A friend once told me if you are having trouble understanding fanatical behavior, trace the righteousness in play, and things will become clear. This helps explain why someone might commit felonies to circumvent a university’s front door. Actions like these reflect a society in which success, not goodness, has become our highest virtue. Maybe it always has been.

Whatever the case, security and respect are not the only things at stake here. Identity and worth, even functional salvation, are involved for child and parent alike. The anxiety is existential.

Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor predicted that the further we retreat from a shared religion, the more contenders would emerge to harness our spiritual energy. He called this “the nova effect,” likening it to an explosion of religious pluralism. Perhaps it is time to add parenting to the growing list of “replacement religions” competing for our attention and currency these days, a list that already includes workism and politics.