Thanks to the Moral Majority, it’s again okay to be antireligious — a little bit, anyway. And yet only the grossest grandiose abuses of the radio reactionaries and direct-mail chauvinist pigs come in for even polite criticism. That’s too bad, ’cause if you turn the other cheek, you’ll probably catch a slap on that side too. When the fundamentalists start piling up faggots around faggots, let’s not limit ourselves to deploring the fire code violation.
Face it: the aggressive elan of the religious right is running rings around the limited legalism of its enemies. The repressive right is (on the) offensive. The punch-drunk, punch-pulling “progressives” are only reacting. Unlike most who model the adjective, the godly really are radical. They’re happy to rewrite or rip up their own revered Constitution. They’re out to shatter the social and sexual status quo. They have a (tunnel) vision of a theocratic New Order. They mean business.
The liberals and leftists in contrast are dithering, defensive conservatives — Weimar paralytics unwilling to do unto others what’s being done unto them. Why not?
Until recently, leftists regarded any resurrection of the Marxist and Bakuninist critiques of religion as old-fashioned and irrelevant. The fact that “the masses” they profess to serve but secretly despise still largely adhered to a watered-down Christianity didn’t disturb the leftist leadership. That was just one more sign of the elect to distinguish the vanguard from the rank and file; one more reminder that the hoi-polloi need to be controlled for their own good.
Certainly such superstitions, if overlooked, proved no obstacle to the officialdom’s prime purpose: herding people into its parties and unions. By the 1960’s, the left’s inheritance of Enlightenment freethought had so far evaporated that “Marxist-Christian dialog” became fashionable. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., especially after his martyrdom, assumed totemic stature, his holy name gracing innumerable and otherwise unchanged streets, schools, parks and buildings. The New Left toyed with mysticism — a tendency which later differentiated into a self-subsistent scam-subculture, the New Age — and collaborated with Quakers, religious liberals and hip Vatican II priests and nuns in antiwar work and various ventures in humanitarian uplift.
Among liberals, the mere mention of religion was a breach of good taste as well as a threat to the New Deal coalition which yoked them to the Catholic ethnics. Everything, from the Kennedy cult to the radical-liberal effusions of the National Council of Churches, combined to abort any resumption of the liberal anticlerical tradition of Paine and Jefferson. It isn’t easy to hew to Voltairean verities while holding hands with a miniskirted nun and a black Baptist pastor as you lift up your voices in a chorus of “We Shall Overcome.”
The 70s made matters worse. A media-manufactured white ethnic/“hardhat” fad espoused by some opportunist intellectuals further insulated popular piety from the criticism and contempt it deserved. Despite the Berrigan Brothers, despite folk-music masses and other ecumenical cosmetics, the Catholic Church devoted its millions — and its millions of mystified minions — to opposing abortion and imposing morals laws.
The left proved useless. It was busy disintegrating into countless special-interest groups, each aspiring to the envied position of victim-group which the blacks had assumed with such seeming success. The Leninist sects which kept up the revolutionary rhetoric likewise claimed to be the agent of a specialty group, the proletariat, grudgingly augmented with others (everybody had to palliate women, but some could never bring themselves to champion gays), but in all cases the critique of the totality was foresworn. With more leftist organizations but less leftists than a decade before, all that happened was that a few more small-time operations assumed their modest place in the pseudo-pluralist system of constituency politics. The sine qua non of this accommodation was of course a tacit understanding to overlook one another’s shortcomings, especially the ones common to all. On the defensive and playing it safe, leftists were about as likely to tackle the Religious Question as, say, the Jewish Question.
As for the liberals... what liberals? As Saul Alinsky (it takes one to know one) once said: “A liberal is a guy who leaves the room when an argument turns into a fight.” And then there was the Age of Aquarius. (Buddy, can youse paradigm?) The New Agers syncretinized the worst mushminded, narcissistic and accommodationist currents of the Counterculture (the New Left at play) into a new religion of resignation. Earlier religious zealots at least checked each other’s excesses by exposing and excoriating them. In the New Age, however, all religions are true. I’m okay, you’re okay. This time the problem is not going to solve itself. No need to dwell on the embarrassment of the recent election, in which liberals strove manfully (and womanfully) to outdo their opponents’ devotion to Kinder, Küche, Kirche and talked themselves into a richly deserved debacle.
