Religion may be declining in the USA, but religiosity is on the rise, only this time the zealots have traded prophecy for politics
The absence of a God doesn’t mean that the human need to ‘believe’ in something vanishes, rather it leaves a gap that must be filled and, troublingly, more and more people are filling that void with politics.
Traditional religion is in decline throughout the US. Whether measured by service attendance, financial donations or recruitment, the statistics say – for better or worse – the major faiths are fading in societal influence.
For example, a 2019 Pew Research Center study recorded a 12% decline in Americans defining themselves as Christian over the previous decade – while the “religiously unaffiliated” increased 9% during that same period. That would serve as good news to proponents of the absolute separation of church and state. Still, any agnostics planning a victory party for a secular society can take the godless champagne out of the ice bucket because religion isn’t leaving the world stage. It simply changed costumes.
Religion is often charged with disrupting world peace more than any other human force. Regardless of the faith in question, misuse by its leaders can see members kneeling to cultish groupthink that pits “us” against “them” without the slightest shred of compassion or understanding. Choose any region of this planet and do the research. Examples abide.
However, that same faith phenomena also satisfy multiple human needs. It unifies otherwise diverse people. It offers the concept that there is more to life than what our five senses imply. Most importantly, spiritual belief provides clear laws, rules and societal norms that guide and protect the lives of millions. What the detractors of religion often forget is that the potential absence of a deity and worship doesn’t mean those needs disappear.
Our inbuilt addiction to fill the holes in our lives with something bigger than ourselves is now turning to politics for a fix. The result is a secular world deteriorating rapidly while afflicted with non-secular practices it was not built to house.
The daily news piles on instances of spiritual behavior inflicted upon political practices. All it takes to spot them is identifying a given religious concept and plugging in public behavior, be its source conservative or progressive.
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Heresy: her·e·sy / ˈherəsē/ – Belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine. (Oxford English Dictionary)
Every global faith has some sort of holy writ – scripture that sets the conditions of the creed and instructs proper belief and behavior. Most often, those words are credited to the deity in question or a prophet speaking in its stead. With that dignity established, anyone who defies or ignores that instruction is marked as a heretic – an enemy of the faith and a threat to the faithful. In the political realm, tribal membership is denied to anyone who questions any decree of policy.
No elected official can be criticized by members of the ideology who sent forth the candidate. No policy is questioned lest the unfortunate doubter be tossed out of the flock. That expulsion most often takes the path of simply accusing the skeptic of joining the other side. It becomes, in essence, “If you’re not with us, you’re with them.”
In our new realm of political religions, the poor soul who commits heresy is subjected to the complete and irreversible punishment of…
Shunning: Gerund or present participle form of shun /SHən/ – Persistently avoid, ignore or reject (someone or something) through antipathy or caution. (OED)
There is no difference between the ancient practice of shunning and the modern tactics of Cancel Culture. In eras passed, any community member who acted against or questioned sacred canon would be rejected and sent into the wilderness. Today, even amidst civilized and supposedly free societies, someone who fails to bend the knee to the mores of the hour in words or actions faces the loss of livelihood, friends and reputation.
This modern shunning flourishes in a realm of finality. Its victims suffer without due process, and all convictions are final. Any cult member of rank admitting they offered forgiveness to a canceled human being is subjected to the very same threat. Such self-righteous, utterly certain judgements grow from a poisonous cloud of…
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Zealotry: zɛlətri – Fanatical and uncompromising pursuit of religious, political, or other ideals; fanaticism. (OED)
It’s difficult to describe the raging men and women charging up the steps of the US Capitol as anything but zealots. Absolutely convinced they were wronged by the electoral process and steeped in hatred for their political rivals, the true believers crashed into the halls of government without fear of physical harm or legal process.
Zealotry short circuits rational thought, demanding followers to rush forward in a red mist of unquestioned faith. Soldiers of belief who stop and think before charging forward in the name of dogma are useless to the political prophets sending them into battle. That’s why the ultimate goal of the zealot remains…
Martyrdom: mar·tyr·dom /ˈmärdərdəm – 1. The death or suffering of a martyr. 2. A display of feigned or exaggerated suffering to obtain sympathy or admiration. (OED)
The flooding of political thought by religious extremism is no more obvious than in the new phenomena of citizens embracing damage to their lives and community in the name of their one true socio-political faith. We turn to California as our Exhibit A.
The bluest of American states, progressive thinking rules local and state government with any remnant of the Republican party locked out in the desert. Beyond merely single-party rule, California relies on single-philosophy rule as only the most leftist of candidates stand a chance, leaving moderate Democrats to shack up with lonely GOP exiles. As a result, no progressive policy is questioned or challenged.
Progressive tax policy focuses on hitting corporations hard at the pay window. As Toyota, Nissan, Tesla, Oracle, Hewlett Packard, Jamba Juice, Nestle, Dole, Mitsubishi and their ilk left California for more tax-friendly environs, the Golden State clings to its high taxation ideals – sacrificing thousands of jobs on the altar of this misguided ideology.
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Progressive approaches to the homeless problem demand respect and acceptance of everyone’s life choices – even if fueled by drug addiction and mental illness. A “hands off” policy of enablement remains in place with Los Angeles and San Francisco now littered with tent cities, feces and drug paraphernalia. The endgame is once great American cities allowed to die slowly – martyred for sacred political philosophy.
The saddest aspect of this “religion-ization” of American politics is it injects all of any sect’s most negative tendencies, while leaving out the most divine. At their core, the world’s widely spread religions teach peace, empathy and community. Intolerance, false piety and oppression hide in their darker corners. The tribal nature of modern politics embraces all of those shadows and shuts out any light faith practices might offer.
Political thought cannot operate under theological standards as religion offers faith in place of evidence. True belief puts questions aside in place of hard set, commonly held, undebatable edicts. A healthy culture’s politics feed on debate and persuasion by an exchange of ideas, and that discussion must be reasoned. Public policy requires experimentation, supporting evidence and demonstrable results. Most importantly, government in a free society demands the expression of opposition.
In the US, society continues a slow march to tribal intolerance and the rejected expression of free thought as an ever-growing herd places more weight on obedience over the exercise of the best human principles.
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