Forgive Us Our Isms

As Catholics, it comes as no surprise to us that the human brain is hard-wired for religion. We believe in a God who created us in His image so that we would come to know and love Him. But for Enlightenment thinkers, who had committed themselves to the “liberation” of human thought from the shackles of religious dogma, the news would not have been welcome at all.
If political society, as Hobbes wrote, abhors a vacuum, the same is true of religious belief. One cannot destroy without creating something else in its place. The new society or the new religion can either be guided by a conscious, rational principle, or it will develop haphazardly and unconsciously. The Anglo-Saxon branch of Enlightenment thought sought to subsume religion into a pluralistic society and drain it of its social significance, while the other branch, beginning with the French and continuing through Marxism, sought to utterly vanquish it.

The crisis facing authentic religious belief in a consumerist society, the product of the Anglo-Saxon branch of the Enlightenment, has been widely addressed by the Church in many important documents. But the emergence of a new religion in those sectors of society — especially academia — that have been influenced by the Marxist strain of thought is a more recent phenomenon. Some excellent analysis of these sectors has been produced already, including Alan Bloom’s celebrated work The Closing of the American Mind (1988) and Robert Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah (1997). But fascinating as these works are, they do not begin to approach the spiritual and religious core of the modern far Left.
The development of this new spiritual perspective and religious establishment came about through a gradual yet widespread rejection of classical Marxism, Soviet communism, and the Enlightenment heritage upon which they were based. These made a very poor substitute for Christianity, because they made it all too easy to slip into the sort of self-satisfaction that is poisonous for all spiritual movements. The ultimate triumph of progressive principles was thought to be inevitable, not as a matter of faith, but as a matter of scientific certainty. Whatever flaws were thought to be in man were the product not of his inner nature but bad institutions. Newer and better institutions would create a “new man,” from which there would be no turning back.
Stalin came close to creating a new religion to correspond to the revolutionary ideology of the Soviet Union. The deification of Lenin (and later Stalin himself), the litanies of praise and magnificent works of art, the hymns sung by every school child, the iconography of the great leader all sought to fill a void in the lives of a people whose thousand-year-old Church had been uprooted and destroyed. But there is a vast difference between the outer trappings of a religious belief and its inner spiritual core, without which the rest is meaningless. The self-satisfaction and unshakable certainty of the old Marxism could not permit a truly spiritual perspective to take root, for, as Stalin’s great rival Leon Trotsky wrote, it was Marxism’s optimism and faith in human progress alone that made it irreconcilable with religion. Before it could truly fill the religious void, then, it had to undergo a significant transformation.
By the 1960s, it became apparent to many on the radical Left in the West that classical Marxism was inadequate in a number of important ways. On the surface, this discontent manifested itself in the form of what is now typically called identity politics. In this new paradigm, the Marxist placement of class struggle on the center stage of the historical drama did not adequately take into account the struggles of oppressed races, genders, cultures, religions, sexual preferences, and other various groups.
Additionally, the old Marxists themselves sometimes slipped into racism, sexism, or even homophobia. The Enlightenment itself had to be called into question as a historical phenomenon initiated by wealthy, white, heterosexual, Christian males. A radical reworking of the revolutionary ideology was in order; on the subconscious level, the radicals were developing a new religious perspective to fill the vacuum created by the fanatical optimism in man’s goodness that characterized previous Enlightenment projects.
It is no surprise, then, that the first tenet of the new spirituality of the far Left is that man, at the core of his being, is an “ist” guilty of an “ism.” White men in particular are guilty of racism, sexism, and homophobia. White women might be guilty of racism, black men might be guilty of sexism, straight members of both groups may be guilty of homophobia — almost everyone is guilty of something.
At the beginning of the movement, when the influences of Marxism and structuralism were still strong, the “ism” was thought to have been implanted by institutions. As time passed, however, the notion of inherent “isms” became more popular, especially as women, blacks, gays, and other “oppressed” groups scored political, economic, and social victories. The average wages of these groups might go up, and other social indicators may look better as well, but a lack of perfect equality with the dominant majority group could have only one possible explanation: The “isms” were not, as previously thought, solely the products of faulty institutions, but rather permanent qualities of human beings.
The optimism of the old Marxism slowly faded away. No matter how hard one struggled, if one was white, one was and would always remain a racist. There were only two kinds of whites: those who were aware of, and struggled valiantly against, irrepressible racist tendencies, and those who were not aware and did not struggle. The same can be said of the groups related to the other “isms.” Even the ayatollahs of this religion do not believe they have overcome their own racist, sexist, or other “ist” tendencies; they are “aware” of them and they struggle with them, as a Christian struggles against original sin.
As with Christianity, the existence of the “isms” in the depths of our souls provides a rationale for the existence of the religion. If we as Christians could purge ourselves of all sin, we would have no need of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and no need for the sacraments or those who dispense them. In the mock religion of the far Left, if we could truly purge ourselves of the “isms,” we would have no need of the religion of political correctness, its academic temples, its activist clergy, or the sacraments of a multicultural educational system.
In the new religion, man’s redemption from sin is far out of reach, much as it was for certain radical sects of Protestantism that embraced predestination. Echoing Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” they too might cite Deuteronomy: “Their foot shall slide in due time.” In the new religion, we are sinners not in the hands of Edward’s “angry God,” but rather a political line. And, like Edwards’ vision of God, its standards are arbitrary and capricious, easily manipulated for personal political gain and prestige, and always playing on the real and actual sinful tendencies in man for power and fame at the expense of others. It creates an atmosphere ripe for a modern Salem witch trial, such as the one that consumed Duke University in 2006, which serves as a perfect case study in the horrible potential of the new faith.
One of the greatest tragedies of the new religion is that legitimate cases of discrimination and real currents of hatred and intolerance become subsumed within the imagined collective “isms” of the entire population. These real cases become delegitimized by the constant stream of proselytizing from the far Left.
The greater irony, however, is that the very religion whose destruction created the spiritual vacuum that this demented new religion has filled was already the epitome of tolerance and had already banished all the “isms.” In the New Testament, we read:
For you are all the children of God by faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:26-28).  


  • Joe Hargrave

    Joe Hargrave is an adjunct professor of political science at Rio Salado Community College in Tempe, Arizona.

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