No surprise then that the “scientific socialists” and other left flotsam got caught off (van)guard by the New Right and its militant social conservatism. As usual the intelligentsia, self-appointed servants of history, failed to learn from it and so outsmarted itself. The leftists were so busy studying Liberation Theology that they forget that — from Franco’s Carlist shock troops in 1936 to Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards today — always and everywhere the religious fanatics have been the (throat-) cutting edge of reaction.
As teleologues, the liberals, Marxists and anarchists thought that all the trappings of modernity — technology, democracy, humanism, etc. — came as a set. To their bewilderment, the New Right has mounted a massive high-tech propaganda campaign (anticipated, to be sure, by Goebbels) successfully promoting the most absurd and vicious misogynist, sadistic and irrational notions. They never did understand, to their cost, what Adorno and Horkheimer and Marcuse had tried to tell them about the difference between instrumental and substantive rationality. But instead of rethinking their positivist prejudices, leftists quibble over constitutional technicalities which they themselves have done so much to relativize. Like the Cold War liberals of the 50s and 60s, they’ll never out-flagwave the right no matter how many of their values they betray.
The secret source of the left’s impotence in the face of the upsurge of the recrudescent right is this: they have too much in common. A leftist is someone who shoots himself in the foot once he gets it out of his mouth.
The hard right accuses the left of imposing its “secular humanist” values in the public schools and elsewhere while feigning neutrality. Obviously the right is — what else? — right. Now the meat- and Bible-beaters figure it’s their turn to rewrite the script to suit their own antediluvian tastes. The liberals pretend that evolutionism is “science” while creationism is “theology,” a fine distinction at best. In its origin, obviously creationism is Christian. But in its origin, so is evolutionism, a scarcely secularized transubstantiation of the transcendent millennial essence of Christianity, the historical dimension which distinguishes it from other faiths. So what? Surely the kook right is onto something for wondering why birth-control training belongs in compulsory public schools but prayer doesn’t. It is possible to take a principled stand against compulsory schooling, i.e., state-enforced thought control, and thus outflank Babbitry altogether. But the leftists and liberals do nothing of the sort.
Max Stirner’s reproach is still telling: “Man, your head is haunted; you have wheels in your head!” Religion always represents the permanent possibility of repression. God, the ultimate patriarch and absolute authority, strives to consolidate His dictatorship “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” But He has help, not only from the consciously Christian crud, but from everyone who covets His power and emulates His methods. Every vanguard gang is a Jesuit retread. Every hierarchy microcosmizes the Great Chain of Being. All “militants” belong to the Church Militant.
The left has never jettisoned the humanist moralism it took from Christianity. From Rousseau to Lenin (to say nothing of small fry from Bob Avakian to Mario Cuomo) it preaches guilt, renunciation, martyrdom, self-effacement, obedience, work — in a word, religion. Moralism means the sacrifice of real, tangible individuals and their face-to-face passional groups to abstract extrinsic “causes” and pseudo-communities (the State, the Party, the Proletariat, la Raza, Sisterhood, etc. ad nauseum). If God is dead, moralism is the Doomsday Machine which He spitefully bequeathed us.
The craving for community, for the sensation of a sensibility transcending the sterile, calculating reason of the engineers and bookkeepers and planners cannot be satiated by a demeaning religiosity which falls short of full-blooded practical reason; but only by a surrational leap which includes but exceeds it. “Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy” (Blake), not the ultimate cop-like Categorical Imperative. Reversing Freud: Where Ego was, Id will be too.
Also to be avoided, though, are the nervous artificial sacrileges of the surrealist academics. As Raoul Vaneigem observed, “pissing on the altar is still a way of paying homage to the Church.” Above all, under no circumstances commit an act of Art.
Neither sacrificialism, nor any empty “individualism” means anything to the freely in(ter)dependent social individuals who disdain the system along with its friendly enemies. The ideologically possessed, left and right, have always stood in our way — not one another: we all know we want each other.
Not just religious cranks meddling in politics, but religion and politics themselves pose the permanent problem of what Gibbon called the eternal alliance of Throne and Altar, the Holy Alliance of all authorities and authoritarians. Separation has proved to be a liberal mirage. The only real alternative to theocracy is the abolition of church and state alike — because they are alike. Let us prey!
Part III: Appeal To Treason