Bible study for NPCs: idols, ideology, and the violence within

The word “idea” has the Greek root εἴδω (“image”, “form”); a root it shares with other words, such us idol. An icon, from Greek εἰκών, is also an image, but in the sense of “portrait”, “semblance”. An idol is an image in itself, an object which offers an aesthetic experience. An icon is a different thing altogether: it is a representation of something real, different from it. Adoration of idols (idolatry) is opposed to veneration of icons, because an idol is the work of man standing in the place of God, while an icon is God standing in the place of a man-made object. God makes Himself present in the icon, while the idol is empty and dead; a parody of divinity made by Man with inert matter.

Ideology is the discourse on ideas, quite literally “talking about images”. The word is used to refer to a body of ideas, a doctrine which puts them together and draws relations between them. It is, in a sense, a story: the story of the idols. A tale about the gods. But an ideology is not only talking about images, it’s also the talk of images. It is the voice of false gods, the whisper of demons; insidious words locked in a man-made object of adoration. Ideology inspires idolatry, and is also its main product.

Cain was a farmer, and he offered God the fruits of his own work. Abel was a shepherd, and he offered back to God a tribute of God’s own work, which had been put under his care. God was pleased with Abel, but not with Cain. Abel, the youngest, had been put under his brother’s care, but was instead murdered by him. Abel was a Saint. We are, however, Cain’s descendants. A race of murderers, and a race who rejoices not in God’s gifts, but in the product of their own work.

For many polemologists, the roots of violence are often found in ideology. We talk of violent ideologies, or of becoming violent because of excessive attachment to an ideology. We hear the stories of terrorist lone wolves that “became radicalized” on line. It’s said as if they had wandered for too long in the dark dim meadows and God-forsaken forests of the Internet, and had fallen under a demonic spell. This perspective implies exposure to certain ideas is dangerous, especially if said ideas are “radical”: that is, if they are in any way subversive or contrary to the bland values of the Current Year™. It’s a typical view of the Enlightenment: any stain in the Noble Savage’s soul must come from an outside influence.

Well; in a sense, it’s true. There’s demons out there, and perverse ideologies posing as the gospel of false gods can turn those who are tame into bloodthirsty beasts. But the violence is not in the ideas, floating around in the air like malevolent miasmas. It comes from within: “Nothing that enters a man from the outside can defile him; but the things that come out of a man, these are what defile him.” (Mark 7:15). Ideologies can help articulate and amplify the soul’s impulses, but ultimately they do not speak of any external reality. As we say here in the Outskirts of the Empire: they can provide a memetic framework for conflict, but the desire to engage in violence must be already there. In other words, they are a mechanism that allows for the rationalization of violent instincts.

A political ideology is an abstract scaffold that allows for the social management of human tendencies: courage and compassion, lust and greed. All of them can have their place in ideological constructions, where they become defined and are then used as a crutch for creating Friend-Enemy distinctions. An ideology that glorifies equality will naturally make enemies out of those pushing to stand out, and an ideology that glorifies material success will hold in scorn the poor and downtrodden. It’s in this sense that there is something Satanic about political ideologies: they are the temptation of following a fallen nature.

Enshrined as ideas, human passions become totems that, when worshipped, absorb the adorer’s soul. The ideologue is a victim of his own belief systems. You’ve seen it before: the soulless eyes of certainty. The emptiness in behind the words of the revolutionary terrorist. The face of a Non-Playable Character in a videogame. Certain ideologies breed violence, but not because they make one violent; it’s because they give him reasons to unleash his own primal violence, leaving only empty husk, a consumed shade of the former self.

Holding an ideology is like recording one’s own thoughts, then playing them back pretending they’re someone else’s; a radical is one who has allowed this reverberation to take over his spirit. This is why all violent types end up looking quite similar. Read up a little bit on Russian nihilists and Catalan anarchists if you think 2010s jihadis invented shooting up cafés and bombing European theaters. It’s one thing to kill and die for love, and another to do it over a pamphlet. Engaging in ideological violence is the opposite of vitality and passion, as it implies giving over the soul to a lifeless, abstract object of human making: an idol.

Unsurprisingly, none of this is exactly news: “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.”(Psalm 135, 15-18). So, as any psychiatrist will tell you, if you think you’re hearing demons, chances are you’re only hearing yourself. And that, of course, is the Devil’s work.

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