The Hegemony of Religion

You want to know what “hegemony” means, don’t you?  It’s a useful term in today’s environment, and you’ll understand why if you keep reading.

A Texas blogger recently wrote an essay called Why I Raise My Children Without God for CNN’s iReport.  As of this writing 738, 086 readers have viewed the post, and well over 9000 of them responded with a comment.

Texas mom obviously touched a nerve.

She is an atheist who is sensitive to the hegemony of religion in our culture.

Photo by 4thglryofgod via photopin.com Creative Commons license

Or do we?
Photo by 4thglryofgod via photopin.com Creative Commons

Hegemony means cultural dominance. The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes it as, “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group.”

The essay itself makes fairly standard objections to the idea of God.  As a Christian, I find the author’s logic limited and her understanding of the God to whom she objects flawed.  But that’s not my point here.  I’d rather examine and learn from the record-breaking response.

Many comments predictably make a case for religion and for God, some respectfully, some not so much.  Most interestingly, others express admiration for the author’s courage to fly in the face of social pressure and go public with such an unpopular opinion.  (I make no claim to have read all 9000+ comments.  Read Godless mom strikes a chord with parents on the CNN belief blog for a summary of responses.)

This is an instructive window into how Christianity is experienced by those under its hegemony. 

For example, a comment quoted in Godless mom…, says, “…I agree with everything you say, but I’m not brave enough to tell everyone I know this is how I feel…Thank you for your bravery and letting me know I’m not alone.”

I didn’t see that coming.

Statistically, Christianity is the dominant religion in the Unites States with 78% of those surveyed self-identifying as Christians.  (See more details in the Pew Forum Statistics on Religion in America Report.)

From my perspective within the Christian culture, however, I often feel marginalized by secular influences and under the hegemony of Hollywood or Washington.  I guess we never see our own social or religious group as oppressive.

Apparently many people perceive religion as a dominant and coercive influence.  

Whether that is a misperception or a misapplication of Christian truth, it is a problem because at its core, Christianity is incompatible with hegemony.

God is LoveJesus rejected the use of coercive methods in his ministry, and the defining marks of his followers are love, humility, mercy, peace, and grace. Therefore, Christian hegemony, correctly expressed and understood, should be experienced as love, acceptance, and service.  But it’s not. Timothy Keller, in his book King’s Cross, writes, “…when Christianity is in a place of power and wealth for a long period, the radical message of sin and grace and the cross can become muted or even lost.” ( p. 124)

Is the hegemony of religion compromising a true Christian witness of love?  If so, what should Christians do about that?

What do you think?  I’m very interested in your thoughts on the hegemony of religion.

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About Judy

At heart I am a student of truth, an observer of culture, and a communicator. Jesus is my teacher and my Lord. In pursuit of these passions, I read as much as I can, serve as Teaching Director for a Community Bible Study group, and write a blog in an attempt to synthesize it all. I take great delight in my relationships with family and friends, and I also enjoy long walks, bike rides and cooking. And did I mention that I like to read?
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21 Responses to The Hegemony of Religion

  1. Lu Bettisch says:

    I think maybe there is a hegemony regarding Christianity in the U.S. I see it all the time on Facebook and in my congregation. People assume that the United States was formed as a Christian nation and has wandered away from it’s beginnings. Cries like “God bless America” and “Put God back in our schools!” The fact is the U.S. was formed so we could be free to worship who and how we like. Unfortunately the “dominate” group of so-called-Christians have misused any popularity they might have and damaged many people’s perception of what true disciples of Jesus are all about. If we are to make a difference in this county, and world for that matter, we must follow Christ’s example and love God and our neighbor. Period. If we do just that I believe people will see a difference in our lives and I pray will see the grace and love of God. I see the problem with that is it isn’t popular, might not come with bells and whistles and might not even grow the local church. But isn’t that what Jesus was all about?

    Thank you for your thoughtful words on this subject!

