Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

No Gods before Me

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A religion does not require a supernatural being. All you need for a religion is a faith and a community of believers. People have built religions from economics (socialism), romantic folk nationalism and even science.

You shall have no other gods before me.
— Deut. 5:7 (NIV)

Any self-respecting monotheistic god is a jealous god, demanding that worship of him/her/it come before any other human purpose. Otherwise, the religion would offer no guidance and no meaning. It could offer no definitive ethical norms. There would be no reason for people to commit to it.

Few people are sufficiently willful and self-assertive to determine for themselves how they ought to live. Even among those who reject prevailing norms of the majority community, most seek to belong to some community of dissenters, which in turn has its own norms, rituals and punishments for apostates. The common communities of dissent found in America, such as at universities, pride themselves on critical thinking. If you think critically about what goes on in these dissent communities, however, don’t vocalize your conclusions, because they will not be well received.

Once the basic needs for food, clothing and shelter are met, people start thinking about meaning and justice. They start seeking answers that must be found outside of themselves. Most people can call into question tomorrow answers that they find inside themselves today. Thus, they must obtain from somewhere outside of themselves a source of moral authority that they are prepared to accept and submit to that authority. The increase in personal autonomy in the West over the past five hundred years has released most of us from the obligation to believe as our parents did, but there is no release from the obligation to believe in something.

Prior to the French Revolution, faiths other than those in supernatural beings had not been tried. Their supporters could point to a large catalog of abuses that believers in Christianity or Islam had perpetrated in the name of their respective faiths. By now, the believers of these alternative faiths have had their own opportunities to wield political power, and we can point to their sorry history of crimes committed in the name of The People.

Autonomy allows each individual to choose where to place her faith. History shows that there are inferior choices. The experience of the Social Gospel is one such cautionary tale. The Social Gospel visualized corporate redemption for the entire country by having the power of the government make everyone live according to the leaders’ vision of what is virtuous. Most Social Gospel leaders were not honest about the coercion that they advocated. However, if you want to make people live right, the Judeo-Christian God is a poor substitute for the modern nation state. God is not intrusive; although grace is always available to you, you have the choice of whether or not to take it. The state has police power to compel citizens to comply with the directives of its leaders. So earnest followers turned from God to the state, because the latter could deliver results.

Anyone who traces the subject historically will acquire the conviction … that the Christian religion founded something of which not even a Plato or an Aristotle had any adequate notion — personal liberty. By its separation of the things of God and the things of Caesar, it established a domain of free conscience, in which the individual might take refuge from the encroachments of the omnipotent state.
— Irving Babbitt, Democracy and Leadership (1924), p. 115.

Particularly after the experiences of the twentieth century, the Christian separation of the things of God from the things of Caesar is particularly appealing. As Babbitt illustrates in his writing, it is necessary and fundamental to any notion of a private individual space within the community. Compare:

The rights and the powers both of states and individuals must be competent to serve their purposes efficiently in an economical and coherent national organization, or else they must be superseded. A prejudice against centralization is as pernicious, provided centralization is necessary, as a prejudice in its favor. All rights under the law are functions in a democratic political organism and must be justified by their actual or presumable functional adequacy.
— Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life (1909), Chapter IX.

Herbert Croly was a thought leader in Progressivism and a champion of the new faith in The People, through the means of the state. He means exactly what he says: the state is organic and has a will of its own, and rights that do not serve the state’s purposes must not stand. For Croly, there are no inalienable rights to which all men are endowed by their Creator. There is no private individual space here; Caesar is God.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
— First Amendment (1791)

The greatest threat to our liberty is the establishment of a religion requiring belief in the state as the diviner of truth and fount of wisdom, and we are already well on our way to such establishment. Advocates of this belief would argue that theirs is not a religion because there is no supreme being, but this is disingenuous. The worship of the state still has a priesthood, who alone can interpret what is in “the public interest.” It requires faith. It divides the people into the elect, who are in harmony with its purposes, and the damned, who put their own selfish interests first. The religion of the state identifies sin, delivers judgment and promises redemption. Its god is also a jealous god, who demands we worship no gods before it.

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Written by srojak

April 2, 2016 at 1:27 pm

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