If the coming election goes as predicted with a red wave, history will once again slap the left in the face. Remember how the left responded when Donald Trump won the presidency? It wasn’t pretty. Proclamations of the end. Screaming at the sky. Weeping. Gnashing of teeth. It was religious fervor run amok.
That’s because leftism is a religion with an eschatology just as real as John Hagee’s. It’s a religion of political salvation. As political philosopher Eric Voegelin argued, it’s a strain of gnostic, millenarian Christianity that seeks to make the kingdom of God immanent through political movement. First, its enlightened prophets, such as Georg Hegel and Karl Marx, gain gnosis about the inner meaning of history and its progress. Then their anointed acolytes among the educated classes, the woke elect, lead a political movement that manifests this inner meaning in an era of peace, health, and abundance. The kingdom of God is inaugurated.
This explains then-Sen. Barack Obama’s pitch to evangelicals: “I am confident that we can create a kingdom right here on Earth.”
Who’s “we”? “We” in Obama’s formulation is his messianic political movement. It’s a perfect demonstration of Voegelin’s argument.
Yet, this theology fails over and over again, with devastating effects on leftists’ mental health. When your God is “we,” there’s a tremendous burden placed on the human psyche, a burden to save the world. This is a cross no human can bear.
The left needs a Jesus.
What Does Jesus Mean for the Human Psyche?
Consider what Jesus means for the human psyche. Jesus is the divine world Savior who indeed does bear the cross of the world’s salvation. Psychologically, Jesus is the universal, transcendent archetype of salvation from the world’s evils of war, poverty, famine, and death.
Traditional Christian theology says this Savior was embodied in the historical Jesus, and the church is the institutional and corporal continuation of what He means for us. The church becomes a safety net for the despairing psyche through its teachings on faith and hope. The world’s salvation is deferred to an end-time fulfillment, and faith latches onto that hope.
Not so on the left. For them, they embrace the Jesus archetype but turn it inside out. It means human capacity for urgent world change. “Jesus” is a disembodied mantle worn by anyone who engages in activist politics in an attempt to end the world’s evils. And this can happen, as the classic leftist protest sign puts it, now!
The problem is, when the world doesn’t become a better place, now or ever, the left’s Jesus fails them, which is by definition no Jesus at all. This puts them into epistemic crisis with those sad side effects on mental health. There’s no safety net. There’s no off-ramp on the highway to utopia when the gas tank light comes on. There is only a world that remains in poverty, war, famine, and death.
How Traditional Theology Helps Mental Health
Conservatives are far more able to handle political defeat than leftists are because they place far less hope in what politics can do. When politics fails conservatives, they fall back to family, church, and their jobs for meaning. More profoundly, most conservatives have a healthier understanding of God’s relation to the world vis-à-vis Jesus.
Because they see Jesus as the embodied God, they see a clear line where God ends and they begin. Jesus’ flesh and blood are a boundary preventing God from leaking into their own psychic faculties. Put philosophically, there’s a clear border between the realm of transcendency — the telos of history and the world’s salvation — and the realm of human capacity.
This creates a mentally healthy humility before the unknown. There’s no hubris that “we can make the world a better place.” No such burden is placed on the psyche. Saving the world is the work of the savior, not us. The church plays a role in this as well. It is the institutional expression of a faith rooted in the world’s completed salvation in Christ.
This has salutary implications for the human psyche. Church becomes the place where psychic compulsions to save the world are both cut short and satisfied. The church’s liturgy works in me a faith by which I am gifted a saved world and have nothing but gratitude to a God who works even evil to be a gift.
The eucharist formally expresses this gift/gratitude dynamic. There’s a reason Catholic women going to mass more than once a week don’t commit suicide. It enhances mental health like nothing else does. Of course, being by faith, there remains a “now/not yet” tension, but the foundation is there. There’s a safety net for the psyche when the world appears to be falling apart.
The Left Needs a Real, Flesh and Blood Jesus
Leftists need something like this. Their current Jesus is a gnostic, disembodied archetype overburdening their psyches, who never saves anything. They need a safe place for their burdened selves when the arc of history doesn’t bend their way, a safe place that doesn’t end up back in their own psyches and lead to a downward-spiraling negative feedback loop of epistemic disorientation.
They need a Jesus, a real Jesus — an embodied Jesus. They need a safe harbor for their impassioned compulsions toward transcendency, a place that has nothing to do with the vagaries of politics.