The Two Taboos

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you shouldn’t talk about politics or religion at dinner parties because you might end up having a flaming row, especially after a few drinks. Why is that? Because in the West we are embroiled in two culture wars: one between science and religion and the other between progressivism and conservatism. And these two culture wars have been raging for centuries.

We can map these two interminable struggles onto the Muggle-Muppet axis of the Wheel of Life (or “Wheel of Babylon”). The anti-religion science camp views the anti-science religion camp as a bunch of irrational Muppets and the anti-science religion camp views the anti-religion science camp as insensitive Muggles. The anti-preogressive conservatives regard the anti-conservative progressives as irrational Muppets and the anti-conservative progressives regard the anti-progressive conservatives as insensitive Muggles.

The funny thing is that the antagonists in each culture war find allies in the other culture war, but they are on the opposite pole of the Muggle-Muppet axis. The “Science Muggles” are allied with the “Progressive Muppets” and the “Conservative Muggles” are allied with the “Religious Muppets”. In the US, where both culture wars have reached fever pitch, I have heard the former alliance referred to as “The Blue Church”. People on the “right” talk about “red-pilling” people on the “left” (a reference to the film The Matrix), so we might as well call them “The Red Church”. (Blue and red are the colours of the Democrat and Republican parties respectively).

Political centrists of both persuasions – centre left and centre right – are not involved in the culture war. The same is true of religious centrists – agnostics and non-fundamentalist religious people. At least they needn’t be. The problem is that more and more people in the centre are being affected by the reactionary and revolutionary fire of the extremes. Centrists on both sides of the religious and political aisles increasingly feel that the centre is at risk and must be defended against the encroachment of the radicals of the other side. Some are balanced enough to see that the risk is from both sides.

Both “The Blue Church” and “The Red Church” represent unstable alliances between Muggles and Muppets. This exacerbates the culture wars further, by adding the fuel of civil war into the mix. There is tension and distrust between the Science camp and the Progressive camp and between the Religious camp and the Conservative camp. Often it seems that they are united only in virtue of their common enemy: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

On the other hand, the Muggles and Muppets balance each other out. On the plus side, this means that the extremism is checked, so that it doesn’t devolve into outright madness and violence. On the minus side, it means that the two Churches achieve a level of stability that allows them to survive and even thrive. And so the two culture wars rumble on.