The Theology of Liberalism
There is a sort of orthodoxy required among liberals. Do you believe in climate change? What about the gender pay gap? Those who do not toe the line often find themselves exiled -- not just from the fold, but from the conversation.
To some extent, these views are merely what we mean when we say the word “liberal” -- they describe a political program roughly supported by one major party. But at some point, these views have become prescriptive; they have morphed into a moral structure to provide meaning and guidance in place of religion. When political beliefs start to explain why bad things happen to good people, they may be crystallizing into something closer to faith.
Political views and religious belief are indeed two very different things, and many liberals have even criticized the pseudo-religious trends in their movement and party. Nevertheless, some recent events should make us wonder just how religious liberal orthodoxy has become.
These are not some cheap shots aimed at liberalism merely to discredit the ideas, but current trends in the movement which illustrate how a political ideology can answer human needs usually satisfied by religion. The ability to explain why bad things happen to good people, the need to confess your sins and find absolution, and the desire to attack opposing views as heretical -- these traditionally religious activities are increasingly being taken up by a political movement.
Perhaps liberalism is more like a religion than we thought.
Maintaining Orthodoxy - Declaring Ideas “Anathema”
The practice of attacking views as incorrect, or even as manifestations of evil, can be found in many religious denominations. Early Christianity -- not to mention the Reformation -- is rife with examples of vitriolic debates that ended with consensus, and one side becoming villainized as heretical. The Sunnis and Shi’ites in Islam have been fighting it out for centuries, and they still hate one another.
Today, some benighted hicks and malicious liars still doubt the doctrine of climate change as a deadly threat. When Real Clear Politics writer David Harsanyi tweeted “Celebrate climate change, an externality of the greatest poverty destroying program in the history of mankind,” he was called a psychopath and a sociopath.
“When a group confuses politics with moral doctrine, it may have trouble comprehending how a decent human could disagree with its positions,” Harsanyi explained. This, he suspected, “is probably why so many liberals can bore into the deepest nooks of my soul to ferret out all those motivations but can’t waste any time arguing about the issue itself.”
The accusations are endless. If you don’t believe in liberal positions about climate change, the minimum wage or social justice programs, you must have been bought off -- there simply is no other possible explanation. How could you hate the poor so much? How could you doubt established facts? How could you hate yourself?
“Don’t like big government? You’re a nihilist,” Harsanyi adds. Supporters of traditional marriage and sexuality are “transphobic, homophobic.” Pro-life advocates “may claim that you want to save unborn girls from the scalpels of Planned Parenthood, but your real goal is to control women -- even if you’re Carly Fiorina.”
This move to silence the debate does not end with Twitter. Last month, 20 climate scientists petitioned President Obama to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) -- a law intended to fight organized crime -- against people who “denied” climate change.
When Brookings scholar Robert Litan dared to analyze the downsides of a new federal regulation backed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Warren essentially forced him to resign, despite the scholar’s more than 40 years at the organization.
When retired neurosurgeon and presidential candidate Ben Carson said that the Nazis confiscated the firearms of Jews prior to the Holocaust, prominent liberals didn’t rebut his arguments. They didn’t even call him a liar. Instead, they wrote “f**k off” and accused him of “blaming the victims.” Carson was right, by the way, even though his comments were politically unwise and a bit oversimplified.
This tendency to shut down debate -- through name-calling, accusing critics of ulterior motives or diagnosing their social pathologies -- is unworthy even of a religion, but most closely resembles the religious practice of declaring certain views “anathema.” Instead of a papal bull against Martin Luther, we get a name-calling rant against Ben Carson.
Confession - Enforcing Morality
Whenever a public figure declares something heretical, a liberal outcry demands his or her head. Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was fired when it was discovered he had donated money to support California’s pro-traditional marriage Proposition 8. When the Boy Scouts of America dropped the national ban on gay leaders, liberal activists still said it wasn’t enough. Indiana’s tiny step toward a religious freedom law evoked a firestorm of anger.
Religion has historically provided a strong, non-state mechanism for society to enforce morality. When Jim was caught cheating on his wife, he had to express contrition, do penance, and only then would he be reconciled -- if she took him back. Similarly, when Bernie Sanders declares that “all lives matter,” the crowd jeers him off the stage until he repents his sin, as he did at the Democratic debate.
Nowhere is the mechanism of liberal confession more pronounced than on many of today’s college campuses. Princeton student Tal Fortgang recalled that multiple times in 2014, when he voiced conservative opinions, he was met with an immediate response: “Check your privilege!”
This command “teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world,” Fortgang wrote. Fortgang’s family fled from the Holocaust during World War II -- and many died.
Regardless of his family’s historic “privilege,” the student found the inherent attack on his accomplishments most galling. The assertion that any success he attains comes from society’s supposed preference for whites over people of other races posed a personal insult to his dignity. This mentality ascribes “all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive.” Until he acknowledges this “privilege,” his opinions can be disregarded as part of an unjust system.
Worse, the focus on “white privilege” obscures the fact that poverty -- and being born into wealth -- affects people of all races. Malia and Sasha Obama have a great deal of privilege, but that’s because their dad is the president, not because of their race. Poor whites in West Virginia won’t get help from affirmative action, but blacks will, regardless of how rich their daddy is.
Nevertheless, young white males are to apologize for their “privilege,” and acknowledge that they cannot possibly understand the viewpoints of their fellows. Such an enforced humility may be good for them, but it undermines the achievements of many and reeks of an enforced political morality.
Federal Government Theodicy: Why Bad Things Happen to Good People
Any mature Christian who has struggled with his or her faith has likely encountered the idea of theodicy, answering the question “if there is a good God, why is there evil in the world?” Christian history is rich with this perennial struggle -- to explain God’s goodness to a world where injustice prevails.
Recently, liberal pundits seem to have taken up the cause of explaining why bad things happen to good people: we don’t have a large enough federal government. In May, an Amtrak train derailed, making national news. Who better to blame than congressional Republicans, who capped federal funding for Amtrak (a private for-profit corporation) at a measly $1 billion? Even as preliminary reports suggested the driver was to blame, liberals argued that a lack of “infrastructure spending” was the real culprit.
When bad things happen, it must be because the nation did not sacrifice enough to the federal government. If only the appropriate administrative agency had more money, we wouldn’t have gotten into this mess! As The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway explained, “just as some religious groups might blame a weather event on insufficient fealty to the relevant god, some progressives blame...insufficient fealty, sacrifice, and offerings to the relevant god of federal government.”
Nevermind that Amtrak is a private company with problems of its own, and that members of the House of Representatives have called for a reorganization to promote more transparency. Nevermind the errors of the railroad operators in question who were more directly responsible for the derailment. No, congressional Republicans are to blame, because they were unwilling to dedicate more taxpayer dollars to the nebulous, job-creating savior “infrastructure.”
This thinking is so off-base it also proves an insult to religion, but sometimes liberal ideas can only be explained by comparison to faith.
Whether self-styled progressives question your ideas by calling you psychotic, demands that you “check your privilege” or blames all our woes on the insufficiency of big government, please understand that they are merely acting on the basis of firm convictions. We must not stoop to their level by questioning their motives or mental health. Only acknowledge that their faith can be as bigoted and entirely wrong as the most benighted religion.