In the post-Christian West, it is an article of secular faith that religion and reason repel each other like magnetic poles. Religion, it is said, is not rational and reason cannot embrace anything that lies outside materialist explanation.
In recent years, this disdain for religion has grown into a virulent animus, not least in response to the Islamic jihad that poses a mortal threat to life and liberty from a religious fanaticism that would bomb us back to the seventh century.
Illustration by Lara Harwood
By contrast, the West is perceived to embody reason, science, modernity, liberty, equality, tolerance and human rights — all of which, it is assumed by many, are evidence of the benefits of secularism and stand as a rebuke to God and all his doctrines.
It is therefore odd that the great ideologies which currently consume the West — such as man-made global warming, scientism (the belief that science alone can explain the world), anti-Americanism and hostility to the state of Israel — all share characteristics of religious belief such as dogmatism, intolerance and evangelical fervour.
Even odder, they all display specifically Christian motifs of sin, guilt and redemption. Odder still, they all exhibit features of the millennarian apocalyptic beliefs associated with medieval Christianity, the pre-modern world and Islam throughout the ages.
Millennarianism is a religious belief in the perfectibility of mankind and life on earth through the collective redemption of sin. Contemporary secular ideologies identify the sins committed by humanity — oppression of Third World peoples, despoliation of nature, bigotry, poverty, war — and offer redemption and salvation by a return to the path of righteousness.
Dissenters are heretics forming diabolical conspiracies against the one revealed truth. Thus the decision to invade Iraq, Israel's military operations, scepticism of man-made global warming and the persistence of religious faith cannot possibly have any reasonable basis because they deny the unchallengeable truths of anti-imperialism, environmentalism and scientific materialism. The explanations must therefore lie in conspiracies by the neocons or the Jews, Big Oil or the Creationists, whose hidden hands are detected everywhere.
The left-wing intelligentsia, the environmentalists, the anti-Zionists and the militant atheists are, along with the Islamists, today's Gnostics. Their knowledge of a higher truth puts them on a plane above the rest of humanity, who have to be exhorted to change their ways in order to be saved from bloodcurdling apocalyptic scenarios: war and social disorder, floods, famine and pestilence, or slaughter perpetrated (solely) by religious fanatics.
These modern Gnostics all believe they can usher in a higher state of being. The greens believe they will save the planet. The leftists believe they will create the brotherhood of man. The anti-Zionists believe they will turn suicide bomb-belts into cucumber frames. The atheists believe they will create the Garden of Reason. And the Islamists believe they will create the Kingdom of God on earth.
Just like their medieval forbears, these modern millennarians persecute dissenters from the faith. Academics teaching evidentiary problems with evolutionary theory are fired. Scientists expressing scepticism of man-made global warming theory find they cannot get grant funding. Scientific research journals are closed to them and they are subjected to vicious ad hominem attacks, with some Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists bullied into telling lies about the science.
Defenders of national identity and traditional morality are vilified as racists, homophobes, Islamophobes or xenophobes. Jews expressing outrage at the lies and libels being used to delegitimise Israel are denounced for "dual loyalty", demonised as part of a global conspiracy to harm the world and ostracised socially and professionally.
Such determination to stamp out dissent follows inexorably from utopian creeds that aim to bring about through human agency the perfection of the world. When utopia inevitably fails to materialise, the disappointment turns ugly. Adherents of the cult create scapegoats upon whom they turn with a ferocity fuelled by disorientation, anger and shame, in an attempt to bring about by coercion the state of purity purportedly thwarted by the designated culprits.
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