“Everyone has a religion," writes Andrew Sullivan. "It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society."
We live in a secular culture in which politics is increasingly occupying the meaning-vacuum left by religion. As Sullivan explains, “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. ... 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.”
In Sullivan’s view, there are two prominent political cults vying for the religious affections of Americans in 2019: the cult of Trump and the cult of social justice. Whether you’re on the left or on the right, these cults “are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.” Read “America’s New Religions” for one of the clearest summations available of the American cultural moment. For Sullivan’s take on the UK situation, check out his recent longform piece on the remarkable similarities between Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn.
We live in a time of intense political polarization. Every day, the dividing lines between left and right seem to become sharper. But Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen thinks that both left and right are infected with the same disease: liberalism. By "liberalism" he doesn't mean the partisan left, but the longstanding political philosophy premised on the freedom of the individual person to realize his or her desires without obstacle. According to Deneen, this is both the operating system for the Western world and the rot at its heart.
The result? Modern Westerners have an abiding impulse to buck against the limiting ties of family, place, community, and religion. Shorn of these ties, we seek membership, belonging, and meaning through our interactions with an ever-expanding state and market.
The left insists that the state must protect the liberty of individuals to do as they please, while the right insists that the market must remain free with very few restrictions placed on an individual’s economic choices. The right “seeks to promote family values but denies that the market undermines many of the values that undergird family life. The left commends sexual liberation as the best avenue to achieve individual autonomy, while nonsensically condemning the immorality of a marketplace in which sex is the best sales pitch.”