Ed Driscoll

New Religions For A New Millennium

As the quote often (though apparently erroneously) attributed to G.K. Chesterton goes, “When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything.”

Two essays that appeared recently explore how the desire to replace tradition religion has influenced man in the new millennium (to borrow an antediluvian calendrical notion). First up, the great Walter Williams is the latest to observe that Global Warming Is a Religion”:

Manmade global warming, for many, is an Earth-worshipping religion. The essential feature of any religion is that its pronouncements are to be accepted on the basis of faith as opposed to hard evidence. Questioning those pronouncements makes one a sinner.

* * *

Time_Is_Gaia_Dead_1_11_10One of the most dangerous features of the global warming religion is its level of intimidation of heretics or would-be heretics.A few years back, Dr. Heidi Cullen, the Weather Channel’s climatologist, advocated that the American Meteorological Society (AMS) strip their seal of approval from any TV weatherman expressing skepticism about the predictions of manmade global warming. Scott Pelley, CBS News “60 Minutes” correspondent, compared skeptics of global warming to “Holocaust deniers.” Former Vice President Al Gore called skeptics “global warming deniers.” But it gets worse. On one of her shows, Dr. Cullen featured columnist Dave Roberts, who, in his Sept. 19, 2006, online publication, said, “When we’ve finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we’re in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards — some sort of climate Nuremberg.”

As a result, many climatologists have been intimidated into silence. That means the public is not informed about counter-alarmists facts such as: Over long periods of time, there is absolutely no close relationship between C02 levels and temperature. Humans contribute approximately 3.4 percent of annual C02 levels compared to 96.6 percent by nature. There was an explosion of life forms 550 million years ago (Cambrian Period) when CO2 levels were 18 times higher than today. During the Jurassic Period, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, CO2 levels were as much as nine times higher than today. Contrary to what educators are brainwashing our children with, polar bear numbers increased dramatically from around 5,000 in 1950 to as many as 25,000 today, higher than any time in the 20th century.

Political commentator Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956) warned that “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” That’s the political goal of the global warmers.

Of course. Meanwhile, at the Weekly Standard, James W. Ceaser has a lengthy essay titled, “Auguste Comte’s Religion of Humanity finds a 21st-century savior”, which explores the quasi-religious roots of Obama-worship, (with a few cameos from some early 20th century “progressive” characters who will be familiar to readers of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism), and helps to shed some light on The One and Mrs. One’s assorted eschatological ramblings on the campaign trail:

When the history of this period is written, the 2008 campaign will almost certainly be seen as a watershed event in cultural history, above and beyond any connection it had to American politics, when a worldwide movement congealed to display its enthusiasm for Barack Obama. This perspective will also require a reassessment of the place of Obama. To be sure, the campaign will continue in one respect to be regarded as being all about Obama. This has been Obama’s perception, and understandably so. Only the most rare of persons, after being the object for over a year of such unrelenting adulation, could have resisted the temptation to think that the world revolved around him. Barack Obama is clearly not that person. His speeches and remarks are filled with references to himself in a ratio that surpasses anything yet seen in the history of the American presidency. But in another respect, the 2008 campaign was about something much larger than Barack Obama. The character of the event will not be grasped until the focus begins to shift from Barack Obama to the yearning for Barack Obama. It is in the thoughts and actions of those who adored him that the most interesting and important dimension of the campaign took place.

The rise of the Religion of Humanity is what best describes this event. This strange term designates an actual sect, now defunct, that enjoyed a considerable following and prestige in intellectual circles in the 19th century. John Stuart Mill was a prominent convert, pronouncing the “culte de l’humanité [to be] capable of fully supplying the place for a religion, or rather (to say the truth) of being a religion.” In America, where the religion wore the respectable label of the “Church of Humanity,” the acolytes included the well-known journalist David Croly and his son Herbert, the founder and longtime editor of the New Republic. If it were not for the Religion of Humanity, Americans today might not have the pleasure of reading Jonathan Chait on “The Rise of Republican Nihilism” or E.J. Dionne “In Praise of Harry Reid.”

Mill and Croly were both intellectual disciples of the French social philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857). Though rarely studied in America today, Comte bequeathed an enormous legacy. He was the first to simplify and popularize the idea of a progressive movement of history, which he described as proceeding through three great epochs: the age of theological thinking, the age of metaphysical thinking, and the age of scientific or “Positivistic” thinking. (“Positivism,” referring to the scientific mindset and approach, was one of Comte’s many linguistic inventions.) The inevitable march of humanity (still with a small h) through these stages, albeit at different rates in different places, was the great story of history. Variations among nations and groups might continue, but they paled in significance next to the common destiny of humanity. Those who continued to view the world in terms of nations and their conflicts—Comte called them “retrogrades”—were caught in old thinking, unable to grasp the new global order being formed by the forces generated by Positivism.

