Let’s focus for a moment upon a key idea – ideology. Ideology is the way in which idolatry affects people today and this includes the soldiers and supporters of IS.

The term ‘ideology’ was coined by French intellectuals just before the French Revolution. The word means far more than merely a framework of thought. In its original sense ideology refers to an entire system of values, convictions and norms, which are used as a set of tools for reaching a single, concrete, all-encompassing social goal. For the French revolutionaries the goal of overturning the corrupt old regime was so sweeping and decisive that it legitimised in advance every means for reaching that end.

The famous philosopher Rousseau believed passionately in the intrinsic goodness of human beings. He rejected the biblical teaching that humans are sinful and prone to idolatry. This secular mindset was to influence deeply the notorious mass murderer Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) who led the French revolution into its darkest cruelties by sending thousands of innocent people to the guillotine.

To put it simply, Robespierre believed that the vast majority of the French people were innately good and virtuous. We only need to eliminate the enemies of progress (aristocrats and priests) and – bingo! – a secular paradise would be born.

During the Reign of Terror (1793-94), Paris became a blood bath. People would drink aristocratic blood and pass it around cackling with glee. Children would play with decapitated heads. What the Revolution required was by definition correct. Existing norms and values were emptied, refilled, tainted and warped until they became instruments of the all-embracing goal – “No God and no master”.

Anybody who resisted the revolutionary ideology was by definition a traitor.

This redefinition of norms is what characterises ideology. It defines goodness, truth, justice and love as that which serves the end. In its original sense, therefore, ideology has everything to do with religion. It is religion’s substitute.

Ideology declares “As God I create my own norms and values. I say what will benefit humanity. And I allow no god above or power below to make any other law”. What is the origin of ideology? Ultimately it is demonic.

In the next posting we will unpack different kinds of ideology and begin to connect this to the recent brutalities of IS and how easy it is for IS to recruit people to its cause.

Mark Roques
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Mark Roques

Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Education at Prior Park College, Bath, for many years. As Director of RealityBites he has developed a rich range of resources for youth workers and teachers. He has spoken at conferences in the UK, Holland, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is a lively storyteller and the author of four books, including The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith. His work is focused on storytelling and how this can help us to communicate the Christian faith. He has written many articles for the Baptist Times, RE Today, Youthscape, Direction magazine and the Christian Teachers Journal.