As churches and other religious communities in the United States find themselves with declining membership and attendance, some have argued that a new religion, the political cult, has taken their place. One social commentator has tackled the argument of whether the declining influence of Christianity in western culture has fuelled the rise of political extremism. Andrew Sullivan, author and columnist with New York Magazine, had a piece published titled “America’s New Religions” that argued politics was filling the “need for meaning” found with growing secularization.
“Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being,” wrote Sullivan, who defined “religion” as “a way of life that gives meaning that cannot be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying ‘Truth’ or God. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in Christianity, find expression in various political cults.” Sullivan went on to describe political cults as “new and crude,” saying that they lack refinement and experience, with examples being found on both ends of the spectrum.
“We have the cult of Trump on the right, who among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical,” continued Sullivan. “They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom, culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.” Sullivan warned that these cults “threaten liberal democracy” due to their rejection of compromise, doubt, reason, and the “primacy of the individual.” “They demonstrate how profoundly liberal democracy has depended on the complement of a tolerant Christianity to sustain itself” he noted.
“The core subject is what happens to politics once God is dead. Sullivan continued. “It is that the religious impulse will always be part of human nature, and will occupy politics if it no longer finds expression in a spiritual space. Think of Soviet communism as a replacement for Orthodox Christianity, or national socialism for Protestantism. These were in many ways, atheist theocracies, with all of the mind control and none of the occasional acts of mercy. They saturated politics with the question of ultimate meaning; and, in that quest, they killed tens of millions of people and enslaved the rest. Red-blooded religious fanaticism has no time for liberalism.”
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