Today’s American liberalism, it is often remarked, amounts to a secular religion: it has its own sacred texts and taboos, Crusades and Inquisitions. The political correctness that undergirds it, meanwhile, can be traced back to the past century’s liberal Protestantism. Conservatives, of course, routinely scoff that liberals’ ersatz religion is inferior to the genuine article.
What Bottum calls the “re-enchantment and spiritual thickening of reality” is the subject of the book. It is an elusive quarry, for it is not a simple task to show that self-styled rationalists entertain a firm belief in the modern equivalent of ghosts and witches. For the post-Protestants, “the social forces of bigotry, power, corruption, mass opinion, militarism, and oppression are the constant themes of history” against which they must array themselves
The desire to be redeemed from sin (redefined as a social fact) identifies the post-Protestants as children of the Puritans. That insight is what makes his new book a new and invaluable contribution to our understanding of America’s frame of mind. Just what is a secular religion, and how does it shape the spiritual lives of its adherents? Bottum deftly peels the layers off the onion of liberal thinking to reveal its Protestant provenance and inherited religious sensibility. The Mainline Protestantism that once bestrode American public life never died, but metamorphosed into a secular doctrine of redemption. And that was made possible by the conversion of sin from a personal to a social fact in Walter Rauschenberg’s version of the social gospel. Bottum writes, “The new elite class of America is the old one: America’s Mainline Protestant Christians, in both the glory and the annoyingness of their moral confidence and spiritual certainty. They just stripped out the Christianity along the way.” By redefining sin as social sin, Rauschenberg raised up a new Satan and a new vocabulary of redemption from his snares.
Progressivism is, indeed, secular religion; a religion in every way sans self-identification.
Man is possessed of two natures - the celestial and the terrestrial (a la Origen). The former is good and elevates him to understanding by the grace of that which is a priori (chiefly memory - the engine/basis of knowledge). The latter is evil and degrades him to the brutes by the grace of that which is a posteriori (chiefly time - the engine/basis of experience).
Each man's celestial nature (personality traits, inclinations, prejudices, intuitions) is the consequence of his understanding of/interaction with those particular memories he inherited at conception. When Duns Scotus argued for G-d by a posteriori knowledge he planted the seed of tabula rasa in European culture, for if even G-d is known not a priori then nothing is so known and in denying a priori knowledge Scotus unleashed the terrestrial soul by renouncing the celestial one.
Though it is by intent, to renounce is not to expel by effect; and indeed Progressives seem to rediscover their very own natures on a regular basis! Hence the embarrassing parade of (scientific!) beliefs - in social contract theory, natural rights, Keynesian economics, human neurological uniformity...
The effect, though not the intent, of renouncing man's celestial nature is to align spiritual ascendence with time - the engine of a posteriori. And so it is that secular religion must, by virtue of valuing latter eras more highly than foregoing ones, shed all those trappings of tradition and habits of heritage that a civilization make.