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Around The Net: A Contemplation on “Isms”

June 16th, 2007 | by Daniel DiRito |

Jonah Goldberg has an interesting article posted in “the corner” on the National Review Online. His article is actually a discussion of points raised in other articles. The first is called Religion And The Threat Effect by Paul Waldman at The American Prospect. The second, appearing in The Atlantic, is titled Crisis Of Faith, and it was written by Ross Douthat. Douthat also elaborates further in his blog here.

Waldman seeks an understanding of the state of secularism…particularly its relationship and interaction with the evangelical movement. He wonders whether the geographic proximity of these distinct groups will lead followers of both to even further entrenchment…including a shift by secularists to become a defined and cohesive movement intent on enacting their own agenda in the political arena.

Douthat argues that secularism is the up and coming newcomer in the political arena and that it will set the tone and provide significant influence for the next decade. He draws some historical comparisons and suggests that the new secularism may be more hostile and more focused on extinguishing religion…or at least removing its influence over politics.

Goldberg moves the argument forward (or backwards depending on one’s particular bent) to include a suggestion that secularism is actually the successor to the failed experiment called Marxism or communism. He posits that the death of the isms may have put a damper on the very vocal anti-god sentiment that typified the movement…leaving in its wake a more palpable remnant called secularism.

Each argument brings its own particular focus and each has merit. My objective is to draw some different connections which certainly might impact the conclusions one may choose. There is a general assumption that secularism still rejects religion…at least as a player in the political process. If it doesn’t necessarily seek to end religion…it no doubt seeks to separate it from its propensity to pursue the institutionalization of its belief system.

I’ll stipulate to Goldberg’s conclusion that today’s iteration of secularism may have separated itself from the perception that communism was virulently anti-god. However, I think an argument can be made that while its communist voice struck a decidedly anti-god tone, Marxism was actually, at its core, first and foremost anti-religion. Let me be clear…I’m not seeking to dig up either in order to give them new luster…I am simply attempting to sort essence from echo.

While the impression remains that these isms primarily sought to eviscerate god; if one actually reduces them to their basic underlying components, a new picture emerges. I’ve identified three components. One is an understanding of the philosophical premise and the suggested societal manifestations that were the essence of Marxism. A second one is the players who eventually interpreted and imposed their understanding of communism or Marxism, and the final one is the historical record that explains and delineates both.

Absent a cogent dissection and delineation of the two former components, the degree to which the latter element (the reporting) can be viewed as definitive remains in question. No doubt I’ll be viewed to be treading on thin ice…but I proceed unfettered. I contend that there are, in actuality, only two plausible characterizations of the historical record. One concludes that the effort and ability to understand the distinction between the two primary components is thin…and the other…the one which I hypothesize is the more plausible characterization…concludes that the effort and intention to provide the distinction between the two primary components is thin.

While that contention may appear to impugn far more noted scholars, let me suggest that all history has an element of subjective interpretation. In drawing the above conclusion, I am simply offering my own alternate analysis in order to expand the arena and the dialogue.

It is said that art imitates life…and in that notion, our written and oral history becomes an artists rendition of events…albeit supported by far more depth than the thickness of a canvas…yet no less only a single dimensional representation of what can no longer be viewed as the original body of evidence…leaving our images relegated to our ability to act out…as if in a play…our impression of yesteryear’s actual performance.

A near perfect segue. A couple years ago I saw a play in Denver called Marx in Soho by historian Howard Zinn. The premise of the play is that Marx has come back for one day to defend himself and his theories. The following is a summation of the play from Westword, a Denver publication:

He is not a Marxist, this Marx insists, going on to condemn the power-mad thugs who terrorized Russia and China in his name. He describes his belief system as essentially humanistic, a blueprint for a classless society in which everyone is free of want and able to develop fully as human beings.

On the other hand, the critique of capitalism is spot-on, since capitalism, too, carries within itself the seeds of its own corruption. “I predicted that capitalism would increase the wealth of society, but this wealth would be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands,” Marx says, describing the America we know with absolute precision. When he talks about the manipulation of patriotism to make people “forget their misery” and thunders against capitalism’s tendency to commoditize everything, including art and human individuality, it’s hard not to stand up and cheer.

Although Marxism contended with capitalism for dominance and legitimacy over much of the twentieth century, few Americans know anything but a cartoon version of it; Marx in Soho is an excellent antidote to this ignorance.

Now the sacrilege. If one sought to find another historical character with a defined doctrine that best approximated the essence of Marxism…as it was intended to impact our collective human condition…I would contend one would choose Jesus. Allow me to elaborate before condemning me to hell.

