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Politics is the new religion

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

The decline of Western religion is one of the most important trends in postwar history, says Helen Lewis in The Atlantic. Fewer than 50% of Americans are now church members, down from 70% in 1999. You’d expect that “fire-and-brimstone” concepts – “repentance, hellfire, heresy, apostasy” – might have also waned. “But that’s not the case.” For devout liberal activists, politics has usurped religion as the “source of meaning and purpose” in their lives. Crowds protesting the release of Dave Chapelle’s Netflix series, which featured a long riff criticising trans activists, urged the comedian’s fans to “repent”. When University College London decided to stop paying Stonewall to conduct diversity audits, students brandished a sign saying “REJOIN STONEWALL OR GO TO HELL”.

The extreme ideals of social justice have been grafted on to Christianity’s “underlying concepts”. Take the “echoes of a catechism” in announcing your pronouns: a process which reassures a group that “everybody present shares the same values”. There are new takes on “original sin”, inescapable moral stains humans are born with, like “white privilege”. It’s this religious fervour which has made our politics so emotionally volatile. Differences of opinion are now “matters of good and evil”. In many countries, racial and religious intermarriage is now less of a taboo than dating across political lines. And all this is fuelled by the “polarisation machine” that is social media, which encourages us to entrench ourselves publicly in one tribe. No wonder today’s politics can feel “like we are in hell already”.