Comte argued that it was time to expand man’s scientific knowledge of the physical world to the social realm. A new science of society, “sociology” (Comte’s term), was the latest and highest of all the sciences. Possession of knowledge of the laws of social movement was what ideally bestowed the title to rule. Comte and his circle were never much impressed by democracy and favored instead one system or another of governance by experts. (Saint-Simon, for whom Comte worked for many years, once proposed running society with “Councils of Newton.”)

But there was an important twist to Comte’s praise of science. In contrast to many who thought that the scientific method and scientific values were sufficient to bind society together, Comte insisted that people had to believe. As faith in the transcendent was no longer -possible in the Positivist age, he called for “replacing God with Humanity.” The aim of this religion without God was to build a global community that assured the betterment of man’s lot. Postulating this objective as an ideal is what Comte meant by Humanity (now with a capital H).

Given the suspicion that many today hold toward religion of any kind, Comte’s insistence on the need for a religion might seem to run counter to modern sensibilities. But set the word religion aside, and it is just on this point that Comte’s thought proves most prescient. The combination of confidence in science and a religious-like enthusiasm was the hallmark of the Obama campaign, just as it is the most salient characteristic of the contemporary progressive impulse. Confidence in experts and the pledge to “restore science to its rightful place” went hand in hand with chants of “Yes we can” and with celebrations of the gift of charismatic leadership.

What was more farfetched was Comte’s plan to establish an organized sect with churches, clergy, and calendar of Positivist saints. His movement in fact never reached much beyond the intellectual elites. But even here -Comte’s thought may be less naïve than it first appears, as he envisaged an initial period of syncretism in which existing Christian sects would adopt the fundamental premises of the new religion without officially becoming part of it. What better describes the theology of many contemporary liberal churches whose full energy in 2008 went into proselytizing for Obama?

There is one point, however, on which Comte’s idea of the Religion of Humanity, was inadequate. Social improvement, however admirable, was too elevated a goal to mobilize people and sustain their devotion. The contemporary movement has gone beyond the original to discover a new and firmer basis for promoting solidarity in the great cause of confronting climate change. Here is a project that can unite people in waging the moral equivalent of war against a common threat. The liturgy has been vastly strengthened by allowing the ecological soldiers to glimpse the moment of their glorious triumph, when, in candidate Obama’s words, “the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” This moment marked the dividing time between the pre- and post-Obama eras. The cause is also perfect in its “positivity,” since the threat can only be properly gauged by the disinterested research of the “best science,” the practitioners of which must be granted a central role in planning strategy. Although the recent Copenhagen conference on climate change ended in disappointment (even with Obama’s last minute intervention), the cause has lost none of its appeal. It is the subtext of James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar, which represents the next “flashpoint” in the evolutionary development of Humanity.

The confluence of the Religion of Humanity with the Obama campaign has every appearance of being a providential event. It was prepared by the advent in the 1990s of an ongoing world public opinion, something that had never previously existed. The focus was on views and attitudes about America, a symbol that was constructed under the guidance of the intellectual vanguard. This symbol, known as anti-Americanism, was given a human face in the first decade of this century when it was joined to the personage of George W. Bush. It was invested with every element deemed to be retrograde: the primacy of the nation, a claim of exceptionalism, and a set of principles—“nature and nature’s god”—grounded in theology and metaphysics. The world was depicted as comprising two fundamental “substances,” Bush and non-Bush, that were locked in a cosmic conflict.

Barack Obama’s coming served as the galvanizing force to carry the day for the cause of progress. Although Obama never conceived himself as playing a universal role when he launched his presidential bid, he awakened at some point in the campaign to the realization that he was no longer running merely for president of the United States. He was being selected for the much grander “office” of leader of a new world community. His credentials for this position were impeccable. Humanity as a concept formally includes everyone, but it is especially favorable to those who have previously been excluded from full recognition. (The old aristocrats, in Comte’s description, were hardly part of Humanity.)

Later, Ceaser adds:

The same pressure to hew to the dictates of the new religion is evident in the efforts of Obama’s intellectual supporters to save postpartisanship from the simple hoax that most now believe it to have been. Postpartisanship, we are told, never meant anything as mundane as dealing with the other party. It referred instead to working with those who embrace the consensus of the new era. It therefore explicitly excludes the bulk of the Republican party, which comprises those who cling stubbornly to their theology and metaphysics. Only those elements that have adapted or evolved qualify as potential postpartisan partners. The standard for inclusion is not an expression of popular will, but criteria supplied by the idea of progress. What has made many Americans increasingly suspicious of the office of leader of Humanity is their growing perception that it rests ultimately on contempt for the people.

Definitely read the whole thing.

(H/T: OJ)