(Rembrandt, Belshazzar’s Feast, 1636)
Is the writing on the wall for religion, religious studies, post secularism and “theo-politics?” I really liked this post by Alan Brill on his blog over at the Book of Doctrines and Opinions. http://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/post-orthodoxy/. It suggests what may be a pressing need to re-tool the categories through which we think these things. Or to switch metaphors, the owl of Minerva might need to wait until the demographic dusk starts to fall.
Alan covers the modern orthodox Judaism with a very active interest in popular Christianity and a strong dose of sociology of religion. His remarks on post-Orthodoxy go against old accepted wisdom re: conservative religion. It would seem that contrary to what may have been the case for an older generation, now middle aged, is no longer the case today. There’s been a lot of journalism suggesting that the right wing Evangelical Christians are having a hard time, or a harder time retaining the fidelities of a younger generation. The same might be the case in modern orthodox Judaism. Much of this has to do with popular culture and the internet on the outside seeping in, as well as ideological rigidity from within. Is the edifice of right wing religion about to crack up?
It makes me think that maybe it is time to start rethinking some of the ageing theoretical gospel in academic circles re: post-secularism. That tellers of that story sought to bury the old modernization theory according to which religion will wither away in the face of a modern society that is increasingly rationalized and fragmented. The resurgence of political religion starting with the Iranian Revolution in 1970 and the rise of the Christian Moral Majority in the U.S. as well as the rise of the Israeli right and Hindu religious nationalism in India would seem to have suggested that religions and their “sacred canopies” in the postmodern world are robust creatures indeed.
But is that the end of the story, or is the pendulum starting to swing? To me, from my own liberal bias, it seems increasingly clear that religion in the political sphere leads to nowhere good, and that this nowhere good is not sustainable for very long, that it only lends itself to violent polarization and sectarian conflict, the kind of antinomies upon which some of the more decisionist theories out there hang their revolutionary hats.
Strange bed-fellows, left-leaning academics saw great hope in this as a zone of resistance to western neo-liberalism, but I’m not sure the results are so pretty. The evangelical right has led American Christianity into a cultural and political and theological dead-end, the religious right in Israel is going to destroy the country along with its secular basis, the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah-Hamas “axis of resistance” turns against the very peoples in whose name it sought to resist Zionism and the west, and the Arab-Islamic spring, especially and most importantly in Egypt, is mired in formal and informal constitutional crises, whose only way out is “liberal” in some way or another.
I’m looking forward to the new post-post-secularism and the collapse to that sickening thing called “political theology” or “theo-politics.” I thought the writing was on the wall long ago when Talal Asad in Geneaologies of Religion defended the Iranian fatwa against Salman Rushdie. I see no reason not to think that religion and politics make for a toxic mix that may not be sustainable in the long run, and that religion, while never purely private, was never really political either, and the way in which religionists sought to grab overt poltical power was only going to be a sham; and the same might be true of those theories of religion that sought to theorize these moves.