It seems to me that there are certain religious principles and archetypes that are not only timeless and universal, but that man cannot avoid using in order to think and make his way through the world. After all, man is man, and for 99.9% of his existence he has been Homo religiosus, not Homo pomo.
You might say that our being is saturated with these things, such that we can no more rid ourselves of them than a fish could live on dry land. They are essential, not accidental, meaning that they go to what we are. Remove them and we are not -- not human beings, anyway. Then what are we? What do we become? Good question. (Hint: it involves nothing.)
Raccoons are familiar with the distinction between essence and accident, so I'll be brief: the essence of, say, a ball, is to be spherical. You can paint it red, white, or blue, but those are accidents. So long is it remains round, then it is still a ball. Shape it into a square, however, and it has lost its essence and is now something else.
So, what is man, essentially? What are those attributes without which he isn't one? Of course, in the postmodern world this is a pointless question; or rather, there are no essences, precisely. Therefore, to ask about the essence of man is analogous to asking about the sound of geometry or shape of justice.
At any rate, we're particularly interested in certain unavoidable religious motifs that are as universal as principles of logic, such as identity and non-contradiction. Off the top of my head I'm thinking of such things as grace, fallenness, purity, sacrifice, center, origin, faith, sin, redemption, salvation, evil, and paradise. I'm sure there are others.
No matter how "materialistic" we pretend to be, our minds are nevertheless woven of transcendence and immanence: everything is a tapestry of matter and spirit. The Aphorist, as usual, puts it best: The natural and the supernatural are not overlapping planes, but intertwined threads.
Let's take, for example, Marx. I'm hardly the first to point out that his whole program is just Christianity turned upside-down and inside-out. Muravchik writes of how Marxism's "claim of inevitability was not an intellectual weapon but a religious one" that may be traced to "Engels' boyhood faith of Pietism, which embodied a doctrine of predestination."
Nor was this the only way that socialism echoed revelation. It linked mankind's salvation to a downtrodden class, combining the Old Testament's notion of a chosen people with the New Testament's prophecy that the meek shall inherit the earth. Like the Bible, its historical narrative was a tale of redemption that divided time into three epochs: a distant past of primitive contentment, a present of suffering and struggle, and a future of harmony and bliss.
Let's be honest: there is no intellectual content to communism or socialism. So, what's the attraction? In a way, you have only to listen to most anything that comes out of the mouth of, say, St. Alexandria of the Occluded Cortex. If it were as easy and as wonderful as she describes, who wouldn't be attracted?
Not many people became socialists because they were persuaded by the correctness of Marxist economics or supposed the movement served their "class interests." They became socialists because they were moved to fervor by the call to brotherhood and sisterhood; because the world seemed aglow with the vision of a time in which humanity might live in justice and peace (ibid.).
So, that's the appeal, and it's not insignificant. This is a problem with politics in general, especially in a democracy; or, in a poorly catechized democracy in which citizens... Put it this way: at least half of Americans are poorly catechized in both religion and in our constitutional republic, and are therefore extremely vulnerable to conflating politics and religion.
After all, what was Obama? You couldn't have invented a more perfect example of what I'm talking about. He is intellectually negligible, but this has nothing to do with the power he wielded over his voter-ies.
The other day I made the mistake of dismissing Obama's intelligence in the course of a conversation with a liberal friend, and he immediately accused me of racism! I don't know why I added the "!", because that makes it sound unusual or unpredictable, when it is an expectable reaction to heresy, blasphemy, and sacrilege. Again, the reaction has nothing to do with insulting Obama's intelligence, but with desecrating a religious icon.
So, most of what we regard as "political" revolves around transformations of religious ideas. I'm reminded of a book by Bion called Transformations. It must have popped into my head for a reason, so let's drag it down and find out if it has anything to add to our discussion.
Ah! Good news from one of the amazon reviewers: "I have assiduously worked through a large part of Bion's work. There is genius behind apparent madness in his thinking." I can only hope to earn such an extravagant encomium for my toils on this blog!
I probably haven't cracked this book in 30 years. I'm blowing the dust off the top, just like in the movies. There are some urgent notes to myself that I don't quite understand, but I do recall this passage:
Suppose a painter sees a path through a field sown with poppies and paints it: at one end of the chain of events is the field of poppies, at the other a canvas with pigment disposed on its surface. We can recognize that the latter represents the former, so I shall suppose that despite the differences between a field of poppies and a piece of canvas, despite the transformation that the artist has effected in what he saw to make it take the form of a picture, something has remained unaltered and on this something recognition depends. The elements that go to make up the unaltered aspect of the transformation I shall call invariants.
Small idea, big implications. Think of the example of Marx above. In his "painting" of socialism, it is easy to see the transformations of Judeo-Christian invariants. And more to the point of this post -- which is rapidly running out of time -- there are certain religious invariants that man simply cannot avoid, such that we see their transformations everywhere.
We'll conclude with this observation by Muravchik: "Thus, part of the power of Marxism was its ability to feed religious hunger while flattering the sense of being wiser than those who gave themselves over to unearthly faiths."
Come for the covert religiosity, stay for the superiority!