Is religion used for control?

So last week I saw the film Joker, great film, about what happens when people are failed by society, and flip. Of course, from the woke crowd, the film has been attacked virulently, for supposedly ‘promoting violence’.

But that’s not quite what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about Christians baptising these irrational beliefs for themselves, like with this DesiringGod article here:

I take a strongly negative view of the article, it is clear to me that it is clearly baptising the far left reaction to the film into a Christian context. For me, it is clear why, many Christians enjoy issuing ‘fatwas’ on things not just because they like morality, but because they like control.They like ‘prohibiting’ things, because it means they are exercising control over peoples lives. That is plain to me.

So I will begrudingly admit that this atheistic critique of religion may have something going for it. But none of this means religion is inherently like this.

None of this is to imply that ‘anything goes’.

I haven’t seen the movie and don’t plan to, but I have also noticed the trend of “villain movies” lately (such as Maleficent). On the one hand, I sort of agree with the article that glamorizing evil is a problem, but at the same time I’m glad for more complex portrayals of characters, because good and evil are not always as cut and dried as we’d like. From a Christian perspective, all humans share a sin nature, but also bear God’s image, and this tension does not always express itself is simplistic ways.

Still, I would not call this “baptizing” the far-left reaction. This is pretty typical conservative Christian in my mind. Good vs. evil is a common theme in the Bible, where righteousness and wickedness are contrasted in many places such as Proverbs. If anything I’d see some far-left reactions as “secularizing” common religious rules and taboos.

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I have seen the Joker movie and what I got out of the film is that when people push other’s to the edge, they will snap and not care about who is in their way. Now, on a Christian point of view, it goes the issue of sin and people trying to solve issues on their own outside of God, which always leads to more chaos then less (but of course in the film Arthur embraces the chaos and makes it for what it is.).

Then I’ll give another example, from recent news. I see Ray Comfort has been attacking Kanye West as a fake christian

Some do. But the reality behind the rules is love. We don’t obey them because we are subjugated, but because we have been adopted off the rebellious streets and out of prison and into a loving family, and want the reward of Father’s smile.

I can’t speak to whether or not Kanye West is a true Christian, but there is not a shortage of examples of Christians behaving badly, and of those claiming to be Christian.

I think in these cases it’s a lot more complicated than just simply wanting to exercise control. And it could be difficult to go ahead and identify motives for such behavior. For example, I think many Christians who make such sentiments do so because they genuinely believe that God has commanded XY or Z. And so for them, while maybe there could be an element of them wanting to control others it’s more so they want to see what they believe God‘s will to be done on the earth. And it could even be out of what they think are good motivations like love for God, his word, and love for other people in the sense that they believe by following such things they are genuinely doing what is best for the other person even if done in Tough love.

Plus I think there can be a sense of security that many people gain by having clear black and white understandings or perspectives on pick any topic. It is much easier to navigate and to quickly reinforce group identity and find security in that by people who agree.

I think in general it would be a very shallow way to simply characterize religion or religious people as wanting to control others.


The rules are laws of love. They are encapsulated most concisely in the two greatest commandments,

…and less succinctly in the big Ten. Yes, they are all laws of love.

True. That is not the most noble of motivations and not really a Christian one (and maybe even an anti-Christian one), but it does help explain reactions by many in church culture, not granting that they are all Christians.

Here’s a short article on Kanye West in a Christian magazine (let me know if you hit a paywall and I will post the pertinent part of the page):

    Wary welcome


Two more from another Christian magazine:

To go back to the OP, of course there are Christians and Christian groups that use religion to control others (or to attempt to). There are also narcissists who use religion to gain an entourage, and politicians who use it to gain power. But that could happen in any capacity where human relationships are built, so it’s sort of inevitable, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind as we form opinions about who we listen to and why.


This is certainly a good question. However, you only have to look at the largest, most controlling dictatorships of all, like communist Russia and China, which were atheist, to realize that it seems pretty basic human nature to want to control. It seems that the new atheists decree that religion should be got rid of is sort of like presuming to be a gardener and planning to get rid of all the dandelions by chopping off their heads. It never gets rid of the root problem, which is human nature. Similarly, the desire to control can bloom and act out in any area of power, such as a dictatorship or in a faith. Our nature is made to survive, but we also have vices and problems that come out of that. The desire to control mayspring from insecurity, and we all have that. Thanks.


Dear Reggie,
This is something that I discovered very easy in my investigation of the history of Christianity. Unfortunately, few Christians are able to look objectively at its history enough to see how political motivation has influenced doctrine and the councils. Here is an excerpt of from my first book with the clearest explanation of the origin of the eternal damnation doctrine.

In the second book, I will spend more time talking about Joan of Arc and her role in helping to pull Europe out of the dark ages. But for now, a conversation from the 1999 movie called Joan of Arc between the bishop and the dauphin illustrates the power of dogma.

