In the Absence of the Sacred

Nearer to the dust...

There’s a reason why the free exercise of religion precedes all other freedoms in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights: It’s because freedom of speech and freedom of the press and freedom of peaceable assembly and freedom to petition our government cannot exist unless we first commit ourselves to the free exercise of religion. Collectively, these freedoms constitute and describe the foundational firmament of our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Institutional attacks on the free exercise of religion, therefore, pose an existential threat to the downstream freedoms that follow -- and always precede the ascent of secular fascism and authoritarianism.

The printing press destroyed Western theocracy. As a mass medium, print championed linear thought and reason and gave rise to nation states via the Enlightenment, the scientific method and the American, French and Industrial revolutions. Democracy emerged as the preferred social bias of print, and Western religion returned over time to its pre-theocratic status as opponent of oppression and ally of the oppressed. Judeo-Christian ethics and faith were considered foundational and essential to all modern democracies because the architects of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason were wise enough to know that liberal institutions like freedom of religion, freedom of speech and democracy cannot survive without the moral authority conferred upon them by an organizing principle and power greater than themselves. Indeed, no great society has ever emerged or survived in the absence of the sacred.

The understanding of religion and faith as critical to the defense of Western democracies and freedom is precisely why secular authoritarians and fascists of all stripes -- from Mussolini and Hitler to Stalin and Mao and Castro and Kim Jong-Un and Xi Jinping -- take it upon themselves to eradicate, marginalize or co-opt religion. Once fascism emerges as the religion of the state, any competing moral authority must be silenced.

That the emergence of secular fascism in the early 20th century coincided with the rise of electronic mass media (commercial music, radio and motion pictures) was hardly coincidental. Where print media champion linear thought and reason, electronic media champion distraction, emotionalism, tribalism and the cult of personality. Where the inherent bias of print promotes democracy, the inherent bias of electronic media promotes fascism and the accelerated consolidation of institutional power. Contrary to the  mythologies of the dot com era and 21st-century pop culture, the rise of a massive digital pantheon with godlike power and unaccountability does not bode well for the forces of freedom in the 21st century. Where theocratic fascism rises by the sword of imposed moral authority, the rise of secular fascism demands the opposite: a moral vacuum filled by the cults of personality, celebrity, expertise and political correctness.

Still, the forces of secularism are no less religious in their orthodoxies than religious Jews or Born Again Christians. They simply worship at different temples. Collectively, Google and Apple and Facebook and AT&T and Comcast and Netflix are, for all practical purposes, the new religion of the state -- the new fascism. And like all fascists, they abhor freedom.

Religion in secular Western societies is always the canary in the coal mine. The prohibition of worship in blue-state Covid-19 lockdowns is profane, an insult to human dignity and a full-frontal assault on freedom. But few in the blue states seem to notice or care enough to speak up. Recent mob violence and attacks on the liberal institutions of Western civilization by the illiberal institutional forces of woke culture -- academia, technomedia and blue state authoritarians -- are likewise profane and dangerous concessions to fascism, civil discourse and the rule of law be damned. Again, few in the blue states speak up. Apparently, nothing is profane when everything is profane, and the ends always justify the means.

Secularists, atheists and neo-socialists who claim not to worship God should take note: Those who prefer to follow the science are no less zealous in their BLM, global warming and lockdown orthodoxies, no less opiated in thought and desperation than their religious counterparts -- especially not when the smartphones they touch more than 2600 times each and every day (on average) represent nothing short of collective fealty to history’s most perfect narcotic. In the end, all of us -- religious or atheist, right or left, black or white or brown, male or female or LGBTQ+ -- worship at the same temples of Google and Apple and Facebook and Comcast and AT&T. We are all massively addicted to an endless stream of digital narcotics, and we behave accordingly: in extremis, like desperate addicts forever in need of our next fix. But don’t take my word for it: just follow the money -- straight into the bottomless pockets of history’s wealthiest, most rapacious and most powerful drug cartel.

Ironically, Western religions are — for better or worse — the only remaining institutional voices of restraint and reflection in a nation driven mad by what many recovering addicts describe as self-will run riot. The liberal institutions of Western civilization will not survive removal of the Judeo-Christian DNA that informs them. Purged of Judeo-Christian ethics, Western liberal institutions — like academia and the news media — turn illiberal and authoritarian. Meanwhile, we are lured into complacency by endless narcotic spectacle for profit. The warning signs are crystal clear: state-sanctioned addiction and fascism are what await us all in the absence of the sacred.

Aldous Huxley and George Orwell would be appalled and vindicated in equal measure to witness the remarkable confluence of their respective dystopian visions in such vivid UltraHD relief. In conclusion I offer an excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s Choruses From the Rock…

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

[Author’s note: Thank you for reading my work. Please feel free to republish this article on your weblog or social media accounts with appropriate attribution and a link back to Jeff Einstein 2.0.]

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