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Gender Ideology as a Religion
Ideology, religion, political religions, transhumanism
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The phenomenological approach to religion is sometimes called methodological agnosticism. This approach doesn’t claim to know the truth of religious beliefs, and doesn’t involve trying to assess the claims of believers. In the words of Ninian Smart, it is the acknowledgement that god is real for Christians, whether he exists or not. In relation to gender ideology, gender identity is real for believers, whether it exists or not. A key difference between gender ideology and other belief systems I have encountered, however, is that this one accepts zero dissent - everyone must believe, non-believers are heretics, even questions are unacceptable. This has been a new experience for me – even when a Muslim missionary from Tablighi Jamaat called me to Islam when I fasted for the month of Ramadan, he had been friendly when I declined his generous offer. We kept on talking.
I pitched an article about gender ideology as a religion to The Irish Times, Ireland’s so-called paper of record, in April 2022. The pitch was accepted. I submitted the article and was told it was filed and to be published on the 25th April. But the article never appeared. The correspondent who had accepted the piece messaged me that morning to say he didn’t know why it wasn’t in the paper and that, very unusually, he hadn’t been informed or consulted. An online publication ran the piece, A New Religion, and there was a strong response.
Today’s talk is an elaboration of ideas from that article. Firstly, I’m going to explain why I am using the term ‘ideology’. Then I will outline the parallels between gender ideology and religion before arguing that gender ideology is a political religion. I’ll be drawing a lot on the work of A. James Gregor, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote a book about what he referred to as the ‘political religions’ of the twentieth century which, although considered secular in character, contained religious properties – ‘fanaticism, intolerance, and irrationality’. In the final section I will briefly look at some of the ideas from Martine Rothblatt’s 2011 book From Transgender to Transhuman to suggest that it’s possible to plot the planned trajectory of the gender movement and see where we are, potentially, heading next.
Just to say that I’m using the term gender ideology as shorthand for gender identity ideology. But why am I using the term ‘ideology’? The philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote that an ideology is not simply an opinion, an ideology offers a claim to a truth. Although ideologies pretend to be scientific philosophy, ‘ideological thinking,’ says Arendt, ‘becomes emancipated from the reality that we perceive with our five senses’. Gregor points out that if ideological claims to truth are falsified, this doesn’t necessarily result in the renunciation of the ideology and that ideologues will try to avoid and obstruct attempts to determine the truth or falsity of their claims and will reject standard procedures of confirming or disconfirming claims.
Ideologies have religious elements in that they involve moral judgements and the designation of people, and behaviour, as good or bad, as righteous or evil. These claims are often emotive in nature with people deemed heroes or monsters. Another point to remember is that the principle function of an ideology is to inspire action, to change the world.
Gender identity is presented as a scientific truth whilst, at the same time, open discussion and debate is obstructed. Evidence that potentially contradicts claims is disregarded or ignored. There is also a division of people into angels and demons (or allies and bigots) and there is an aim to change the world under the banner of the ‘gospel’ of equality, diversity, inclusion.
Even religious scholars do not agree on how to define ‘religion’ and most international human rights documents that set out rights to religious freedom, do not define religion. In addition, there’s a tendency these days to refer to lots of things as religion. The philosopher Roger Scruton has suggested that human rights are a religion. One article in the National Geographic in 2016 had the title The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion. Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has written that ‘wokeness operates as a secularised religious dogma’. One academic paper argues that New Zealand rugby is a secular religion.
‘Religion’ is often used as a pejorative term but religions can provide meaning, community, a sense of purpose, can help people break addictive cycles, are important in charitable activities. This event today could be called religious – here I am on the pulpit preaching and you are the congregation with a shared belief, perhaps, in the importance of acknowledging biology and biological limitations.
One article published in an academic journal in the 1950s called Body Ritual Among the Nacirema was about a North American group called the Nacirema whose fundamental belief was that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency towards death and disease could be averted through magical rituals and ceremonies conducted in household shrines. It transpired that the paper was satirical. ‘Nacirema’ is ‘American’ spelled backwards, the household shrine was the toilet or restroom, and the magical rituals included brushing teeth and taking various medicines or pills.
