Sunday, 26 June 2011

Essay In Political Ideologies

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Religious beliefs are fundamentally different from ideological beliefs. Do you agree?

Religion has always been perceived by people as a cultural definer, a way of reasoning upon and conceptualizing the sorrounding environment, a gate towards the unknown, a mirror of a different, more sacred yet more symbolical reality. Religious beliefs have been a part of people’s lives for thousands of years, permanently suffering changes in their shape, importance, symbolism, as people evolved, as history evolved. That is why, religion, in itself, is strongly linked to mankind’s historical performances, evolution and mentality.

To begin with, in Ancient times, religious beliefs (even though not yet Christian) represented subtle forms of ideologies, of doctrines, imposing a code of life, a code of behaviour. These values gradually moved to form the personal environment of every man, the commandments he/she had to abide by in order to be able to communicate with supernatural presences (gods/goddesses) and ask for their help and guidance in extreme situations, and even be granted a happy life after death. Yet, all the rules and regulations of such a code of moral behaviour had been invented by ancestors and had long become an essential part of their cultural heritage. Thus, religious beliefs were a self-imposed not questionable form of accepting this reality and the other, beyond death. The fact that people did not even think to doubt them or wonder about them, makes me think that religion was indeed a formal channel of imposing human-made ideologies, related to the natural and the supernatural. Let’s take for example the Egyptians, whose religious culture was probably the most prolific in Ancient times. If we judge their culture with modern day concepts and notions, we would conclude that they were under a serious and constant almost “invisible” form of indoctrination. People always felt sorrounded by divine forces, either good or bad, either having a human or an animal appearance or even both. The fact that Egyptian deities took such strange forms, explained the ancient Egyptian’s process of religious thinking he had to believe in real, concrete presences, who looked like humans, but also had those traits that related them to the animal world as well; they needed to have human feelings but animal instincts, to be more appropiate and much closer to a regular Egyptian’s power of understanding and of respecting his reality.

By contrast to the Egyptian religion, whose core idea was axed upon life after death, Greek religious beliefs dealt more with seeking the protection of gods during one’s lifetime. Greek religion held a numerous range of gods and goddesses, temples, mystical secrets (ancient beliefs and rituals), myths and legends. They were seen as answers to any individual’s intimate need for peace and solitude, promising him salvation of the soul, curing him/her of their fear of death and “ensuring” them of a happy, serene life. Thus, Greeks’ or Egyptians’ (or any other ancient peoples’) religious cultures were constructed upon a fundament of ideologies, encompassing different interpretations of the personal/public life and duties of the individual, and physical representations, for all walks of life, for a better Implementation and visualisation.

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Therefore, individuals were taught to believe that their lives were governed, their behaviour and thinking conducted, step by step, from birth to death, and beyond, by unchangeable sacred laws of unearthly beings.

With the introduction of Christianity and the Bible, religion took a more compact and hierarchical form of organization, ideologically and administratively speaking, the Church. Religious obligations and civic duties were separated and the Church separated itself from the State, even though it was to acquire a more powerful influence over people’s lives but over politics as well (the peasants were, most of all, defavourised, because they were illiterate and did not understand much of the religious teachings, unless it was explained to them by the clerics. Therefore, they were shared a subjective opinion). Thus, the Church would not only have maximum control over individuals’ lives and way of thinking but would also spread that control over political decisions, too. What could be more self-explanatory and would definitely fit into this political decision-making realm, than the Crusades, the (Spanish) Inquisition or the religious wars, later on? How can anyone doubt the power of the religious precepts, when they served as pretext and starting point for promotion of wars or for excessive and misunderstood religious duties that put an end to thousands of lives? Even though their existences, purposes, ideological prerogatives and means of reinforcing them, proved to be controversial and much debated-on, they represent perfect examples of religious beliefs imposed as doctrines, in order either to serve political and economic needs or to purely reshape human vision on life and the world. Within the consciousness of the medieval man, religious beliefs equaled the importance of ideological beliefs nowadays. Starvation, epidemics, natural catastrophies, frequent wars and other forms of violence led to an instability of emotions, as well as to belief in the supernatural (dreams, miracles, myths) which governed people’s conception of human destinies. The joyous moments, the sad ones, death, birth, illnesses of various degrees and sizes, all were explained and understood through these mishapen religious perspectives, that also included belief in sorcerers, witches and other forms of whatever was perceived as evil (as oppossed to the “purity and goodness” concepts imgined by the Church). At one point, the level of religious evil-related indoctrination reached such an alarming level, that individuals not only feared their friends and neighbours for being potential devil “disciples”, but under the Church approval, they massacred thousands of people, generally labeled as heretics. Everyone and everything tht was against the Church was a heretic, automatically worshipped the evil one and had to be killed.

