Here’s an interesting piece on the way the Right, both abroad and here in the US, is turning into what the writer calls a “post-religious” phenomenon:
With respect to the question of “how we got here” in the American case, Cremer’s key insight is that Trump—and more broadly, the style of politics he represents—did not rise to power on the shoulders of the religious right, but rather the post-religious right. Indeed, his presidency was made possible by the very process of secularization that the religious right has long sought to combat. Trump’s coalition may instead be viewed as an alliance between the religious and post-religious right, with the former playing the role of junior partner. Counterintuitively, the conspicuous Christian symbolism present in such populist settings as MAGA rallies and the January 6 storming of the Capitol does not reflect a resurgent and radicalized religious right, but rather one that has been eclipsed by more secular right-wing forces. This understanding offers an important corrective to reductionistic accounts of a Christian nationalist monolith that have dominated scholarship in this area.
While Cremer’s theory goes a long way toward helping us make sense of the past decade’s bewildering political developments, however, it pays little heed to evidence of at least partial overlap between the religious and populist right. Religion data scientist Ryan Burge has shown that in the 2016 Republican primaries, 44 percent of weekly-or-more churchgoers voted for Trump over evangelical candidates like Ted Cruz. This is, if not an outright endorsement, hardly a stinging rebuke. Figures with unimpeachable religious right credentials such as Eric Metaxas have come out as full-throated Trump supporters, while center-right evangelicals like David French and Tim Alberta lament the MAGA-fication of their religious communities. Clearly for many Americans, the tension between their religious commitments and populist politics is surmountable.
On the other side of the ledger, the religious right gained undeniable policy victories from their alliance with the populist right. The religious conservative Holy Grail of the overturning of Roe v. Wade would not have happened if religious voters had withheld support for Trump in the 2016 general election. These facts suggest a possibility absent in France or Germany, where weekly worship attendance is in single digits, but perhaps present in the United States: that of a populist religious right. The populist political style is not incompatible with either religious commitment or social conservatism, and social boundaries can be drawn around religion and morality as easily as birthplace or ethnicity. GOP lawmakers in red states like Texas and Montana offer a taste of what a populist politics that emphasizes religion over ethnicity might look like. Cremer rightly draws our focus to the distinctions and tensions between the religious and populist right, but we should also not lose sight of the prospect of their synthesis.
This caveat aside, The Godless Crusade offers an elegant, compelling, and well-researched account of the overlooked role of secularized religious-themed populism on both sides of the Atlantic—one refreshingly free of pontificating. It deserves to be widely read. Cremer both builds on and challenges existing accounts. His book can create more fruitful conversations about conflicts over the role of religion in the public sphere.
I think, on the whole, the piece is on to something, but also note one very big caveat: what moderns mean by “post-religious” is “post-Christian”, which is not at all the same thing. And I think a post-Christian “conservatism” is going to be a far more deadly, evil, and toxic thing than the bogeyman of “secular liberalism” conservative Christians used to scare each other about.
Classically, Christianity practiced what is known as “inculturation”, taking the accept forms of a culture and filling them with Christian content. Easter eggs were transformed from fertility symbols to emblems of the empty tomb. Martial virtues already prized by Romans and Germans were transformed into ascetic self-denial for the common good that issued in monks devoting their lives to fasting, prayer, and the preservation of books. The cycle of the seasons was transformed into the commemoration of the episodes in the life of Christ. What was old and precious was preserved, but also transfigured and filled with Christian content.
What post-Christian conservatism is doing is taking Christian forms and filling them with fundamentally pagan content devoted to the four great idols to which all merely human devotion is always given. So it remains religious. But the gods served are
And those god demand blood sacrifices.
What the Cult has successfully done with conservative Christians in the US is direct their real devotion to these ends, while perfuming it all with a bunch of dimly Christiany aesthetics, turning them into worshippers of ancient demonic powers, principalities, and spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places (cf. Ephesian 6:12) and against the gospel which commands them to renounce these pagan idols and turn to the living God who is love and who offers *himself* in sacrifice for us.
It will not end well.