“God is dead and we have killed him” was the cry of Nietzsche as the western world absorbed the new rational ideas of the enlightenment. But this was a cry of despair. As civilization became increasingly rational, the attitude towards religion changed. People are more secular as a consequence of widespread rationalism. In addition, even those that remain religious have de-mystified their worship and practices.
But we as humans face the burden of existence. Having a transcendent framework is useful to grapple with this. The fact that life goes on and on until we die and the world keeps turning despite our actions is scary. When humans look up to something greater than themselves, it helps them cope. But as Nietzsche announced, God is dead. Society has left behind what it used to look up to. In turn, we have begun to worship a different god. This new false idol is the politician.
Worship of the New Saviors
At CPAC 2018, Trump claimed that it was American to worship God, not the government. But even the most religious groups in America have completely fallen for the new saviors of state bureaucracy. Donald Trump became (and still is) the “god-emperor” to many right-wingers. Yet in the modern American mythos, the election of Trump is akin to the fall of man in Genesis. Beto (or whoever else the Democrats offer) is the Messiah that has arrived to deliver us. It’s clear that we are devoted to politics with the same religious fervor that was nearly universal pre-enlightenment. Politicians are either seen as saviors or spawn of Satan. One Boston Globe writer said:
Voters worship politicians — or despise them. We extol them as demigods who can accomplish everything we crave — or revile them as crooks, drunk with power and self-aggrandizement.
But the worship of politicians is problematic because they are mere men. Knowing that life carries on and suffering is inevitable is a difficult reality to deal with. Some give in to expedient indulgences to cope. Others decide to focus on something greater than themselves. But it seems that many have outsourced all the problems they face in life to politicians. The three branches of the American government are the new holy trinity.
Is this a social problem? Could this ailment be solved through societal reforms? The thought is nice. It would undoubtedly be better if people merely changed their attitudes towards politicians. We would live in a world where people take more responsibility for their own actions. Communities would look for their own solutions instead of outsourcing every facet of life to the political. But this is unrealistic because the problem stems from the underpinnings of our own democratic institutions.
The Enlightenment and Civil Faith
Classical Liberalism was one of many fruits to spring forth from the enlightenment. Among its thinkers, though, Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been the most responsible in the problem of government worship. According to Albert Camus in The Rebel, “Rousseau is, in fact, the first man in modern times to institute the profession of civil faith.”
Camus noticed the death of God and the rise of nihilism. And he understood that there would have to be a shift. Humans have a desire to worship something, and the implementation of democracy has lead to a criminal idol.
We are witnessing the dawn of a new religion, with its martyrs, its ascetics, and its saints… The new faith could not tolerate [the scaffolds of monarchy]. But a momement comes when faith, if it becomes dogmatic, erects its own altars and demands unconditional adoration. Then scaffolds reappear and despite the altars, the freedom, the oaths, and the feasts of Reason, the Masses of the new faith must now be celebrated with blood.
This new faith that Camus alludes to is the democratic faith. It is the faith that man now governs without gods. There is no more ordained king. Rather, people will rule themselves. Camus later says:
Because to conquer God, to make Him a slave, amounts to abolishing the transcendance that kept the former masters in power and to preparing, with the ascendancy of the new tyrants, the advent of the man-king… the real god, the human god, will be the State.
Although Camus was not a monarchist, he understood that the age of democracy would be an age of man-worship. This type of man-worship is not that of Nietzsche or Ayn Rand, though. It is the man worship that leads to a cult of personality and subsequent tyranny.
Democracy comes with its own litany of economic and sociological issues, yet a political reform will not independently be enough. Man is fallible. No human is perfect. We cannot put our faith in humans just because they have a D or R in front of their name. Politicians are not saviors. The next election will not lead to the utopia that is so often promised to be right around the corner.
Further action, then, should be anti-political. Jean Baudrillard explains that a hegemonic order relies on images of its own destruction to continue existence. Thus radical opposition only feeds the state. Instead, we need to passively withdraw. Do not vote because you do not believe. Stop tithing at the altar of the American empire and lose faith in the man at the bloodstained pulpit of politics.
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