The Atlantic

The Gods That Will Fail

If voters are freighting politics with religious significance, we need to drain it of the expectation of transcendence.
Source: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

TOKYO—Five years ago in a hipster coffee shop in Oakland, I met with a representative of Master Ryuho Okawa, a Japanese spiritualist who claims about 11 million followers. The representative—he said he was the “foreign minister” for Okawa’s church—asked if I believed in extraterrestrial life. I said yes. “Good,” he said. He then asked if I believed that aliens had visited Earth. “Maybe,” I said. “Maybe they’re here right now!”

Maybe,” he replied, in a meaningful tone, “they have come here, and some of them or their descendants are still here.”

“Maybe you’re one of them!” I replied.

This time he paused, gravidly, not breaking eye contact or changing his expression. “Yes. Maybe.”

I was reminded of this close encounter of the third kind last week when reading Andrew Sullivan’s on “America’s New Religions.” Sullivan blames Trumpism and the death of American liberalism on a spiritual crisis. “Liberalism is a set of procedures, with an empty center,” he writes. Religion once provided the

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