Democracy is America’s Religion

So I was thinking the other day–Why are Westerners (particularly Americans) so introverted about their religious beliefs? I have on occasion posted “Convert Me” open threads in which I invite people to give me their best arguments for following their religion, and gotten very few enthusiastic responses. Even the Jehovah’s Witness who visited my thread only made a half-effort just to humor me, not because she actually wanted to convert me.

(I can already hear you asking: Why would I post such a thread? To which I reply, Why not? I enjoy discussing religion. If the religious are correct and I am convinced to join them, then I gain something good. If I am not convinced, then I lose nothing, for I am already an atheist. I have no reason to fear discussion with a theist.)

Mormon missionaries occasionally ring my bell. I always make an effort to be polite and listen, and even they really just want to hand me a pamphlet and hurry on to the next house.

The only people who have ever really, seriously tried to convert me are Muslims (and I must note that they did so in an entirely friendly manner.) Where the Christians ask, “Why would you want us to convert you?” and the Mormons say, “Well, I think there are lots of religions because God gave each group of people their own religion best suited to themselves,” (actual quote from a Mormon missionary, I am serious) the Muslims will happily pester you with a whole slew of websites about why Islam is correct, how the Qu’ran is full of good science, how lovely the Qu’ranic poetry is, etc.

(Of course, you’re not going to get a Jew to try to convert you unless you tell him your mother was a Jew and you really wan to return to your Jewish roots.)

Frankly, I think Americans find the whole idea of being devoutly religious–much less discussing religion with the non-devout–vaguely embarrassing. Sure, maybe that elderly lady down the block who hands out Chick Tracts instead of Halloween candy would like to talk about Jesus with you, but can’t the rest of us please just talk about football?

This blog was practically kicked off with the observation that devout Christianity is low class, while a kind of vague, multi-faith “spirituality” is the religion–if you must have one–of the upper class. A quick look at some demographic data makes the picture:

From Pew Research Center, http://www.pewforum.org/2009/01/30/income-distribution-within-us-religious-groups/
From Pew Research Center

Not a whole lot of surprises, though I will note that it does matter how you break down the groups, and I think I’ve seen different numbers elsewhere for Muslim-Americans.

Of course the flipside of Muslims being really keen on spreading their religion is that sometimes things go quite badly and violently.

And if you’re an American (or French, or Swedish, or German, or whatever,) this feels awfully unfair, because after all, when have we ever blown anything up in Mecca in the name of Jesus?

But then I got to thinking: obviously we have bombed Muslim countries. We dropped quite a few on Iraq–and for what? For Freedom? For Democracy?

We didn’t want to convert Iraq to Christianity (not the vast majority of us, anyway.) We wanted to convert Iraq to democracy.

You know, we destroyed a perfectly innocent country–killed thousands of people–and we barely feel a pang of remorse. Why? Because we did it to help them? We though they’d be happier if they just lived in a democracy, just like your office mate with the Chick Tracts thinks you’ll be happier if you just accept Jesus as your savior and Muslims think you’ll be happier if you become a Muslim.

Christianity and Islam (or certain branches of Islam) are not at war. They can’t be at war because Christianity isn’t fighting. Not in the West, anyway. Maybe in the Philippines or South America or somewhere, but certainly not in the West.

Now here I should stop to note that several Islamic countries are democracies, more or less, and many Muslims also believe in Democracy. So this is a conflict within Islam as well as without. But this post isn’t about Islam–I am not an Islamic expert and don’t feel comfortable writing about Islamic issues.

However, this is a post about the West, and how Democracy has become our chief religion, taking the place Christianity once occupied.

(I am sure my readers are split between “Well that is nothing new; Moldbug said that ages ago,” and “What a stupid idea. Democracy can’t be a religion.”)

22 thoughts on “Democracy is America’s Religion

  1. “But then I got to thinking: obviously we have bombed Muslim countries. We dropped quite a few on Iraq–and for what? For Freedom? For Democracy?”

    Have you read A Troublesome Inheritance? Wade talks about social institutions being genetic in nature. Clearly religion is a social institution. If evolution wasn’t a good survival strategy, it wouldn’t get selected for. I have to also pick up The Faith Instinct by Wade as well.

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  2. This reminds me of Hoppe’s book- Democracy, the god that failed.

