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The Religion-Makers

And Cause never was the reason for the evening

Or the Tropic of Sir Galahad.

—Dewey Bunnell, “Tin Man” (1974)

 

In every campaign, the religion of humanity has presented its current cause

as the ultimate standard, the acid test and “touchstone of every virtue.”

—Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System (1965)

 

The Cause and the Reason

Image source: Lbisurving

Image source: Lbisurfing

The lyrics of rock ballads are sometimes crazy talk and not much more.  For example, some of the lines in America’s 1974 hit, “Tin Man,” read like pure gibberish.  “And Cause never was the reason for the evening.”  Which Cause?  What evening?  And what exactly is “the tropic of Sir Galahad”?  It may all be nonsense.

On the other hand, some have offered explanations.  One suggestion is this:  The lyricist has in mind the sort of Causes that generate special evenings, dinners, fundraisers, and all that — Causes that inspire enthusiasm, gallantry and valor.  If this is so, the writer is reminding us that a great Cause may actually be a front to garner support, generate funds and consolidate control.  A Cause may be, in fact, a tool in the service of a very dangerous agenda.

Of course, this sort of thing is very real.  It appeared first in human history in Eden.  Satan suggested “dinner” and wrapped up that suggestion in a professed concern for a poor humanity kept from its full potential by the arbitrary commandment of an envious God.  Satan’s real motive, though, was the disruption of God’s plan for humanity and history.  He was gathering support and followers for his unholy war.  But he claimed that he was offering man a chance to be like God, legislating good and evil on his own terms.

Inventing Religion

Because man is made in the image of God, he is … inescapably religious.  He either serves his Creator or, in rebellion, serves some idol within creation, but he’s “gotta serve somebody.” That’s how we are hard-wired.  And of course that service will have its rules … its laws.  Man is necessarily an ethical creature.  He will either live in terms of God’s laws, or he will make up his own.  No one is truly antinomian (without law). Antinomianism and legalism are two sides of the same coin.  The man who rejects God’s law — even the one who does it in the name of Jesus — will embrace a new law code, one that is in harmony with his own subjective preferences.

Now, the man who creates his own ethical code will invent rules that he believes he can keep.  They may be very easy rules; they may be very harsh, even brutal.  But they will be within the hypothetical range of his ability — once the loopholes, exemptions and exceptions are taken into account, that is.  After all, the first goal in inventing a religion and a moral code is self-justification and self-approval.  A religion that even its inventor can’t keep will have a short shelf life.

Some men, true individualists at heart, will keep their religion and its moral dictates to themselves.  They will judge — “that’s good; that’s bad” — but they will do so quietly behind a sort of grim countenance.  But most religion-makers want to impose their ethical system on those around them.  This brings us to the second reason for inventing religion:  control.

Religion as Control

The religion-maker gains psychologically and practically by converting others to his views.  As his circle of followers grows, he becomes more settled in his convictions that he is right.  He is a good guy, despite what various detractors may have said in the past or may still say.  His followers’ commitment will reinforce his own sense of self-righteousness and his pride.

But, what is more important, as the prophet and final arbiter of his moral system, the religion-maker can pass final judgment on all his followers.  He can justify or condemn them.  For some men, such god-like authority may simply satisfy the ego.  But most will probably combine with it a desire for and insistence on attaining “stuff.”  To be truly good, the religion-maker will say, you must give to my cause; you must vote for my platform; you must sign over your stocks and bonds to me; you must be certain that my sexual whims are fully sated.  If you don’t surrender totally to me … you’re evil. And the world will know you are evil.

Building a Following

Of course, it isn’t easy to go from, “Here is a new morality,” to “Give me your keys, your daughter, and your power of attorney.”  The religion-maker must develop his religion and his following carefully, and this process will usually take a few years.

The religion-maker must play to his followers’ own religious leanings.  They, too, are religious creatures.  They, too, want a sense of self-righteousness, of self-justification.  The religion-maker must market his product with this in mind.  For instance, if his product is moralistic prudery, he should probably aim at those who have floundered in Fundamentalism or who have a fondness for neo-Victorian culture.  If his product is an easy-going, “I’m okay; you’re okay,” blend of mellow feelings and emotional highs, he should aim at the stepchildren of the 60s and those postmoderns enamored with pop psychology.

But once the religion-maker has the beginnings of a real following and a rough draft of his new morality, he needs something to solidify his movement.  He needs an enemy. He needs a devil.

Choosing Your Devil Properly:  Selective Depravity

As long as the religion-maker and his followers are measuring themselves in terms of one another, the danger of internecine conflict is very real.  They may all turn on one another in a game of ethical one-upsmanship.  Best to give the fledgling movement an outside target, one truly worthy of its scorn, criticism and abhorrence.

The religion-maker must choose carefully.  Some things work better than others.  Again, the religion-maker must understand his followers and the times.  No one could have sold a “save the whales” religion to Yankee fishermen in the early 19th century.  No one can sell a save-the-babies religion to 21st century pro-feminist liberals.  The religion-maker must choose a relatively popular devil, something that can easily stir up moral outrage in the general public.  At various times alcohol, capitalism and environmental pollution have proved good “devils” and rallying points.

Now that the devil is in view, the religion-maker must show everyone how horribly wicked that devil really is.  He must show that no other evil compares with this evil.  This evil means the destruction of all that is good and pure.  This evil means the end of civilization as we know it.  It must be resisted, destroyed, at all costs.  The religion-maker and his followers will lead the crusade.

The new religion has in truth become a crusade.  There can be no neutrality in such a holy war, no compromises.  Those who aren’t part of the solution are part of the problem.  But those who take part in the crusade are good.  Really good.  Good beyond all question.  And now they are bound together in a life-and-death struggle with evil.  They have a leader.  They have a destiny.  They are committed.  The Cause commands their loyalty.

But the Cause isn’t really the reason for any of this.

Conclusion

False religion panders to Adamic nature, to the desire for self-justification and a quiet conscience on one’s own terms.  It is often the tool of would-be gods looking for power and pleasure.  These men select devils as the target of their holy wrath and the means of solidifying their religious following.  Sometimes they operate with snubs and sneers; sometimes they create terrorists and assassins.  The mark of every such religion is self-justification on terms acceptable to the natural man.

The ethical mark of biblical Christianity is that it demands righteousness wholly consistent with the Creator’s law.  It insists on a law code that no one can keep.  Its moral standards are impossibly high.  They are so high that the only One who ever kept them was Himself true God.  But this God offers justification, imputed righteousness and peace with God, on the condition of faith alone.  This is the religion that no one operating strictly in the flesh can ever understand, let alone tolerate.

For Further Reading:

Rousas J. Rushdoony, “Selective Depravity” in The Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA:  Ross House Books, 1991).

Rousas J. Rushdoony, “The Religion of Humanity” in The Nature of the American System (Nutley, NJ:  The Craig Press), 1965.

 

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