Having a religion is like owning a pet: it is easy to stink up the house. Being secular is like keeping the doors open and letting wild animals walk inside: the stink is the least of your worries.

This — to explain the modern age. The rise of secularism, by which here I really mean naturalism and anti-supernaturalism, has taken a toll on the human soul. Almost certainly a major reason for the rise of the State can be found in the general weakening of religious ideas.

It explains, in part, why the “liberal” type of mind — which can be defined as openness to new experience, creativity, tolerance, etc., but which also tracks the creation in open societies of a new class based on ideology, not family or tradition — went from being individualist in the 18th and 19th centuries to being collectivist later on: because collectivism gives greater play for cultism and creativity in messianic memeplexes. Individualism is a cautious philosophy, and not very easy to abuse for the purpose of filling in the God-shaped hole in the chests of seculars, folks who had scooped that sucker out, often with much blood, during the rise of science and in the historical challenge of widespread cultural exchange. You see, various forms of collectivism do give a lot of scope for the cultic mindset. And so collectivism replaced individualism within “liberalism,” with socialism swapping both the State of Nature and the City of God out of the fantasy realm that inevitably forms the core of any political philosophy.

One reason, though, for the rise of collectivism — with its atavistic return to status systems and centralization — is simply that the older theistic grounding for everyday ethics so quickly vanished while the welter of competing alternatives nullified each other for social (not intellectual) reasons, leaving a vacuum. A chasm, almost, that State Power — imagined and all-too-real — so handily met.

Thus, soon after the death of Friedrich Nietzsche, and according to his perceptive prophecy, it was statism in its various forms — socialism, communism, fascism, progressivism — that came to take up the cultural slack, filling in for the Power that was the Church and was understood, imaginatively, as a transcendent Deity.

One need not always run to Nietzsche or Dostoevsky for the explanation why, though. The problem of vanishing religion was keenly seen in 1879 by someone quite different, neither a manic atheist not reactionary theist:

Now that moral injunctions are losing the authority given by their supposed sacred origin, the secularization of morals is becoming imperative. Few things can happen more disastrous than the decay and death of a regulative system no longer fit, before another and fitter regulative system has grown up to replace it. Most of those who reject the current creed, appear to assume that the controlling agency furnished by it may safely be thrown aside, and the vacancy left unfilled by any other controlling agency. Meanwhile, those who defend the current creed allege that in the absence of the guidance it yields, no guidance can exist: divine commandments they think the only possible guides. Thus between these extreme opponents there is a certain community. The one holds that the gap left by disappearance of the code of supernatural ethics, need not be filled by a code of natural ethics; and the other holds that it cannot be so filled. Both contemplate a vacuum, which the one wishes and the other fears. As the change which promises or threatens to bring about this state, desired or dreaded, is rapidly progressing, those who believe that the vacuum can be filled, and that it must be filled, are called on to do something in pursuance of their belief.

Herbert Spencer, Data of Ethics (1879), preface — emphasis added.

Religion is a regulative system. Christianity’s weakening with the great increase of wealth under capitalism, and the near-fatal blows it received from the rise of science, had profound social effects. Because of a power vacuum. One essential regulative system failed, so the most naked expression of power, state coercion and the state’s traditional hegemonic authority, filled that vaccum.

As Spencer notes, the remnants of the religious tended to stick to the rearguard pose of denial — the denial that ethics could be grounded any other way. But the “liberal Christians” dissolved into a lowgrade form, adopting, sometimes hesitantly (not being gung-ho about communism) and sometimes enthusiastically (often supporting moral crusades like alcohol Prohibition and the War on Drugs, but later cheering for the rise of state aid instead of private charity), the statism of the secular throng. Indeed, this latter group proved instrumental in the rise of secular statism, for they anointed the State with messianic hopes and dreams, which secular folks really yearned for.

The unchurched, especially, came to scorn above-board attempts to ground ethics in naturalism. They much preferred to replace ethics with various “mental health” regimens and similar technocratic fixes.

This is how secular folks let the wild things into the house. They deeply resisted coherent discussion of ethics as initiated by Spencer. Is it a coincidence that philosophy got bogged down, in the 20th century, with flaccid discussions of metaethics?

Which is not to say metaethics need be flaccid. As practiced in the academy, though, it just was flaccid. Limp. Useless. Because the real action became institutional, as schools and bureaucracies set up a new class system of the cognitive elite. Which is what really replaced religion.

There is a reason I often prefer the company of religious people. At least they are up front about their designs upon my soul. The seculars? Why, they demand everything, including complete obedience to a constitutionally unlimited state.

And when that happens, expect to be shorn regularly, and “processed” in the end.

Which can come as a thief in the night.

With SWAT uniforms and the shooting of dogs.

Because, well, open doors, man.