Yes, secular religion is breaking out across the land. That’s old news. Here’s what’s new—it’s growing so very dark. We don’t need to repeat all the recent excesses of cancel culture to know that many anti-racist progressives are in the midst of a hunt for ideological heretics, and even the oldest sins can’t be forgiven.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve participated in church services and prayer meetings where I prayed fervently for revival. We cried out for another Great Awakening. It was through repentance and reconciliation that we’d truly heal our land. I must confess, I wasn’t sure I’d ever live to see a truly large-scale religious awakening. But here we are. Here it is. There’s just one catch.
It’s not Christian.
It is, however, quite fundamentalist.
Look, I know full-well that there is nothing original about observing that many Americans have transformed politics into a religion. The phrase “Great Awokening” is a direct callback to arguably the most significant Christian religious revival of our nation’s past. It’s not original, nor is it surprising. We’re hard-wired for a spiritual purpose. After all, Ecclesiastes 3:11 declares that “God put eternity” in the hearts of men.
[T]hird-wave antiracism is a profoundly religious movement in everything but terminology. The idea that whites are permanently stained by their white privilege, gaining moral absolution only by eternally attesting to it, is the third wave’s version of original sin. The idea of a someday when America will “come to terms with race” is as vaguely specified a guidepost as Judgment Day. Explorations as to whether an opinion is “problematic” are equivalent to explorations of that which may be blasphemous. The social mauling of the person with “problematic” thoughts parallels the excommunication of the heretic. What is called “virtue signaling,” then, channels the impulse that might lead a Christian to an aggressive display of her faith in Jesus.
McWhorter was discussing anti-racism, but his analysis applies to elements of the intersectional left more broadly. Here’s Andrew Sullivan with a similar analysis:
[Intersectionality] is operating, in Orwell’s words, as a “smelly little orthodoxy,” and it manifests itself, it seems to me, almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required.
Make no mistake, political religious fervor is not contained to the left. There are times when Trumpism veers directly onto religious turf. Sometimes quite explicitly. Observe the First Baptist Church of Dallas choir sing a hymn called “Make America Great Again.”
Spend any time around the new Trump right, and you’re immediately seized by how closely it tracks that ‘ole time religion—with Trump serving as the charismatic circuit-riding evangelist. People wonder about his deep bond with so many millions of rural Americans, but it’s obvious to observers who grew up in the South—even if Trump’s a New York reality star, he’s still connecting with a deep (and idealized) rural cultural memory.
The result isn’t just enthusiastic political support (political rallies and preacher-style rhetoric are nothing new in American politics) but a sense of identity, fellowship, and religious passion that’s syncretistic with Christianity, with Trump serving as the Lord’s mighty instrument of justice and righteousness.
So, yes, secular religion is breaking out across the land. That’s old news. Here’s what’s new—it’s growing so very dark. We don’t need to repeat all the recent excesses of cancel culture to know that many anti-racist progressives are in the midst of a hunt for ideological heretics, and even the oldest sins can’t be forgiven. Consider that on Friday a Boeing executive resigned after an employee complained about an article he wrote 33 years ago opposing women in combat.
(For the record, I’m now ineligible to work at Boeing because I wrote against Pentagon policy changes permitting women to serve in ground combat roles a mere five years ago, and I stand by my argument.)
And if you think religious Trumpism is sweetness and light, you haven’t been paying attention. In fact, right-wing Trumpism is trying its best to build its own cancel culture, aimed at purging right-wing institutions of anti-Trump voices—or at abusing them and hounding them online and in real life. Cruelty isn’t just a means to an end. It’s often the point.
At the edges of Trumpism sit the racist alt-right and the followers of Q, a conspiracy theory so bizarre, incomprehensible, and paranoid that you strain to understand how anyone can believe its claims. Yet it’s growing in strength, and it occupies a deeply spiritual place in the lives of its adherents.