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Greta Thunberg and the Greatest of all Heresies

The other day, as environmental hero/prophetess Greta Thunberg donned a keffiyeh and joined the pro-Hamas protests in Malmo, Sweden, social media blew up with its usual mix of angry condemnation and fierce support. “How could she?” countless posters tetchily demanded, only to be met, in response, with the equally peevish “How could you?” With a few notable exceptions, most observers missed the obvious point that of course the erstwhile environmental activist was protesting the Jewish “oppressors” and supporting their poor, Palestinian victims; of course she took to the streets with neo-Marxist identitarians to demand “justice” and an end to “colonialism;” of course she has and will continue to embrace every subversive left-wing liberationist cause. How could do otherwise? After all, these causes are all interconnected, if not wholly identical.

Interestingly, some otherwise keen political observers are only now coming to the conclusion that Marxism is not economic in nature but religious and that it does not stand on its own as a unique and discrete phenomenon but is interconnected with all of the other anti-realist, quasi-religious utopian endeavors that have accompanied its rise over the last nearly two centuries. Marxism, for all its destructive murderousness, is but one component—albeit the dominant component—of the enduring effort to update and replace the moral system that was undermined and largely abandoned in the West with the Enlightenment.

Perhaps the greatest and least appreciated analysis of what we would broadly call “the left” is that which appears in Chapter 6 (or 7, depending on the edition) of Hilaire Belloc’s 1938 classic The Great Heresies. It is “The Modern Phase.”

Belloc is careful in his presentation of this heresy to clarify that it is not merely Communism or “Bolshevism” that constitutes this perversion of Catholicism but the broader “Modern Attack.”  Nevertheless, it is clear that he has in mind what we know today as “the left.”  Moreover, it is clear that he sees this “religion of man” and its ill-defined “spiritualism” as both an obvious Catholic heresy and the greatest and deadliest of them all.

The ”Modern Phase,” Belloc writes, “is at once materialist and superstitious.” It is not “not troubled by apparent contradictions within its own body so long as the general alliance is one for the ending of all that by which we have hitherto lived.” It doesn’t care, in other words, if hatred of the Jews and support for radicalized Arabs supported by petro-states seem wholly unrelated to or even inconsistent with demands for an end to the use of fossil fuels. It is unbothered by hopelessly naïve support by “queers” for a “Palestine” that embraces a faith tradition that demands the imprisonment or execution of homosexuals. Ideological and even practical consistency are of no concern to the practitioners of the modern phase.

The modern phase began, Belloc continues, “in the denial of a central authority,” a demand for unrestricted personal autonomy and liberty, the freedom to do whatever one wants, whenever one wants, without repercussions. But it has “ended by telling man that he is sufficient to himself, and it has set up everywhere great idols to be worshipped as gods.” The Palestinians are not real people to their Western supporters; they are idyllic and perpetually beleaguered victims, asking only for that which they, by all that is right and just, deserve. They are idols of the age—and so, for that matter, is Thunberg herself.

Belloc’s friend and fellow anti-modernist, the intellectual giant, G. K. Chesterton, also wrote a book on the mistakes and fallacies of modern thinkers, one, fittingly enough, titled Heretics.  In it, he makes the case that man’s universal tendency is to create dogmas, to fashion “systems” of belief and practice. The abandonment of faith and dogma, in turn, creates only confusion, inconsistency, and moral chaos—all of which can be seen in the conglomeration of quasi-religious movements that have congregated under the “Marxist” umbrella. Their “spiritualism,” as Belloc would call it, is religious in origin but lacks dogma and therefore lacks purpose and sincerity.

Man needs faith and organized, rule-based religion, Chesterton argues. It is, in part, what makes him human and what gives his life purpose and meaning. In the absence of faith and dogma, man attempts to elevate himself, to sanctify his own being, which, ironically, ends up corrupting him and leaving him no better off and no more essential than the foliage around him. Inchoate and petulant demands for amorphous concepts such as diversity, equity, climate “justice,” and de-colonialization leave man diminished and to the point of irrelevance. When man “in his own imagination…sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all,” Chesterton writes, “then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.”

Greta Thunberg is a turnip. To be sure, she is a broad-minded and “enlightened” turnip, but she is a turnip nonetheless. And so are all of her compatriots protesting throughout the West for the environment and against the Jews, for the Palestinians and against homophobia, and for the Mullahs of Iran and their homicidal proxies and against fossil fuels. They are all believer in and practitioners of “the Modern Phase.” They are Marxists, but not just Marxists. They are Marxists with iPhones who use those iPhones to spend their parents’ money ordering head scarves from Amazon, which they then use to cover their hair and their faces while they demand equal treatment for women, even those women who were born men.

As Chesterton never said but is often quoted as having done so, “When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.” And so it is with our turnipified youth. They are “spiritual” but not religious. They are disciples who follow no dogma. They embrace all causes while believing nothing. They are destroying our civilization so that they may save the world. And while they may accomplish the former, the latter is far beyond the limits of their imaginations and dedication.

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About Stephen Soukup

Stephen R. Soukup is the Director of The Political Forum Institute and the author of The Dictatorship of Woke Capital (Encounter, 2021, 2023)

Photo: Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) attends a rally in Malmo, Sweden, in protest against Israel's participation in the 68th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) on May 9, 2024. (Photo by Johan NILSSON / TT NEWS AGENCY / AFP) / Sweden OUT (Photo by JOHAN NILSSON/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images)