Sean Collins of Spiked interviewed Joseph Bottum who, in 2014, published a book explaining very well the etiology of the hysteria and insanity afflicting America these days. This one is a must-read item.
One person who has long been exploring the religious fervour of todayâ€™s increasingly moralistic politics is the essayist and author Joseph Bottum. Indeed, his 2014 book, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, seems almost prophetic. There he argued that the demise of traditional Protestantism in the US has led liberals to transfer their religious beliefs, habits and passions into the political realm, moralising it in the process. Our age of â€˜post-Protestantismâ€™, he concludes, has eroded the boundary between the religious and the political, infusing politics with a religious mindset and discourse. …
The Mainline churches helped define American culture in several ways. First of all, the churches were mostly apolitical, which has had a profound effect on American culture. For instance, thereâ€™s never been a great American political novel. The average French streetwalker in a novel by Zola knows more about politics than the heroes of the greatest American novels. What is it to be an American? At the highest artistic level, it is to be concerned about the cosmos and the self. Politics is incidental to Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn. And thatâ€™s because Mainline Protestantism rendered politics secondary to what it deems is most important â€” namely, salvation and the self.
Second, Mainline Protestantism defined the structure of the family, and the shape of everyday life â€“ baptisms, marriages and funerals. It effectively shaped the social life of communities. When Tocqueville talks about these non-governmental associations in America that he found so fascinating, the two examples he gives are volunteer fire departments and burial societies. People banded together to make sure they had funding, and attendees, for each otherâ€™s funerals. This Protestantism will also shape the idea of the nuclear family, provide a sense of the arc of life, and frame how we understand whatâ€™s driving our behaviour, and how we think about politics. So when 50 per cent of the country belonged to these churches, these churches were still shaping social life.
The third thing Protestantism gave us was a shared language of the Bible. When Adlai Stevenson, the former Democratic governor of Illinois, was asked why he decided to run for president for a second time in 1956, he said, â€˜It was not like Paul on the road to Damascusâ€™. There was a cultural assumption that people would get this sort of Biblical reference. That too gave a unity to American culture. As much as the Lutherans were not the same as the Methodists, and so on, the churches shared what Tocqueville called the central stream, the main current in American life.
In the 1970s, the old Mainline Protestantism starts to break down. A question of what might replace its centrality in American culture emerges. There is a period in the 1990s and 2000s when it seems that Catholicism might provide the moral language that Mainline Protestantism no longer did. In the event, that project failed, primarily because liberal Protestantism did not disappear â€“ it just shifted into post-Protestantism. ….
What weâ€™re seeing now is an amplification of what I wrote about five years ago: an intense spiritual hunger that has no outlet. Thereâ€™s no way to see people kneeling, or singing â€˜Hands up, donâ€™t shootâ€™, or swaying while they hold up candles, and avoid acknowledging that itâ€™s driven by a spiritual desire. I perceived this when I wrote about Occupy Wall Street, and itâ€™s become even more like this. It is an intense spiritual hunger that is manifesting itself more violently. Because to the post-Protestants, the world is an outrage and we are all sinners.
As a follow-up to The Anxious Age, I wrote an essay in 2014 in the Weekly Standard, called â€˜The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideasâ€™. The first idea I addressed was white guilt â€“ that there is this inherent guiltiness that comes from being white. This notion has the same logical shape and the same psychological operation as Original Sin. The trouble is that, unlike Original Sin, thereâ€™s no salvation from white guilt. But the formal structure of white guilt and Original Sin is the same. How do you come to understand that you need salvation? By deeper and deeper appreciation of your sinfulness.
Similarly, there is ostracising and shunning. Cancel culture is just the latest and most virulent form of the religious notion of shunning, in which people are chased into further appreciation of their guiltiness. Two years ago, the Nation published a poem about an older panhandler giving advice to a younger one, about how to get people to give you money. The Twittermob went after that poem, on the grounds that the poet was a white man from Minnesota. And the magazine apologised, and the poet apologised for writing the poem. Thatâ€™s what the shunning is looking for. If you profane, if youâ€™re shunned outside the Temple, the only way back is to become fanatic, to convince people that you understand how guilty you are. And even then Iâ€™m not sure thereâ€™s any way back.
At the very least, one of the effects of the shunning is to frighten everyone into silence. Its purpose is to get people fired, to put people beyond the pale, to get them out of our sight. This is for a couple reasons. First, it is to ensure we are not infected by this sinfulness. And second, it is a public declaration of our power. It says, look how powerful we are, that we can do this to people.
The Twittermob is really an astonishing phenomenon. One of the latest cases is the grocery store, Trader Joeâ€™s. The Los Angeles Times recently ran a piece saying that it was a shame that Trader Joeâ€™s, which many of its readers identify with, wouldnâ€™t give in to an online petition [that called for the removal of â€˜racist packagingâ€™ for products like Trader Mingâ€™s and Trader JosÃ©â€™s]. This was a petition started by a 17-year-old. The change.org petition against Trader Joeâ€™s never had many signatures [about 6,000 in early August, about one month after it started]. As a columnist noted, more people attend an SEC football game than are in these Twittermobs that have companies terrified.
We live in just the strangest times. But understanding the historical roots of these radicals as post-Protestant, and understanding the spiritual hunger which has no outlet for them, helps us to explain it.
There can be no question that he is right. Leftism generally is nothing other than the recrudescence and amalgamation of several earlier prominent Christian heresies, and contemporary Woke Leftism is an obvious outbreak of religious hysteria based on that heretic cult.