I'm nearing the end of a fantastic book called The New Demons by Jacques Ellul, and I thought I'd share a passage from it that, to my mind, hits exactly on a phenomenon of our time. Ellul writes:
The religious legacy of Christianity is taken over by the great political currents and by politics. We actually encounter this, not only as expressed at different levels, from the most obvious to the most subtle, in the form of hidden religious tendencies, of a fixation of the religious on objects not intended for that, of unexpected religious burgeoning, all unintentional and unconscious, but also in the form of organized religions, clearly instituted as religion, with dogma, myth, rites, and churchlike establishments, communal gatherings and sacraments, complete irrationality, the dialectic of anguish and consolation, mystical expression and prayer, a global interpretation of man, of the world and of history, and the singling out of heretics. It is a question of political religions.
This is a pretty dense passage so I'll break down what Ellul is getting at here. Basically, many people, especially Christians, say that the West is now religionless because it is no longer Christian. But in New Demons Ellul proves this idea (belief?) false with a compelling socio-historical analysis that tells us just because society isn't Christian anymore doesn't mean it isn't religious. Ellul points out that, in fact, it is historically and sociologically verifiable that religions and religious practices never fizzle out completely in societies. Instead, when one predominant religion loses power in a society, another one, or ones, will take its place. In the case of the West, it is arguable that politics has taken over—to the extent of becoming a religion, with all its dogmas, sacraments, prayers, mystical expressions, interpretations of humanity, the world and history, declared heretics and so forth.
So let's keep this in mind: the next time we encounter a political rally is what we see a rally or is it something more—a religious gathering? Perhaps it is a liturgy rife with prayers, faithful fervour, and mystical experience. For, just because the West isn't inherently Christian anymore does not mean that it is not religious. All you have to do is look closely enough. And while we're at it, maybe we can see about spotting other unlikely religions present in our society.