The article illustrated the problems with an outsider perspective when it comes to religion and how, looking from the outside, we can misinterpret actions. When it comes to gender identity, I have an outsider perspective and so of course this impacts my understanding. A scientologist once said to me, thinking I was a practicing Catholic at the time: ‘you think we’re weird but look at you, you go to mass every Sunday and eat the body and blood of a man who died two thousand years ago’.
I tend to think of religions as kaleidoscopic in nature. They shift in our hands to make different lights and colours and shapes that change over time and according to the angle we are viewing them from. Religions are not static. They change, they die and new religions form. Traditional religions have declined in importance in parts of the west over the last two centuries and new belief systems have stepped in to fill the spaces vacated. Many have argued that humans need religion.
Understanding religions as belonging to a family that shares certain characteristics has gained popularity in recent times and many of these characteristics are easily and readily identifiable in gender ideology including community, symbols, morality, and rituals.
There is a sense of community with people often linked into networks of international and national non-governmental organisations and lobby groups that reinforce bonds and connections and provide shared symbols. These organisations can be compared to churches, with community hubs providing information and support, and key people as prophets, priests, gurus, giving outreach sermons via diversity and inclusion training workshops. The priests or gurus impart wisdom to neophytes.
The main symbol comes in the form of flags that have been imbued with sacredness and operate as a sort of totem invested with an aura that requires respect. Sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that the totem symbolises the totemic principle which is the invisible unseen force worshipped by the religious clan or group and that the totem reinforces devotion. The unseen invisible force at the heart of gender ideology is ‘gender identity’ – the existence of which is scientifically unfalsifiable and which is comparable to the idea of the soul. In this sense, gender ideology is a faith-based belief system. Gender identity is divorced from matter, exists as something separate to the body and is metaphysical in nature, beyond sense experience. The concept of gender identity could be considered the totemic principle that is symbolised in flags.
There is what can be compared to a liturgical calendar with dates marking remembrance events, and sacred times set apart from the profane. Pride month, Transgender Awareness Week and Trangender Day of Remembrance are all centred around remembrance events. Another ‘sacred’ day is Trans Day of Visibility. Speaking about biological sex or questioning gender identities would be taboo particularly during these sacred times when ceremonies reinforce group cohesion. This was evident in Ireland last year when a discussion about gender identity was hosted on Ireland’s national public service broadcaster, RTÉ, on a radio programme called Liveline. There was uproar that the discussion had taken place at all but particularly during the sacred month of Pride.
Durkheim wrote about the importance of religious ceremonial occasions when the person loses themselves in the clan. This can be seen in the Pride parade in particular when individuals merge as one into the clan to reinforce group identity.
Those with gender identities often announce pronouns or have pronouns in their email signature. This operates like a statement of belief. I read somewhere that one person referred to pronouns as prayer. There is also what has been referred to as the pronoun ritual.
For Durkheim, religion is a system of beliefs and practices that divides the world into sacred and profane whereby sacred things are superior, set-apart, and unite the community. Gender identities including non-binary, genderqueer, transgender, genderfuck, are sacred, special, whilst cisheteronormativity is the profane, mundane, the everyday.
The concept of transitioning can be compared to the idea of being born again, of being reincarnated in a new body with a new name. Instead of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into flesh and blood there is the transubstantiation of bodies from one sex to another. There is a promised land of post-transition, the resurrection after suffering, an alchemical transformation. The doctors and medicine men are the saviours prescribing hormones, performing surgeries.
There are mantras, ritual incantations, chants asserting beliefs or condemning non-believers. There is a moral system that determines what can be said, how to behave and who to associate with. These moral prescriptions are like commandments. #BeKind. It is morally right to view transwomen as women, to affirm a person’s gender identity, to use preferred pronouns. It is morally wrong to want single-sex spaces, to say that biology matters, to say that sex is immutable, to question rather than affirm gender identities, to associate with JK Rowling. Those who engage in these immoral deeds, or others such as misgendering, are heretics and blasphemers.
