The old rule is that never should politics and religion should mix. However, recently developments state otherwise, and this goes for the electorate, too.
Religion and politics. They’re the two topics you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company. But as you may have already picked up, I’m quite willing to sacrifice politeness for the sake of a good argument.
And as it turns out, both of these subjects have recently congealed into a toxic social construct that I think is becoming a real threat – not only to civil discourse, but quite possibly civilisation itself.
Globally, religion is on the decline. To which I might say: “Thank the Lord.”
But not so fast.
It may simply be being substituted with a new, even more dangerous ideology.
For clarity, I like the following description from Catharine R Stimpson, who says: “Identity politics is contemporary shorthand for a group’s assertion that it is a meaningful group, that differs significantly from other groups, that its members share a history of injustice and grievance, and that its psychological and political mission is to explore, act out, act on and act up its group identity.”
If you put the above definition into a space recently vacated by any of the world’s religions, you’d have a pretty snug fit.
And I think that maybe exactly what’s happening.
While it’s pretty safe to say that religion is taking a dive in many western countries (like Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA), this downward trend is generally thanks to a new generation who, to make a huge generalisation, are just not that interested in religion.
Which does not mean they do not have the religious impulse. We all do. Probably because its underpinnings are deeply rooted in human evolutionary psychology. Human societies were built on a degree of conformity. We have evolved a habit of trusting authority. And most of us want to feel part of something bigger than ourselves.
Cue identity politics to fill the empty role.
Modern identity politics offers much that religion offered the masses, but in a convenient, online form. From behind the screen, you can find people who identify with your sense of oppression, form a group with shared beliefs and gather together in a vast echo-chamber to reinforce your ideas.
I get it.
There is something appealing about starting a sentence with something like: “As a feminist, I think…” or “As a minority, I feel…” “As a white man, you can not understand…” or “Oh yeah? But what about…?”
It helps to create a sense of belonging. And it’s something to do.
Like religion of old, identity politics is involuntarily inclusive. In other words, if you are one of us, you are bound by our ideas, values and customs. And if you’re not with us, you’re against us.
But while we create and identify ourselves with ever-more specific groups of oppressed souls, we, by definition, create and identify more groups of oppressors. We also neglect to identify with one another (even within in our groups) on the only level that truly matters: our common humanity.
The consequence is an increasingly fractured society.
Any time spent in the comments section of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Reddit will give you an idea of just how bad it’s getting.
More worryingly, like religion of old, and only the most dangerous cults and religions of today, identity politics is involuntarily inclusive. In other words, if you are one of us, you are bound by our ideas, values and customs – whether you like it or not. And if you’re not with us, you’re against us. You’re one of “them”.
Make no mistake. This is a slide toward totalitarianism – which is based on one fundamental (and fundamentally dangerous) idea: the identity of the group is paramount; the individual is not.
If identity politics is a religion, social justice warriors are its crusaders. And unless we begin more nuanced conversations and adopt more complex personal identities and politics, keystrokes, not sword strokes, will be the instruments of our conversion.