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Nihilism and politics as religion

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Recently one of my favorite contemporary journalists, Matt Taibbi, wrote an article about how the news and politics is America's new religion and how we are as a result in a new secular "religious" war. I was only able to get half the article and read half of it for myself, but regardless, it is a very interesting article that is available for a read. I recommend reading it.

Religion is dying in America. Church attendance is down below 50 %, for the first time in our history. Since Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, the three great atheists of the 19th and 20th centuries, that ended Christianity and religion, faith has been in a rapid decline. As someone who attends church, its very noticeable how much of the congregation is very old and how the middle aged to younger people don't often attend church anymore.

The thing is though human beings and thus human nature have not changed a lot in the last 2000 years, so we still have the same psychological and existential concerns we have always had. We are still a deeply tribal species with a need for in and out groups, who crave meaning in our lives. We want to belong and the whole cliched left/right political divide fulfills some of this need in our secular age. Religion and family can still fill the hole in the human heart for many people, but things like sports, movies, pop music, and consumerism with their vapid promises are increasingly filling our existential holes for us instead of religion and family.

Nietzsche wrote his famous "Parable of the Madman," and proclaimed loudly the Christian God of the last 2000 years is dead. Nietzsche though warned with the death of God comes a groundlessness in western society that has never been seen before. Nihilism in other words, would strike at the heart of western society. We would find anything we can to fill this existential hole because of a metaphysical groundlessness at the heart of the 20th century, and as a result we saw totalitarian Nazism arise in Germany and communism arise in the USSR.

This isn't some conservative screed to return to the 1950's though, that era was full of problems of sexism, racism and homophobia. But if we take sin to be separation and estrangement, as Paul Tillich tells us, we are living in a deeply nihilistic and now sinful era, just as much as in the 1950's and if not more. In a post Fall, or post lapsarian world, I don't think a utopian paradise is possible but mindless consumerism and endless capitalism won't bring about lasting meaning to people's lives either.

Maybe a return to big B, "Being," as Martin Heidegger tells us in a post consumer, post capitalist, and post monotheistic religious fashion is the answer. Maybe that's not the answer though either, I don't really know. I do know that using the traditional left/right or Democratic/Republican paradigm won't get us very far in bringing about less separation and estrangement when looking for meaning in a nihilistic age. Thank you.

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