Updated: May 11
Our American crisis can only be understood within the framework of a religious struggle. It is a war for ownership of the True Faith, and perhaps the key question in its outcome is whether the parties in conflict see the other as a wayward American sect, or as full-blown heresy.
Big, universalist faiths often split into rival sects: Dueling denominations, battling churches. They struggle for domination, and for mastery of the misguided.
Heresy, in critical contrast, is Anathema: Belief and practice to be cursed, excommunicated, even expunged. Thus, heresy is so dangerously divergent from orthodoxy as to threaten the True Faith itself.
Now the New York Times, The Forward or Catholic Herald or Pravda of the Church of Woke, has declared the status of the American Religion to be "Sectarian." Nate Cohn presents the carefully curated official Church pronunciamento on the national situation:
Whether religious or political, sectarianism is about two hostile identity groups who not only clash over policy and ideology, but see the other side as alien and immoral. It’s the antagonistic feelings between the groups, more than differences over ideas, that drives sectarian conflict.
The narrative advanced is that, yes, there is an American faith-divide driving conflict in our national life, and yes, there are some that see this as an existential divide. Of course they are of the Red variety. Moreover, Red’s existential angst derives from their inmost fears as a potentially persecuted minority. The religious comparison, though only once elided in the piece, is to Sunni vs. Shi'a.
The counterargument, buttressed by ever-stronger daily evidence, is that the struggle is not simply sectarian, meaning, a battle about minority persecution. It is, quite to the contrary, a religious war over who will represent Orthodoxy in the American Religion, and hence, which faith-vision will reign.
History tells us that the standard definition of heresy — “belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious doctrine” — fails to convey the full conflict dynamic that is in fact at play. If many intra-religious sects co-exist today, however inimically, history shows that they first had to survive the initial, existential battle with Orthodoxy, perhaps for centuries. A culture area inhabited by different sects is, by definition, a world where competing sects live side-by-side — and survive.
In contrast, heresies summon existential battle. If defeated, the loser heresy would be stamped out: Through excommunication, inquisition, expulsion, and yes, extermination. Just ask the Albigensians. The 13th (1209-1229) century “Crusade” against the Cathar heresy — at the direct order of Pope Innocent III — is viewed by many historians as an “ideological genocide” — Hundreds of thousands perished.
Other Christian extirpations were less extreme. Arians, Nestorians, and Monophysites each challenged orthodox primacy. Yet they were not exterminated — rather, their legions of believers were not-so-gently persuaded by the organs of the Roman state.
A great faith that owns the state is the best hope of all orthodoxy. When Christianity was enshrined by Constantine as the new, ersatz (or “replacement” in German) religion of Rome, all the levers of power at Rome’s command could be brought to bear on the grand mission: The full conversion of the entire Greco-Roman world.
The metaphor of Rome in Late Antiquity speaks to us directly. Our great new heresy — the Church of Woke — is surging across America in its proselytizing mission to convert the entire nation. Now endorsed and energized by the U.S. imperial state, the Woke — like Roman Christian elites — are poised to force conversion on all of us.
[I treat this comparison at some length here, in Church of Woke: Next American Religion?]
Christianity achieved a coup d’état of the Roman state, which, once achieved, allowed the Church to pursue world conversion relentlessly and without impediment.
The heretics had, at one stroke, become God’s archons. How like our world and our time!
We inhabit an unrelenting religious war that almost precisely paces the all-or-nothing battles between the early Church and Arianism and Monophysitism and Nestorianism, and yes, the just-emergent Islam. It also, precisely, resembles the bitter, blood-drenched battles that ravaged Europe between 1560 and 1648. It resembles, also precisely, the wars that raged in Russia and Germany and Hungary and Italy and Spain, between Fascism and Bolshevism.
We are not now, Mr. Cohn notwithstanding, a nation of riven sects, hard and horrible as his judgment may sound.
We are a nation — far more dangerously — in existential battle over heresy. More pointedly, this is a battle over who will seize the standard of orthodoxy, and who will be struck down and burned at the stake for heresy.
Remember, triumphal new religions must first make the leap from heresy to orthodoxy, and this means: Destroying the old religion, and toppling it from its temple perch. Pulling down statues and burning books — icon-smashing, or “iconoclasm” — is necessary theater in the systemic trashing of the Old Religion — and the dominion of the new.
Heresy, in other words, must come in from the cold — and it can only do so by burning down the former house, or temple city.
Moreover, nothing will stand in its way, because there is only one way.
For reference, the violent surge of the early Reformation was as woke as they come. The raging lust to destroy the icons of saints, the statues, and all the totems of what fervid Calvinists saw as irredeemable Catholic corruption, led to this extraordinary political construction.
The late 16th century Netherlands, in revolt against and mired in what would be an 80-years war with Hapsburg Spain, publicly renounced even their ties to ancestral Christian tradition with the war cry: “Liever Turks dan Paaps” — Rather Turk than Papist! They were willing, defiantly, to sever all connection with the canonical past to make a new, cleansed and purified Christian world.
This is the world of Woke today. It is a fever world that knows no boundaries in its pursuit of the true faith. It is a world that will do anything to cleanse and purify a world corrupted by America’s false gods. It is a world that now has the levers of the state itself to instate a new national catechism — and enforce conversion to the new, improved American Faith.
The Church of Woke is no “sect,” and the United States is engaged in no “sectarian conflict.” This is a heresy with a celestial head of steam, hellbent on making itself the rod of new American Orthodoxy, while casting down our old religion into infernal depths of apostasy.