We love to forget the role of sacrifice and unbelievers in organized religion. The tale of Judaism begins with God testing Abraham by requiring him to be ready to sacrifice his son, and allowed him to switch out animals in his stead (a practice that continued on for quite some time before dying out ages ago). But sacrifice is not always the violent spectacle on an altar depicted in popular culture and reflected in history. A sacrifice, and its value to the community, is something that beats deep within the heart of the religious psyche and its connection to the social-political mosh-pit.
When it comes to straight up politics the value of an enemy, an other is unparalled. A person or group to hate and strive against unites those divided by petty and generations-long disputes. Orwell’s 1984 contained the infamous 2 minutes hate, wherein citizens would stare at a picture representing “the enemy” and express their hatred.
The sacrifice plays a few roles. One is to “appease” God. The other is, like all ritual, to create social and mental cohesion around a shared and expected set of behaviors. But one that is often overlooked is purification. The Judeo-Christian tradition is rife with purification rituals. Whether its a empathetic act like self-flagellation in Christianity or as simple as dipping hands in water during a Jewish Seder, purification plays a central role. Especially in a tradition that paints people as essentially sinful (although this is more a Christian concept than a universal to that whole Judaism-Islam line). (Now there is an interesting topic, how that view of people as innately sinful translates into the theory and practice of Democracy).
Rejecting the other affirms one’s own value. In a country where Religion and State are united, we’d see the religious and political versions of this ritual take new life and form. When political and religious extremism meet an obsession with purity arises. Whether its racial purity, gender purity, or religious purity. In all likelihood it would be a combination. Most religions are intensely patriarchal, and many have little tolerance for unbelievers. But above all the greatest sinners are atheists. After all, they reject even the most basic assumptions of faith! Thus they would likely be the first targets.
We have targets now. Our society finds salacious delight in watching women fall from power. Anyone connected to a non mainstream religion or belief system is watched like a hawk. America is in many ways firmly on the path towards theocracy. And if we want to avoid sacrifices we’ve got to stop walking into the past, turn around, and stride forward.