Nancy Pelosi describes sexual abuser John Conyers as an “icon.” Environmentalists prophecy an apocalyptic last judgment and the end of the world. Progressives look forward to the kingdom of heaven on earth but find saints, martyrs, and taboos in identity politics. Conservatives demand adherence to orthodox doctrines and condemn backsliders. John Hart notes the religious language being used by secular politicians and concludes that religion is being replaced by political ideology.
In his article Is Ideology Becoming America’s Official Religion? (in Forbes, no less), Hart says, “Today, ideology seems to be filling a vacuum left by traditional faith.” And “Today’s political rhetoric certainly suggests we’re not less religious but religious about something else. The Left and Right both increasingly use religious or “theologized ideology’ to express their views.
He quotes psychological theorist Carl Jung, writing in 1958 during the Cold War with Communism, “You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.” Jung, in The Undiscovered Self , went on to note how the state fills the vacuum:
The State takes the place of God; that is why, seen from this angle, the socialist dictatorships are religions and State slavery is a form of worship … The policy of the State is exalted to a creed, the leader or party boss becomes a demigod beyond good and evil, and his votaries are honoured as heroes, martyrs, apostles, missionaries. There is only one truth and beside it no other. It is sacrosanct and above criticism. Anyone who thinks differently is a heretic.
Hart comments, “Many on the Left and Right are bowing to the same false god of state power from opposite sides of the altar.”
Liberals need to ask themselves: Why do so many on their side who believe they’re enlightened and post-religious use progressive fundamentalist religious rhetoric to advance their views? Conservatives, meanwhile, need to ask traditional believers whether they really believe the author of string theory and the designer of DNA needs an extra vote in the Senate to orchestrate change?
Where else do we see political ideology taking the place of religion? How can religious convictions inform political action without falling into the trap of sacralizing human ideology, worshiping state power, or reducing a universal faith into a civil religion? (Hint: Two Kingdoms.)
Illustration by CJF20 via Flickr, Creative Commons License