As radical politics increasingly takes on the rhetoric and even the trappings of religion, argues Helen Lewis, it brings with it none of the salutary social benefits—instead making public discourse more poisonous:
Many common social-justice phrases have echoes of a catechism: announcing your pronouns or performing a land acknowledgment shows allegiance to a common belief, reassuring a group that everyone present shares the same values. But treating politics like a religion also makes it more emotionally volatile, more tribal (because differences of opinion become matters of good and evil), and more prone to outbreaks of moralizing and piety. “I was thinking about that Marx quote that religion is the opium of the masses,” Elizabeth Oldfield, the former director of the Christian think tank Theos, told me. “I think what we’ve got now is [that] politics is the amphetamines of the people.”
This phenomenon is not confined to the left, though: . . . the QAnon rally where adherents awaited the resurrection of John F. Kennedy, Jr. had a distinctly millenarian feel. As my colleague Adrienne LaFrance has reported, followers of this conspiracy-theory movement treat the anonymous Q’s online postings as something akin to divine revelations. “I feel God led me to Q,” one QAnon follower told LaFrance.
In real life, churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples force together, in their congregations, a [variegated] assortment of people who just happen to live close to them. But today’s social activism is often mediated through the Internet, where dissenting voices can easily be excluded. We have taken religion, with its innate possibility for sectarian conflict, and fed it through a polarization machine. No wonder that today’s politics can feel like a wasteland of anguished ranting—and like we are in hell already.