All gods are home-made

[Rowenna]( has just dug up the old cliché about environmentalism being a religion. This one tends to irritate me — not because it’s wrong, but because it only gets interesting if you push it a little further.

Rowenna’s approach is to take a comically minimalist definition of religion, one which includes any moral code. So of her conversion from Christianity to environmentalism, she writes that “

being good was no longer doing right by God, but doing right by the planet


At least when people talked about communism as a ‘secular religion’, they had a few more elements to point to. The communists had their holy books in the works of Marx, their priesthood in the vanguard, and ascetic discipline in their terrifyingly dedicated lives.

You could find many other common points between religious and political movements: a sense of community and shared purpose, a gallery of martyred saints, holidays (think of May 1 as a spring holy-day for atheist workers).

I’m not so interested in debating whether or not political movements are religious ones,

per se

(briefly and non-rigorously: if it doesn’t include belief in the supernatural, I wouldn’t call it a religion). But I


think politics (in a broad sense) can occupy much of the same ground as religion. In Durkheim’s terms, they’re both cures for anomie, malaise confronted with the lack of any externally-imposed social order. Despite being very uncomfortable with the apparently conservative implications of the idea of anomie (i.e. the suggestion that the masters must give people rules and orders, to prevent them falling into devient despondency), I find it a useful concept for describing something that seemingly afflicts a lot of people (including me, and a lot of my friends). And the answer has to include building your own morals, and community, and saints and icons, and identity. Whether that comes from your religion, your politics, your family, your subculture, from music, art or even from the pursuit of money — it’s all the same. [My lodestone here, as everywhere else, is

The Invisibles

, with its existentialist vision of flexible, shared personalities, each inhabiting its own utopia].

From this perspective: if something looks like a religion, that probably just means it’s doing its cultural job of providing a bulwark against the meaninglessness of life. Greenies should be proud of being called cultists, and everybody else should be horrified that so few other political movements are strong enough to inspire more than grudging tolerance from their followers.

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