AS THE OLD FAITHS COLLAPSE, THE GREENS, SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIORS, AND TECHNO-FUTURISTS AIM TO FILL THE VOID
By Joel Kotkin & Alicia Kurimska, The Daily Beast
They may see themselves as avant-garde, but the greens have perhaps more in common with feudal clerics than they might suspect. Nothing so resembles the bad old days of religion than the green movement’s apocalyptic and authoritarian approach.
The pews are emptying virtually everywhere in the higher-income world. The Catholic Church is divided and enmeshed in scandal, unable to prevent even historically cleric-dominated Ireland from liberalizing abortion. The once vibrant evangelical movement is losing momentum in the developed world while the more established Protestant and Jewish congregations are shrinking, some at a rapid rate.
Yet rather than an end to faith, this fading of religion may presage the radical re-invention of spiritualism. Just as Christianity replaced paganism at the end of the Roman Empire, rising new faiths—built around notions of social justice, the environment, and technology to extend life or even achieve immortality—may supplant the old ones.
The decline of organized religion is clear. In 24 of 42 traditionally Christian countries, many of them in Europe, the Christian population is already shrinking, deaths among Christians already exceed births—a trend that Pew predicts (PDF) will accelerate. Only in Africa, where faith has tended towards fundamentalism, do Christian births seem likely to continue outnumber births. The Jewish population in Europe, meanwhile, is less than half of what it was in 1960.
White Christians now comprise less than half of the American population, with the relative size of white evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Catholic populations all declining rapidly in the latest Public Religion Research Institute poll. Overall, the percentage of Catholics attending church weekly has plunged 50 percent from 1970, to barely 20 percent today; infant baptisms are down by nearly 40 percent since 2000.
The Green Faith
Other more openly “post-Christian” substitutes for religion find their inspiration elsewhere. Perhaps the largest is the environmental movement, whose rhetoric and preferences echo those of the medieval Christian church. With its own pieties, roster of saints and sinners, the climate movement, notes author Joel Garreau, is becoming “the religion of choice for urban atheists. ”
They may see themselves as avant-garde, but the greens have perhaps more in common with feudal clerics than they might suspect. Feudalism developed in an economic environment of extreme scarcity, something also embraced by greens. Rather than celebrate opportunity, the “green” religion emphasizes the dangers of economic growth, a critical element in breaking down the old structures of feudalism.
Like the medieval church, the green movements benefits from enormous support from the wealthiest and most well-established elements in society. No surprise then that what is preached for the masses—for example tough restrictions on driving or energy consumption—rarely apply to or impact the well off and well-connected. Like the aristocrats who bought themselves indulgences, our elites get off by purchasing “carbon offsets” that few middle-class people could afford.
But nothing so resembles the bad old days of religion than the green movement’s apocalyptic and authoritarian approach. For all its unquestioned good in pointing out real environmental issues, greens have often embraced hyperbole—the “population bomb”, predictions of imminent crises of “global cooling,” imminent resource depletion and ever worse pollution—as their primary marketing tactic. Although many of these predictions proved not only exaggerated but often plain wrong, true believers rarely stop and contemplate their misstatements.
Like messianic preachers from the old religions, many climate activists, like medieval clerics, see human greed as the root of evil. They also look to impose penance through such things as not eating meat, something both older Catholics and aging hippies could recall with nostalgia. Perhaps less appealing, climate activists often follow procedures common to the Inquisition, from taking dissenters to court to seeking to banish different ideas even by legal means. They have also managed to ban even the mildly skeptical views from much of the press, including the BBC and The Los Angeles Times.
Many greens have as little use for democracy or impartiality as would the Catholic Church of the 11th century; many see authoritarian regimes, like China, as better suited to meeting climate change than our querulous democracy. Acting like Torquemada in a business suit, the former Jesuit-turned-climate crusader Jerry Brown even openly called for the “brainwashing” of the sinful, uncomprehending masses when visiting Rome. Significantly, the green religion is increasingly hostile towards making families. If the medieval mentality attacked sex—15 percent of the population was permanently celibate—the green one focuses on preventing the traditional result from the proverbial role in the hay. Like the millenarians who feared the imminence of the “Final Judgement,” many greens oppose baby-making as a way to mitigate the evil of human existence.
The Transhumanist Fallacy
The third of the new religions, and arguably the most extreme, is “trans-humanism” which seeks to gain eternal life through technology, a distinctly secular means for achieving the long cherished religious goal. There are even fledgling attempts in Silicon Valley to construct a religion, based on artificial intelligence, to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.”
This may sound like another crazy California cult, but trans-humanism has long exercised a strong hold on the elites of Silicon Valley. It has attracted such luminaries as Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Ray Kurzweil of Google to Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Y Combinator founder Sam Altman. This new faith—backed by the oligarchs’ billions— ignores the message of almost all the monotheistic religions about the essential equality and dignity of all people. Instead transhumanism, notes Yuval Noah Harari in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, offers a future where “a small and privileged elite of upgraded humans” gains control of society. The new quest for the oligarchy will not be to follow God’s laws, but how to become “new godlings, who might be different from us Sapiens as we are different from Homo Erectus.”