    But I also think it is a true observation. Democracy is damaging to Christianity. it does function like an idol.

    I would have trouble with a response to ‘convert me’ too, though. Much of evangelism you see I think is caused by democracy and a sense of free resources. This idea that a sudden revival would be great- meanwhile, the average local church doesn’t have enough of an economy to handle it’s own children. Kids need to grow up and see a productive path forward, get married, and continue the church in time. Modern Christians don’t understand this, for some reason. Churches shut down due to lack of ability to think inter-generationally. Of course, this is a problem for much of secular America too.

    For the vast majority of people, having a functional Christendom- i.e., an actual place where Christians can practice rather than modern America, where everyone wants to play this believe versus unbelief game, is deeply important for conversion. Few people are intelligent enough to understand doctrine.

    I do think there is value to doctrine, though. The Trinity, for instance, has value, because it provides a promise of perfection. We know we can’t become perfect, and that we will fail. But we have a story of perfection seeking us out. We have a story of God becoming man, so that man can become God. It’s a good story. It is the kind of story that helps us keep going when we would otherwise despair.

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  3. “I have on occasion posted “Convert Me” open threads in which I invite people to give me their best arguments for following their religion, and gotten very few enthusiastic responses. […] (I can already hear you asking: Why would I post such a thread? To which I reply, Why not?)”

    I was an atheist and was in the same position as yours. Today, being a Christian, I don’t see the point at all. The arguments for the existence of God or for any specific religion are complex and rooted in philosophy. A thread discussion cannot make justice.

    It’s like trying to prove evolution to people with no idea of biology, people that does not know what a cell is, what the DNA is, what living beings are, what reproduction is. Any attempt to do that ends up being a gross oversimplification and sounding implausible. The atheist can easily dismiss such attempts, confident that his intellect is superior and arguments are silly. The evolutionary equivalent would be: “What? Humans are descended from apes? What a nonsense! So was your grandfather a monkey? Thank God I am not as silly as Mr. Darwin”.

    This is why books exist. Instead of trying to make a half-assed, half-baked argument in a thread discussion, if you are serious, you can start with “Reasonable faith” by William Lane Craig and follow with “The Last Superstition” by Edward Feser (there are another books. these are the ones that come to mind). Then you can go to the Internet forums and ask your doubts (for example, Mr. Feser has a blog). About the falsity of Islam, you can visit the Youtube channel of David Wood (Acts17Apologetics). About other religions, there are other books.

    Nobody can do your work. You have to study and reach your own conclusions (as I did). I understand that you might not be that interested to devote this amount of effort to a topic that is not important to you. Fair enough. But, if this is so, there is no point for us to do your work either.

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  4. “However, this is a post about the West, and how Democracy has become our chief religion, taking the place Christianity once occupied.”

    Very close, but false. Democracy is not our religion. Our religion is the Enlightenment religion, which is a polytheistic religion.

    The main god of this religion is the Self. The highest good is doing what the Self wants to do (instead of doing what God wants, what tradition states, what the community wants). The next god is Pleasure (derived from Self).

    There are a row of second-tier gods: liberty, equality, relativism…

    The third tier gods are: democracy, feminism, gay rights, etc.

    Everything derives from the Self. For example,

    Self -> Liberty -> Relativism -> Equality

    Liberty+Equality -> Democracy (all votes are the same).

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    • Religious faith itself is driven by self-interest, all human behavior is even the most self-destructive. This is a fact that religious folks like yourself (especially Christians) refuse to admit, its the source of much of their hypocrisy. The main reason why people are religious is because it gives them some form of psychological gratification, just look at any conversion story. Its just another from of hedonism except its highly dishonest and hypocritical. Only the most narcissistic and egotistic people would be so deluded to claim to know whats good for everyone or what God wants. What makes you any more certain of God’s interest than anyone else?There is no such thing as selflessness, even the most collectivist and altruistic behaviors are rooted in self-interest. After all, what is a group but a collection of individuals with shared interest? People only join groups of any kind and help others to help themselves (or their genes) in some way, if they don’t benefit from the group they commit treason. Besides, religious people are no less selfish than secular folks. In fact, the most altruistic humans on the planet are the mostly secular, out-breaded, left-leaning NW Europeans.

