It is now a commonplace among conservatives that Leftist beliefs such as Critical Race Theory, catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, the blessedness of abortion, and the necessity of COVID-19 lockdowns are substitute religions. What is not commonplace are the full implications of this assumption.
By calling these Leftist beliefs religions, conservatives are implying that followers adhere to them without evidence and against reason. Nothing that happens ever diminishes their devotion, be it white liberals letting black criminals out of jail to prey on law-abiding blacks, an ever-receding climate apocalypse, our increasing ability to look inside the womb and view the growing baby, or the disease and death caused by the lockdowns themselves, making the cure more deadly than the disease.
Before conservatives go rashly ahead with this critique of Leftist irrationality, they should ask themselves what it says about genuine religions. We should not have to say that Catholics adhere to their religion without evidence and against reason. Otherwise, the Leftists would be irrational, Catholics irrational, and no one the wiser. We’re all stuck in our ruts, oblivious of evidence and argument.
The problem with this quarter truth is that it is not clear about the nature of religion. It fails to understand that religion means sacrifice. No, Christians do not make animal sacrifices the way the ancient Israelites and the pagan world around them did and Muslims continue to do. But Christians had justification for sublimating the impulse to sacrifice, justifications that the Leftists lack.
Thus, secular beliefs require sacrifices and are inescapably destructive. It does no good to point out to global warming fanatics that wind power is expensive, unreliable, and harmful to the environment. In today’s parlance, that is a feature, not a bug. If wind power were cheap, reliable, and harmless, Leftists would oppose it.
If Critical Race Theory did not destroy race relations, Leftists would be against it. If abortions did not kill babies, no one would have them, and no one would worship abortion with such fanatical devotion. If lockdowns did not wreck the economy and sow their own diseases, Leftists would not impose them. If socialism actually brought prosperity, Leftists would sound like Ronald Reagan in their denunciations of it.
Modern socialism began, after all, in already prosperous France, Germany, and England when rapid economic development was bringing increased standards of living to all classes. The motivation for these beliefs is negative, oppositional, vindictive, destructive, spiritually rebellious.
Do not imagine that there has been or can be a religion apart from sacrifice or its ritual substitution. All the ancient religions included sacrifice of one kind (animal) or another (human at times). Walter Burkert put it this way in Homo Necans: “blood and violence lurk fascinatingly at the very heart of religion.”
Sacrifice did not end, to the extent that it did end, because people somehow inexplicably became wiser and more humane. Sacrifice is too embedded in (fallen) human nature to disappear on its own. Ending it requires justification. Sacrifice demands a substitute.
The Christian justification for ending animal sacrifice is given in Hebrews 10:12-14: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” It is not, then, a matter of eliminating sacrifices but of transforming them. As Burkert explains, “to a certain extent…Christianity would remain [a] sacrificial religion, but [a] very special sacrificial religion because [it] functioned without blood sacrifice.” Christianity is “a religion in which sacrifice is offered, or re-offered, perpetually.”
Enemies of religion falsely believe that human and animal sacrifice and their aftermath in modern religions prove that religion is evil. They think that religion caused the sacrifices, not something intrinsic to human nature that the religions attempted to tame through ritual sacrifice— as if without religion the ancient world would have been a world of John Lennon’s imagining.
God intervened to prevent Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, thereby substituting animal for human sacrifice. The Crucifixion substituted the Eucharist for animal sacrifice. At about the same time, rabbinic Judaism found its own substitute. Greek religion did not find one and died out under the pressures of religions that did. Hinduism found a substitute and flourished. It began with human sacrifices, then progressively replaced humans with horses, horses with steer, steer with sheep, sheep with goats, and goats with rice and barley.
Catholics believe that the only truly appropriate substitute is the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, its ritual reenactment in the Eucharist, and the offering up to the Lord by Christians of their very selves. Followers of other religions are no doubt convinced that their practices are the best substitutes. Be that as it may, without religion, people are unable to resist the sacrificial instinct and mindlessly destroy what is at hand.
Religion demands sacrifice, and the secular religion is no different. Secularism appears largely concentrated on the left nowadays, but conservatives are no less subject to the sacrificial imperative than liberals. Indeed, the stunning capitulation of corporate capitalism to woke activism can be explained by its secularism.
In an effort to placate the gods and set himself apart from the other beasts, man in his actual state of nature slices the throats of birds and sheep and sons and daughters and maidens and warriors. But Christ offered himself up on the Cross, making a full, complete, and perfect sacrifice for our sins, and not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world. No longer do we have to offer up our daughters when we want winds favorable to our sails, as Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigenia in order to get to Troy. Even though the Crucifixion made animal sacrifice unnecessary and even evil, in a secular world man reverts to his actual state of nature. Whatever his self-understanding, he must sacrifice.
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