The Catholic Thing
Political Religions Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Tuesday, 11 August 2009

In two remarkable books, Earthly Powers and Sacred Causes, British historian Michael Burleigh, has traced the clash of religion and politics from the French Revolution to our own times. Burleigh shows that modern materialist creeds – Jacobinism, Fascism, Communism, and Nazism – had these common traits: They viewed man, not as a person created Imago Dei, but as a speck within mass society devoid of freedom, self-responsibility, and conscience; and to supplant organized religions, these secularists portrayed themselves as pseudo-divine and elevated their revolutions to religious status.

The French Jacobins suppressed the Church (by 1794 only 150 of 40,000 churches were offering Mass) and replaced it with a civic religion. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was a political gospel. Baptism was redefined “as the regeneration of the French revolution begun on July 14, 1789.” Communion: an association of French people “to form on earth only one family of brothers who no longer recognize or worship any idol or tyrant.” Penitence: “the banishment of all those monsters. . .unworthy to inhabit the land of liberty.”

To eliminate the Lord’s Day, a calendar was created with ten-day weeks. Holydays were replaced with secular feast days called Virtue, Genus, Labor, Recompenses, and Opinion. Notre Dame Cathedral was converted into a “Temple of Reason.” An opera singer was worshipped as the “Goddess of Liberty.”

Mussolini described Fascism as “a religious conception in which man in his imminent relationship with a superior law and with an objective Will that transcends the particular individual and raises him to conscious membership of spiritual society.”

Determined to destroy Italy’s Catholic culture, Mussolini promoted a politics laced with religious symbols. There were mandatory oaths that affirmed the sacrificial community, consecrated political symbols, veneration of war dead and party martyrs.

Ballia, the Fascist youth movement, issued a catechism whose creed included these words: “I believe in Rome the eternal, in the mother of my country and in Italy her eldest daughter who was born in her virginal bosom. . . .I believe in the genius of Mussolini, in our holy father Fascism, in the communion of its martyrs, in the conversion of Italians and in the resurrection of the empire.”

In Russia, the Bolsheviks, who closed 31,000 Orthodox and Catholic churches and persecuted 10 million in the gulag for their religious beliefs, modeled themselves on the Society of Jesus and issued infallible doctrines of salvation. The Soviet nation was designed as a theocracy: the state was the administrative bureaucracy and the Party was the designer and guardian of socialist ideological orthodoxy.

Lenin’s mummified body was worshipped. He was proclaimed “the apostle of world communism…a leader of cosmic stature, a mover of worlds…the chosen one.”

The Nazi creed was soteriological, “a redemptive story of suffering and deliverance, a sentimental journey from misery to glory, from division to mystic unity based on the blood that linked souls.” The holy of holies was the Swastika blood-stained in the failed November 1923 Munich putsch. Hitler consecrated new flags at rituals by touching them with the blood-stained one.

To overshadow the established religions, the Nazis instituted holydays honoring Hitler’s birthday and the Munich putsch martyrs. Every November 18, Hitler would attend a “Last Supper” dinner in Munich, with surviving “Apostles” of the putsch. Annual rallies were held in the new Mecca, Nuremberg, the “capital city of the movement.”

Reviewing the German revolution’s economic materialism, racist biology, corrupt psychology and scientism, political philosopher Eric Voegelin’s assessment applied to all these state religions: “Modernity without restraint.”

In the aftermath of this age of guillotines, gallows, gas chambers and gulags, the secularists have continued to pursue their agenda but under the guise of good government causes. In the United States, for instance, do-gooding social theorists have elevated to religious status drives to stop over population and pollution.

The group EarthFirst! displays an extreme form of a broad ecological current, but openly expresses some of the common elements concealed by others. For example, it insists that Western culture must be eliminated because it is responsible for “ecocide.” These Eco-Warriors call for “the holiest fight of all. . .an eco-jihad.”

By appealing to man’s religious instincts to promote atheist ideologies, do these secularists implicitly affirm what they explicitly deny? Catholic historian Christopher Dawson, whose work influenced Burleigh, would say yes.

For Dawson, man knows by nature that there is something greater than himself and is driven to the transcendent. Religion serves man “as a bridge between the spiritual and the physical.” “A culture that has by and large rejected its religion or secularized itself,” Dawson argued, “has merely substituted some false religion – most likely an ideology of some kind – for its lost faith.” Ideologies are merely “religious emotions divorced from religious belief.”

