I’m excited to report that an essay I’ve been working on for a while is now live at Religion & Politics, an online journal that launched earlier this year. It’s a review of a couple of books about philosophy, politics, and religion, one that I loved (Simon Critchley’s The Faith of the Faithless) and one that I enjoyed perhaps more than you might conclude from the piece (Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists.)

Here’s the opening:

If the violence of September 11, 2001, accomplished one thing, it was to force the United States, and by proxy the other Western powers who joined its military adventure in the Middle East, to drop the pretense of being secular nations. When one saw some of the most prominent atheists in American discourse calling for crusades against Muslim invaders, the supposed progressivism of our intellectuals—which still regularly and loudly proclaims its superiority to the passions of religion—looked a bit less convincing. Osama bin Laden had forced us to admit that, while the U.S. may legally separate church and state, it cannot do so intellectually. Beneath even the most ostensibly faithless of our institutions and our polemicists lie crouching religious lions, ready to devour the infidels who set themselves in opposition to the theology of the free market and the messianic march of democracy. Our god may not have a name, but we kill for him just the same.

With theologically energized political movements raising a din among both citizens and enemies of the liberal state. The liberal paradigm, which depends on legal secularism, representative politics and market economics to suppress deeper social conflicts, seemed more and more besieged. Though it still has its champions, the secularism that triumphed in the nineteenth century has been ill-prepared to handle the voracious economies it unleashed, and the religious currents it struggles to contain. (The riots that began across the Middle East last week are yet another illustration of how explosive the reaction can be.) But now, scattered across philosophy, religion, and literature departments, a movement of critics is working to meet the challenge of this post-secular age.

You can read the whole thing here, and I would love to discuss in the comments on R&P.

About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

0 Responses to Can Political Theology Save Secularism?

  1. Neil Wilson says:

    My first thought on reading the excerpt is that what we call a secular society has in fact a set of beliefs that maybe called a ‘civil religion’- a concept I first came across in the writings of Os Guiness. Whether one is ‘religious’ in the classical sense of for example, being a regular church going Christian, or one is an atheist, any individual in a modern Western society needs to assent to a set of principles – such as the right to freedom of thought,speech and association. A result of this is that (as Os Guiness pointed out years ago in his book the Gravedigger File) mainstream religions like Christianity or Islam are relegated into private belief systems that have no direct hold on the levers of power in the polis as a whole.

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