There is always a ruling oligarchy; in no other way can a society be governed, than by designating – somehow or other – a set of people to whom the power of government shall devolve. And if they are going to coordinate their decisions, the oligarchs must all speak the same language; must share certain categorical convictions about the nature of reality, and speak of these notions in such a way as to be able to understand each other.
So it is that the oligarchs must all at least give lip service to certain propositions about reality. They must at least ostensibly share a philosophy, in at least the most general terms. And this philosophy cannot but rule on first principles, on ultimate questions. If it does not, the oligarchs will not be able to stipulate to it in the practical operations of political life. If their basic convictions furnish no rationale for the dreadful decisions government inevitably entails, the oligarchs cannot be encouraged in taking them, and will quail and hesitate. Indeed, the best most courageous leadership comes from men so devoted to the noble ideals of their polis as to be motivated to the ultimate sacrifice in her behalf. Thus the oligarchy’s philosophy cannot but opine upon being, becoming, the supernatural and the divine, personhood, citizenship, the good, and so forth. Only thus may the oligarchy possibly agree amongst themselves about what is important – about the goods toward which the society they govern should be ordered, and thus what policies they ought to pursue. Only thus may the oligarchs order their own lives towards common purposes, or therefore rule effectually.
In other words, the oligarchy must have a religion, in the loosest sense of that word: an ordered system of principles, reaching all the way to ultimate things, under which they interpret all their experiences, that coordinates and binds together those experiences in a satisfactory order – not a perfect order, to be sure, but not so messy as to create intolerable cognitive dissonance, and coherent enough, and true enough withal, to enable them to devise policies that can succeed.
And the oligarchy must insist that their religion is the best, most fitting – in a word, the true and proper – under which to organize the government of society. They must, that is, establish their own religion as the ascendant, superordinate body of doctrine for the society as a whole. They must propagate the doctrine to those whom they govern, and secure their agreement thereto. And since the doctrines in question assert propositions about first principles, from which hang all the Law and Policy of the government, the agreement of the governed must take the form of credence. It is not enough for the governed to accept the ruling dogma as a pragmatic concession to the powerful, as the price of a peaceful life; no, they must be brought to believe it in their hearts, if they are ever to carry it into practice in their lives – if, that is, they are ever in fact to be governed. If the governed do not believe the ruling dogma, they will apprehend the oligarchy as fundamentally illegitimate and tyrannical, and this will eventually lead to revolt, or at least to social and economic friction, and loss of productivity. If on the other hand the governed give credence to the founding principles of the polis, they will be nerved to her defense, and moved to suffer and sacrifice for her, and for her leaders.
That nation is happiest and most prosperous whose people are all faithful to their common creed – provided it is true, and good. Poor, timorous, vicious or unhappy nations are eventually destroyed by their happier, better organized, wealthier and more virtuous competitors. In the absence of such competitors, vicious unhappy nations will turn and destroy themselves.
So there will always be an established religion, whether or not any particular religious organization receives support or subsidies of any kind from the state fisc – although usually there will be some such subsidy, or grant of special status, power, or privilege, to those charged with the propagation of the state faith.
The state faith must drive out all competitors for the hearts of men. It cannot ever rest until it has won that victory, for in no other way may its primacy be understood by the governed as legitimate, or social order therefore be preserved. The state faith must be a church militant. It must brand all dissenters as traitors, not just to the social order, but to the Good. In the limit, it must exterminate or banish them. It is here that the terrible logic of sacrifice is engaged. Once triggered, the cycle of sacrifice is self-feeding, and must grind along till all the dissenters are consumed in its holocaust – at which point, scapegoats being ever necessary to feed its insatiable maw, dissenters will be discovered on the bases of ever nicer points of political correctness or ritual purity.
What if the state religion is nominalist and atheist, like ours? It must relentlessly extirpate all reference to any objective Good, to any real essences in things, to any notion of accessible knowledge, to any natural or objective standards of beauty or decorum, to any recognition of God, or gods, or hallowed ancestors, or even of Nature. Any such expressions must be understood by all the cognoscenti as the sure signs of a traitor. Such traitors are to be ostracized and despised, their careers frustrated or destroyed, their property expropriated, their children either suborned or immolated, their political power eliminated, their doctrines rejected – not, NB, refuted, or even discussed in polite society, but spewn forth like poison.
I could go on with this, and fill in all the tiresome sordid details. But anyone with half a glimmer won’t need me to do that.
If there must always be an established religion, what religion is it best to establish? I say Christianity. Not because I am a Christian and think it true, or because its tradents have built the most prosperous, beautiful societies and conquered the world. Christianity does have all those things in its favor, to be sure. But the best practical reason to establish Christianity is that alone among religions it has solved the problem that the cycle of blood sacrifice threatens always to destroy even those societies otherwise most sane. In Christianity alone the logic of sacrifice is turned back on itself: the bloody holocaust of God himself has forever obviated the death either of scapegoats or innocents. Christianity therefore provides the best chance of maintaining a high degree of traditional social order that yet leaves room for creative genius to make its contribution to the endless process of social adaptation to changing circumstances. It offers the best chance at maintaining robust and flexible societies. And only a society that manages to survive has a shot at being good.