The recently deceased philosopher Leszek Kolakowski agreed: “Mankind can never get rid of the need for religious self-identification. . . .Religion is a paramount aspect of human culture. Religious need cannot be ex-communicated from culture by rationalist incantation. Man does not live by reason alone.”

Michael Burleigh has performed a great service. His books further bolster Dawson’s belief that a “completely secularized civilization is inhuman in the absolute sense – hostile to human life and irreconcilable with human nature itself.”

We see what secularized civilizations did in the past. Are we alert to what they are producing in the present and will in the future?

George J. Marlin is the author of The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact.

(c) 2009 The Catholic Thing. All right reserved. For reprint rights write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (10)Add Comment
In loco Dei
written by Willie, August 12, 2009
Unless one went to college forty years ago, particularly in a Liberal Arts program, he most likely has not heard of Christopher Dawson. Dawson believed that religion was an integral part of development of culture. He believed that a culture that lost its religious roots would lose its existence. We, in our Western culture, seem again to be removing religion out of the public square and substituting it with all sort of vacuous causes. Are the courts and the State replacing our religious beliefs?
Secularism Run Amok
written by Jeff H., August 12, 2009
To paraphrase Our Lord's parable - it is as tho' a man swept out his storehouse and seven demons came and made their home there. Secularism merely makes the path clear for our age's expressions of paganism replete with child sacrifice in abortuarial "temples". OT prophets wd spot it in a heartbeat.
replacing truth for a lie
written by debby, August 12, 2009
if St. Paul were living here today, still inspired of course, would his choice of words not so much be a simple "lie" but rather: politics? duplicity? treachery? Maybe instead he would capitalize Truth -reminding us Truth is a Person- & change lie to Father of Lies. dear brothers & sisters, we no longer live in Eden but the Deceiver, the Murderer, Hate still coyly invites us to our deaths. Viligance! Courage! Perseverance! Hope! dwelling in His Peace, we run this race bringing souls to Him!
written by Dan Deeny, August 12, 2009
Great article. I'd be interested to know where the evidence is for the Bolsheviks patterning themselves after the Society of Jesus. Was the author writing in a figurative sense?
2nd post-just have to say
written by debby, August 12, 2009
people don't change. histories, cultures tell the same odyssey. we need to worship. we need art. we need to express love, to be outdoors, on a great day or starry night. we need to think, to wonder, to create, to be. once we step away from "human-BEing" to "human-DOing" we drink the poison, eat rotten fruit & die. what do we feed our minds, souls, hearts w/today? we exist off Gov't sponsored Bread & Circuses-Jesus came to set us free into Abundant Life! but we've settled for Soylent Green!
written by Achilles, August 12, 2009
Mr. Marlin, excellent article, thank you very much. Michael D.O'Brian writes in A landscape of Dragons: "the real problem is religious illiteracy, by which I mean the lack of an objective standard against which we can measure our subjective reading and sensation and experience”...“Without this objective standard, one’s personal gnosis will inevitably push aside the objective truth and subordinate it to a lesser position, when it does not banish it altogether.” (p. 83-84)
political religions
written by george j. harris, August 12, 2009
Well of course all of this has been well known for for quite some time. This is equivalent to even those who are current in Americam politics who equate God as the equal to "man," instead of the truth that man can never be God's equal, nor could man deem to even dare to conceive of the thought that he could ever transcend Divine Revelation! Man has always been susceptable to self-deception.
written by Bradley, August 13, 2009
Professor McInerney's column yesterday and Mr. Marlin's today paint a bleak picture of today's society. Perhaps they are right. As they gird themselves for battle, what is noticeably lacking in their columns is a sense of Christian joy and hope. We know (or should know) that sin and death will ultimately be defeated. Let us remember Psalm 118: "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad."
I'm with Bradley
written by Tricia, August 13, 2009
Where sin abounds GRACE SUPER-ABOUNDS.
We live where sin abounds --
Isn't this why we need a Savior?
Isn't this why He said He came as the Light shining in the darkness and the darkness could not over-power the Light?
Yes, Hope is only in Christ. He is the One Way, the One Truth, the One Life and maybe if Catholic Bishops & Priests were in love with Him, the laity would be inspired by their fatherly love and more would chose Him.
Let your light shine!
written by Achilles, August 13, 2009
Dear Bradley, your comment seems to me to be pedantic at best. I am sure Professor McInerney and Mr. Marlin know that death will ultimately be defeated, and I suspect that what they write about is reality and our duty to commit to God's will and do our part to secure that victory. Joy would be the fruit of our labors well done, not just another entitlement severed from responsibility.

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