The new gospel
The erratic, post-Enlightenment decline of religious belief hasn’t meant the end of the human search for meaning; rather, it has simply led to the development of secular religions known as political ideologies, often accompanied by more fanaticism and ferocity than the real thing and usually minus the charity and good works.
The political ideologue is thus a modern-day version of those who fought religious wars and burned heretics at the stake.
The most powerful secular religion was, of course, communism. It had its own founder/God (Karl Marx), saints (Lenin, Stalin, and Mao) and scripture (The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital). There was also a proselytizing clergy in the form of the party elite and periodic internecine conflicts (the Stalin-Tito break and the later SinoSoviet split).
Despite its scientific pretension, communism proved as much a matter of faith as any established religion, with the most devoted acolytes absorbing news of the NaziSoviet Pact and Nikita Khrushchev’s revelations of Stalin’s “crimes against humanity” without abandoning the cause.
The tipoff as to the essentially religious nature of communism was found in its persistent hostility toward traditional religious belief; persecution of the church was dictated by Marx’s assumption of religion as an inducer of “false consciousness” (the “opiate of the masses”) but militant atheism was also necessary because no religion likes competition and divided loyalties. Organized religion had to be destroyed by communist regimes because it, by definition, suggested a higher calling than loyalty to the regime and the “official” ideology.
In the end, communism differed from religion only in that the latter promised heaven in the hereafter and the former in the here and now, and the fact that not even the most fanatical Christian crusaders and Spanish Inquisitors produced the kinds of body counts and killing fields that Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot did.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 robbed the global left of its
raison d’être, but it didn’t eradicate its underlying quasi-religious impulses, which lingered on in new, ill-defined concepts like “multiculturalism” and “diversity,” and even acquired an apocalyptic environmental dimension with useful anti-capitalist overtones in global warming theory, all reinforced by a new version of the party line called political correctness.
It might have taken a couple of decades, but out of these scattered fragments the left has now produced a new, full-blown secular religion called “intersectionality.” Whereas Marx and Engels created a class-based hierarchy determined by one’s relationship to the means of production, the theory of intersectionality lumps everyone into overlapping categories based on race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference.
It seeks to link together the previously disparate enthusiasms of the contemporary left, like Marxism before it, tracing all forms of discrimination and injustice back to deeply embedded systemic and institutional roots. According to Christina Hoff Sommers, it consequently “views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of ‘oppression’ as interconnected and mutually reinforcing.”
Intersectionality theory ultimately suggests that American society (and the world more broadly) is defined by oppression and that each of us falls somewhere into the oppressor/ oppressed matrix: A white woman is oppressed by virtue of her gender, but an oppressor by virtue of her skin color; a black male is oppressed by virtue of skin color but an oppressor by virtue of gender, and so on. The ultimate victim of oppression, at the bottom of the hierarchy of privilege, would presumably be a poor black female lesbian, at the top, the ultimate oppressor, would presumably be a wealthy white Christian heterosexual male.
Just about all of the left’s current obsessions—transgendered bathrooms, $15 minimum wage demands, and speech codes, “safe spaces” and courses on “white privilege” on our college campuses flow from such intersectionality assumptions.
Alas, intersectionality, while clearly derivative of Marxism, also differs from it in a number of ways, most conspicuously by the extent to which it is (like traditional religious belief) impervious to contrary facts and evidence, such that efforts to raise objections to its assumptions and demands only proves, in Sommers’ words, “that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome.”
Whereas communism, however adept it became at explaining away unpleasant facts, was ultimately empirical in nature and thus collapsed when too great a gap developed between theory and practice (the obvious failure of communist states to keep pace with their allegedly doomed capitalist counterparts), intersectionality theory constitutes a closed logical system, with facts and data viewed as part and parcel of the system of oppression itself; it is, by definition, incapable of falsification.
Even the concept of truth is viewed by intersectionality theorists as a malevolent mechanism of exploitation employed by the white male patriarchy.
Intersectionality thus represents the inevitable cul-de-sac into which leftist victimology leads, the ultimate rejection of thought and reason in favor of emotions and superstition. It has, ultimately, no real goals other than to incite grievances and to promote the moral superiority of its adherents.
One suspects that even Marx would have found it pathetic.