From 2021 to 2022

In 2021, I published some papers on the religion of human rights, on secular religions and the religious-secular divide, the myth of the secular state, and the proliferation of secular religions. The latter is also part of a special issue I edited with Ferenc Hörcher and contains many interesting contributions by such authors as William Cavanaugh, Hans Otto Seitschek, Phillip Blond, Valerio Severino, and Bogdan Szlachta.

As for conferences, I had the pleasure to attend two Central Slavic Conferences at Saint Louis University, first with a paper on the secular religion of “actually existing” socialism in March, and then with another on Bertrand Russell’s and Reinhold Niebuhr’s account of communism as a religious idea.

I also presented a paper on transhumanism’s prophetic future at the IPSA world congress, on patriotism as a political religion in Tartu, Estonia, and on the interconnections of secular religions in Warsaw. The last two will also appear in print next year. As well as a former paper of mine on conservative orators in Restoration France, Louis de Bonald and François-René de Chateaubriand.

I will also present a paper on the Christian just war tradition at the University of Helsinki in March, and on religious nationalism in the 19th century at the University of Oxford in April. I am also invited to write a contribution to the “Yearbook of Political Theology” (published by the University of Trento) about the concept of political religion.

2022 is also the year when I will hopefully complete my catalog of secular religions, which seems all the more urgent since the topic seems to be everywhere nowadays. But this should be obvious to anyone who has been following this blog so far.

Until then, a happy new year!

Not science but scripture

Religious analogies are indeed pervasive nowadays. Some new examples:

In which John McWhorter argues that a document called “A Pathway to Equitable Maths Instruction: Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction” is a piece of “bigotry”, “not science but scripture:”

It claims to be about teaching math while founded on shielding students from the requirement to actually do it. This is unempirical. It does so with an implication that only a moral transgressor numb to some larger point would question the contradiction. This is, as such, a religious document, telling you to accept that Jesus walked on water. Humans may grievously sacrifice the 9-year-old, the virgin, or the widow upon the pyre in worship of a God. Too, humans may sacrifice the black kid from the work of mastering the gift of math, in favor of showing that they are enlightened enough to understand that her life may be affected by racism and that therefore she should be shielded from anything that is a genuine challenge. This is not pedagogy; it is preaching. And in this country, religious propositions have no place in the public square.

Which is simply wrong, for they’ve always had, from the Declaration of Independence to the Pledge of Allegiance, from President Lincoln to Martin Luther King, and I could cite more recent examples from President Obama to Joe Biden. But this is not the main point here. What I find more interesting is the way how the religious analogy (that is almost always a Christian analogy, as if no religions other than Christianity had ever existed) is once again used as a defamation. I’m really starting to wonder whether any contemporary comparisons of so-called “secular” and so-called “religious” views will ever return to a more balanced, analytical approach.

Probably not, especially if authors like McWorther themselves admit that they don’t know what religion is and don’t even care:

Some think it’s just that I don’t like religion and haven’t studied it. And they’re right. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t watched a religion emerge since last year.

And this is already from the discussion of another “religion”, that of “electism“. So much for the secularization of the public sphere.

A “new religion” once again

It seems you just can’t avoid those off-hand references to “new religions.” Today I saw a review of Paul Embery’s book Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class published last year. I haven’t read it yet, I confess, but at least one chapter bears the title “A New National Religion: Liberal Wokedom.” Which is no great novelty, of course, I myself have cited similar examples before. The only reason I think it’s still worth mentioning is to show how widespread this sort of “new”, “secular”, etc. religion discourse is. Of course, as I said many times, most of this discourse is merely metaphorical or sensationalist. But the very fact that people from all walks of life use such language points to our secular age’s profound interest in (and uncertainty about) what religion is. But don’t panic: this time I will not go into the details of defining religion. Maybe in my next post.

Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class (Paperback)

From flagellants to Botox: some splendid new additions to the “secular religions” catalog

Last month, the Tablet Magazine published an article by Pascal Bruckner called “The Flagellants of the Western World.” Or, as the summary says: “Like God, colonialism is invisible and omnipresent, responsible for everything that happens on Earth.” An ironic gesture once again, rather than a systematic comparison of secular (political) and religious ideas or practices, but it remains interesting how often these parallelisms come up in today’s journalism. A quicklist of other “religious” terms in the article: catechism, repentance, apostolic, messianic, Eden, myth, inquisitor, self-flagellates, (messianic) vocation, angelic, sacrosanct, extreme unction. And this is not even a long one.

File:Nuremberg chronicles - Flagellants (CCXVr).jpg
Illustrations from the Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514) Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The other example is (even) less serious. It is from a review of the Hungarian reality show “Feleségek luxiskivitelben” (The Real Housewives of Hungary). As the title goes: “Botox is my religion.” Now this may just be a random phrase (people from my generation all remember that even a certain brand of whiskey can be called a new religion), but the article goes on. “The group of luxury wives divided like the Red Sea” (before Moses and the Jews, that is); into “Botox believers and Botox deniers”, which is “a serious debate, not of the lousy homoousion / homoiousion type.” All this is a joke once again, of course, or – who knows? Interestingly, there are some references to a deeper analogy as well: “Today there is also some spirititual essence in beauty trends, since, as it turned out, those who passed through the Intervention (or Interventions, for this is not like baptism that is enough to take once) belong to an entirely different sect.” The religion-like features of the beauty industry or certain fitness movements have been described by more serious literature as well.

Sixty-six rituals, six rites, and three liturgies

I didn’t think of punishment as a secular religion until now. But re-reading Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish made me realize how often he uses words like “rite”, “ritual”, or “liturgy” when describing the historical forms of torture and public execution. It may well be that all these are figures of speech only, but it’s still worthy of consideration whether anyone would agree that ritual or liturgy are enough in themselves to define something as “religious.” I, of course, don’t think that anything offered by anyone so far is enough, but others may think otherwise. Or, if someone thinks that punishment does have another side, an object of worship, I wonder what that would be.