Monday, November 24, 2014

Civil religion in an age of collapse is for the birds

To understand from where I am coming in this post, it is probably helpful to read John Michael Greer's blog-post on The Fate of Civil Religion. If you don't feel like doing that, what the post is about is how people in the modern world make quasi-religions out of politics and other non-theist ideas, and one major drawback of that sort of religion is that being of this world, it is very brittle and prone to cognitive dissonance because its premises are inherently falsifiable. Greer's classic example is the way communist ideology definitely became such a religion, and when the communist regimes of the previous century proved unable to deliver the promised paradise on Earth, very many people simply stopped believing altogether. These days the only old-fashioned Marxists you tend to find, in the USA anyway, are ivory-tower academic types or splinter-party cultists who get together every now and then and grimly pretend that the very flow of history they revere hasn't left them flat on their backs in a dusty ditch somewhere.

I see the Democratic Party civil religion as now arriving at a similar point in its particular journey. Don't get me wrong, here. I am most certainly not comparing post-World-War-Two American liberal ideology with the ideology of the old USSR and its now-defunct client-states. I'll leave that sort of invidious comparison to the slavering, inbred fuckwits who live in Glenn Beck-istan and need right-wing talk-radio to tell them when to eat, sleep, shit, and play with themselves. The only respect in which I am comparing liberal Democratic-Party faith and Marxist ideology is that the adherents of both have become devotees of a sad ghost of a bygone era that will never be able to deliver a different and better world.

An instructive metaphor may be helpful here. I see supporters of the Democratic Party faith as being a bunch of people, many of them in hipster garb, running down the street chasing after something that passersby can't see because that something simply isn't there. It looks awfully futile and silly to the passersby, but the folks who are doing this clearly have an emotional investment in maintaining their pretense that keeps them existentially intact somehow. Now, just as long as the pursuers aren't interfering with the business of the passersby and the pursuers feel this is something they really need to be doing, the more rational and well-adjusted passersby won't attempt to interfere with the contrived business of the pursuers. After all, any passersby or apostate pursuers who would get all caught up in attempting to stop any of the pursuers and show them the error of their ways would be just as silly and codependent as the pursuers themselves. In fact, such people would certainly turn out to have issues of their own that they might be doing a much better job of managing instead of trying to set other people right.

To extend the metaphor a bit, I can easily imagine an intelligent grade-school-aged boy asking his mother why those people are so frantically engaged in an endeavor that appears to be so imagination-based from everybody else's point of view. The boy's mother would distractedly reply, "That's just their religion, honey" and the young lad would nod in sudden clarifying comprehension. Indeed, if you look at such devotion to the politics of the weak and dying Democratic Party as this devotion exists on the Internet, calling it religion is not just a cute metaphor employed by cynics such as yours truly looking for some clever new way to make our point. This devotion is increasingly using not just the attitude but the language of religion, and it really is old-fashioned, service-attending, heretic-excoriating, demonology-obsessing religion in the truest sense of the word. As such, it is inherently non-falsifiable and more about keeping the psyches of the remaining faithful intact than it is about any concurrent social, political, or economic reality. And I really do think that the only way one can deny this is if one is a devotee of this religion who doesn't wish to admit that it has become a civil religion.

I suppose if I would have realized this sooner, I wouldn't have felt the need to waste all this time commenting on it and simply decided that I'm probably too much of an old-fashioned theist religionist (I suppose it would be not entirely unfair to describe me as a reconstituted or reformed New Ager, even though I don't think there's going to be any freaking "New Age" of goodness and sweetness and light in this world anytime soon) to be able to go there with the Democratic Party civil religionists of my era. Devoting oneself so thoroughly to an entity as manifestly unworthy as the Democratic Party of the USA seems to me to be about as creepy and sad as creepy and sad gets. Besides, I've done the civil-religion thing back when I was a know-it-all denizen of the college PC scene (which is, let's face it, mostly a post-modern reconstitution of Marxist ideology), and to say I ultimately found it unrewarding and untrue would be the understatement of the year. Those idiots including myself were much bigger losers then the Democratic Party's codependent doormat supporters ever could be.

If my "civil atheism" somehow qualifies as a species of civil religion, in the same way that today's atheist-skeptic orthodoxy has become a religion in its own right, I guess I can live with that. I'm not going to sit here and fatuously claim, "What I believe isn't a civil religion because I'm always right about absolutely everything!" in a manner comparable to some sophomoric Richard Dawkins fanboy from

Considering that we're facing some pretty harsh shit as a civilization in terms of exhausting energy and resources, pollution, agricultural exhaustion, and climate-change, it probably is rather uncharitable of me to paint liberal supporters of the decidedly not-liberal modern Democratic Party as being nothing but silly nincompoops because I'm sure that's not all there is to them. They do have some significant awareness that things are changing for the worse and that changing how we do things would be a good idea in the face of that. Even if the approach they continually pursue is based upon an illusion, their wanting to do something about the troubled nature of current human life in this world comes from an essentially good place. I guess where I part company with them is in being of the mind that things have progressed too far to halt or significantly mitigate any consequences of what is charging at us over the horizon, and US society is too locked into the way it now is for it to be anything but too late. Whatever is going to happen is simply going to happen.

1 comment:

Roger Ebert said...

I'll cross post this on the Diner tonight MR.