Opinion: Not all zealotry is religion-based now

Credit: Jon Overmyer/NewsArt

Credit: Jon Overmyer/NewsArt

Many have a spiritual/emotional hole crying to be filled. So as traditional religion declines, we see a marked rise in impassioned political activism.

There are loads of obsessives today: folks fixated on their phone, TV, sports, race, sex, etc. But the only ones labeled “fanatics” by some secular media are religious. And, Lord knows, they are among the last people with whom I’d ever want to get stuck in an elevator. As Deepak Chopra said, “God gave man the truth. Then the Devil came in and said, “Hey, let’s organize it and call it ‘religion.’ ” A bumper sticker is more blunt: “Dear Lord, save me from your followers.”

Yet there are secular/worldly fanatics too. Because they lack a religious center, many have a spiritual/emotional hole crying to be filled. So as traditional religion declines, we see a marked rise in political activism, especially save-the-world groups concerning “climate change,” “equity,” and “social justice.”

Credit: Salai Sayasean

Credit: Salai Sayasean

For many, their new religion is politics, their faith is their political ideology and their church is their political party. Like religious zealots, they fervently believe they have a monopoly on truth and are hell-bent to spread their convictions, whatever the consequences.

But history shows secular political fanatics do far more harm since they lack a Ten Commandments, Golden Rule or fear of a judgmental God to restrain them. The godless want to create a heaven too -- but right here today since they think this is all there is. So they have a peculiarly uncompromising urgency to remake society -- now.

And what a horrific toll many political true believers have wrought. With no religious humility to reign them in, they have created the first totalitarian dictatorships in which the party-state (national secular church) prescribes every aspect of citizens’ lives. Inspired by the French Revolution’s Jacobins who sought to create “a republic of virtue,” 20th century communists fought to forge a new “revolutionary man.” So Marxists in Russia, Eastern Europe, North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Cuba criminalized all religious, political, social, and even private personal conduct deemed “ideologically incorrect.” A Russian Bolshevik once asked dictator Joseph Stalin to execute a group because “They have no [communist] faith.” The stridently secular Nazi Adolf Hitler declared, “Anyone who interprets National Socialism merely as a political movement knows almost nothing about it. It is more than religion; it is the determination to create a new man.”

The death toll alone from such anti-religious regimes is light years’ worse than that of all religious wars and tyrannies combined -- and in such a terribly brief span of time. Indeed, tolerance and forgiveness can be mortal sins to atheist political puritans.

Since the 1980s, as America has become ever more secular, there’s been an explosion in the number of college campuses with draconian “hate speech” codes (and most of my university students said they could never even discuss any controversial issue in high school), state-mandated anti-smoking bans on even private property, confiscatory taxes (the Bible says tithing -- just 10 percent -- is enough), gun control laws, ever more censorship on social media and state diktats against even church attendance during the COVID panic. Many secular do-gooders want to further regulate and tax fatty foods and soda, as well as dictate where we can set our thermostat.

Like religious meddlers, secular idealists piously protest that all their efforts are simply to help everyone from harming himself. But they seek to use the state to impose their world view far more than America’s religious believers. “Be safe,” “public health,” and “protecting the environment” have become their mantras. C.S. Lewis described such neurotic reformers well:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

There’s also an intellectual smugness among a great many seculars lacking in most believers: “science proves it, I believe it and that settles it.” For example, many Darwinists resemble theocrats in their ferocious opposition to any alternative theories to evolution even being mentioned in government schools. They are blind to their own religious bigotry.

Lots of political activists resemble miserable rageaholics endlessly trying to control others’ speech and behavior. The Orwellian irony is that they are typically the very “woke,” politically correct “multiculturalists” most loudly preaching “diversity” and “tolerance” while condemning “hate.” They desperately need to build a life of their own because no politician, party or government can ever fulfill us. As the Persian mystic Rumi observed, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Only you can find the keys to unlock your own potential.

Most believers don’t get remotely as hung up on politics since their emotional and social outlets are family and church or synagogue. They’re far more concerned with personal salvation and morality while letting God take care of the rest. But so many seculars are bent on saving the world when, like everyone, they really need to solve their own problems which would truly create a more just society. And we could all practice a lot more humility and tolerance.

Dr. Douglas Young is a political science professor emeritus at the University of North Georgia-Gainesville.