  2. Hi, Judy! You’ve obviously struck a chord with your own readers. (Sorry I’m late seeing this!)
    My reaction: first, IS there a Christian hegemony in the U.S.? I don’t believe so, and don’t believe in the percentages or their interpretations. Years ago, I worked in institutional research. Statiticians cannot frame questions that can make vital distinctions, in order to discover the actual percentages of Christians and non-Christians. If WE can’t tell wheat and tares apart until the harvest, it’s certain that statiticians can’t, even with their noses to the ground.
    Daily, weekly, almost every moment, we’re blasted, caricatured, and maligned for our Christian beliefs and our very livesd. This is done by those upholding the contemporary hegemony of self-autonomy, with the state in God’s place, seemingly maintaining so-called rights.
    What does the world think about our “hegemony”? Much better to ask what the world thinks about God as King. I believe they truly hope to destroy the remnants of any hegemony we once had, in order to do as they please, hating God and His people, and His Law – and His grace. I’m sorry to be so heavy-handed here; it’s just that perhaps we shouldn’t believe what the world says about us, just what God says, and then ask for grace to do what He commands. They will always blame Him, blame us, and even when we’re truly following Him – especially then – shout out loud that we’re trying to take over, even when we’re going up in flames.
    About love, unconditional and free – of course we love. Of course, God is love. But that cannot mean that we should lie to people. The world thinks we should, and they do. Lie, lie, lie. Without the Lord telling us He will make things right, judging with equity, vindicating His people, saving His children scattered throughout the world, it would be TERRIBLY depressing, bordering on despair, because of the mass confusion produced by the hegemony of self-autonomy.
    Love you, Judy, because I TRULY believe you want to know what we think.
    Maria
    I usual read and reread, and watch every word I say, but here I’m taking a chance…
    Sorry that I can’t read all the comments, friends – truly!

    • Judy, I’ve now read the original article “Why I Raise My Children Without God,” and the follow-up piece “Godless mom strikes a chord.” I should have done this first, then responded. But my question remains: Why take her word, and the word of others, for the fact that there is such a thing as Christian hegemony today? Why assume we’re being coercive because she and others say so, or report instances of over zealousness?

      Coercive? Actually, I just don’t know any Christians who are, though I know that there are mean-spirited people who name-call, etc., out there. They can be seen as tares who add fuel to the flames at the scaffold that is presently being built for us.

      We always wish to blame ourselves for unbelief in others – why? Jesus explained that unbelief is real, a fact. Self-blame comes from a mixture of guilt (real and imaginary) and genuine concern for the lost.

      Preach the Gospel, as we’re told to, out of this concern (love), then gently bow out.

      • Judy says:

        Hi Maria, I really appreciate your thoughts on this. Honestly, I don’t know if “Christian hegimony” actually exists or if is just perceived to exist. The reason the CNN blog post surprised me is precisely because I thought the days of Christian hegemony were long gone, and yet there is at least a segment of the population that experiences it. Whatever the statistics say, and I agree with you that they can say anything and it may or may not represent reality, there is among some people a perception and experience of Christian hegemony. This was news to me. I recognize that Christians are often mis-represented, stereotyped, and disrespected, and maybe some of that plays into fear of Christians. I’m not suggesting that Christians are to blame or that we should keep silent about our faith. On the contrary, in our increasingly pluralistic culture we have a fantastic opportunity to interact with people of many different world views. We should represent Christianity well. As we do that, I think it’s helpful to understand that some people mis-perceive Christianity as heavy-handed. You and I know that the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is anything but heavy-handed, but there are large segments of our society that don’t know that. Thanks again, Maria. This discussion has been so helpful! Bless you today! Judy

  3. This was sure an eye opener – I am not sure what we can do as Christians. I do not think it is compromising religion, unless we allow it by sinking to their level. We must always stay focused on God’s plan, praying for and seeking His guidance.

  4. Ian Webster says:

    Well, this won’t get you to 9,000 comments, but….
    I came across this quote from John Milton a lifetime ago:
    “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
    Why do we think we need to protect God from the pain and the hurt and the bitterness that have often been caused by Christians? Our only concern is to love, not to win arguements.

  5. Wow. Just finished reading the article. Over 9, 300 comments!!! Yes-touched a nerve. She should be terrified about death. I would be if I were her. Your end quote “…when Christianity is in a place of power and wealth for a long period, the radical message of sin and grace and the cross can become muted or even lost.” is so true. We are not poor in spirit therefore we will never see the kingdom of God.

  6. Pretty scary, I think, to raise your children without God. It’s like having a toddler walk around the swimming pool unattended. Dangerous. I’d be interested to see how the kids turn out. You’ve peaked my interest on this article, so I’m going to visit the sight. BTW, your article is nearly done. It will go out in the next day or so. Thank you Judy! Appreciate you.

