Politics & Policy

The Left Has a Religion — the Supreme Court Just Proved It

Pro-choice demonstrator at the Supreme Court, June 27, 2016. (Kevin Lamarque/Retuers)
Its theology is grounded in the sexual revolution.

Democratic activist and former state legislator Wendy Davis told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that she “burst into tears” yesterday on learning that the Supreme Court had invalidated a Texas law aimed at raising the medical standards of abortion clinics. She wasn’t the only one responding that way to the 5–3 decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

“I was overjoyed. I had tears of joy welling up for the women of Texas, and for reproductive freedom in this country” (the Huffington Post). “Tears of joy, shock, and sighs of relief” (CNN). “Just scream-crying the good news to ppl on the beach here in, FL!” (Twitter). “Overjoyed, weeping, in a state of ecstatic shock” (CNN again). As for the scene at the Supreme Court, where the Spice Girls and Michael Jackson blared and the pro-choice congregation shimmied and twirled for joy, Slate may have said it best: “A thumping block party.”

Anyone who doubts the transvaluation of secularist progressivism into a religious faith grounded in theology about the sexual revolution need look no further than the selfies and videos of all those weeping, hugging, rapturous devotees on the steps of the Supreme Court yesterday. This was no political demonstration. It wasn’t an exercise in earnest political theater of the Occupy Wall Street variety. It was instead an outburst of quasi-religious euphoria, a gnostic rave. The transported faithful may not have been on Ecstasy. But they were in ecstasy of a kind familiar from the religious history of mystics, whirling dervishes, and revival tents. They were as intoxicated as maenads in the Bacchae.

For that reason, yesterday’s unbridled celebration should mark a turning point in the wider understanding of what secularist progressivism is now about. Plainly, as the matter of abortion goes to show, its mission has evolved.

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Once upon a time, liberals portrayed the procedure of abortion as a thing regrettable but sometimes necessary. This was the cottony, “safe, legal, and rare” piety of yesteryear. That old rhetorical dressing has been ripped off for good. Today, The Daily Show is taking a tut-tutting in the media for having tweeted to its 4.25 million followers a comment that some find tasteless: “Celebrate the #SCOTUS ruling! Go knock someone up in Texas!” The indignation is faux. Under the logic of secularist progressivism today, the only thing regrettable about abortion is that there isn’t more of it.

Yesterday’s unbridled celebration should mark a turning point in the wider understanding of what secularist progressivism is now about.

The implications for constitutionalism of yesterday’s decision will be the stuff of arguments elsewhere — the steamrolling of state law, the perverse transmogrification of lower medical standards into better medical standards, the unending socially destructive penumbras and emanations of Roe v. Wade itself. But for anyone still doubting that the West has given rise to a new faith, a point elaborated here on NRO last week, yesterday’s visuals are an exhibition in full.

To weep for joy over the trashing of future generations may seem inexplicable. Even so, the quasi-theology beneath that seeming act of perversity is transparent enough. It’s the same syllogism that’s been there all along, ever since the technological shock of the birth-control pill first stirred this new faith to life. Consenting sex is the highest good; anything that interferes with the highest good is by definition evil; therefore, whatever it takes to grease the wheels of the revolution is not only good too. It is cause for full-throated, Dionysian celebration.

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We are witnessing something truly new under the same sun that earlier humans once worshiped: a secularist faith that will not acknowledge itself as faith but behaves as only a faith can — replete with hagiography, demonology, scholasticism, sacraments, and an absolutist certainty that those who believe otherwise deserve punishment. It’s this faith that explains one other seemingly inexplicable national fact, which is why the victors in the culture wars aren’t being magnanimous in their victory. To true believers, their opponents are not fellow citizens to be accommodated. They are instead heretics, in need of social exile.

Will the effort to call out this new secularist quasi-faith as faith prompt any of its adherents to second thoughts? It’s a long shot — but given the mercilessness of the times, it’s worth a try. The cold-blooded, untoward jubilation over yesterday’s Supreme Court decision is one more proof that in the matter of abortion, as in all else pertaining to the perceived prerogatives of the sexual revolution these days, the secularist-progressive alliance does not wage politics as usual. It instead orchestrates a bloodless religious war — bloodless, that is, apart from its central sacrament.

Mary Eberstadt — Ms. Eberstadt has written for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including National Review, Policy Review, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, First Things, and the American Spectator.


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