Heresy has two definitions: The metaphorical — “opinion profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted” — and the religious — “belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious doctrine.” American political tradition has reached long and often for the metaphorical. Today, however, this reach has become religious, and the diktat of real, religious heresy is at hand.
When Church has no claim on State, heresy is a tool to manage the smaller (less than all) flock of believers. Persuasion is the missionary tool of choice to seduce the larger (whole society) herd of non-believers. Where Church claims State, however, heresy quickly rises to first choice. No longer must the non-believer be persuaded — he can be compelled.
Heresy is the go-to multi-tool when theology and ideology, religion and politics, Church and State, become one. Heresy performs five vital cultural functions:
Heresy is a comfort. After all, it is a comfort to know that Evil exists. For is evil not the easy affirmation of Faith (a la The Exorcist and The Omen)? Certainly the Heretic’s very repudiation of Faith is the evidence of Evil. And Evil must be defeated.
Moreover, Heresy forces the faithful to focus urgently on the Evil. By focusing the energies of the faithful on the struggle with Evil, attention is drawn away from canonical disagreement. If church doctrine is not fully orthodox, then factions and sects are still in unresolved competition. However, urgent Evil requires that everyone join together, no matter what their sectarian differences.
The looming threat of Heresy also pushes attention away from the gulf of inequality between leadership and people. Party or Church elites have been often known notoriously for unfairly enriching themselves. But, as “stainless knights” leading the faithful to battle, elites become objects of veneration, heroes who can call believers “once more unto the breach!”
The rise of Heresy, too, is often a changeling for original Movement Mission. When the great Mission has peaked, or gone as far as earnest proselytes can go, then the work of Party or Church can be fired up to a higher level by revealing an existential Evil that threatens to overturn the great Mission itself. This is a clarion call, sounding the tocsin, a call for mobilization.
Finally, the fight itself, if framed as an heroic contest, a clash of faith and steel, offers the faithful a promise of the ever-addicting peak life experience — with all the glory that goes with grit and sacrifice and final transcendence.
So Heresy not only 1) reaffirms Faith by instantiating Evil, 2) focuses energy on an external enemy, 3) turns corrupt officials into stainless knights, 4) transforms the Mission and takes it to a more exciting plane — Heresy also 5) fires up believers through the thrill of battle. Heresy indelibly motivates (now thronging) believers and (now secret) non-believers: Because, as religious law becomes state law, Heresy is now a crime.
Why is the religious application of criminal heresy at the forefront of American politics? Why has it become a critical tool of the Democratic Party? My response is this proposition — “Church of Woke: Next American Religion?” — that Blue (the Democrats) have become — whether they can see this or not — a revolutionary religious movement, seeking the transfiguration of American identity and American life. The titular President Elect and top Blue leaders, moreover, are publicly committed to “transformation.”
America is approaching the cusp of a unique experience: Living under a code of religious law.
It is true that American life is already governed by American civil religion. As Americans we have lived according to a civil definition of The Good: Social norms, customs, and taboos whose legal manifestation has evolved and changed — we like to think — for the better.
But belief, both outward and inmost, has never been compelled under law. At most, Americans have only had a taste of such legal sanction, in the form of expansive interpretations of disloyalty or treason in past crises or emergencies. The most contentious battles over social norms — slavery, segregation, discrimination, abortion, due process — have had a sometimes desperate and bloody, yet always constitutional resolution.
Belief has remained protected. Until now.
Wokeism is being aggressively advanced as the successor religion to our longstanding, since-the-origin civil religion: American Exceptionalism. Unlike the old national religion, however, Wokeism advances an entire canon, bundling theology (critical social theory, intersectionality, anti-racism, gender studies) with sacred literature (scriptural narratives, like 1619), and a maturing jurisprudence, now developing into concrete religious law. Canon law in the Church of Woke is closer to Fiqh, or jurisprudence in Islam, in that it represents “a comprehensive body of law [that] sacralizes daily life.”