The sins of non-compliance can result in the herem being invoked to ostracise the non-believer unless a public confession is forthcoming and even then, that may not be penance enough and punishments are imposed. Destransitioners and desisters are akin to apostates. The apostate, heretic, blasphemer or unbeliever is the scapegoat and the idea that sins can be driven out from the community is linked to cancellations, people losing their jobs, careers, or sometimes, even their families.
James George Frazer who wrote The Golden Bough over a 25 year period from 1890 recorded that some clans eat their sacred totem as a way of ingesting the sacred principle or the divine. Durkheim wrote about this too and saw this ritual as giving life, as revivifying the divinity of the clan. The totemic principle in gender ideology is gender identity which is materialised as totem in flags and ingested or taken into the body in the form of hormones.
A. James Gregor points out that whilst traditional religions saw political power as coming from a divine source and truth as revealed by a transcendent god, political religions recognise other sacralised bases of power – including the state, a class, a race, or history. Gregor says that Marxists, National Socialists, Fascists, followers of Pol Pot, and Maoists, all behaved as though in possession of a divinely revealed truth, and as though communicants of a faith. In gender ideology, gender identity is the sacralised base of power and is treated as though it is a divinely revealed truth.
Political religions, according to Gregor ‘rarely, if ever, conceded difficulties in establishing the truth of their most fundamental claims; they poorly tolerated open inquiry; they dealt with any reservations concerning the truth of their claims as moral infractions; and they regularly treated those who attempted to reduce the vagueness and ambiguities of their pronouncements as heretics and apostates’.
Gregor wrote that adherents of political religions exhibited features of religious intolerance and tended to ‘recommend, advocate, prescribe, and command behaviours’. They employed signs, symbols and rituals and the truth of the doctrines rested on individual and collective faith. It is faith, writes Gregor, rather than empirical truth that inspires loyalty, self-abnegation, commitment and obedience. Opposition is considered as ‘indecent at best, and immoral at worst’ and is viewed as ‘ignorance or malevolence – requiring alternatively reeducation or punishment’. I suggest that all of these characteristics are evident in gender ideology.
Politics is about the allocation of rights, responsibilities, resources, power. It is also about legislation. Politics today has also become about identity and culture. It is ‘a battle of ideas, in which participants attempt to control the narrative’. There is a huge drive by gender lobby organisations to influence the allocation of rights and resources as well as to change laws. Key documents in this regard are, for example, the Yogyakarta Principlesand also the Denton’s document.
Gender identity ideology has already been made into an official religion. The Terasem Movement Foundation(TMF), which has its headquarters in Vermont, is part of the transhumanist movement. Terasem was founded by Martine and Bina Rothblatt and includes the so called Terasem Movement Transreligion and the belief that nanotechnology and cyber consciousness have the potential to relieve human suffering and extend human life. Suffering and death are key concerns across all religions. One of the four key beliefs of Terasem faith is that god is technological.
The Terasem faith has an anthem and a sacred text that is written in a chapter and verse format for example 1.1.3 is:
Conformity in allegiance to Terasem is the most enjoyable and the most useful way of life.
Martine Rothblatt, who underwent male to female sex reassignment surgery in 1994 and who was key in the movement from a medical to a rights-based approach in relation to transgender issues, wrote From Transgender to Transhuman: A Manifesto On the Freedom of Form which was published in 2011 and which was an expanded second edition of the book The Apartheid of Sex. Rothblatt writes that ‘Genitals are as irrelevant to one’s role in society as skin tone’; that humans need not have a flesh body, just as a woman need not have a real vagina; and that software and robots should have rights. It makes sense that journalist Jennifer Bilek refers to gender ideology as a techno-religion.
By looking at Rothblatt’s ideas in this book it’s possible to get an idea of what laws and policies could be coming down the line. Rothblatt argues that prisons, athletic competition, and public facilities such as washrooms do not need to be segregated by sex; that the government should not collect sex information and that birth certificates should not record sex; that sex and gender are continuums; that male and female terminology should be abolished. Rothblatt writes: ‘We owe it to the children of tomorrow to free their minds from a linguistic prison of sex’.