These times of massive confusion and incapacity of establishing and separating basic notions of good and bad, completely altered the nature of human kind in itself, and the nature and purpose of the Church. Instead of caring for the intimate, spiritual needs of every individual, the Church took leadership of his public sphere activities as well and filled it with false judgements that ultimately transformed people into accessories to murder. Therefore, in my opinion, deeply-rooted beliefs (religious ones, in this case) that trigger such strong emotional confusions/quakes and lead to such displays of hatred nd cruelty, must definitely be labeled as hard-core ideologies and thus mut have common fundament with such. This was the general idea of those times being of a certain religion was not viewed as a form of confession you would spiritually belong to and freely embrace (except for the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches, other types of confessions were not admitted as religions) but as unconsciously subscribing to a set of rules and freely consenting for them to rule your life and your way of reasoning, aborting all notions of individual personality.

In the 0th century, religious beliefs changed their nature and form of presentation. They became a lot more transparent and apparently devoid of all features that would make it an ideology. From a historical perspective, the political realm changed, rules of the game changed as well as mentalities and values. New forms of political alliegieance sprung out, available for all individuals, no matter what social or hierarchical category they belonged to. With the introduction of the universal suffrage and of numerous liberties, everyone was enitled to a personal opinion and was able to say it out loud or publish it; all categories of people were officially represented in the highest political forms of national representation. Religion had long before ceased to be a powerful political and economic instrument or a repression tool, defending the so-called “spiritual” salvation, and subjectively judging what was right or wrong. Therefore, it no longer represented a coercitive institutional constraint. Instead, it became one of the values that were clearly incorporated and advocted for, by several parties’ program platforms. Such were the Conservatives, who viewed religion as part of a traditional and historical heritage, worth of being considered a valuable element of internal and moral discipline, and by Fascist parties, which viewed it as a political form of discrimination. Actually Extreme Right parties and Conservatives share a lot of elements of their ideologies, such as attitudes towards change and history, anti-liberal family-oriented policies (anti-abortion, religious fundamentalism- not that extreme in the case of Conservatives), a nostalgia reactionary feeling, security and anti-immigrant policies (strict approach to crime and punishment, “Law and order” concept, etc), although this last common element took a deviant, nationalistic, xenophobic form of manifestation on the case of Fascist parties. One of the main effects of such a policy, doubled by racial discrimination, was the massive killing of the Jews by the Nazis, the Holocaust, during the Second World War. The “incubation” period of this aspect of Extreme Right parties’ ideology, especially the German model, was undoubtedly linked to the period of interwar fascism, when such religious-related ideas were fostered in an “unspoken” fashion. The famous “zwastika” on the Nazi flag was the symbol of a cross with its ends crooked toward the exterior. Therefore, religion was a subtle determinant of the Nazi ideology, causing rejection of other forms of religions, other than Christianity, and acting as a prime ideological fundament and legitimization for the massacres that followed.

Nowadays, even though religious and other kinds of toleration are officially instituted and supported by the majority of people, there are still certain political factions, which have not yet evolved to a superior, democratic and more reasonable, more modern way of understanding the world and the concepts that rule it. Some of the Conservative parties, adopting a new set of values and following a “silent counter-revolution”, moved further to the right and became even more radical in their political discourse and party platform (neo-conservatives). Others, like the Fascist parties, after a legitimacy crisis due to lack of public support, and thus an intermediate “shadowed” phase, have come to life again, but with a transformed, more radical and violent look the Neo-Nazis, for instance, in Germany. Other parties, like Liga Nord or Allianze Nationale in Italy, are also a part of this post-fascist political trend, but with a more mainstream, more popular look. What about the resurgence of numerous religious cults, the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organizations, the “jihads”, the holy wars? These are modern day political and religious forms of “neo-crusades”, but this time the roles have been reversed. They advocate for a religious”awakening” of all Islamic countries to protect themselves against the alleged spreading of values and traditions over Muslim territories, of the evil Western or, on a more general level, Christian states. It is a form of cultural and religious rejection of anything that might interfere with or contradict the Islamic religious precepts.

Human society is in the midst of a clash of cultures, more precisely a clash of religions, that generates so much political and social unrest, but, most important, thousands of lives lost, as we saw in the September 11th events. Thus, history repeats itself religious beliefs are nowadays, again, acting as violent doctrines, and generating multiple desastrous consequences, not only politically or socially, but also ideologically speaking. Therefore, the main point I tried to make all thorough my essay, is that religious beliefs are not fundamentally different from ideological beliefs, on the contrary, religious beliefs, if handled without caution, lack of profound knowledge and ignorance, can become important weapons of mass ideological manipulation and terror. If we start a historical chronological journey, from Ancient times, going through the Middle Ages, and finally getting to contemporary times, we can see that religious beliefs have suffered so many changes to serve so many purposes (political, economic, cultural), in order to manipulate human maind and behaviour; unfortuntely, religion was turned into a doctrine to justify the means employed and the “noble” motives stated. Perhaps, in a future society, humans will understand the real purpose (that of spiritual “soother” and bringer of peace and happines) and rightful place of religion (that is, in the heart of individuals and not outside them). Otherwise, it will act just like “a soul without a mind/in a body without a heart”(Massive Attack).

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