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Totemism

January 21, 2010

There’s been a lot of fluff about the Bible scriptures on the side of guns manufactured in America for various military forces. See here for just one account.

In my opinion, we should not be bickering about whether or not this use of the Bible distorts the authentic message of the Bible/Christianity or not. Engaging in these power plays (which is what authenticity games are) won’t help us understand what’s going on here.

As crude as the 100 year-old sociological or anthropological theories of totemism are, they are very useful for understanding what’s going on here: the Bible verses are serving as totems—they’re origin, content, or meaning is largely irrelevant.

Having a religion is often like having a flag.

We can’t understand why Baltimore Ravens fans hate the Indianapolis Colts by understanding what a “colt” or a “raven” is, or by thinking about why colts and ravens might not get along—the content of their symbol system is pretty much entirely irrelevant to the rivalry.

Understanding the content of the Bible verses won’t much help us understand why they’re being put on guns. The verses are serving merely as oppositional identity markers.

(On a side note, I would even go so far as to say that understanding the origin of the Sunni/Shia split is largely irrelevant to understanding their continuing rivalry.)

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2010 10:09 am

    True enough… why does Orwell always have to be right?

  2. January 21, 2010 1:29 pm

    I couldn’t care less if the use of the Bible distorts the “authentic message”? of the Bible/Christianity or not. It’s the fact that the BushObama illegal WOT is in fact an illegal ‘holy war’ and it’s the fact my pathetic country is involved in their illegal ‘holy war’ in the first place. Most NZ soldiers probably wouldn’t recognise the references even if they were pointed out to them.

  3. Deane Galbraith permalink
    January 21, 2010 3:06 pm

    That’s right, Steph. And it wasn’t until a U.S. soldier complained to a group called Military Religious Freedom, and that was picked up by ABC News, that anybody in New Zealand noticed the biblical citation. It’s hard to find someone here who knows the difference between Jesus and Moses.

    The Christian-ideological cause of the Bush/Obama invasion is not to be ignored or minimalised. The Trijicon example is interesting, in that it shows how ideological and material-capital reasons are all mixed up – and how we cannot reduce the cause of the war to material factors alone. American capitalism and American Christianity are thoroughly intertwined.

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