In 2008, noted psychologist and addiction expert Stanton Peele argued in Psychology Today that, “Religious people are certifiable. They are obligated to believe crazy things . . . I write this from my hotel in Seville, on Good Friday, after marching through the streets following religious processions of floats, mournful bands, and men dressed in pointed hoods and robes (which makes all Americans uneasy). When I ask my daughter—much more culturally sensitive than I am—what this has to do with Jesus, she answers, ‘ritual.’”
This encapsulates a common conceit that secular progressive liberals hold. They look at the religious procession in much the same way they look at religion itself—a curious spectacle making very little sense.
Religious processions are a sort of inexplicable oddity of the sort they think they have escaped. When the clear light of secular, progressive, liberal reason is applied, curiosities such as these are supposed to fall away and be nothing more than bizarre spectacle.
Self-awareness isn’t a strong suit for this religion that pretends it isn’t a religion. But the progressive liberal faith has its own form of the religious procession: the protest march and rally.
The “Hidden Tribes” report by More in Common illustrates what I mean. “Progressive Activists,” approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population, are the most liberal part of our population. Of that group, 96 percent of them claim America needs more “science” than “religion” to overcome the nation’s problems. While hardly any of them ever attend traditional organized religious services, almost 70 percent of them have attended a political protest rally or march in the previous year.
As with worshipers who attend the Holy Week processions in Seville, the progressive liberal—when she marches—is involved with and receives the same emotional benefits as those Spanish men wearing pointed hoods and robes she criticizes. She feels a sense of euphoria from participating in what she believes is a noble cause; she senses an intense feeling of belonging—being in a crowd of like-minded individuals; she physically preaches her progressive faith and is preached at by various speakers during the march; she feels continuity with other believers who marched before her; and together, she and her progressive co-religionists are united against a common enemy.
Lara Americo, who took part in the Washington, D.C. Women’s March in 2018 described the experience as “euphoric” because there “were so many people there, in the streets, standing up for equality.” I imagine it’s not much different for those bumpkins who take part in the Holy Week processions in Spain. I know when I took part in the Holy Week festivities in Israel, I also felt an overwhelming sense of emotion and connectedness to my fellow believers. It was Orthodox Easter and I was surrounded by thousands of Orthodox Christian pilgrims. Knowing that they were believers like me gave me a powerful feeling of being in a holy place because it was consecrated by all those other believers like myself.
At the 2018 Women’s March, Denise Migliaccio connected her experience with protests of the past, “’Last time I marched was in the late ’60s, protesting the war and supporting George McGovern. This felt more important than even that time, those concerns. We felt our country was in danger . . . My husband and I joined our group . . . with a resurgent activism we had not experienced in a very long time.” Verna Ingram said that she marched because “People in my family marched for civil rights, and my family is from the South,” she said. “It was important to continue that legacy and to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.”
At the 2018 March for Our Lives, one “teenager drew parallels with the civil rights marches of the past, relishing the idea that he was literally following in the footsteps of icons such as King.” For the progressive liberal, the protest march connects her with events gone past, providing a similar feeling of meaning, purpose, and zeal. For each and every one of them, the psychological feeling of being connected to heroes of the distant past—in this case, usually the 1960s protest marches—is the true object. It gives them a connection to a tradition no less sublime for them than my own feelings as I walked among Christians pilgrims in Jerusalem. I don’t doubt for a second that the Women’s Marchers or March for Our Lives participants literally think that they are walking in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Susan B. Anthony.
Just remember, when you watch the news about the recent (and poorly attended) Impeach Trump Day protests, you’re not actually watching a political protest. You’re seeing a religious procession. What you’re seeing is religion: the Church of Progressive Liberalism.
Photo Credit: Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images