(Dauphin) It’s not fair you know, the church has so many clever means of raising revenue. The most endearing is the plenary indulgence, paying to rescue poor grand mama’s soul from purgatory. My people are grateful to pay.

(Bishop) His majesty trivializes the power of holy intercession.

(Dauphin) I am speaking of power to collect money. If I need revenue, I must levy taxes and people complain.

(Bishop) His majesty can collect revenue by force, the church can collect only through faith.

(Dauphin) But it is you who wield the sharper sword. I can only frighten them with prison. You can frighten them with hell.

(Bishop) As his majesty’s spiritual advisor, I would caution the king against feeling too competitive with the church. [i]

Logic and reason has been absent from religion for literally centuries. It was so long ago, that most people today assume that reason or logic never had a home in religion or spirituality. I hope I have shown you that it is not true though. Below is a list of dogmatic teaching that cause the greatest discourse within a modern democratic society, and would greatly benefit from an open dialog between science and religion.

Eternal damnation and its many corollaries like “only born again Christians will be saved”.The concept of eternal damnation was brought into the Roman Catholic church for exactly what was stated above – to control the people, specifically the slaves. People who believed in the type of reincarnation taught in early Christianity made poor slaves. They would rather die, than be forced to do the bidding of the holy roman empire. This is the real reason why the emperor declared Origen a heretic – early Christians made poor slaves and Rome needed a constant influx of new slaves to prosper.

[i] Joan of Arc . Dir. Peter Bray. Perf. Ted Atherton, Jacqueline Bisset, Powers Boothe. Artisan, 1999. DVD.

This underlying attitude is still strong today.

Most religions include some sort of code of practice so that will be seen as control albeit voluntary (in theory). Criticism of another must also be seen as an attempt to control or at least temper their actions. But, any Law, religious or civil is, by definition, an attempt to control.
So, in the end we are back to definitions of freedom and free will. Freedom is an ideology as impossible as communism or universal equality. It just cannot exist as long as it includes actions that can be considered wrong or unacceptable. We are not free to kill, steal, or abuse. Whether we might consider it is not the point, society has said that such actions are taboo so we are not free to do them (without consequence, at least)

In essence a religion promotes some sort of behaviour to conform to. As such that must mean that it is trying to control. The only excuse is that it claims that this control is something we are agreeing to abide by. And that is our (free?) choice. That is until you include some sort of coercion, eg Hell.


Some might say religion is an attempt at self control.

In atheist circles the notion of an early conspiracy by a priest class to control the masses is popular. That has never seemed likely to me. Once there is religious practice and institutions there can be corruption. But religion itself could not have begun as a deliberate sham unless you are much better at embracing conspiracy theories than I am.


I would call it abuse of power instead of conspiracy. That abuse happens when “I say” is contorted into “God says”. If a meager human says that you should act a certain way, it may not be convincing. However, if you say “God told me you should act this way,” then it may be a bit more convincing to some. Where religious control can be dangerous is when a priest class abuses the trust of the faithful to twist them towards the human-based goals of the priestly class. In the ugliest parts of history you can often find a populace that ignored their own moral conviction in the name of ideological loyalty.

This applies to all ideologies, and not just to religions specifically. Godwin cards and October revolutions could be cited, but that will probably go down the wrong road. :wink:


Is religion used for control?

yes. obviously.


Or more to the point… this doesn’t mean that control is the reason why it exists and the only purpose that it serves.

So for me the crucial question is how do we separate out the parts of religion which were added to make it a tool of control?

For this I employ the following rule of thumb. If something serves and is convenient for a particular purpose then the probability is high that this purpose is the origin of and reason for that particular thing. So when we look at some aspect of religion and see that it is very convenient for the use of religion for power and control then it is a good bet that this is one of the things added to religion in order to make it serve that purpose.

For example… one that came up recently in our discussion of “what is sin?” was the definition of sin as disobedience. Not only is this supremely convenient and useful for those using religion as a tool of power and control, but we have ample historical evidence of just how bad things can get when obedience becomes a high virtue in a society. History thus shows that obedience is the LAST thing we want to put in opposition to evil and sin.

Thus you can say that one of my goals – my agenda as it were – is to defang Christianity by removing those elements which make it easy to use as a tool for power. You can begin by putting things in God’s hands and removing the legalism which give people the hook they need for telling others what they must do and how they must live their lives.


Without having read any other comments, I think that the question is analogous to asking if politicians and bureaucrats can use their legitimate authority for wrongful purposes.


Religions are absolutely used for control.

But please remember this, just because you use a tooth brush to scrub a floor does not mean it was invented to scrub a floor.

While there is a difference between a religionist and a follower of Christ as is noted by one of our Founding Fathers.


While it is often governments taking control of religion that promote and enforce such control as it is usually the goverment that controls such things as the police and military and even the courts. This was clearly the case within Europe during the founding of the American Colonies.

One note on God is this, the rules that God lays down for us within the Bible are not meant to limit us, but to protect us.

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