  7. Thank you for your post! So close to my heart and experience. I have so much to say about this, and feel so strongly, but really want to address it calmly, with wisdom and respect. It might be too much for comment boxes. I have commented before, so you know where my heart is, more or less. If you want to dialogue more by e-mail, I would welcome that: ranthegauntlet@gmail.com. Blessings, Diane

    • Judy says:

      Hi Diane, I’m interested in your thoughts. Feel free to email me via the “Contact Judy” page here, and I’ll drop you an email as well. Thanks for your interest and passion on this issue. Judy

  8. Cara Olsen says:

    Hegemony is not a word I am very familiar with. It seems as though I should be. I must admit hearing this woman touted as “brave” is a punch to the gut. Brave? No, I would have to disagree. Bravery should be reserved for those heroes who find the strength and will to love despite their convictions. Christians are not excluded from this; and in fact we should be the model for it.

    Thanks, Judy. Always insightful.
    ~ Cara

  9. Judy says:

    I’m reading all of your comments with interest (thank you!) while still pondering the issue myself. As I consider my own reaction to the essay, my first instinct was to correct misrepresentations of God and/or argue for his existence. (A desire to maintain Christian hegemony?) But, as Terry so well said, that would likely have had little effect. Sometimes I have to check the desire to win an argument for Christianity when it might be more eternally fruitful win a friend. Ultimately, I want to be a “sincere abiding disciple.” Still thinking…and I invite you to do the same:)

  10. Terry says:

    Lots to ponder on this one.
    I recall taking a European history class in college and being appalled at the abusive power the Church wielded so blatantly amongst the masses. I cannot imagine the infathomable pain Heaven must experience with such perversion in the name of Christ.
    And on a more individual level, 738,000 postings will likely have little impact on shaping the blogger’s viewpoint. Yet one sincere abiding disciple serving this Texas mom with the love of Christ could be the conduit for God to perform a miracle.

    • Absolutely right. As a former devoted Christian (if I actually was) with an abusive Christian husband, who raised two daughters in the Lord (one now an athiest and one unconcerned), in church, and TOO many occasions of dogma/agenda over people, I say, YES! ONE SINCERE ABIDING DISCIPLE…WITH THE LOVE OF CHRIST…. Thank you for sharing what is, in my opinion, a discerning, kind, and accurate view.

  11. Debbie says:

    Judy, this is a great post. Thank you for helping us consider our Christianity and it’s affect on others who don’t accept it. God bless you and how you make us think and pray!

  12. Amy Peterson says:

    “Christian hegemony, correctly expressed and understood, should be experienced as love, acceptance, and service.”

    Acceptance is the rub. Acceptance of the person doesn’t equal acceptance of all their actions. This ‘hate the sin but not the sinner’ doesn’t sit well with those promoting tolerance of sinful desires, even if gently delivered. Although, I have to admit, us Christians could be and should be doing a much better job of accepting the person, regardless of their actions.

  13. Larry Who says:

    “…Is the hegemony of religion compromising a true Christian witness of love?…”

    Of course, it is. Why? Because most Christians have a secular view of love. That’s why the gay issue is dividing Christianity today based on the premise: God is love.

    If God is love and two same-sex people love each other, love is the common trait. Therefore, God must be in favor of homosexual unions and marriages. Simple deduction, right?

    Yet, 1 Corinthians 13:6 states – “[love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” Ah, a totally different view of God’s love, one which many Christians would probably call radical.

    I actually believe this will be a battleground issue in the near future. Then, we will see how we Christians handle this. It could even mean jail terms for us so-called radical Christians, under the guise of state and federal hate issue towards gay laws.

    Sounds rather exciting to me.

    • Ian Webster says:

      Sorry, Larry. That’s not exciting for me. Winning arguments is what the devil tempts me to get into. Jesus never said, “Go into all the world and win arguments.” He said, “Go make disciples.” The only way to do that is through the radically alternative lifestyle Jesus exhibited based on grace and unconditional love. When I’ve got that right, I’ll join you in the arguments.

      • Larry Who says:

        Ian, so you’re sort of arguing with me, huh? ;)

        What I wrote is scripturally correct and is also accurate about most people’s views on the word “love” or Greek word “agape.” Nowhere have I mentioned arguing because that’s not usually my style either, although Paul did debate his adversaries at times. If Paul’s debates are types of arguments, then I guess arguing is biblical.

        Yet, we all must have a foundational understanding of what the biblical concept of love actually means before we demonstrate our radically alternative lifestyles and disciple others.

  14. Caddo Veil says:

    Boy, this is a brain slammer, Judy (that’s a compliment)–I’ll have to ponder hard for awhile, see if I can come up with something clear and brief; my initial thoughts are reactive and not well focused. God bless you–much love, sis Caddo

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