      As Nietzsche and many others pointed out, the values of the Enlightenment are largely taken from Christian thought: https://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/is-christianity-inherently-left-wing-and-egalitarian/
      http://smash-christianity.blogspot.com/2015/01/christianity-was-communism-of-antiquity.html

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  5. The tie between religion and belief is, I think, somewhat restricted to Christianity and its offshoots, and Islam. Typically a religion was merely the local shared culture’s explanations and rituals. The social module (religion + culture) exists to bind groups of non relatives together so they can avoid conquest, so that hierarchy can be maintained, and so that leaders will learn humility and good judgement.

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    • Democracy is a function of material wealth and its attendant temporal surplus. Time and stuff increase narcissism, and opinions are endowed with increasing emotional heft. Nobody wants to be told that his opinions are worthless.

      Liked by 1 person

    • What we see now is a devolution, away from religion, toward ideology. It is not a Christian phenomenon but a modern phenomenon degrading Christianity. The old ways are gone; those left in the Christian camp due for tribal reasons find themselves adopting the modern dialectical attitude. This attitude is found in the secular world. Do you believe in climate change? Apparently it is very important that you do. Now the new metric seems to be- do you believe in Russian hacking? The climate is always changing, and it is statistically probable that some Russian, somewhere, is always hacking.

      But you know what they are saying. You must believe. And then you must, agree to solutions that won’t solve anything, and will probably make it worse. They rather drop a bomb on a foreign country than suffer the time it takes to decrypt a hard-drive.

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      • Boris and Natasha have finally captured Moose and squirrel’s computer… Or something like that.
        I actually believe in global warming, or at least the possibility of it, but it’s not something I can really do anything about.

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  6. Moldbug’s name for the “religion” (remember the word “religion” means to bind) is Universalism. U has four principles: 1: Brotherhood of all humans (all humans are equal). 2: Peace. 3: Social Justice. 4: Mandarinsm (rule by public policy experts.)

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  7. “What a stupid idea. Democracy can’t be a religion.”

    One vote from me.

    It is not a religion, but it can provide some of the things that we get from religion, like a feeling of connectedness with many other individuals, for example.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. If you want a comprehensive answer, I’d just say “Read Elster’s ‘Sour Grapes’.”

    Whether people are pious from childhood or find faith as adults, I think it’s common that religious faith comes as a byproduct of something else you are doing, rather than as a result of “research into the best religion to believe”, like “research into the best car to drive” or “the most fun tropical vacation to go on”.

    In my case, arrogance was a major contributing factor to my atheism. Most people who believe in God have some (if not many!) silly/stupid beliefs about God. Saying “I’m an atheist” was my way to say “I’m not silly and stupid like all those theists.” It took a long time until it occurred to me that most people also have stupid/silly beliefs about atomic physics, evolution, the history of human evolution, economics, and lots of other things… and in fact, maybe these beliefs aren’t really “stupid” so much as ideally suited to their needs and capacities. — Anyway! Researching theological arguments was never going to help me when the problem was my arrogance.

    Not to say that you are an atheist because you’re arrogant, or for any other reason. But I suspect if you ever do accept Jesus as your redeemer, it will be a byproduct of some other process, not because I told you you should.

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  9. I’m more or less in the “Moldbug said that ages ago” camp, although I will note that the religion Moldy identifies — progressivism, aka communism — is not democracy per se. Rather, it insists on “democracy” (with a peculiarly undemocratic flavor) as a political project, but the ideals are what darkreformation says. In particular, equality; you can see how democracy springs from that, but the progressive’s rage for equality is by no means limited to politics.

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  10. I was reading Debt the First 5000 years by David Graber. Basically, the author was claiming that sharia law was meant to protect people from being exploited by the state and to allow for free commerce. Usury was banned but much of modern capitalism like corporations, checks, and credit were Muslim innovations. The author then claimed that Sharia law encouraged peaceful Muslim trade through good reputations and without the use of violence.

    As I read this, it sounded like Sharia is the Muslim equivalent of the Constitution because Americans believe that the Constitution allows for basic rights for people and businesses. I believe this is why Muslims are so skeptical about secularism in general. In fact, most secular governments in the Middle East resemble dictatorships. Personally, I believe that is why intervention in the Middle East is futile because the Middle East never had an influential Enlightenment movement that attacked the Quran and the Sharia code to its core.

    The claim that the Middle East isn’t ready for a democracy is very true. After all, Ataturk himself was an atheist.

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