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November 03, 2015

Resolved, Progressivism Is a Cult

A couple of pieces about the phenomenon of Religion Without God.

Bret Stephens, in the WSJ:

The Tyranny of a Big Idea

Modern liberals are best understood as would-be believers in search of true faith.

Maybe Sigmund Freud should have been a political scientist. Psychoanalysis might be useless as treatment for neurotics, but there’s something to be said for it as a mode of ideological investigation. To wit, what explains the fatal attraction of the secular mind to the politics of impending apocalypse?

He establishes liberals Apocalyptic framework of understanding the world (the "Population Bomb," the coming Global Warming floods, peak oil and so forth).

But the real question isn't what drives people to be leaders of a new movement. That's easy enough to understand. It's why so many people--usually well-educated, urbane liberals--would wish to be followers.

I don't know if they're "well educated." Let's just say many were physically located in a college setting at some point.


What matters... is the strength of the longing. Modern liberalism is best understood as a movement of would-be believers in search of true faith. For much of the 20th century it was faith in History, especially in its Marxist interpretation. Now it's faith in the environment. Each is a comprehensive belief system, an instruction sheet on how to live, eat and reproduce, a story of how man fell and how he might be redeemed, a tale of impending crisis that’s also a moral crucible.

In short, a religion without God.

Tyler O'Neill at PJ Media:

The Theology of Liberalism

How much is liberalism like a religion?

There is a sort of orthodoxy required among liberals. Do you believe in climate change? What about the gender pay gap? Those who do not toe the line often find themselves exiled -- not just from the fold, but from the conversation.

To some extent, these views are merely what we mean when we say the word "liberal" -- they describe a political program roughly supported by one major party. But at some point, these views have become prescriptive; they have morphed into a moral structure to provide meaning and guidance in place of religion. When political beliefs start to explain why bad things happen to good people, they may be crystallizing into something closer to faith.

Political views and religious belief are indeed two very different things, and many liberals have even criticized the pseudo-religious trends in their movement and party. Nevertheless, some recent events should make us wonder just how religious liberal orthodoxy has become.

These are not some cheap shots aimed at liberalism merely to discredit the ideas, but current trends in the movement which illustrate how a political ideology can answer human needs usually satisfied by religion. The ability to explain why bad things happen to good people, the need to confess your sins and find absolution, and the desire to attack opposing views as heretical -- these traditionally religious activities are increasingly being taken up by a political movement.

Perhaps liberalism is more like a religion than we thought.

He then turns to the concept of "theodicy," the question of how bad things can happen in a world overwatched by a good God, and finds that progressives are now concerned with a sort of secular theodicy, in which they are always trying to answer: How can bad things happen in a country with a Mighty and Benevolent Government?

Mollie Z. Hemingway wrote about this in May, after the Amtrak derailment caused liberals to demand more Goats of Money be offered on the Altars of Government to prevent more Cursed Traintracks.

Walter Russel Mead had an interesting piece last week.

When God Goes Away, Superstition Takes His Place

Human beings feel instinctively that the visible reality that we live in day to day is connected to something larger and more mysterious. When belief in God goes away, the hunger for meaning and connection with a truth beyond the business of daily life remains.

He cites the case of an allegedly atheist rational humanist who goes to a clairvoyant to fix the problems in her life.

People who think themselves too rational for religious belief end up believing in "astral forces", ghosts and other phenomena. Sometimes these superstitions take the deadly form of political ideologies that fanatical believers take up with religious fervor--communist atheists murdered tens of millions of people in the 20th century in the irrational grip of an ugly ideology. They scoffed at the credulity of religious believers even as they worshipped the infallible insights of Stalin. Similarly, the Nazis presented their faith as an alternative to the "outgrown superstitions" of historic Christianity.

I wish I could remember who wrote this -- please let me know -- but I saw an interesting piece last week that argued the following:

* Ideas have consequences.

* Some of these consequences are very dire. Memes -- ideas -- are like parasites; some of these parasites are deadly. Someone can be killed for believing very stupid things, and if enough people who believe in very stupid things control a society, they can kill the whole race.

* Conventional religion is an old set of ideas.

* Even if you do not believe in any conventional religion, you have to acknowledge that the ideas in religion are not inherently suicidal -- they are provably not the sorts of ideas that will cause a society to self-extinguish.

* Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the mind. A mind emptied of one idea will be quickly filled with another.

* Beliefs tend to immunize one against other beliefs. This can be good and bad. It's bad when people refuse to question their beliefs, but it can have the salutary effect of also hedging out very, very stupid beliefs that might replace their existing beliefs.

* Some of the new ideas idiots are filling their feeble brains with are inherently self-destructive, and might -- unlike the old ideas of religion -- actually destroy a society.

So in summation:

Even if one thinks that religion is hokey, it is better to have a set of non-suicidal hokey beliefs than to fill one's mind with suicidal ones.

I'm interested in the idea of memes, the idea that ideas are just communicable diseases -- intellectual viruses spread by the vectors of speaking or writing or listening or reading.

Some bugs are good -- like the good bacteria in your gut -- and are symbiotic and healthy for the host.

Others are deadly.

And there's an interesting thing about deadliness -- diseases which are too deadly tend to be self-liming as far as pandemic potential. Ebola, for example, is a disease that tends to kill its host too quickly to spread as far as, say, the Spanish flu, which killed millions.

An idea like "maybe I should eat poison because it's tasty and will make me good at sexing a woman" will not quickly spread because the bearers of this pathogen will die too quickly to infect the herd.

But diseases like toxic progressivism and totalitarianism...? These kill more slowly, and less obviously, so that the people carrying the diseases have plausible deniability about their danger to the herd.

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posted by Ace at 06:53 PM

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