The story of Jesus is the story of a social critic who dissected the fallacies and hypocrisies that permeated the then existing societal construct and their impact upon the human experience. Granted, Jesus never denounced the notion of god…though he did reject much of established religion’s efforts to interpret and implement gods will. Setting aside the obvious contrast…meaning the fact that Jesus embraced god and Marx embraced atheism…their shared lack of convention and their mutual identification as rebellious outsiders is palpable. Additionally, they also embraced similar visions with regard to endorsing equitable human treatment.

If one were to analyze the secular agenda, it maintains many of the same precepts that Jesus endorsed and promoted. It also maintains the rejection of established religion that both Jesus and Marx demonstrated…though it more closely approximates Marxism with regard to its rejection of a deity. Notwithstanding, the agenda is also predicated upon a value system that can be closely equated with the message of Jesus…a message focused on fostering the dignity of every individual in order to elevate the whole of humanity.

With that said, one can argue that communism and secularism have always maintained a connection to a world view consistent with the principals of Jesus. Semantically, by virtue of their own self-reported rejection of a deity, communists and secularists have been viewed synonymously with all things anti-Christ. Regardless, one would be hard pressed to provide a tangible measure of that notion…which supports the alternate conclusion that goodness is not the exclusive domain of religion and allegiance to religion does not necessarily indicate proximity to Christian living.

In the end, the clash between secularists and evangelicals…while portrayed as a battle to prove the existence or denial of a deity…is really a struggle to identify the most appropriate manner in which we humans choose to interact with our counterparts. What that means for the future is that it will become increasingly difficult for evangelicals to hold the moral high ground when challenged to explain the fundamental blocks upon which it has been built.

The harsh tenor found in recent secularist publications is a measure of the degree to which secular society has decided that it will no longer sit back and allow evangelicals to witness to values and platitudes that are little more than hypocrisy hailed as holiness. The period of time since the rise and fall of communism has simply been the time it has taken secularists to rid themselves of the doubt and guilt that was heaped upon them…and that they foolishly accepted.

Secularists have reconnected with and reclaimed the principles that long ago led them to reject the institution of religion. The presentation of the debate as a battle between believers and non-believers will no longer prevail. The defining battle will be a struggle to determine which group is authentic in living values that enhance the human condition and which group has used the proclamation of values to dictate the human condition. A day of reckoning approaches…it is a day when nothing short of sanctifying humanity will suffice.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

  1. 4 Responses to “Around The Net: A Contemplation on “Isms””

  2. By Ron on Jun 16, 2007 | Reply

    Jonah Goldberg has the brains of a piece of balled up tinfoil. Last week, that “mommy got me my job” wingnut welfare recip said in the LA Times we should get rid of the public school system. Thank GOD above idiots like him are not in charge. I mean, what would he do after that, privatize the social security system or somethi…

    Shit. Idiots like him ARE in charge. Yikes.

  3. By kip152 on Jun 16, 2007 | Reply

    Wake up. The war between Christians and the rest of America is about money - and the easiest way to increase the bottom line in our capitalist society is by controlling the government. All the rest is useless rhetoric.

  4. By Daniel DiRito on Jun 16, 2007 | Reply


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I try not to attach labels though I have disagreed with a number of Mr. Goldberg’s observations.


    Thanks for your observations though I must say that “wake up” is more rhetoric than strategy. Let’s assume there is a war between Christians and the rest of America…and let’s assume it’s about money and controlling the government…and that you believe “the rest is useless rhetoric”.

    OK, I would like to hear what you think we ought to do to change the situation. The problem I have with your comment is that it serves no real purpose…other than to possibly allow you to vent your frustration with the status quo.

    I’m of the opinion that being awake is commensurate with being aware. Awareness, in my opinion, is an important step towards changing minds…it can provide the rationale upon which to persuade someone to alter their views. Otherwise, this war is destined to be perpetual.

    Perhaps part of the problem with the current political dialogue is that both sides are angry to the point that, over time, they simply become more intransigent…each side wants to put an end to the other. I may be wrong, but absent ideas and a persuasive argument, the advantage will simply tip back and forth between the combatants as enough voters on either side get angry enough to vote.

    Breaking the Christian vs. Atheist model would allow people to step away from the extremes and focus on what we want to happen in society. Right now, the choices are limited…either be a believer that adheres to Biblical law…or be a non-believer that rejects god. What would be wrong with focusing on how we think we ought to treat each other?

    Thanks again for your comments and I hope you will take the time to share your ideas.



  5. By Ron on Jun 16, 2007 | Reply

    Dan, with a guy like Jonah, who is such an obvious hack, you don’t have to feel bad labeling him.

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