In January, a new administration in the executive branch of government would immediately empower the Church of Woke to start embedding its Sharia canon into Federal code. This process began in the Obama era with a Woke exegesis of Title IX, which a President Biden would instantly restore. Furthermore, even without a Blue Senate majority, executive orders could still give Woke canon law Federal authority.
Thus, America will continue to approach a watershed in national life, where our old civil religion is to be replaced by a true state religion.
Yet the question remains: Why would a political party so renowned for its establishmentarian elitism, its pure Triangulationism, its cynical Neo-liberalism, so enable a religious revolution promising to shape-shift American life?
Because they believe it is their path to power — where Heresy is their path to enforcement.
By enforcement, I mean: 1) Putting Red (and the old civil religion) on the desperate defensive, 2) Panic a fence-sitting moderate middle into passive submission (to the Woke agenda), and 3) Keep increasingly restive Woke Progressives inline (however surly and seething), by feeding them a steady diet of emotionally satisfying sacred ceremony — branding and burning Heretics.
Damnatio Haeresis — both as devotional rite and Church festival — shows a compelling historical continuity. As the Auto-da-fé, the Tribunal révolutionnaire, the show trials of the Great Purge and struggle session in the Cultural Revolution, the damnation of Heresy takes the form of a public festival. Sometimes the Damnatio is heavily scripted collective theater — while other times it pululates into an orgy of chaos and blood, like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, La Violencia, or Kristallnacht.
The post-election program for the Blue damnation of Heresy is already enunciated: 1) Flamboyant and studied, yet brutal and bloody ritual beatings of protesting Trump partisans, 2) Uptempo, higher throughput of cancel culture “executions” and their attendant celebrations, 3) Congressional investigations and hearings on Trump Administration war crimes, 4) Executive orders restoring Title IX Inquisition and Government-wide — including all Federal contractors and recipients of Federal aid — mandatory re-education “training” in anti-racism and critical social theory, 5) Aggressive enforcement of Equity Act provisions through executive order, in the absence of signed legislation, 6) Quiet sanctioning of punitive policing and censorship by Big Tech (of online Media), under the guise of “tackling online abuse, and finally, 7) Launching a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” aimed at exposing, shaming, and publicly punishing Trump officials, donors and supporters.
Their number is legion, too, from the highest elite down to the most modest:
Robert Reich, former Clinton Secretary of Labor (Twitter): When this nightmare is over, we need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It would erase Trump’s lies, comfort those who have been harmed by his hatefulness, and name every official, politician, executive, and media mogul whose greed and cowardice enabled this catastrophe.
Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post Columnist: (MSNBC): What we should be doing is shunning these people. Shunning, shaming these people is a statement of moral indignation: That these people are not fit for polite society. … It’s not just that Trump has to lose, it is that all his enablers have to lose. We have to collectively, in essence, burn down the Republican Party. We have to level them, because if there are survivors, people who weather this storm, they will do it again.
flowerchild1111 (Twitter): DEPROGRAMMING CENTERS. These will have to be at every strip mall in every town!! They had them in Germany after Hitler, we need them just as badly!! Make it mandatory trump supporters go or they must leave our country!! I'm Fkg. Serious
Serious. Such is the power of Heresy. A new Biden Administration must offer such sacred divertissement, too, or risk civil war within Blue ranks. This administration must persevere as well, no matter the political damage. Blue rule is now wired for overload.
Is the metaphor now “threading the needle,” or “Hoist with his own petard”? The former demands a chief executive equal to Fred Astaire, in 1930, in taps. Yet if it is to be the latter, then perhaps, in retrospect, History may be more unsparing. Then, the cliche on our lips then will be that Blue elites “made a Devil’s bargain.”
Just a few days ago, to discordant brass fanfare, purge and punishment were racing ahead in the form of the Trump Accountability Project, rightful heir to the long lists of all great inquisitions, show trials, and revolutionary tribunals past. The high hopes of young Progressive leaders — in a spate of breathless tweets — must have truly fogged the lenses of aging Neoliberals.
Because suddenly now, on the TAP site, is this recusal: “In the spirit of the President-elect's call to build a more united country, this project will no longer be active.”
A “straw in the wind”? Don’t bet on it.