At the recent Idols, Identity Politics, and Lies of Our Age conference sponsored by Patrick Henry College, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and The American Conservative, professors Daniel J. Mahoney and Joshua Mitchell and author/blogger Rod Dreher explored how identity politics is displacing Christianity.
Summarizing the themes of his recent book The Idol of Our Age, Mahoney argued that social-justice ideology represents an “ersatz secular religion” that casts aside traditional Christian concepts of forgiveness, repentance, and conversion. This ideology is blind to the idea that good and evil run through every human heart and contains “all the impetus of religious fanaticism” with “none of the dignity or grandeur of revealed religion.”
Mahoney said that the “facile relativism” and “toxic and coercive moralism” that characterize social-justice ideology conceals “expressions of the same underlying philosophy” – the religion of humanity. This latest attempt at “a comprehensive transformation of the world” has its genesis in the philosophy of the anti-clerical positivist Auguste Comte, who in 1851 crowned himself the emperor of humanity in the Notre Dame cathedral.
This new religion, according to Mahoney, is characterized by a toxic brew of “doctrinaire egalitarianism” and “aggressive secularism” that is “committed to making religion obsolete.” It rejects Christian and classical-philosophical teachings on “moral and personal self-limitation.” Instead, it favors a “liberationist and emancipatory cultural project” that, in the words of French political theorist Pierre Manent, embodies “liberty without law.”
The religion of humanity promotes the toleration of everything but “hate,” or anyone who has the slightest disagreement with its latest doctrines and dogmas. Mahoney contended that it denies the “permanent things” – theological and cardinal virtues, for example – and embraces the “vacuous idea that unrelenting change is a mark of vitality.” It revels in the “tyranny of the present moment,” seen in the proliferation of the various “isms” that have “deformed contemporary vocabulary.”
Mahoney argued that this new religion “undermines moderation and sober political thinking” in favor of a “dreamy, utopian cosmopolitanism” that rejects the “nation as the vehicle for sustaining our civic and moral heritage.” It is a Manichean ideology that pits racial groups against one another, at odds with the very idea of “e pluribus unum.” Though not yet equivalent with Soviet tyranny, Mahoney said that this “emerging soft-totalitarianism . . . risks hardening into a coercive despotic regime.”
In his presentation, Joshua Mitchell argued that the United States faces its most difficult challenge since the Civil War, namely, “a great American awakening without God and forgiveness.” Gleaning lessons from his book American Awakening, he suggested that America is made up of two opposing tribes, “each an amalgamation of many races, resolved unto death to live in different regimes.”
Ultimately, Mitchell said, identity politics is a distortion of Christianity because it transfers categories such as innocence, sin, and guilt to the realm of politics. Updating the classic sermon by Jonathan Edwards, Michell contended that the impure are “irredeemables in the hands of an angry mob,” in which the new elect achieve moral purity by scapegoating the unclean – whites, climate-change deniers, and so on – who have polluted the world. In this religion, “there is no Gospel good news,” because the impure are burdened [ … ]