How do we understand President Obama and his curious life journey from semi-abandoned son of a Sixties girl to graduate of leftist Midwest Academy and Radical-in-chief? I believe that the best way is to understand the movement of the left as a kind of religious movement, a secular religious movement of moral renewal that ended up, as so many religious movements do, wanting to capture the political system, become an established church, and legislate its morality upon the populace--in their own best interests, of course.
But isn't this idea of a secular religious movement rather a stretch? Not really, not if you read Discovering God by Rodney Stark.
In Discovering God Stark puts his sociological theories about religion to the test. Mainly, he asserts that there is always a latent demand for religion in society. But usually the supply of religion is throttled by the ruling elite, because religious movements tend to upset the status quo, including the political status quo. The ruling elite prefers to capture religious sentiment into an elite-dominated state religion.
Following Marx, we educated moderns like to think of religion as the "opiate of the masses." But Stark asserts that religious movements are very often started by well-to-do youngsters. Rather than plunge into the hurly-burly of ordinary life they choose a life of asceticism and meditation. Take Buddhism:
Combined with the doctrine that life is inevitably a succession of sufferings and sorrows and that in addition one must strive to frustrate all desires, to become a true follower of Buddha or Mahavira [the founder of Jainism] is to embrace unrelieved pessimism. Such pessimism seems to have attracted some alienated members of the elite to become monks or nuns, but it surely "could not attract the minds of the laity."
Buddhism quickly died out in India, but thrived in China where it grafted on Gods and an afterlife.
The movement started by educated youth in the years after the Napoleonic Wars also embraced unrelieved pessimism, the notion that the lot of the workers would inevitably get worse and worse. It was also godless. And it was particularly attractive to sons of the prosperous middle class. Think Marx, Engels, the Fabians, the Progressives and of course our modern liberals.
This Educated Youth movement began with a moral critique of modern middle class society and then went on to propose a radical reform, to purify it of getting and spending, and to restore an ancient vision of the pure community. It was, of course, a community that had never been. But after the first efforts to found such communities failed, the Educated Youth movement realized that mere voluntary religious communities weren't going to work. They decided that their secular religious movement had to become a state religion. It had to take over the apparatus of the state and impose its moral vision on a society corrupted by "false consciousness" using the force of the law and government bureaucrats.
Of course, the awful rigidities of this moral system, when imposed in practice, results in untold horrors and religious wars. The proselytizing Educated Youth movement naturally faced opposition and it naturally decided that force was necessary where persuasion couldn't persuade.
President Obama is a complete product of this movement. You can call him a socialist, or a radical, or a Marxist. But these names really are the names of individual sects in the overall Educated Youth movement, the secular religious movement to purify corrupt democratic capitalism with a state religion of caring, sharing and, now, saving the planet.
With President Obama the Educated Youth movement is reaching its moment of truth. For its millenniarian promises are turning to dust. Its government-centric model of social cooperation is foundering on a mountain of debt, corruption, and injustice and the ordinary people are rebelling.
For ordinary people the godless religion of pessimism and asceticism doesn't really work. What ordinary people need is an optimistic religion to tell them that their work, their struggles and sacrifices, their families and their loved ones will all come out right in the end, and that virtue will triumph.
In the United States, most of the time, the Educated Youth movement has operated behind a veil, pretending to be moderates instead of extremists. President Obama has been an expert in this, hiding his radical past and his radical friends with the help of a complicit media.
But sooner or later we ordinary folks are going to have to challenge the Educated Youth movement. This challenge must begin, it seems to me, with a separation of the Educated Youth church and state. Let our liberal friends remain free to proselytize all they want. But let's stop them short of building a state church to their liberalism and using government power and taxes to force their belief system upon the rest of us.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: It's in the Constitution, chaps.
Let's curb the Educated Youth movement and close the doors of its established Church of Liberalism.