VIEWSrnNew Faiths for OldrnHow Matthew Shepard Replaced Jesus Christrnby Philip JenkinsrnReligion is a ver}’ sturd)’ creature. P’or two centuries, variousrnatheist regimes have tried to eHniinate rehgious pracHce inrntlieir societies and, without cxccpHon, have ended up restoringrnthe forms of the old worship, but with newer and far lamer excuses.rnThe French revolutionaries who tried to free their subjectsrnfrom the curse of Christianit)- created an ersatz New Agernreligion with the feast of the Supreme Being before giving inrnwholeheartedly to a messianic belief in the Great Nation and itsrnmystical personification in the Emperor Napoleon. Shll morernsweeping were the dechristianizing efforts of the Soviets, whornmassacred countless priests and religious and secularized or destroyedrnplaces of worship. Yet for half a centur)-, all the publicrnrituals of that societ}’ took place under icons of Lenin, whoserneneratcd remains served as the supreme relic and justificationrnof the communist order. As G.K. Chesterton remarked, whenrnpeople abandon the belief in God, it is not true that they believernin nothing, but rather that thc’ will believe in anything and evcnthing,rnhowever ludicrous or lethal.rnThese precedents may seem singulariy inappropriate for thernUnited States, where religious belief and practice are not onlyrnperfecth’ legal, but also flourish to a degree unique among thernadanced nations. As has often been noted, however, Americanrnreligion in the 20th century became increasingly polarizedrnalong class lines, so that the nation’s elites either discountedrnPhilip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History andrnReligious Studies at Pennsylvania State Universit)’.rnmatters of faith or else viewed them as a subset of liberal politicalrnideology. For the better-off and educated Americans, atrnleast, we can speak in the famous terms of Matthew Arnold,rnwho observed how the sea of faith “was once at the fidl, andrnround earth’s shore / lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled /rnBut now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar / retreating.”rnOr to be more exact, instead of a melancholy roar, wernhear today a perpetual nagging whine against any form of religiousrnexpression which does not conform to liberal tenets,rnwhich must be dismissed as a form of fundamentalism, fanaticism,rnbigotn’, or any other characteristics attributed to the “religiousrnright.”rnFor all intents and purposes, American elites are thoroughlyrnsecularized, and yet, like the atheist rulers of past societies, theyrnhold passionately to systems of belief which are in fact profoundlyrnreligious. To a striking degree, moreover, these ideologiesrnare, horresco referens, substantially Ghristian. This continuityrnfrom past beliefs need not surprise us too greatly: Centuriesrnof cultural conditioning arc not abandoned overnight, and certainlyrnnot unless some very powerful rival ideolog}’ is substituted.rnYet the adherents of some widely held secidar philosophiesrnwould be thoroughly surprised and appalled if thev ever exploredrnthe underlying roots of their beliefs.rnMany of our modern non-religions grow out of the p.sychoanah’ticalrntradition. Psychoanalysis was created by that old cabalisticrnshaman Sigmund Freud, who navigated the dreamquestsrnof his hapless followers. The mo’ement was cultivatedrnDECEMBER 1999/13rnrnrn