Many of the goals, aims and ideas outlined in From Transgender to Transhuman are apparent in drives today to change laws across the world including hate speech laws which, I suggest, are paving the way for abolishing acknowledgement of sex differences. Gender Recognition Acts are only the beginning. These are some of the directions that this secular transhumanist political religion might be heading.
I just want to sign off with the point that whilst I have argued that gender ideology is a political religion, there are religious characteristics that are absent in gender ideology that are present in other religions including ideas of humility, non-ego. In gender ideology, the mind, the subjective sense of self, of identity, is paramount. Gender identity, which arguably resides in the mind, becomes the transcendent and the body as something to be transcended. The body, incidentally, in various cultures and religions, has been associated with the feminine, as has the earth where seeds are planted. I have argued today that gender ideology is a political religion and suggested that its planned trajectory is evident in Rothblatt’s book From Transgender to Transhuman. Hopefully I have planted a few seeds of ideas in relation to the religious, political and technological aspects of gender ideology.
Arendt, H. (1966) The Origins of Totalitarianism. London: Penguin, 1966.
Boswell, C. (2020) ‘What is Politics’, The British Academy, 14 Jan, Available: https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/blog/what-is-politics/ [accessed 22 Apr 2023].
Bullard, G. (2016) ‘The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion’, National Geographic, 22 April, available: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion [accessed 5 Mar 2023].
Crawford, S.A.G.M. (1986) ‘A secular religion: the historical iconography of New Zealand rugby’, Physical Education Review, 8(2), 146-158.
Eriksen, A. (2021) ‘The Human Version 2.0: AI, Humanoids, and Immortality,’ Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology, 65(1), 70-88, doi: 10.3167/sa.2021.650104
Frazer, J. G. (1978) The Illustrated Golden Bough, abridged and illustrated by MacCormack, Sabine, London: Macmillan.
Gregor, A. James (2012) Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Miner, H. (1956) ‘Body Ritual Among the Nacirema’, American Anthropologist, 58(3), 503-507.
Smart, N. (1973) The Science of Religion & the Sociology of Knowledge: Some Methodological Questions, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Žižek, S. (2023) ‘Wokeness Is Here To Stay’, Compact, 22 Feb, available: https://compactmag.com/article/wokeness-is-here-to-stay [accessed 4 Mar 2023].
 Smart, N. (1973) The Science of Religion & the Sociology of Knowledge: Some Methodological Questions, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
 Gregor, A.J. (2021) Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.3.
 Arendt, H. (1966) The Origins of Totalitarianism, London: Penguin, p.207.
 Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p.618.
 Gregor, Totalitarianism and Political Religion, p.8.
 Scruton, R. ‘The Religion of Rights’, Available: https://www.roger-scruton.com/images/pdfs/POV-human-rights.pdf
 Bullard, G. (2016) ‘The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion’, National Geographic, 22 April, available: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion
 Žižek, S. (2023) ‘Wokeness Is Here To Stay’, Compact, 22 Feb, available: https://compactmag.com/article/wokeness-is-here-to-stay[accessed 4 Mar 2023].
 Crawford, S.A.G.M. (1986) ‘A secular religion: the historical iconography of New Zealand rugby’, Physical Education Review, 8(2), 146-158.
 Miner, H. (1956) ‘Body Ritual Among the Nacirema’, American Anthropologist, 58(3), pp.503-507.
 Pals, D. L. (ed) (1996) Seven Theories of Religion Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 Frazer, J. G. (1978) The Illustrated Golden Bough, abridged and illustrated by MacCormack, S., London: Macmillan.
 Gregor, Totalitarianism and Political Religion
 Gregor, Totalitarianism and Political Religion
 Ibid. p.4
 Boswell, C. (2020) ‘What is Politics’, The British Academy, 14 Jan, Available: https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/blog/what-is-politics/ [accessed 22 Apr 2023].
 Eriksen, A. (2021) ‘The Human Version 2.0: AI, Humanoids, and Immortality,’ Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology, 65(1), 70-88, doi: 10.3167/sa.2021.650104, p.71.
 Big Picture with James Patrick (2023) Jennifer Bilek: Who is Behind the Trans Agenda? 21 Mar [video], Available:
[accessed 23 Apr 2023].
Colette Colfer is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.