars, render unto God that which is God’s” was not a credible economic ideology given feudalisms economic impulse to control from the top. But along with ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ Christianity did create an ideology of peace that allowed stability within a warring and fractious region, consolidating feudalism. This Christian inspired passivity allowed for the separation of religion from the economy and State. Which in turn led to prosperity. This prosperity only lasted for about seven hundred years though. It ended with the advance of Islam.
Within seven hundred years Islam would by force of arms take the Middle East from relative stability to wars based on banditry, domination and forced conversion to Islam in the name of Allah and all at the point of the sword; jihad. Being an ideology of warfare and enforced submission, Islam’s glorious age only came with its conquest of feudal dominions in the Middle East, all pretty much concluded by the middle ages. This ideology of war and conquest secured the Middle East for the Muslim world and rendered the Jews and Christians second-class citizens in what had once been their prosperous homelands.
Sensing the extinction of Christendom in the late 11th Century Pope Urban sanctioned the Crusades. The Crusades, therefore, were not offensive wars they were defensive wars, an attempt to protect feudal Christendom which had surrendered to Islam’s ideology of warfare and banditry. The crusades failed spectacularly to protect Christendom from Islam.
The early economic success of a Christian Middle East fuelled Islamic expansionism. Islam would not have gained any headway had not the economic strength in the region stimulated the Arab tribes to unite under one leader worshipping one God and embark on an ideologically driven programme very much at odds with what had become the relative stability of early feudal ‘Christendom’.
So, putting Christianity, the crusades and Islam in an economic context, one needs to see religion as no more than ideology driven by economics with, in the case of Islam, a ‘God’ sanctifying greed and brutality. Whether an ideology takes off as Islam was able to do and Christianity largely failed to do in the Middle East between the seventh and nineteenth centuries, depends upon whether it reflects the economic needs that relate to that time. Christianity being a passive faith derided by Adolf Hitler for its weakness, allowed feudalism to evolve but likewise was powerless to stop Islamic expansionism.
Having secured various successful feudal kingdoms and dominions Islam’s doctrinal obsessions saw the end of progressive social and economic evolution in the Middle East. Indeed, such is the capricious notion of the Islamic God that everything ‘evolutionary’ or progressive is a blasphemy, essentially stopping economic development in its tracks. Islam having appropriated feudalism continues to operate this socio-economic model today having nowhere in the world progressed anywhere near democracy. Feudalism in the twenty-first century is politically about as advanced as Islam can become, given its doctrinal demand for control, compulsion and submission. This can be seen in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
With Christianity routed in the Middle East, it fared better in Europe where arguably the climate didn’t suit the Islamic warriors and there was little in the way of booty after the retreat of the Romans. Continuing with its ideology of ‘turn the other cheek’ Christianity contributed to the economic success of the western world because, just as it yielded to early feudalism, it was flexible enough to ‘turn the other cheek’ when the juggernaut of scientific discovery and rationality (the Enlightenment) fired up capitalisms engines in the 17th century. By being benign and allowing the economy and State to evolve independently of faith, it allowed progressive social and economic development
Christianity, therefore, facilitated economic and social progress, unlike Islam it didn’t stop it in its tracks and whilst always two steps behind capitalism (as we would expect as economic determinists) in terms of driving equality, Christianity allowed capitalism to deliver the economic rights to contract, choose and consent that emerged from the Protestant work ethic and become mass industrialisation and then in the twentieth century ‘social justice’. Capitalism has in the subsequent three centuries liberated people within all the nations of the free world. Whilst Christianity has all but faded away. However, just like Christianity in the first century, capitalism is now weak and complacent and has out of cultural ignorance, given the green light to Islamic expansionism. Where this will lead us ‘god’ only knows.