Monday, March 05, 2012

Liberalism as Religion

Liberalism as Religion

If you do not receive Jonah Goldberg's weekly email missive, "The Goldberg File," you should. It comes every Friday and, no matter what else it brings, it always has a fresh take on something, always some laughs, but often it contains an exposition of a searing truth. I do not know how to describe Jonah pithily, he defies easy description, but one of the hats he wears is clearly that of political philosopher.

I often feel the impulse to link to a G-File post, but alas, they are not available online. Last Friday's email arrived hard on the heels of Andrew Breitbart's passing, and I have had a hard time with it. Maybe it is my own age, but it seems that there are more and more deaths of important people lately. The very randomness of life and death can get a man down, but then it is time to remember the dictum "Illegitimi non Carborundum," and go on.

In that spirit, and with those provisos, I quote here extensively from last Friday's G-File a riff on a favorite meme - politics as religion, as practiced by the liberal left.

by Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online-

I wrote my column today about Andrew. It tries to make the point I struggled making on Fox yesterday. Andrew's great strength was that he rejected the authority of those who didn't deserve it. He was like a mark who realizes he's been conned for years, an acolyte who wakes up and realizes he's a member of a cult. It was as if Andrew woke up one day and said, "Your magic -- i.e. your liberal guilt, your false charges of racism, your threats to deny me success in your system -- it just doesn't work on me anymore." He was free from the bad juju and had no fear of it.

It's a worldview I'm deeply sympathetic to, I hope for at least somewhat understandable reasons. It certainly explains why he loved Liberal Fascism and helped to promote it. He loved learning about how long liberals have been running some of these cons.

Anyway, enough about that for now.

On Political Religions
Speaking of Liberal Fascism, one of its core themes -- and mine -- is that modern liberalism is a political religion.

That's why I've been so intrigued and frustrated by the discussion around Rick Santorum and his various comments, including: His ham-fisted remarks about wanting to vomit after reading JFK's church-state speech, his defense of religious freedom, his insistence that Obama's environmental theology is "not a theology based on Bible. A different theology," his claim that David Axelrod is the reincarnated snake God Thulsa Doom. These have all sparked controversy, save for the last one, which I simply wish Santorum said.

I basically agree with the substance behind everything Santorum has said in this regard, even if I think his phrasing, timing, tactics, tone, tenor, and emphasis leave something to be desired. How's that for an "I agree with you in principle but . . . " statement?

The idea that liberalism is a political religion is not an obscure contention of crackpots -- even if I do hold it. As I've argued -- some would say incessantly -- the Progressives saw their political movement as a fundamentally religious one.

The 1960s have been seen by many liberal and leftist intellectuals as a religious awakening. As I wrote in LF:

The religious character of modern liberalism was never far from the surface. Indeed, the 1960s should be seen as another in a series of "great awakenings" in American history -- a widespread yearning for new meaning that gave rise to a tumultuous social and political movement. The only difference was that this awakening largely left God behind. Paul Goodman, whose 1960 Growing Up Absurd helped launch the politics of hope in the first part of the decade, came to recognize in the second half how insufficient his original diagnosis had been: "I . . . imagined that the world-wide student protest had to do with changing political and moral institutions, to which I was sympathetic, but I now saw [in 1969] that we had to do with a religious crisis of the magnitude of the Reformation in the fifteen hundreds, when not only all institutions but all learning had been corrupted by the Whore of Babylon."

And a bit later:

In 1965 Harvey Cox, an obscure Baptist minister and former Oberlin College chaplain, wrote The Secular City, which turned him into an overnight prophet. Selling more than one million copies, The Secular City argued for a kind of desacralization of Christianity in favor of a new transcendence found in the "technopolis," which was "the place of human control, of rational planning, of bureaucratic organization." Modern religion and spirituality required "the breaking of all supernatural myths and sacred symbols." Instead, we must spiritualize the material culture to perfect man and society through technology and social planning. In The Secular City "politics replaces metaphysics as the language of theology." Authentic worship was done not by kneeling in a church but by "standing in a picket line." The Secular City was an important intellectual hinge to the transition of the 1960s (though we should note that Cox recanted much of its argument twenty years later).

"Man is homo religiosus, by 'nature' religious: as much as he needs food to eat or air to breathe, he needs a faith for living," wrote the late Will Herberg.
As the Chestertonian line goes, if man stops believing in God, he won't believe in nothing he'll believe in anything. You can make a religion out of anything. That doesn't mean it won't be a stupid religion. People have worshipped all sorts of crazy stuff, including tree stumps. But just because it's stupid to worship tree stumps, doesn't mean you won't piss off tree-stump worshippers if you desecrate their stumps. And it doesn't mean the Holy Faith of Tree Stumpers won't see competing faiths as a threat to their own.

I could go on. Really. ("Please, no more about Immanentizing the Eschaton, please." -- The Couch.) I honestly think that today's liberals have little to no conception of how liberalism has become a religion unto to itself. Indeed, modern politics could be seen as "a chapter in the history of religion."

This is a huge, fundamental, first-order point about the state of contemporary life that we don't have nearly the vocabulary to discuss adequately. And that's why Rick Santorum's discussion of this stuff is so frustrating: because he's right, and yet neither he nor the rest of us have the vocabulary to discuss it easily.

If you clear the public square of what we traditionally call religion -- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism etc. -- we will not have a public square free of religion. We have a public square full of religion fighting under the false flag of "secular values" -- with no opposing sources of moral authority to resist it.The utopianism, millenarianism and radical egalitarianism at the emotional core of liberalism are fundamentally religious in nature. That doesn't mean liberalism is evil or totalitarian. But it is less than totally self-aware. The nice thing about traditional religion is you know where it comes from. The unwritten faith of liberalism masquerades in the costumes of modernity, progress, social justice and the like without recognizing that liberalism requires leaps of faith, too.

Liberalism's lack of self-knowledge about its nature makes it very powerful and very dangerous. Liberals can simply claim -- without seeming like they're lying, because they actually believe it -- that they are cold, rational presenters of fact and decency. Comte's "religion of humanity" has forgotten that it is a religion at all. But forgetting something doesn't make it any less real. Wile E. Coyote forgets there's no land underneath him. His ignorance doesn't keep him aloft.

This is how the New Class of experts and helping professions become secular priests of a wholly political religion. We confuse credentials for ordinations, regression analyses for consecrations. And without a conception of a higher authority, without a more enduring and transcendent dogma to inform our consciences, we are left following the captains of rudderless ships leading us to ruin.

Ethicists for the Slaughter of Innocents
For instance, ethicists at Oxford have now declared babies -- babies! -- are "morally irrelevant" creatures that can be killed without consequence by their parents. This would be horrifying and repugnant enough, save for the fact that among the core missions of the progressive state is to supplant the role and authority of parents.

Follow the logic of secular priests as far as it will go, and you have the recipe for a modern Sparta that makes talk of death panels seem cautious and optimistic.

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