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Friday, January 18, 2019

The Religion of Politics

I read a number of articles in December that I haven’t had space to include. As these things go, most just fade away after a while. But I didn’t want that to happen to Andrew Sullivan’s “America’s New Religions”—yet another meta-analysis of our culture that I think hits a number of nails on their proverbial heads. After arguing that everyone is religious in one way or another, even atheists, he starts to explain why we have turned politics into religion:
Liberalism is a set of procedures, with an empty center, not a manifestation of truth, let alone a reconciliation to mortality. But, critically, it has long been complemented and supported in America by a religion distinctly separate from politics, a tamed Christianity that rests, in Jesus’ formulation, on a distinction between God and Caesar. And this separation is vital for liberalism, because if your ultimate meaning is derived from religion, you have less need of deriving it from politics or ideology or trusting entirely in a single, secular leader. It’s only when your meaning has been secured that you can allow politics to be merely procedural.
So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be.
Careful GR readers will note his difference with Yoram Hazony, who I quoted two weeks ago as saying that classic liberalism (not current American political liberalism) is not merely a set of procedures but a definite (and anti-Judeo-Christian) philosophy. I go back and forth on who is right about that, but for this week, I’ll side with Sullivan! How’s that for conviction? At any rate, there are many more insights in his essay.
Grace and peace,

Mark GalliMark Galli
Mark Galli
Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today

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